Algernon Charles Swinburne

Here you will find the Long Poem The Halt Before Rome--September 1867 of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne

The Halt Before Rome--September 1867

Is it so, that the sword is broken,
 Our sword, that was halfway drawn?
Is it so, that the light was a spark,
That the bird we hailed as the lark
Sang in her sleep in the dark,
And the song we took for a token
 Bore false witness of dawn?

Spread in the sight of the lion,
 Surely, we said, is the net
Spread but in vain, and the snare
Vain; for the light is aware,
And the common, the chainless air,
Of his coming whom all we cry on;
 Surely in vain is it set.

Surely the day is on our side,
 And heaven, and the sacred sun;
Surely the stars, and the bright
Immemorial inscrutable night:
Yea, the darkness, because of our light,
Is no darkness, but blooms as a bower-side
 When the winter is over and done;

Blooms underfoot with young grasses
 Green, and with leaves overhead,
Windflowers white, and the low
New-dropped blossoms of snow;
And or ever the May winds blow,
And or ever the March wind passes,
 Flames with anemones red.

We are here in the world's bower-garden,
 We that have watched out the snow.
Surely the fruitfuller showers,
The splendider sunbeams are ours;
Shall winter return on the flowers,
And the frost after April harden,
 And the fountains in May not flow?

We have in our hands the shining
 And the fire in our hearts of a star.
Who are we that our tongues should palter,
Hearts bow down, hands falter,
Who are clothed as with flame from the altar,
That the kings of the earth, repining,
 Far off, watch from afar?

Woe is ours if we doubt or dissemble,
 Woe, if our hearts not abide.
Are our chiefs not among us, we said,
Great chiefs, living and dead,
To lead us glad to be led?
For whose sake, if a man of us tremble,
 He shall not be on our side.

What matter if these lands tarry,
 That tarried (we said) not of old?
France, made drunken by fate,
England, that bore up the weight
Once of men's freedom, a freight
Holy, but heavy to carry
 For hands overflowing with gold.

Though this be lame, and the other
 Fleet, but blind from the sun,
And the race be no more to these,
Alas! nor the palm to seize,
Who are weary and hungry of ease,
Yet, O Freedom, we said, O our mother,
 Is there not left to thee one?

Is there not left of thy daughters,
 Is there not one to thine hand?
Fairer than these, and of fame
Higher from of old by her name;
Washed in her tears, and in flame
Bathed as in baptism of waters,
 Unto all men a chosen land.

Her hope in her heart was broken,
 Fire was upon her, and clomb,
Hiding her, high as her head;
And the world went past her, and said
(We heard it say) she was dead;
And now, behold, she bath spoken,
 She that was dead, saying, "Rome."

O mother of all men's nations,
 Thou knowest if the deaf world heard!
Heard not now to her lowest
Depths, where the strong blood slowest
Beats at her bosom, thou knowest,
In her toils, in her dim tribulations,
 Rejoiced not, hearing the word.

The sorrowful, bound unto sorrow,
 The woe-worn people, and all
That of old were discomforted,
And men that famish for bread,
And men that mourn for their dead,
She bade them be glad on the morrow,
 Who endured in the day of her thrall.

The blind, and the people in prison,
 Souls without hope, without home,
How glad were they all that heard!
When the winged white flame of the word
Passed over men's dust, and stirred
Death; for Italia was risen,
 And risen her light upon Rome.

The light of her sword in the gateway
 Shone, an unquenchable flame,
Bloodless, a sword to release,
A light from the eyes of peace,
To bid grief utterly cease,
And the wrong of the old world straightway
 Pass from the face of her fame:

Hers, whom we turn to and cry on,
 Italy, mother of men:
From the light of the face of her glory,
At the sound of the storm of her story,
That the sanguine shadows and hoary
Should flee from the foot of the lion,
 Lion-like, forth of his den.

As the answering of thunder to thunder
 Is the storm-beaten sound of her past;
As the calling of sea unto sea
Is the noise of her years yet to be;
For this ye knew not is she,
Whose bonds are broken in sunder;
 This is she at the last.

So spake we aloud, high-minded,
 Full of our will; and behold,
The speech that was halfway spoken
Breaks, as a pledge that is broken,
As a king's pledge, leaving in token
Grief only for high hopes blinded,
 New grief grafted on old.

We halt by the walls of the city,
 Within sound of the clash of her chain.
Hearing, we know that in there
The lioness chafes in her lair,
Shakes the storm of her hair,
Struggles in hands without pity,
 Roars to the lion in vain.

Whose hand is stretched for