by Algernon Charles Swinburne
In the outer world that was before this earth,
That was before all shape or space was born,
Before the blind first hour of time had birth,
Before night knew the moonlight or the morn;
Yea, before any world had any light,
Or anything called God or man drew breath,
Slowly the strong sides of the heaving night
Moved, and brought forth the strength of life and death.
And the sad shapeless horror increate
That was all things and one thing, without fruit,
Limit, or law; where love was none, nor hate,
Where no leaf came to blossom from no root;
The very darkness that time knew not of,
Nor God laid hand on, nor was man found there,
Ceased, and was cloven in several shapes; above
Light, and night under, and fire, earth, water, and air.
Sunbeams and starbeams, and all coloured things,
All forms and all similitudes began;
And death, the shadow cast by life's wide wings,
And God, the shade cast by the soul of man.
Then between shadow and substance, night and light,
Then between birth and death, and deeds and days,
The illimitable embrace and the amorous fight
That of itself begets, bears, rears, and slays,
The immortal war of mortal things that is
Labour and life and growth and good and ill,
The mild antiphonies that melt and kiss,
The violent symphonies that meet and kill,
All nature of all things began to be.
But chiefliest in the spirit (beast or man,
Planet of heaven or blossom of earth or sea)
The divine contraries of life began.
For the great labour of growth, being many, is one;
One thing the white death and the ruddy birth;
The invisible air and the all-beholden sun,
And barren water and many-childed earth.
And these things are made manifest in men
From the beginning forth unto this day:
Time writes and life records them, and again
Death seals them lest the record pass away.
For if death were not, then should growth not be,
Change, nor the life of good nor evil things;
Nor were there night at all nor light to see,
Nor water of sweet nor water of bitter springs.
For in each man and each year that is born
Are sown the twin seeds of the strong twin powers;
The white seed of the fruitful helpful morn,
The black seed of the barren hurtful hours.
And he that of the black seed eateth fruit,
To him the savour as honey shall be sweet;
And he in whom the white seed hath struck root,
He shall have sorrow and trouble and tears for meat.
And him whose lips the sweet fruit hath made red
In the end men loathe and make his name a rod;
And him whose mouth on the unsweet fruit hath fed
In the end men follow and know for very God.
And of these twain, the black seed and the white,
All things come forth, endured of men and done;
And still the day is great with child of night,
And still the black night labours with the sun.
And each man and each year that lives on earth
Turns hither or thither, and hence or thence is fed;
And as a man before was from his birth,
So shall a man be after among the dead.
Last updated May 02, 2015