Saturday, 7 April 2018

The Sixty-second Birthday of Swinburne - Charles Edward Russell

    Prophet, whose straining eyes
Watch ever eastward while the slow stars fade,
Hast thou beheld the hope-tinged morning rise
Far off on alien seas, in other skies?
Or hast thou from thy sky-bound station made
On lonely peak-tops far away, aloft,
    The footsteps heard that oft
  Have sounded in thy visions soft
    And distant, but as clear
As woodman’s stroke across the dying year?

    For thou through all thy days
Hast been as one for man’s sake set apart,
Beyond the clash of meaner things and ways,
Since first the touch of strong sun-splendid rays
Was laid on singing lips and tender heart.
First of the sons of song, with upturned brow,
    Orphean prophet thou,
  Tell us what light breaks on thee now;
    For in the vale we grope,
Hearing thy words but cheerless of thy hope.

    Singer, whose song’s high flight
Wings steadfast on, serene, from star to star,
Melodious, molten, fledged with golden light
As from a mountain summit glitters bright
When noontide’s stern unclouded glories are,
Hast thy great soul a new more resonant sound,
    Fit for this season, found,
  That gave us thee while April bound
    With passion flowers thy head
And music’s purest effluence round thee shed?

    For thou in all thy singing
Hast been as one in scorn of Time and Change;
Years that make thin the weaker voices, clinging
Like echoes where they once rose clear and ringing,
Thy voice make only still more sweet and strange.
Therefore we pray thee of thy great song’s fire!
    Strike from thy golden lyre,
  O minstrel of the world’s desire,
    Those notes that wake again
Our hearts with preludes of thy mightiest strain.

    Captain, in whose firm hand,
Far forward where the battle trumpets blow,
Has shone for us thy word, a burnished brand,
Drawn without doubt wherever Right makes stand,
Drawn without fear where fires the fiercest glow,
What old oppression whereto cowards kneel,
    What tyrant, now shall feel
  The swift stroke of thy keen-edged steel?
    Before what buttressed shame
Thunder the wrath of thy consuming flame?

    For thou in all these years
That crown thee now as with a crown of flowers,
Hast been too great of heart for any fears,
Dauntless, immovable for aught save tears,
Supernal sign of strength for us and ours.
Therefore, we pray thee, on before and lead!
    For never had more need
  Of such as thou in word and deed
    The world that dark with wrong
Waits for such light as lightens from thy song.

    Master, while at thy feet
Like rose leaves red and yellow and pale
The song leaves flutter, still more fresh and sweet,
Of singers of thy great fame not unmeet
With sound of many voices crying “Hail!”
A quavering voice upon that great throng’s brim,
    Unheard and harsh and dim,
  Sings to itself a tuneless hymn
    In praise of thee—O more
Than cloud and fire across this desert’s floor.

    For thou art life to those
That hear thy spirit, master of tone and tune,
Whose echoes breathe in every wind that blows,
In dawn and sunset, quiet star that glows
At midnight and the stainless depths of noon,
With all sounds glorious, from great ocean’s swell
    To drone of murmuring shell
  And far-heard chime of evening bell;
    As if, O music’s king,
Thy hand then strayed upon the heavenly string.

Charles Edward Russell (1860–1941) USA
Source: Every Day in the Year: A Poetical Epitome of the World’s History, ed. by James L. Ford and Mary K. Ford. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1902

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