A Dark Month - From Swinburne's Collected Poetical Works Vol. V
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
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A Dark Month

By Algernon Charles Swinburne

Taken from The Collected Poetical Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne (Vol. V)





I. POEMS AND BALLADS (First Series).









Algernon Charles Swinburne



First printed (Chatto), 1904 Reprinted 1904, '09, '10, '12 (Heinemann), 1917

London: William Heinemann, 1917


"La maison sans enfants!"—VICTOR HUGO.


A month without sight of the sun Rising or reigning or setting Through days without use of the day, Who calls it the month of May? The sense of the name is undone And the sound of it fit for forgetting.

We shall not feel if the sun rise, We shall not care when it sets: If a nightingale make night's air As noontide, why should we care? Till a light of delight that is done rise, Extinguishing grey regrets;

Till a child's face lighten again On the twilight of older faces; Till a child's voice fall as the dew On furrows with heat parched through And all but hopeless of grain, Refreshing the desolate places—

Fall clear on the ears of us hearkening And hungering for food of the sound And thirsting for joy of his voice: Till the hearts in us hear and rejoice, And the thoughts of them doubting and darkening Rejoice with a glad thing found.

When the heart of our gladness is gone, What comfort is left with us after? When the light of our eyes is away, What glory remains upon May, What blessing of song is thereon If we drink not the light of his laughter?

No small sweet face with the daytime To welcome, warmer than noon! No sweet small voice as a bird's To bring us the day's first words! Mid May for us here is not Maytime: No summer begins with June.

A whole dead month in the dark, A dawn in the mists that o'ercome her Stifled and smothered and sad— Swift speed to it, barren and bad! And return to us, voice of the lark, And remain with us, sunlight of summer.


Alas, what right has the dawn to glimmer, What right has the wind to do aught but moan? All the day should be dimmer Because we are left alone.

Yestermorn like a sunbeam present Hither and thither a light step smiled, And made each place for us pleasant With the sense or the sight of a child.

But the leaves persist as before, and after Our parting the dull day still bears flowers; And songs less bright than his laughter Deride us from birds in the bowers.

Birds, and blossoms, and sunlight only, As though such folly sufficed for spring! As though the house were not lonely For want of the child its king!


Asleep and afar to-night my darling Lies, and heeds not the night, If winds be stirring or storms be snarling; For his sleep is its own sweet light.

I sit where he sat beside me quaffing The wine of story and song Poured forth of immortal cups, and laughing When mirth in the draught grew strong.

I broke the gold of the words, to melt it For hands but seven years old, And they caught the tale as a bird, and felt it More bright than visible gold.

And he drank down deep, with his eyes broad beaming, Here in this room where I am, The golden vintage of Shakespeare, gleaming In the silver vessels of Lamb.

Here by my hearth where he was I listen For the shade of the sound of a word, Athirst for the birdlike eyes to glisten, For the tongue to chirp like a bird.

At the blast of battle, how broad they brightened, Like fire in the spheres of stars, And clung to the pictured page, and lightened As keen as the heart of Mars!

At the touch of laughter, how swift it twittered The shrillest music on earth; How the lithe limbs laughed and the whole child glittered With radiant riot of mirth!

Our Shakespeare now, as a man dumb-stricken, Stands silent there on the shelf: And my thoughts, that had song in the heart of them, sicken, And relish not Shakespeare's self.

And my mood grows moodier than Hamlet's even, And man delights not me, But only the face that morn and even My heart leapt only to see.

That my heart made merry within me seeing, And sang as his laugh kept time: But song finds now no pleasure in being, And love no reason in rhyme.


Mild May-blossom and proud sweet bay-flower, What, for shame, would you have with us here? It is not the month of the May-flower This, but the fall of the year.

Flowers open only their lips in derision, Leaves are as fingers that point in scorn The shows we see are a vision; Spring is not verily born.

Yet boughs turn supple and buds grow sappy, As though the sun were indeed the sun: And all our woods are happy With all their birds save one.

But spring is over, but summer is over, But autumn is over, and winter stands With his feet sunk deep in the clover And cowslips cold in his hands.

His hoar grim head has a hawthorn bonnet, His gnarled gaunt hand has a gay green staff With new-blown rose-blossom on it: But his laugh is a dead man's laugh.

The laugh of spring that the heart seeks after, The hand that the whole world yearns to kiss, It rings not here in his laughter, The sign of it is not this.

There is not strength in it left to splinter Tall oaks, nor frost in his breath to sting: Yet it is but a breath as of winter, And it is not the hand of spring.


Thirty-one pale maidens, clad All in mourning dresses, Pass, with lips and eyes more sad That it seems they should be glad, Heads discrowned of crowns they had, Grey for golden tresses.

Grey their girdles too for green, And their veils dishevelled: None would say, to see their mien, That the least of these had been Born no baser than a queen, Reared where flower-fays revelled.

Dreams that strive to seem awake, Ghosts that walk by daytime, Weary winds the way they take, Since, for one child's absent sake, May knows well, whate'er things make Sport, it is not Maytime.


A hand at the door taps light As the hand of my heart's delight: It is but a full-grown hand, Yet the stroke of it seems to start Hope like a bird in my heart, Too feeble to soar or to stand.

To start light hope from her cover Is to raise but a kite for a plover If her wings be not fledged to soar. Desire, but in dreams, cannot ope The door that was shut upon hope When love went out at the door.

Well were it if vision could keep The lids of desire as in sleep Fast locked, and over his eyes A dream with the dark soft key In her hand might hover, and be Their keeper till morning rise;

The morning that brings after many Days fled with no light upon any The small face back which is gone; When the loved little hands once more Shall struggle and strain at the door They beat their summons upon.


If a soul for but seven days were cast out of heaven and its mirth, They would seem to her fears like as seventy years upon earth.

Even and morrow should seem to her sorrow as long As the passage of numberless ages in slumberless song.

Dawn, roused by the lark, would be surely as dark in her sight As her measureless measure of shadowless pleasure was bright.

Noon, gilt but with glory of gold, would be hoary and grey In her eyes that had gazed on the depths, unamazed with the day.

Night hardly would seem to make darker her dream never done, When it could but withhold what a man may behold of the sun.

For dreams would perplex, were the days that should vex her but seven, The sight of her vision, made dark with division from heaven.

Till the light on my lonely way lighten that only now gleams, I too am divided from heaven and derided of dreams.


A twilight fire-fly may suggest How flames the fire that feeds the sun: "A crooked figure may attest In little space a million."

But this faint-figured verse, that dresses With flowers the bones of one bare month, Of all it would say scarce expresses In crooked ways a millionth.

A fire-fly tenders to the father Of fires a tribute something worth: My verse, a shard-borne beetle rather, Drones over scarce-illumined earth.

Some inches round me though it brighten With light of music-making thought, The dark indeed it may not lighten, The silence moves not, hearing nought.

Only my heart is eased with hearing, Only mine eyes are soothed with seeing, A face brought nigh, a footfall nearing, Till hopes take form and dreams have being.


As a poor man hungering stands with insatiate eyes and hands Void of bread Right in sight of men that feast while his famine with no least Crumb is fed,

Here across the garden-wall can I hear strange children call, Watch them play, From the windowed seat above, whence the goodlier child I love Is away.

Here the sights we saw together moved his fancy like a feather To and fro, Now to wonder, and thereafter to the sunny storm of laughter Loud and low—

Sights engraven on storied pages where man's tale of seven swift ages All was told— Seen of eyes yet bright from heaven—for the lips that laughed were seven Sweet years old.


Why should May remember March, if March forget The days that began with December The nights that a frost could fret?

All their griefs are done with Now the bright months bless Fit souls to rejoice in the sun with, Fit heads for the wind's caress;

Souls of children quickening With the whole world's mirth, Heads closelier than field-flowers thickening That crowd and illuminate earth,

Now that May's call musters Files of baby bands To marshal in joyfuller clusters Than the flowers that encumber their hands.

Yet morose November Found them no less gay, With nought to forget or remember Less bright than a branch of may.

All the seasons moving Move their minds alike Applauding, acclaiming, approving All hours of the year that strike.

So my heart may fret not, Wondering if my friend Remember me not or forget not Or ever the month find end.

Not that love sows lighter Seed in children sown, But that life being lit in them brighter Moves fleeter than even our own.

May nor yet September Binds their hearts, that yet Remember, forget, and remember, Forget, and recall, and forget.


As light on a lake's face moving Between a cloud and a cloud Till night reclaim it, reproving The heart that exults too loud,

The heart that watching rejoices When soft it swims into sight Applauded of all the voices And stars of the windy night,

So brief and unsure, but sweeter Than ever a moondawn smiled, Moves, measured of no tune's metre, The song in the soul of a child;

The song that the sweet soul singing Half listens, and hardly hears, Though sweeter than joy-bells ringing And brighter than joy's own tears;

The song that remembrance of pleasure Begins, and forgetfulness ends With a soft swift change in the measure That rings in remembrance of friends

As the moon on the lake's face flashes, So haply may gleam at whiles A dream through the dear deep lashes Whereunder a child's eye smiles,

And the least of us all that love him May take for a moment part With angels around and above him, And I find place in his heart.


Child, were you kinless and lonely— Dear, were you kin to me— My love were compassionate only Or such as it needs would be.

But eyes of father and mother Like sunlight shed on you shine: What need you have heed of another Such new strange love as is mine?

It is not meet if unruly Hands take of the children's bread And cast it to dogs; but truly The dogs after all would be fed.

On crumbs from the children's table That crumble, dropped from above, My heart feeds, fed with unstable Loose waifs of a child's light love.

Though love in your heart were brittle As glass that breaks with a touch, You haply would lend him a little Who surely would give you much.


Here is a rough Rude sketch of my friend, Faint-coloured enough And unworthily penned.

Fearlessly fair And triumphant he stands, And holds unaware Friends' hearts in his hands;

Stalwart and straight As an oak that should bring Forth gallant and great Fresh roses in spring.

On the paths of his pleasure All graces that wait What metre shall measure What rhyme shall relate

Each action, each motion, Each feature, each limb, Demands a devotion In honour of him:

Head that the hand Of a god might have blest, Laid lustrous and bland On the curve of its crest:

Mouth sweeter than cherries, Keen eyes as of Mars, Browner than berries And brighter than stars.

Nor colour nor wordy Weak song can declare The stature how sturdy, How stalwart his air.

As a king in his bright Presence-chamber may be, So seems he in height— Twice higher than your knee.

As a warrior sedate With reserve of his power, So seems he in state— As tall as a flower:

As a rose overtowering The ranks of the rest That beneath it lie cowering, Less bright than their best.

And his hands are as sunny As ruddy ripe corn Or the browner-hued honey From heather-bells borne.

When summer sits proudest, Fulfilled with its mirth, And rapture is loudest In air and on earth,

The suns of all hours That have ripened the roots Bring forth not such flowers And beget not such fruits.

And well though I know it, As fain would I write, Child, never a poet Could praise you aright.

I bless you? the blessing Were less than a jest Too poor for expressing; I come to be blest,

With humble and dutiful Heart, from above: Bless me, O my beautiful Innocent love!

This rhyme in your praise With a smile was begun; But the goal of his ways Is uncovered to none,

Nor pervious till after The limit impend; It is not in laughter These rhymes of you end.


Spring, and fall, and summer, and winter, Which may Earth love least of them all, Whose arms embrace as their signs imprint her, Summer, or winter, or spring, or fall?

The clear-eyed spring with the wood-birds mating, The rose-red summer with eyes aglow, The yellow fall with serene eyes waiting, The wild-eyed winter with hair all snow?

Spring's eyes are soft, but if frosts benumb her As winter's own will her shrewd breath sting: Storms may rend the raiment of summer, And fall grow bitter as harsh-lipped spring.

One sign for summer and winter guides me, One for spring, and the like for fall: Whichever from sight of my friend divides me, That is the worst ill season of all.


Worse than winter is spring If I come not to sight of my king: But then what a spring will it be When my king takes homage of me!

I send his grace from afar Homage, as though to a star; As a shepherd whose flock takes flight May worship a star by night.

As a flock that a wolf is upon My songs take flight and are gone: No heart is in any to sing Aught but the praise of my king.

Fain would I once and again Sing deeds and passions of men: But ever a child's head gleams Between my work and my dreams.

Between my hand and my eyes The lines of a small face rise, And the lines I trace and retrace Are none but those of the face.


Till the tale of all this flock of days alike All be done, Weary days of waiting till the month's hand strike Thirty-one, Till the clock's hand of the month break off, and end With the clock, Till the last and whitest sheep at last be penned Of the flock, I their shepherd keep the count of night and day With my song, Though my song be, like this month which once was May, All too long.


The incarnate sun, a tall strong youth, On old Greek eyes in sculpture smiled: But trulier had it given the truth To shape him like a child.

No face full-grown of all our dearest So lightens all our darkness, none Most loved of all our hearts hold nearest To far outshines the sun,

As when with sly shy smiles that feign Doubt if the hour be clear, the time Fit to break off my work again Or sport of prose or rhyme,

My friend peers in on me with merry Wise face, and though the sky stay dim The very light of day, the very Sun's self comes in with him.


Out of sight, Out of mind! Could the light Prove unkind?

Can the sun Quite forget What was done Ere he set?

Does the moon When she wanes Leave no tune That remains

In the void Shell of night Overcloyed With her light?

Must the shore At low tide Feel no more Hope or pride,

No intense Joy to be, In the sense Of the sea—

In the pulses Of her shocks It repulses, When its rocks

Thrill and ring As with glee? Has my king Cast off me,

Whom no bird Flying south Brings one word From his mouth?

Not the ghost Of a word. Riding post Have I heard,

Since the day When my king Took away With him spring,

And the cup Of each flower Shrivelled up That same hour,

With no light Left behind. Out of sight, Out of mind!


Because I adore you And fall On the knees of my spirit before you— After all,

You need not insult, My king, With neglect, though your spirit exult In the spring,

Even me, though not worth, God knows, One word of you sent me in mirth, Or one rose

Out of all in your garden That grow Where the frost and the wind never harden Flakes of snow,

Nor ever is rain At all, But the roses rejoice to remain Fair and tall—

The roses of love, More sweet Than blossoms that rain from above Round our feet,

When under high bowers We pass, Where the west wind freckles with flowers All the grass.

But a child's thoughts bear More bright Sweet visions by day, and more fair Dreams by night,

Than summer's whole treasure Can be: What am I that his thought should take pleasure, Then, in me?

I am only my love's True lover, With a nestful of songs, like doves Under cover,

That I bring in my cap Fresh caught, To be laid on my small king's lap— Worth just nought.

Yet it haply may hap That he, When the mirth in his veins is as sap In a tree,

Will remember me too Some day Ere the transit be thoroughly through Of this May—

Or perchance, if such grace May be, Some night when I dream of his face. Dream of me.

Or if this be too high A hope For me to prefigure in my Horoscope,

He may dream of the place Where we Basked once in the light of his face, Who now see

Nought brighter, not one Thing bright, Than the stars and the moon and the sun, Day nor night.


Day by darkling day, Overpassing, bears away Somewhat of the burden of this weary May.

Night by numbered night, Waning, brings more near in sight Hope that grows to vision of my heart's delight.

Nearer seems to burn In the dawn's rekindling urn Flame of fragrant incense, hailing his return.

Louder seems each bird In the brightening branches heard Still to speak some ever more delightful word.

All the mists that swim Round the dawns that grow less dim Still wax brighter and more bright with hope of him.

All the suns that rise Bring that day more near our eyes When the sight of him shall clear our clouded skies.

All the winds that roam Fruitful fields or fruitless foam Blow the bright hour near that brings his bright face home.


I hear of two far hence In a garden met, And the fragrance blown from thence Fades not yet.

The one is seven years old, And my friend is he: But the years of the other have told Eighty-three.

To hear these twain converse Or to see them greet Were sweeter than softest verse May be sweet.

The hoar old gardener there With an eye more mild Perchance than his mild white hair Meets the child.

I had rather hear the words That the twain exchange Than the songs of all the birds There that range,

Call, chirp, and twitter there Through the garden-beds Where the sun alike sees fair Those two heads,

And which may holier be Held in heaven of those Or more worth heart's thanks to see No man knows.


Of such is the kingdom of heaven, No glory that ever was shed From the crowning star of the seven That crown the north world's head,

No word that ever was spoken Of human or godlike tongue, Gave ever such godlike token Since human harps were strung.

No sign that ever was given To faithful or faithless eyes Showed ever beyond clouds riven So clear a Paradise.

Earth's creeds may be seventy times seven And blood have defiled each creed: If of such be the kingdom of heaven, It must be heaven indeed.


The wind on the downs is bright As though from the sea: And morning and night Take comfort again with me.

He is nearer to-day, Each night to each morning saith, Whose return shall revive dead May With the balm of his breath.

The sunset says to the moon, He is nearer to-night Whose coming in June Is looked for more than the light.

Bird answers to bird, Hour passes the sign on to hour, And for joy of the bright news heard Flower murmurs to flower.

The ways that were glad of his feet In the woods that he knew Grow softer to meet The sense of his footfall anew.

He is near now as day, Says hope to the new-born light: He is near now as June is to May, Says love to the night.


Good things I keep to console me For lack of the best of all, A child to command and control me, Bid come and remain at his call.

Sun, wind, and woodland and highland, Give all that ever they gave: But my world is a cultureless island, My spirit a masterless slave.

And friends are about me, and better At summons of no man stand: But I pine for the touch of a fetter, The curb of a strong king's hand.

Each hour of the day in her season Is mine to be served as I will: And for no more exquisite reason Are all served idly and ill.

By slavery my sense is corrupted, My soul not fit to be free: I would fain be controlled, interrupted, Compelled as a thrall may be.

For fault of spur and of bridle I tire of my stall to death: My sail flaps joyless and idle For want of a small child's breath.


Whiter and whiter The dark lines grow, And broader opens and brighter The sense of the text below.

Nightfall and morrow Bring nigher the boy Whom wanting we want not sorrow, Whom having we want no joy.

Clearer and clearer The sweet sense grows Of the word which hath summer for hearer, The word on the lips of the rose.

Duskily dwindles Each deathlike day, Till June rearising rekindles The depth of the darkness of May.


"In his bright radiance and collateral light Must I be comforted, not in his sphere."

Stars in heaven are many, Suns in heaven but one: Nor for man may any Star supplant the sun.

Many a child as joyous As our far-off king Meets as though to annoy us In the paths of spring.

Sure as spring gives warning, All things dance in tune: Sun on Easter morning, Cloud and windy moon,

Stars between the tossing Boughs of tuneful trees, Sails of ships recrossing Leagues of dancing seas;

Best, in all this playtime, Best of all in tune, Girls more glad than Maytime, Boys more bright than June;

Mixed with all those dances, Far through field and street Sing their silent glances, Ring their radiant feet.

Flowers wherewith May crowned us Fall ere June be crowned: Children blossom round us All the whole year round.

Is the garland worthless For one rose the less, And the feast made mirthless? Love, at least, says yes.

Strange it were, with many Stars enkindling air, Should but one find any Welcome: strange it were,

Had one star alone won Praise for light from far: Nay, love needs his own one Bright particular star.

Hope and recollection Only lead him right In its bright reflection And collateral light.

Find as yet we may not Comfort in its sphere: Yet these days will weigh not When it warms us here;

When full-orbed it rises, Now divined afar: None in all the skies is Half so good a star;

None that seers importune Till a sign be won: Star of our good fortune, Rise and reign, our sun!


I pass by the small room now forlorn Where once each night as I passed I knew A child's bright sleep from even to morn Made sweet the whole night through.

As a soundless shell, as a songless nest, Seems now the room that was radiant then And fragrant with his happier rest Than that of slumbering men.

The day therein is less than the day, The night is indeed night now therein: Heavier the dark seems there to weigh, And slower the dawns begin.

As a nest fulfilled with birds, as a shell Fulfilled with breath of a god's own hymn, Again shall be this bare blank cell, Made sweet again with him.


Spring darkens before us, A flame going down, With chant from the chorus Of days without crown— Cloud, rain, and sonorous Soft wind on the down.

She is wearier not of us Than we of the dream That spring was to love us And joy was to gleam Through the shadows above us That shift as they stream.

Half dark and half hoary, Float far on the loud Mild wind, as a glory Half pale and half proud From the twilight of story, Her tresses of cloud;

Like phantoms that glimmer Of glories of old With ever yet dimmer Pale circlets of gold As darkness grows grimmer And memory more cold.

Like hope growing clearer With wane of the moon, Shines toward us the nearer Gold frontlet of June, And a face with it dearer Than midsummer noon.


You send me your love in a letter, I send you my love in a song: Ah child, your gift is the better, Mine does you but wrong.

No fame, were the best less brittle, No praise, were it wide as earth, Is worth so much as a little Child's love may be worth.

We see the children above us As they might angels above: Come back to us, child, if you love us, And bring us your love.


No time for books or for letters: What time should there be? No room for tasks and their fetters: Full room to be free.

The wind and the sun and the Maytime Had never a guest More worthy the most that his playtime Could give of its best.

If rain should come on, peradventure, (But sunshine forbid!) Vain hope in us haply might venture To dream as it did.

But never may come, of all comers Least welcome, the rain, To mix with his servant the summer's Rose-garlanded train!

He would write, but his hours are as busy As bees in the sun, And the jubilant whirl of their dizzy Dance never is done.

The message is more than a letter, Let love understand, And the thought of his joys even better Than sight of his hand.


Wind, high-souled, full-hearted South-west wind of the spring! Ere April and earth had parted, Skies, bright with thy forward wing, Grew dark in an hour with the shadow behind it, that bade not a bird dare sing.

Wind whose feet are sunny, Wind whose wings are cloud, With lips more sweet than honey Still, speak they low or loud, Rejoice now again in the strength of thine heart: let the depth of thy soul wax proud.

We hear thee singing or sighing, Just not given to sight, All but visibly flying Between the clouds and the light, And the light in our hearts is enkindled, the shadow therein of the clouds put to flight.

From the gift of thine hands we gather The core of the flowers therein, Keen glad heart of heather, Hot sweet heart of whin, Twin breaths in thy godlike breath close blended of wild spring's wildest of kin.

All but visibly beating We feel thy wings in the far Clear waste, and the plumes of them fleeting, Soft as swan's plumes are, And strong as a wild swan's pinions, and swift as the flash of the flight of a star.

As the flight of a planet enkindled Seems thy far soft flight Now May's reign has dwindled And the crescent of June takes light And the presence of summer is here, and the hope of a welcomer presence in sight.

Wind, sweet-souled, great-hearted Southwest wind on the wold! From us is a glory departed That now shall return as of old, Borne back on thy wings as an eagle's expanding, and crowned with the sundawn's gold.

There is not a flower but rejoices, There is not a leaf but has heard: All the fields find voices, All the woods are stirred: There is not a nest but is brighter because of the coming of one bright bird.

Out of dawn and morning, Noon and afternoon, The sun to the world gives warning Of news that brightens the moon; And the stars all night exult with us, hearing of joy that shall come with June.

{Transcriber's note:

The line in number VII

To far outshines the sun,

appears thus in the original. It may be a misprint.}


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