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By the North Sea (Extract)

by A.C. Swinburne

 
Here, where sharp the sea-bird shrills his ditty
Flickering flame-wise through the clear live calm,
Rose triumphal, crowning all a city,
Roofs exalted once with prayer and psalm,
Built of holy hands for holy pity,
Frank and fruitful as a sheltering palm.

Church and hospice wrought in faultless fashion,
Hall and chancel bounteous and sublime,
Wide and sweet and glorious as compassion,
Filled and thrilled with force of choral chime,
Filled with spirit of prayer and thrilled with passion.

Hailed a God more merciful than Time.
Ah, less mighty, less than Time prevailing,
Shrunk, expelled, made nothing at his nod,
Less than clouds across the sea-line sailing,
Lies he, stricken by his master's rod.

"Where is man?" the cloister murmurs wailing;
Back the mute shrine thunders - "Where is God?"
Here is all the end of all his glory -
Dust, and grass, and barren silent stones.
Dead, like him, one hollow tower and hoary

Naked in the sea-wind stands and moans,
Filled and thrilled with its perpetual story:
Here, where earth is dense with dead men's bones.
Low and loud and long, a voice for ever,
Sounds the wind's clear story like a song.

Tomb from tomb the waves devouring sever,
Dust from dust as years relapse along;
Graves where nen made sure to rest, and never
Lie dismantled by the season's wrong.
Now displaced, devoured and descrated,

Now by Time's hands darkly disinterred,
Those poor dead that sleeping here awaited
Long the archangel's re-creating word,
Closed about with roofs and walls high-gated
Till the blast of judgment should be heard,

Naked, shamed, cast out of consecration,
Corpe and coffin, yea the very graves,
Scoffed at, scattered, shaken from their station,
Spurned and scourged of wind and sea like slaves,
Desolate beyond man's desolation,

Shrink and sink into the waste of waves.
Tombs, with bare white piteous bones protruded,
Shroudless, down the loose collapsing banks,
Crumble, from their constant place detruded,
That the sea devours and gives not thanks.

Graves where hope and prayer and sorrow brooded
Gape and slide and perish, ranks on ranks.
Rows on rows and line by line through to be.
Scarce a stone wheron a child might stumble

Breaks the grim field paced alone of me.
Earth,  nd man, and all their gods wax humble
Here, where Time brings pasture to the sea.

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