The Emperor's Progress

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

A Study in Three Stages

(On the Busts of Nero in the Uffizj.)


A child of brighter than the morning's birth
    And lovelier than all smiles that may be smiled
    Save only of little children undefiled,
Sweet, perfect, witless of their own dear worth,
Live rose of love, mute melody of mirth,
    Glad as a bird is when the woods are mild,
    Adorable as is nothing save a child,
Hails with wide eyes and lips his life on earth,
His lovely life with all its heaven to be.
    And whoso reads the name inscribed or hears
    Feels his own heart a frozen well of tears,
Child, for deep dread and fearful pity of thee
Whom God would not let rather die than see
    The incumbent horror of impending years.


Man, that wast godlike being a child, and now,
    No less than kinglike, art no more in sooth
    For all thy grace and lordliness of youth,
The crown that bids men's branded foreheads bow
Much more has branded and bowed down thy brow
    And gnawn upon it as with fire or tooth
    Of steel or snake so sorely, that the truth
Seems here to bear false witness. Is it thou,
Child? and is all the summer of all thy spring
    This? are the smiles that drew men's kisses down
    All faded and transfigured to the frown
That grieves thy face? Art thou this weary thing?
    Then is no slave's load heavier than a crown
And such a thrall no bondman as a king.


Misery, beyond all men's most miserable,
    Absolute, whole, defiant of defence,
    Inevitable, inexplacable, intense,
More vast than heaven is high, more deep than hell,
Past cure or charm of solace or of spell,
    Possesses and pervades the spirit and sense
    Whereto the expanse of the earth pays tribute; whence
Breeds evil only, and broods on fumes that swell
Rank from the blood of brother and mother and wife.
    "Misery of miseries, all is misery," saith
The heavy fair-faced hateful head, at strife
    With its own lusts that burn with feverous breath
Lips which the loathsome bitterness of life
    Leaves fearful of the bitterness of death.

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