'Four Songs Of Four Seasons' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

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OUTSIDE the garden
The wet skies harden;
The gates are barred on
The summer side:
"Shut out the flower-time,
Sunbeam and shower-time;
Make way for our time,"
Wild winds have cried.
Green once and cheery,
The woods, worn weary,
Sigh as the dreary
Weak sun goes home:
A great wind grapples
The wave, and dapples
The dead green floor of the sea with foam.

Through fell and moorland,
And salt-sea foreland,
Our noisy norland
Resounds and rings;
Waste waves thereunder
Are blown in sunder,
And winds make thunder
With cloudwide wings;
Sea-drift makes dimmer
The beacon's glimmer;
Nor sail nor swimmer
Can try the tides;
And snowdrifts thicken
Where, when leaves quicken,
Under the heather the sundew hides.

Green land and red land,
Moorside and headland,
Are white as dead land,
Are all as one;
Nor honied heather,
Nor bells to gather,
Fair with fair weather
And faithful sun:
Fierce frost has eaten
All flowers that sweeten
The fells rain-beaten;
And winds their foes
Have made the snow's bed
Down in the rose-bed;
Deep in the snow's bed bury the rose.

Bury her deeper
Than any sleeper;
Sweet dreams will keep her
All day, all night;
Though sleep benumb her
And time o'ercome her,
She dreams of summer,
And takes delight,
Dreaming and sleeping
In love's good keeping,
While rain is weeping
And no leaves cling;
Winds will come bringing her
Comfort, and singing her
Stories and songs and good news of the spring.

Draw the white curtain
Close, and be certain
She takes no hurt in
Her soft low bed;
She feels no colder,
And grows not older,
Though snows enfold her
From foot to head;
She turns not chilly
Like weed and lily
In marsh or hilly
High watershed,
Or green soft island
In lakes of highland;
She sleeps awhile, and she is not dead.

For all the hours,
Come sun, come showers,
Are friends of flowers,
And fairies all;
When frost entrapped her,
They came and lapped her
In leaves, and wrapped her
With shroud and pall;
In red leaves wound her,
With dead leaves bound her
Dead brows, and round her
A death-knell rang;
Rang the death-bell for her,
Sang, "is it well for her,
Well, is it well with you, rose?" they sang.

O what and where is
The rose now, fairies,
So shrill the air is,
So wild the sky?
Poor last of roses,
Her worst of woes is
The noise she knows is
The winter's cry;
His hunting hollo
Has scared the swallow;
Fain would she follow
And fain would fly:
But wind unsettles
Her poor last petals;
Had she but wings, and she would not die.

Come, as you love her,
Come close and cover
Her white face over,
And forth again
Ere sunset glances
On foam that dances,
Through lowering lances
Of bright white rain;
And make your playtime
Of winter's daytime,
As if the Maytime
Were here to sing;
As if the snowballs
Were soft like blowballs,
Blown in a mist from the stalk in the spring.

Each reed that grows in
Our stream is frozen,
The fields it flows in
Are hard and black;
The water-fairy
Waits wise and wary
Till time shall vary
And thaws come back.
"O sister, water,"
The wind besought her,
"O twin-born daughter
Of spring with me,
Stay with me, play with me,
Take the warm way with me,
Straight for the summer and oversea."

But winds will vary,
And wise and wary
The patient fairy
Of water waits;
All shrunk and wizen,
In iron prison,
Till spring re-risen
Unbar the gates;
Till, as with clamor
Of axe and hammer,
Chained streams that stammer
And struggle in straits
Burst bonds that shiver,
And thaws deliver
The roaring river in stormy spates.

In fierce March weather
White waves break tether,
And whirled together
At either hand,
Like weeds uplifted,
The tree-trunks rifted
In spars are drifted,
Like foam or sand,
Past swamp and sallow
And reed-beds callow,
Through pool and shallow,
To wind and lee,
Till, no more tongue-tied,
Full flood and young tide
Roar down the rapids and storm the sea.

As men's cheeks faded
On shores invaded,
When shorewards waded
The lords of fight;
When churl and craven
Saw hard on haven
The wide-winged raven
At mainmast height;
When monks affrighted
To windward sighted
The birds full-flighted
Of swift sea-kings;
So earth turns paler
When Storm the sailor
Steers in with a roar in the race of his wings.

O strong sea-sailor,
Whose cheek turns paler
For wind or hail or
For fear of thee?
O far sea-farer,
O thunder-bearer,
Thy songs are rarer
Than soft songs be.
O fleet-foot stranger,
O north-sea ranger
Through days of danger
And ways of fear,
Blow thy horn here for us,
Blow the sky clear for us,
Send us the song of the sea to hear.

Roll the strong stream of it
Up, till the scream of it
Wake from a dream of it
Children that sleep,
Seamen that fare for them
Forth, with a prayer for them:
Shall not God care for them
Angels not keep?
Spare not the surges
Thy stormy scourges;
Spare us the dirges
Of wives that weep.
Turn back the waves for us:
Dig no fresh graves for us,
Wind, in the manifold gulfs of the deep.

O stout north-easter,
Sea-king, land-waster,
For all thine haste, or
Thy stormy skill,
Yet hadst thou never,
For all endeavour,
Strength to dissever
Or strength to spill,
Save of his giving
Who gave our living,
Whose hands are weaving
What ours fulfil;
Whose feet tread under
The storms and thunder;
Who made our wonder to work his will.

His years and hours,
His world's blind powers,
His stars and flowers,
His nights and days,
Sea-tide and river,
And waves that shiver,
Praise God, the giver
Of tongues to praise.
Winds in their blowing,
And fruits in growing;
Time in its going,
While time shall be;
In death and living,
With one thanksgiving,
Praise him whose hand is the strength of the sea.

ROSE-RED lilies that bloom on the banner;
Rose-cheeked gardens that revel in spring;
Rose-mouthed acacias that laugh as they climb,
Like plumes for a queen's hand fashioned to fan her
With wind more soft than a wild dove's wing,
What do they sing in the spring of their time

If this be the rose that the world hears singing,
Soft in the soft night, loud in the day,
Songs for the fireflies to dance as they hear;
If that be the song of the nightingale, springing
Forth in the form of a rose in May,
What do they say of the way of the year?

What of the way of the world gone Maying,
What of the work of the buds in the bowers,
What of the will of the wind on the wall,
Fluttering the wall-flowers, sighing and playing,
Shrinking again as a bird that cowers,
Thinking of hours when the flowers have to fall?

Out of the throats of the loud birds showering,
Out of the folds where the flag-lilies leap,
Out of the mouths of the roses stirred,
Out of the herbs on the walls reflowering,
Out of the heights where the sheer snows sleep,
Out of the deep and the steep, one word.

One from the lips of the lily-flames leaping,
The glad red lilies that burn in our sight,
The great live lilies for standard and crown;
One from the steeps where the pines stand sleeping,
One from the deep land, one from the height,
One from the light and the might of the town.

The lowlands laugh with delight of the highlands,
Whence May winds feed them with balm and breath
From hills that beheld in the years behind
A shape as of one from the blest souls' islands,
Made fair by a soul too fair for death,
With eyes on the light that should smite them blind.

Vallombrosa remotely remembers,
Perchance, what still to us seems so near
That time not darkens it, change not mars,
The foot that she knew when her leaves were September's,
The face lift up to the star-blind seer,
That saw from his prison arisen his stars.

And Pisa broods on her dead, not mourning,
For love of her loveliness given them in fee;
And Prato gleams with the glad monk's gift
Whose hand was there as the hand of morning;
And Siena, set in the sand's red sea,
Lifts loftier her head than the red sand's drift.

And far to the fair south-westward lightens,
Girdled and sandalled and plumed with flowers,
At sunset over the love-lit lands,
The hill-side's crown where the wild hill brightens,
Saint Fina's town of the Beautiful Towers,
Hailing the sun with a hundred hands.

Land of us all that have loved thee dearliest,
Mother of men that were lords of man,
Whose name in the world's heart work a spell
My last song's light, and the star of mine earliest,
As we turn from thee, sweet, who wast ours for a span,
Fare well we may not who say farewell.

THE sundawn fills the land
Full as a feaster's hand
Fills full with bloom of bland
Bright wine his cup;
Flows full to flood that fills
From the arch of air it thrills
Those rust-red iron hills
With morning up.

Dawn, as a panther springs,
With fierce and fire-fledged wings
Leaps on the land that rings
From her bright feet
Through all its lava-black
Cones that cast answer back
And cliffs of footless track
Where thunders meet.

The light speaks wide and loud
From deeps blown clean of cloud
As though day's heart were proud
And heaven's were glad;
The towers brown-striped and grey
Take fire from heaven of day
As though the prayers they pray
Their answers had.

Higher in these high first hours
Wax all the keen church towers,
And higher all hearts of ours
Than the old hills' crown,
Higher than the pillared height
Of that strange cliff-side bright
With basalt towers whose might
Strong time bows down.

And the old fierce ruin there
Of the old wild princes' lair
Whose blood in mine hath share
Gapes gaunt and great
Toward heaven that long ago
Watched all the wan land's woe
Whereon the wind would blow
Of their bleak hate.

Dead are those deeds; but yet
Their memory seems to fret
Lands that might else forget
That old world's brand;
Dead all their sins and days;
Yet in this red clime's rays
Some fiery memory stays
That sears their land.

THE year lies fallen and faded
On cliffs by clouds invaded,
With tongues of storms upbraided,
With wrath of waves bedinned;
And inland, wild with warning,
As in deaf ears or scorning,
The clarion even and morning
Rings of the south-west wind.

The wild bents wane and wither
In blasts whose breath bows hither
Their grey-grown heads and thither,
Unblest of rain or sun;
The pale fierce heavens are crowded
With shapes like dreams beclouded,
As though the old year enshrouded
Lay, long ere life were done.

Full-charged with oldworld wonders,
From dusk Tintagel thunders
A note that smites and sunders
The hard frore fields of air;
A trumpet stormier-sounded
Than once from lists rebounded
When strong men sense-confounded
Fell thick in tourney there.

From scarce a duskier dwelling
Such notes of wail rose welling
Through the outer darkness, telling
In the awful singer's ears
What souls the darkness covers,
What love-lost souls of lovers,
Whose cry still hangs and hovers
In each man's born that hears.

For there by Hector's brother
And yet some thousand other
He that had grief to mother
Passed pale from Dante's sight;
With one fast linked as fearless,
Perchance, there only tearless;
Iseult and Tristram, peerless
And perfect queen and knight.

A shrill-winged sound comes flying
North, as of wild souls crying
The cry of things undying,
That know what life must be;
Or as the old year's heart, stricken
Too sore for hope to quicken
By thoughts like thorns that thicken,
Broke, breaking with the sea.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"Four Songs Of Four Seasons" - A Masterpiece by Algernon Charles Swinburne

As a literary enthusiast, I have read countless poems and literary works, but none has dazzled me like Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Four Songs Of Four Seasons." This masterpiece is a collection of four poems, each describing a season and the emotions that come with it. With its vivid imagery, impeccable rhyme, and meter, Swinburne takes the reader on a journey through the four seasons, painting a picture of each one that is both beautiful and poignant.

Spring - "A Watch in the Night"

The first poem in the collection, "A Watch in the Night," is a beautiful ode to spring. Swinburne describes the season in the most vivid of terms, painting a picture of nature bursting forth in all its glory. From the opening lines, the reader is transported to a world of new beginnings and fresh starts.

The earth was green, the sky was blue: I saw and heard one sunny morn A skylark hang between the two, A singing speck above the corn; A stage below, in gay accord, White butterflies danced on the wing, And still the singing skylark soared, And silent sank and soared to sing.

Here, Swinburne uses imagery to bring the scene to life, describing the green earth and blue sky, before painting a picture of a skylark hovering above the corn. The use of alliteration in "singing speck" and "white butterflies" emphasizes the beauty of the scene, while the repetition of "soared" adds to the sense of movement and motion.

One of the things that struck me about this poem is the way Swinburne captures the fleeting nature of spring. He describes how the skylark "sank and soared to sing," emphasizing the transience of the season and its beauty. This theme is further reinforced in the final stanza:

The earth, that’s nature’s mother, is her tomb; But she, that is herself mother and nurse, Still hopes that sometime her beloved womb May bring forth fruit to feed her child, the universe.

Here, Swinburne acknowledges the cyclical nature of life and death, but also hints at the hope of renewal and new beginnings that come with spring.

Summer - "July"

The second poem in the collection, "July," is a love letter to the summer season. Here, Swinburne captures the essence of long, lazy days spent basking in the sun and enjoying life's simple pleasures. The opening lines set the tone for the poem:

The strong midsummer sun Unmarked by cloud or shade, Fills all the land with life And leaves us stunned and made Who mark time’s fullness and the sigh of days.

The use of alliteration in "strong midsummer sun" and "stunned and made" adds to the sense of heat and languor, while the repetition of "and" emphasizes the abundance of the season.

One of the things I love about this poem is the way Swinburne captures the joy of summer. He describes how "the air is full of wings," and how the "river-runs festive dances." These lines evoke a sense of movement and life, as if the world is in a constant state of celebration.

However, Swinburne's portrayal of summer is not entirely idyllic. In the final stanza, he acknowledges the dark side of the season:

So sweet, so soft, so fair The bed was that we made, Though, now the winds be as they may, No lily lives in shade, Nor any rose blown on our spray.

Here, Swinburne describes the passing of summer and the inevitability of change. He acknowledges that even the most beautiful things must come to an end, but also hints at the possibility of new beginnings.

Autumn - "Adieux à Marie Stuart"

The third poem in the collection, "Adieux à Marie Stuart," is a melancholy ode to autumn. Swinburne describes the season in somber terms, painting a picture of decay and loss. The opening lines set the tone for the poem:

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair, Now the sun is laid to sleep, Seated in thy silver chair, State in wonted manner keep: Hesperus entreats thy light, Goddess, excellently bright.

Here, Swinburne addresses the goddess of the hunt, Diana, and asks her to keep her usual watch over the world. The use of personification in "the sun is laid to sleep" and "Hesperus entreats thy light" creates a sense of foreboding, as if something is about to end.

Throughout the poem, Swinburne uses imagery to capture the fading beauty of autumn. He describes how "the leaves are falling, falling," and how "the melancholy wind / Blows bleak across the barren moor." These lines convey a sense of desolation and loss, as if the world is slowly slipping into darkness.

However, despite the somber tone of the poem, Swinburne also hints at the possibility of rebirth and renewal. In the final stanza, he writes:

Come, then, be patient yet awhile, Thou who hast set thy heart away Upon a vain desire and guile: The truth shall make thee free one day. I shall not weep, I shall not pray, But reason live, for reason says That thou and I are beasts of prey, And that the sunshine kills and slays.

Here, Swinburne acknowledges the harsh realities of life, but also hints at the possibility of redemption and growth.

Winter - "A Year's Carols"

The final poem in the collection, "A Year's Carols," is a celebration of the winter season. Swinburne describes the harshness of the season in vivid terms, painting a picture of snow and cold. The opening lines set the tone for the poem:

The years are many, the winters are few, Since first we saw the rim of the sun And felt the breath of the breeze it blew, And knew that the year had begun: And now on the threshold of life we stand, And measure the steps that we take with a hand That shakes, as we see from our door the snow That falls on the world we shall shortly know.

Here, Swinburne captures the sense of anticipation that comes with winter, as people prepare for the cold and snow to come. The use of rhyme and meter adds to the sense of rhythm and movement, creating a feeling of momentum and progress.

One of the things I love about this poem is the way Swinburne captures the sense of community that comes with winter. He describes how "the world is a Christmas tree," and how "the bells of the church are ringing." These lines evoke a sense of joy and togetherness, as if the world is coming together to celebrate.

However, Swinburne also acknowledges the harshness of winter, describing how "the snow lies deep on the road." In the final stanza, he writes:

The year runs out like a spent hour, And leaves in the wilderness of the past The dead days, dead and without power, The years that die and are over at last. But warm in the winter the fire will glow, And hearts that are frozen will melt like the snow.

Here, Swinburne acknowledges the passing of time, but also hints at the possibility of renewal and growth. He suggests that even in the darkest of seasons, there is always the possibility of warmth and light.


In "Four Songs Of Four Seasons," Algernon Charles Swinburne has created a masterpiece of poetry. Each of the four poems captures the essence of a season, painting a picture of nature and the human experience that is both beautiful and poignant. Through his use of vivid imagery, impeccable rhyme, and meter, Swinburne takes the reader on a journey through the four seasons, evoking a sense of wonder, joy, and melancholy. This collection is a testament to Swinburne's skill as a poet and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience in all its beauty and complexity.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Four Songs of Four Seasons" is a collection of four poems that celebrate the beauty and wonder of nature throughout the year. Each poem is dedicated to a different season, and Swinburne's vivid imagery and lyrical language capture the essence of each season in a unique and powerful way.

The first poem, "A Song of Spring," is a celebration of the rebirth and renewal that comes with the arrival of spring. Swinburne's use of language is particularly effective in this poem, as he employs a variety of poetic devices to convey the joy and energy of the season. For example, he uses alliteration to create a sense of movement and momentum, as in the line "The wind's wings winnowing, like a bride's whose hair grows long." This line not only captures the sound of the wind, but also suggests the growth and vitality of spring.

Swinburne also uses metaphor to convey the beauty and power of nature in spring. For example, he describes the flowers as "stars upon earth's heaven," suggesting that they are both beautiful and otherworldly. He also compares the sun to a "golden god," emphasizing its warmth and life-giving power. Through these metaphors, Swinburne suggests that nature is not just beautiful, but also divine.

The second poem, "A Song of Summer," is a celebration of the warmth and abundance of the season. Swinburne's language in this poem is more sensual and languid than in the previous one, reflecting the slower pace of summer. He uses imagery of the sea and the sky to convey the vastness and beauty of the natural world, as in the lines "The sea's breadth and the sky's height and the life of things therein."

Swinburne also employs repetition and rhyme to create a sense of rhythm and harmony in the poem. For example, he repeats the phrase "the long days" several times, emphasizing the length and abundance of summer. He also uses internal rhyme, as in the line "The rose-red depth of the sunset," which creates a sense of musicality and beauty.

The third poem, "A Song of Autumn," is a celebration of the changing colors and moods of the season. Swinburne's language in this poem is more melancholy and reflective than in the previous two, reflecting the wistfulness of autumn. He uses imagery of the leaves and the wind to convey the transience and fragility of life, as in the lines "The leaves fall in the water like dreams in sleep."

Swinburne also employs repetition and contrast to create a sense of tension and drama in the poem. For example, he contrasts the "golden" leaves of autumn with the "gray" sky, suggesting both the beauty and the sadness of the season. He also repeats the phrase "the year's last, loveliest smile," emphasizing the fleeting nature of beauty and happiness.

The fourth poem, "A Song of Winter," is a celebration of the stillness and quiet of the season. Swinburne's language in this poem is more spare and austere than in the previous three, reflecting the starkness of winter. He uses imagery of the snow and the stars to convey the purity and clarity of the natural world, as in the lines "The snows are silent where they fall, and silent into snow."

Swinburne also employs repetition and contrast to create a sense of stillness and peace in the poem. For example, he repeats the phrase "the world is white," emphasizing the simplicity and purity of winter. He also contrasts the "silent" snow with the "loud" winds of other seasons, suggesting that winter is a time of quiet contemplation and reflection.

Overall, Swinburne's "Four Songs of Four Seasons" is a powerful celebration of the beauty and wonder of nature throughout the year. Through his vivid imagery and lyrical language, he captures the essence of each season in a unique and powerful way, reminding us of the beauty and power of the natural world. Whether we are celebrating the rebirth of spring, the abundance of summer, the transience of autumn, or the stillness of winter, Swinburne's poems remind us to appreciate and cherish the world around us.

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