Thanks to Terry L. Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus, The College of William and Mary, for pointing out on the discussion group Victoria that Russell Potter, Professor of English and Director of Media Studies at Rhode Island College and an expert on Franklin, had placed Swinburne’s undergraduate poem about Franklin online on his college site. In a personal e-mail, Professor Potter related that at his suggestion, two lines from Swinburne were used on a plaque marking the site on King William Island where the remains of Harry Goodsir, Franklin's Surgeon-Naturalist aboard HMS "Erebus," were found in 2018. —  George P. Landow

'The unfriendly elements
Forgot thee utterly ---
Where, for a monument upon thy bones,
And e'er-remaining lamps, the belching whale
And humming water must o'erwhelm thy corpse ;
Lying with simple shells.' --- PERICLES [III.I].


As one who having dreamed all night of death
Puts out a hand to feel the sleeping face
Next his, and wonders that the lips have breath --
So we, for years not touching on their trace,
Marvelled at news of those we counted dead,
'For now the strong snows in some iron place
Have covered them; their end shall not be said
Till all the hidden parts of time be plain
And all the writing of all years be read.'
So men spake sadly and their speech was vain,
For here the end stands clear, and men at ease
May gather the sharp fruit of that past pain
Out in some barren creek of the cold seas
Where the slow shapes of the grey water-weed
Freeze midway as the languid inlets freeze.


This is the end. There is no nobler word
In the large writing and scored marge of time
Than such endurance is. Ear hath not heard
Nor hath eye seen in all the world's bounded clime
The patience of their life, as the sharp years
And the slow months wrought out their rounded rhyme
No man made count of those keen hopes and fears
Which were such labour to them, it may be;
That strong sweet will whereto pain ministers
And sharpest time doth service patiently.
Wrought without praise or failed without a name,
Those gulfs and inlets of the channelled sea
Hide half the witness that should fill with fame
Our common air in England, and the breath
That speech of them should kindle to keen flame
Flags in the midway record of their death.


Is this the end? is praise so light a thing
As rumour unto rumour tendereth
And time wears out of care and thanks-giving?
Then praise and shame have narrow difference,
If either fly with so displumed wing
That chance and time and this imprisoned sense
Can maim or measure the spanned flight of it
By the ruled blanks of their experience,
Then only Fortune hath the scroll and writ
Of all good deeds our memory lives upon;
And the slack judgment of her barren wit
Appoints the award of all things that are done.


The perfect choice and rarest of all good
Abides not in broad air or public sun;
Being spoke of, it is not understood;
Being shown, it has no beauty to be loved;
And the slow pulse of each man's daily blood
For joy thereat is no more quickly moved;
Itself has knowledge of itself, and is
By its own witness measured and approved;
Yea, even well pleased to be otherwise;
Nor wear the raiment of a good repute
Nor have the record of large memories.
Close leaves combine above the covered fruit;
Earth, that gives much, holds back her costliest;
And in blind night sap comes into the root;
Things known are good, but hidden things are best.
Therefore, albiet we know good deeds of these,
Let no man deem he knows the worthiest.
He who hath found the measure of the seas,
And the wind's ways have ruled and limited,
He knows the print of their wild passages,
The same may speak the praise of these men dead.
And having heard him we may surely know
There is no more to say than he hath said
And as his witness is the thing was so.


What praise shall England give these men her friends?
For while the bays and the large channels flow
In the broad sea between the iron ends
Of the posied world where no safe sail may be,
And for white miles the hard ice never blends
With the chill washing edges of dull sea --
And while to praise her green and girdled land
Shall be the same as to praise Liberty --
So long the record of these men shall stand,
Because they chose not life but rather death,
Each side being weighed with a most equal hand,
Because the gift they had of English breath
They did give back to England for her sake
Like those dead seamen of Elizabeth
And those who wrought with Nelson and with Blake
To do great England service their lives long --
High honour shall they have; their deeds shall make
Their spoken names sound sweeter than all song.
This England hath not made a better man,
More steadfast, or more wholly pure of wrong
Since the large book of English praise began.
For out of his great heart and reverence,
And finding love too large for life to span,
He gave up life, that she might gather thence
The increase of the seasons and their praise.
Therefore his name shall be her evidence,
And wheresoever tongue or thought gainsays
Our land the witness of her ancient worth,
She may make answer to the later days
That she was chosen also for this birth,
And take all honour to herself and laud,
Because such men are made out of her earth
Yea, wheresoever her report is broad,
This new thing also shall be said of her
That hearing it, hate may not stand unawed
That Franklin was her friend and minister;
So shall the alien tongue forego its blame,
And for his love shall hold her lovelier
And for his worth more worthy; so his fame
Shall be the shield and strength of her defence,
Since where he was can be not any shame.


These things that are and shall abide from hence
It may be that he sees them now, being dead.
And it may be that when the smitten sense
Began to pause, and pain was quieted,
And labour almost kissed the lips of peace,
And sound and sight of usual things had fled
From the most patient face of his decease,
He saw them also then; we cannot say;
But surely when the pained breath found ease
And put the heaviness of life away,
Such things as these were not estranged from him;
The soul, grown too rebellious to stay
This shameful body where all things are dim,
Abode awhile in them and was made glad
In its blind pause upon the middle rim
Between the new life and the life it had,
This noble England that must hold him dear,
Always, and always in his name keep sad
Her histories, and embalm with costly fear
And with rare hope and with a royal pride
Her memories of him that honoured her,
Was this not worth the pain wherein he died?
And in that lordly praise and large account
Was not his ample spirit satisfied?
He who slakes thirst at some uncleaner fount
Shall thirst again; but he shall win full ease
Who finds pure wells far up the painful mount.


For the laborious time went hard with these
Among the thousand colours and gaunt shapes
Of the strong ice cloven with breach of seas,
Where the waste sullen shadow of steep capes
Narrows across the cloudy-coloured brine
And by strong jets the angered foam escapes,
And a sad touch of sun scores the sea-line
Right at the middle motion of the noon
And then fades sharply back, and the cliffs shine
Fierce with keen snows against a kindled moon
In the hard purple of the bitter sky,
And thro' some rift as tho' an axe had hewn
Two spars of crag athwart alternately
Flares the loose lIght of that large Boreal day
Down half the sudden heaven, and with a cry
Sick sleep is shaken from the soul away,
And men leap up to see and have delight
For the sharp flame and strength of its white ray
From east to west burning upon the night;
And cliff and berg take fire from it, and stand
Like things distinct in customary sight,
And all the northern foam and frost,
and all The wild ice lying large to either hand;
And like the broken stones of some strange wall
Built to be girdle to the utmost earth,
Brow-bound with snows and made imperial,
Lean crags with coloured ice for crown and girth
Stand midway with those iron seas in face
Far up the straitened shallows of the firth.


So winter-bound in such disastrous place,
Doubtless the time seemed heavier and more hard
Than elsewhere in all scope and range of space;
Doubtless the backward thought and broad regard
Was bitter to their soqls, remembering
How in soft England the warm lands were starred
With gracious flowers in the green front of spring,
And all the branches' tender over-growth,
Where the quick birds took sudden heart to sing;
And how the meadows in their sweet May sloth
Grew thick with grass as soft as song or sleep;
So, looking back, their hearts grew sere and loath
And their chafed pulses felt the blood to creep
More vexed and painfully; yea, and this too
Possessed perchance their eyes with thirst to weep
More than green fields or the May weather's blue
Mere recollection of aU dearer things.
Slight words they used to say, slight work to do,
When every day was more than many springs,
And the strong April moved at heart, and made
Sweet mock at fortune and the seat of kings;
The naked sea and the bare lengths of land
And all the years that fade and grow and fade
Were pleasant years for them to live upon,
And time's gold raiment was not rent nor frayed;
But now they know not if such things be done,
Nor how the old ways and old places fare,
Nor whether there be change in the glad sun,
Defect and loss in all the fragrant air;
New feet are in the waymarks of their feet;
The bitter savour of remembered sweet
No doubt did touch their lips in some sharp guise;
No doubt the pain of thought and fever-heat
Put passion in the patience of their eyes --


Yet in the edge and keenest nerve of pain
For no such comfort ever wholly dies,
And as hurt patience healed and grew again
This knowledge came, that neither land nor life
Nor all soft things whereof the will is fain
Nor love of friends not wedded faith of wife
Nor all of these nor any among these
Make a man's best, but rather loss and strife,
Failure, endurance, and high scorn of ease;
Love strong as death, and valour strong as love,
Therefore among the winter-wasted seas,
No flaw being found upon them to reprove, --
These whom GOD's grace, calling them one by one,
In unknown ways did patiently remove,
To have new heaven and earth, new air and sun, --
These chose the best; therefore their name shall be
Part of all noble things that shall be done,
Part of the royal record of the sea.


Related material


Harrison, Anthony H. Swinburne's Medievalism: A Study in Victorian Love Poetry. .

The Poems of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 6 volumes, London: Chatto & Windus, 1904.

Last modified 11 September 2019