Algernon Charles Swinburne - Blessed Among Women –To The Signora Cairoli

Blessed was she that bare,
Hidden in flesh most fair,
For all men’s sake the likeness of all love;
Holy that virgin’s womb,
The old record saith, on whom
The glory of God alighted as a dove;
Blessed, who brought to gracious birth
The sweet-souled Saviour of a man-tormented earth.

But four times art thou blest,
At whose most holy breast
Four times a godlike soldier-saviour hung;
And thence a fourfold Christ
Given to be sacrificed
To the same cross as the same bosom clung;
Poured the same blood, to leave the same
Light on the many-folded mountain-skirts of fame.

Shall they and thou not live,
The children thou didst give
Forth of thine hands, a godlike gift, to death,
Through fire of death to pass
For her high sake that was
Thine and their mother, that gave all you breath?
Shall ye not live till time drop dead,
O mother, and each her children’s consecrated head?

Many brought gifts to take
For her love’s supreme sake,
Life and life’s love, pleasure and praise and rest,
And went forth bare; but thou,
So much once richer, and now
Poorer than all these, more than these be blest;
Poorer so much, by so much given,
Than who gives earth for heaven’s sake, not for earth’s sake heaven.

Somewhat could each soul save,
What thing soever it gave,
But thine, mother, what has thy soul kept back?
None of thine all, not one,
To serve thee and be thy son,
Feed with love all thy days, lest one day lack;
All thy whole life’s love, thine heart’s whole,
Thou hast given as who gives gladly, O thou the supreme soul.

The heart’s pure flesh and blood,
The heaven thy motherhood,
The live lips, the live eyes, that lived on thee;
The hands that clove with sweet
Blind clutch to thine, the feet
That felt on earth their first way to thy knee;
The little laughter of mouths milk-fed,
Now open again to feed on dust among the dead;

The fair, strong, young men’s strength,
Light of life-days and length,
And glory of earth seen under and stars above,
And years that bring to tame
Now the wild falcon fame,
Now, to stroke smooth, the dove-white breast of love;
The life unlived, the unsown seeds,
Suns unbeholden, songs unsung, and undone deeds.

Therefore shall man’s love be
As an own son to thee,
And the world’s worship of thee for a child;
All thine own land as one
New-born, a nursing son,
All thine own people a new birth undefiled;
And all the unborn Italian time,
And all its glory, and all its works, thy seed sublime.

That henceforth no man’s breath,
Saying “Italy,” but saith
In that most sovereign word thine equal name;
Nor can one speak of thee
But he saith “Italy,”
Seeing in two suns one co-eternal flame;
One heat, one heaven, one heart, one fire,
One light, one love, one benediction, one desire.

Blest above praise and prayer
And incense of men’s air,
Thy place is higher than where such voices rise
As in men’s temples make
Music for some vain sake,
This God’s or that God’s, in one weary wise;
Thee the soul silent, the shut heart,
The locked lips of the spirit praise thee that thou art.

Yea, for man’s whole life’s length,
And with man’s whole soul’s strength,
We praise thee, O holy, and bless thee, O mother of lights;
And send forth as on wings
The world’s heart’s thanksgivings,
Song-birds to sing thy days through and thy nights;
And wrap thee around and arch thee above
With the air of benediction and the heaven of love.

And toward thee our unbreathed words
Fly speechless, winged as birds,
As the Indian flock, children of Paradise,
The winged things without feet,
Fed with God’s dew for meat,
That live in the air and light of the utter skies;
So fleet, so flying a footless flight,
With wings for feet love seeks thee, to partake thy sight.

Love like a clear sky spread
Bends over thy loved head,
As a new heaven bends over a new-born earth,
When the old night’s womb is great
With young stars passionate
And fair new planets fiery-fresh from birth;
And moon-white here, there hot like Mars,
Souls that are worlds shine on thee, spirits that are stars.

Till the whole sky burns through
With heaven’s own heart-deep hue,
With passion-coloured glories of lit souls;
And thine above all names
Writ highest with lettering flames
Lightens, and all the old starriest aureoles
And all the old holiest memories wane,
And the old names of love’s chosen, found in thy sight vain.

And crowned heads are discrowned,
And stars sink without sound,
And love’s self for thy love’s sake waxes pale
Seeing from his storied skies
In what new reverent wise
Thee Rome’s most highest, her sovereign daughters, hail;
Thee Portia, thee Veturia grey,
Thee Arria, thee Cornelia, Roman more than they.

Even all these as all we
Subdue themselves to thee,
Bow their heads haloed, quench their fiery fame;
Seen through dim years divine,
Their faint lights feminine
Sink, then spring up rekindled from thy flame;
Fade, then reflower and reillume
From thy fresh spring their wintering age with new-blown bloom.

To thy much holier head
Even theirs, the holy and dead,
Bow themselves each one from her heavenward height;
Each in her shining turn,
All tremble toward thee and yearn
To melt in thine their consummated light;
Till from day’s Capitolian dome
One glory of many glories lighten upon Rome.

Hush thyself, song, and cease,
Close, lips, and hold your peace;
What help hast thou, what part have ye herein?
But you, with sweet shut eyes,
Heart-hidden memories,
Dreams and dumb thoughts that keep what things have been
Silent, and pure of all words said,
Praise without song the living, without dirge the dead.

Thou, strengthless in these things,
Song, fold thy feebler wings,
And as a pilgrim go forth girt and shod,
And where the new graves are,
And where the sunset star,
To the pure spirit of man that men call God,
To the high soul of things, that is
Made of men’s heavenlier hopes and mightier memories;

To the elements that make
For the soul’s living sake
This raiment of dead things, of shadow and trance,
That give us chance and time
Wherein to aspire and climb
And set our life’s work higher than time or chance
The old sacred elements, that give
The breath of life to days that die, to deeds that live;

To them, veiled gods and great,
There bow thee and dedicate
The speechless spirit in these thy weak words hidden;
And mix thy reverent breath
With holier air of death,
At the high feast of sorrow a guest unbidden,
Till with divine triumphal tears
Thou fill men’s eyes who listen with a heart that hears.

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