Swinburne

Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837-1901

We begin at Bonchurch, the Southern part of the Isle of Wight, where Swinburne, surrounded by High Church, Aristocratic Anglicans, began his life. First there was Sir John Swinburne, the poet’s grandfather, athiest, Jacobin, friend of French culture, who filled him with grand tales during walks around the family estate. His red-haired father, Admiral Charles Henry Swinburne, loathed the arts, literature, and music, but had a splendid capacity for invention and the adaptation of mechanical devices. Alas, Swinburne’s short stubby fingers could not manage the simplest of machines. In contrast, his mother, Lady Jane, daughter of the third Earl of Ashburnham, filled the young boy with all sort of thoughts from her readings in English, French, and Italian, thus setting the germ of his ideas were of literature rather than of life. Especially themes taken from Lamb’s Specimens of the English Dramatic Poets. Swinburne, in conversation with Edmund Gosse, said “That book taught me more than any other in the world.” The joys he experienced in this environment were sufficient to support whatever else he would encounter in life. Critics refer to this as Swinburne’s “arrested development.” He was no Baudelaire, and even in later life his writings of love reflect a dreamy, inexperienced, boyish approach completely unaware of the true role of an amorist. See The Triumph of Time, Hertha, and Ave Atque Vale.

“And the best and the worst of this is
That neither is most to blame
If you’ve forgotten my kisses
And I’ve forgotten your name.” Interlude

He writes of his childhood:

“The sun to sport in and the cliffs to scale,
The sea to clasp and wrestle with, till breath
For rapture more than weariness would fail,
All golden gifts of dawn, whose record saith
That time nor change may turn their life to death,
Live not in loving thought alone, though there
The life they live be lovelier than they were
When clothed in present light and actual air.”

At one point close to the end of his life, unable to spend a summer holiday in his childhood home he wrote:

“The joy that lives at heart and home,
The joy to rest, the joy to roam,
The joy of crags and scaurs he clomb,
The rapture of the encountering foam
Embraced and breasted by the boy,
The first good steed his knees bestrode
The first wild sound of songs that flowed
Through ears that thrilled and hearts that glowed
Fulfilled his death with joy.”

Very few critics were in support of Swinburne portraying him as: “Peter Pan”, a “chryselephantine marionette with fluttering hands”, “a mirror flashing to the light of other suns, as a bundle of dried herbs blazing fierce and aromatic to the fire of other people’s inspiration,” “some garish faun whirling lasciviously through the drab decade of mid-Victorianism,” “a picture of a half-epileptic, half-dipsomaniac, retiring to an inebriates home” while supporters referred to him as “the most exciting thing that ever happened”. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe him as another teen-ager adrift a la Keats, Shelley, and Byron.

At the age of twelve, when he entered Eton, he encountered a bevy of ridicule based on his looks. He was described as:

“...a fragile little creature he seemed as he stood there between his father and mother. Under his arm he hugged his Bowdler’s Shakespeare...His limbs were small and delicate, and his sloping shoulders looked far too weak to carry his great head, the size of which was exaggerated by the tousled mass of red hair standing almost at right angles to it...marked by green...... eyes.”

Setting aside his idyllic childhood, Swinburne was a man of contradictions: Northumbrian, yet leaning to French, Italian, and Greek; aristocrat yet revolutionary; combative yet submissive; pagan but pious, lovesick but never in love, detached from ordinary life yet mindful of the a universal of experiences. One biographer (Gosse) writes “His imagination was always swinging, like a pendulum, between the North and the South, between Paganism and Puritanism, between resignation to the instincts and an ascetic repudiation of their authority." It is the conflict between the two moods that is the most interesting feature in Swinburne's verse, apart from its purely artistic qualities.”

John Ruskin says of Swinburne, “All I can say of you is that God made you, and that you are very wonderful...There is assuredly something wrong with you...awful in proportion to the great power if effects, and renders you at present useless...It seems to be peculiar judgment - curse of modern days that all their greatest men shall be plague-struck.” He may also be a good candidate for what Ruskin’s term “pathetic fallacy.” [Note: In his work Modern Painters Ruskin presents the idea of “pathetic fallacy” where “two kinds of fallacy in poetry: first is "willful fancy" in which we assign attributes to things "with no real expectation that it will be believed" and the kind of fallacy that happens when violent feelings produce a falseness in our impressions of external things. This latter is the pathetic fallacy. There is a difference between using metaphor and simile that involve natural objects and the use of them that assigns human feeling or emotion to them, which is what the pathetic fallacy does. It is also not a commission of the pathetic fallacy if comparisons or characterizations occur in conceits that are meant to conflict with the actual emotions in play. It is the pathetic fallacy when men are too moved or full of emotion to apprehend something in its true state.”] We cite Swinburne’s “dead sorrow is not sorrowful to hear”, “blind as a flame of fire”, “death looks gigantically down.” as examples of the first. Shelley’s Adonais as an example of the second.

Evidence indicates that Swinburne was dependent on an inspirer; a master, a hero, a figure to imitate, emulate, and mirror and direct his life. Early on it was Victor Hugo for whom he wrote an birthday ode and an elegy. First the Birthday Ode from Songs of Springtime. Note that work contains thirteen strophes, thirteen antistrophes and thirteen epodes:

“Love and praise, and a length of days whose shadow cast upon time is light,
Days whose sound was a spell shed round from wheeling wings as of doves in flight,
Meet in one, that the mounting sun to-day may triumph, and cast out night.

Two years more than the full fourscore lay hallowing hands on a sacred head--
Scarce one score of the perfect four uncrowned of fame as they smiled and fled:
Still and soft and alive aloft their sunlight stays though the suns be dead.
Ere we were or were thought on, ere the love that gave us to life began,
Fame grew strong with his crescent song, to greet the goal of the race they ran,
Song with fame, and the lustrous name with years whose changes acclaimed the man.
Soon, ere time in the rounding rhyme of choral seasons had hailed us men,
We too heard and acclaimed the word whose breath was life upon England then--
Life more bright than the breathless light of soundless noon in a songless glen.
Ah, the joy of the heartstruck boy whose ear was opened of love to hear!
Ah, the bliss of the burning kiss of song and spirit, the mounting cheer
Lit with fire of divine desire and love that knew not if love were fear!
Fear and love as of heaven above and earth enkindled of heaven were one;
One white flame, that around his name grew keen and strong as the worldwide sun;
Awe made bright with implied delight, as weft with weft of the rainbow spun.
He that fears not the voice he hears and loves shall never have heart to sing:
All the grace of the sun-god's face that bids the soul as a fountain spring
Bids the brow that receives it bow, and hail his likeness on earth as king.
We that knew when the sun's shaft flew beheld and worshipped, adored and heard:
Light rang round it of shining sound, whence all men's hearts were subdued and stirred:
Joy, love, sorrow, the day, the morrow, took life upon them in one man's word.
Not for him can the years wax dim, nor downward swerve on a darkening way:
Upward wind they, and leave behind such light as lightens the front of May:
Fair as youth and sublime as truth we find the fame that we hail to-day.

Now the ode:

“Praised above men be thou,
Whose laurel-laden brow,
Made for the morning, droops not in the night;
Praised and beloved, that none
Of all thy great things done
Flies higher than thy most equal spirit’s flight;
Praised, that nor doubt nor hope could bend
Earth’s lofteist head, found upright to the end.”

Next, in minor scope, was the Italian patriot Guiseppe Mazzini. But it was Steven Landor who was best fitted to the role, being already eighty-nine years old when they met in Florence. There were three aspects of Landor’s persona that Swinburne adopted: he composed out of doors; was devoted to children; and wrote everything in his mind before setting it to ink. Sidney Colvin writes of Landor: “His mode of writing was peculiar; he would sit absorbed in apparently vacant thought,...when he was ready, he would seize suddenly on one of the many scraps of paper and one of the many stumps of swan’s-quill that usually lay at hand, and would write down what was in his head...” [See Henderson’s Swinburne and Landor.] Thus Swinburne came to wrote most of poetry out of doors. Gosse writes “in the streets, he had the movements of a somnambulist; and often I have seen him passing like a ghost across the traffic of Holborn or threading the pressure of carts eastward in Gray’s Inn Road, without glancing to the left or to the right, like something blown before a wind...He would sit for a long time together without stirring a limb, his eyes fixed in a sort of trance, and only his lips shifting...” He wrote fondly of childhood, producing a collection of poems for childhood titled The Springtide of Life. Swinburne himself queries on reading his George Chapman: “Did you notice just now some pages of a rather Landorian character?” Swinburne writes of the relationship “youngest (Youth) to the oldest (Time) singer that England bore.”

“Between the green bud and the red
Youth sat and sang by Time, and shed
From eyes and tresses flowers and tears,
From heart and spirit hopes and fears,
Upon the hollow stream whose bed
Is channelled by the foamless years...;
And with the white the gold-haired head
Mixed running locks, and in Time’s ears
Youth’s dreams hung singing, and Time’s truth.
Was half not harsh in the ears of Youth.” Prelude

His serious writing would begin at Eton (expelled before completion) and continue at Balliol College, Oxford. This was a period of ten years, 1850-1860. His first volume of verse was published in 1860, written in the “language and poetic style of Shakespeare” and dedicated to Dante Gabriel Rossetti in these words:

“Calmly, thay royal robe of death around thee,
Thou sleepest, and weeping brethren round thee stand
Gently they placed, ere yet God’s angel crown’d thee,
My lily in thy hand!

I never knew thee living, O my brother!
But on thy breast my lily of love now lies;
And by that token, we shall know each other,
When God’s voice saith ‘Arise!”

Written in this same time frame were the dramatic poems Rosamond and The Queen Mother. They initiated little interest among readers. Then came the succés de scandale. Poems and Ballads by 1866 Swinburne became, “if not the most popular, certainly the most notorious of living poets” by publishing. This work was described as “the brilliant escapade of an exceedingly naughty fifteen-year-old boy” in one paper and in another “they represent a protest against the idyllic and tender optimism of Tennyson.” While the Saturday Review 8/66 wrote:

“Mr. Swinburne riots in the profusion of color of the most garish and heated kind. He is like a composer who should fill his orchestra with trumpets, or a painter who should exclude every color but a blaring red and a green as of sour fruit. There are not twenty stanzas in the whole book which have the faintest tincture of soberness. We are in the midst of fire and serpents, wine and ashes, blood and foam, and a hundred lurid horrors. Unsparing use of the most violent colors and the most intoxicated ideas and images, Mr. Swinburne’s prime characteristic.” From others “a fiery imp from the pit”, “He is either the vindictive and scornful apostle of a crushing iron-shod despair, or else the libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs”. Critics pounced upon four or five pieces “and the hapless poet was assailed with every form of denunciation and vituperation in the arsenal of the newspaper custodians of morality.” The book surfaced again in the 1917 June issue of The Literary Digest as part of a review of Edmund Gosses’s new biography of Swinburne. In this review P and B was recalled as a “bombshell that struck literary England a little past the last century” and “A mid-Victorian literary tempest”...”If the friends of Swinburne were excited over the prospect of stinging the bourgeois moral self-satisfaction of the British public they little reckoned what he could produce.” He became the “poet of morbid sensualism.” The controversy continued with Robert Buchanan’s essay The Fleshly School of Poetry criticism that followed Swinburne throughout his life.

The Garden of Proserpine, to some it is described as “written in the spirit of pagan philosophy.” True, there is the idea of the Greek underworld “where buds are barren and nothing comes to fruit” but the object here is to establish a mood spawned by the effects of “too much of living”, “half in love with easeful Death” “to long for death through forgetfulness, “to drink of Lethe and eat of the lotus” a time now “where spent waves riot.” Note the similarity to Tennyson’s The Lotus Eaters.

Next his most notable verses from abroad: Prelude, Hertha, The Pilgrims, and the Hymn of Man. Followed by a path into prose particularly his essay on William Blake. After a few years abroad, he returned to The Pines (1879-1909) where, completely taken over by the English critic Watts-Dunton, he wrote a trilogy of Scottish history; another Greek tragedy, Erechtheus, and what critics believe is “the most melodious, passionate, and tragic romances in English Literature, Tristram and Lyonesse. Nicholoson writes: “The facts are patent, Swinburne had lost his health, his self-control, his dignity, almost certainly his zest in life; he was losing even, a more pitiable..., the pride in his own genius.”
His biographer Welby writes: “From time to time, and especially from 1876 to 1879, the wings drooped, the bright, defiant head bowed, the wild eyes were turned inwards questioningly, sorrowfully.” Whether Watts-Dunton was his redeemer or his captor is argued in a biogaphy by Gosse who describes the adoption by Watts-Dunton as self-serving interference. “In spite of ill-health and chronic alcoholism his life spanned two-thirds of the nineteenth century and almost the first decade of the twentieth century publishing major works every year up until his death.”

Poetry to Swinburne was rhythm, rhyme, melody and measure to the expense of substance. He wrote: “Rhyme is the native condition of lyric verse in English; a rhymeless lyric is a maimed thing, and halts and stammers in the delivery of its message...To throw away the natural grace of rhyme...is a wilful abdication of half the power and half the charm of verse.” Swinburne

He restored the anapest ( ̆ ̆ ʹ ̆ ̆ ʹ ) to English poetry as in Erechtheus:

“From the depth of the springs of my spirit a fountain is poured of thanksgiving,
My country, my mother, for thee,
That thy dead for their death shall have life in thy sight and a name for ever living
At heart of thy people to be.
In the darkness of change on the waters of time they shall turn from afar
To the beam of this dawn for a beacon, the light of these pyres for a star.
They shall see thee who love and take comfort, who hate thee shall see and take warning,
Our mother that makest us free;
And the sons of thine earth shall have help of the waves that made war on their morning,
And friendship and fame of the sea.”

There were memorable alliterations:

“When the hound of spring are on winter’s traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With list of lives and ripples of rain
And the brown, bright nightingale amorous” Chorus - Atalanta

“The best of all my days
Have been as those fair fruitless summer stray,
Those water-waifs but the sea-wind steers
Flakes of glad foam or flowers on footless ways
That take the wind in season and the sun
And when the wind wills is their season done...” On the Cliffs

His couplets, stopped and enjambed in Tristram of Lyonese

“Love, that is first and last of all things made,
The light that has the living world for shade,
The spirit that for temporal veil has on
The souls of all men woven in unison,
One fiery raiment with all lives inwrought
And lights of sunny and starry deed and thought.”

Swinburne wrote poetry, novels, closet-dramas, and satire; one genre notably absent was humor. Of form, he created the roundel a version of the French rondeau. In fact he wrote an entire book of one hundred in a variety of meters from four to eighteen lines dedicated to Christina Rossetti.

The following is titled The Roundel and follows the pattern aba refrain; bab; aba refrain.

“A roundel is wrought is a ring or a startright sphere
With craft of delight and with cunning of sound unsound
That the heart of the hearer may smile if to please his ear.
A roundel is wrought.

Its jewel of music is carved of all or of aught
Love, laughter, or mourning, remembrance of rapture or fear
That fancy may fashion to hang in the ear of thought.

As a bird’s quick song runs round, and the hearts in us hear
Pause answer to pause, and again the same strain caught
So moves the device whence round, as a pearl or tear
A roundel is wrought.”

The Italian sestet from Atalanta the example given under characteristic seven was said by Ruskin to be “the grandest thing ever done by a youth, though it is Demoniac youth.”. These revivals of the romantic mode were somewhat of a shock to readers who were accustomed to Tennyson’s approach, that is to endow heroes and heroines with the moral preferences of Victorian English behaviors. An example of one of his many quatrains is Genesis.

“The immotal war of mortal things, that is
Labour and life and growth and good and ill,
The mild antiphones that melt and kiss,
The violent symphonies that meet and kill,

All nature of all things began to be,
But chiefest in the spirit (beast or man,
Planet of heaven or blossom of earth or sea)
The divine contraries of life began.” 1865

Hope and Fear is an example of one of his sonnets.
“Beneath the shadow of dawn’s aerial cope,
With eyes enkindled as the sun’s own sphere,
Hope from the front of youth in godlike cheer
Looks Godward, past the shades where blind men grope
And makes for joy the very darkness dear
That gives her wide wings play; nor dreams that fear
At noon may rise and pierce the heart of hope.
Then, when the soul leaves off to dream and yearn,
May truth first purge her eyesight to discern
What once being known leaves time no power to appal;
Will youth at last, ere yet youth be not, learn
The kind wise word that falls from years that fall
‘Hope thou not much, and fear thou not at all.’”

His writings fill several volumes, mostly lengthy works, critiques, narratives, plays, even a complete rhymed bibliography of the works of Victor Hugo. We should also include his dramatic monologues Hymn to Proserpine, Dolores, and Faustine. One questions with so many offerings, why the lack of popular readership? Two possibilities have been proposed. The first is that the subject matter was too far removed from the public’s everyday interests, too much in the line of old world history. The second and equally significant, is that his works were published in a format not accessible to the average reader: instead of a few short poems, he opted to publish in large volumes. Not only were they too cumbersome, but the expensive ornamentation placed them out of reach for everyday men and women.

So what are the characteristics we glean from words and his works?

Our first characteristic is delight in sea and pride in England.

“England, queen of the waves whose green inviolate girdle enrings thee round,
Mother fair as the morning, where is now the place of thy foemen found?
Still the sea that salutes us free proclaims them stricken, acclaims thee crowned.
Times may change, and the skies grow strange with sings of treason and fraud and fear;
Foes in union of strange communion may rise against thee from far and near:
Sloth and greed on thy strength may feed as cankers waxing from year to year.
Yet, through treason and fierce unreason should league and lie and defame and smite,
We that know thee, how far below thee the hatred burns of the sons of night,
We that love thee, behold above thee the witness written of life in light.” The Queen Mother

“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” The Death of Sir John Franklin 1858 possibly 1860

“And over them, while death and life shall be
The light and sound and darkness of the sea...
It is not much that a man can save
On the sands of life, in the straits of time,
Who swims in sight of the great third wave
That never a swimmer shall cross or climb.
Some waif washed up with the strays and spars
That ebb-tide shows to the shore and the stars;
Weed from the water, grass from a grave,
A broken blossom, a ruined rhyme.” The Triumph of Time

By those eyes blinded and that heavenly head
And the secluded soul adorable,
O Milton's land, what ails thee to be dead?
Thine ears are yet sonorous with his shell
That all the songs of all thy sea-line fed
With motive sound of spring-tides at mid swell,
And through thine heart his thought as blood is shed,
Requickening thee with wisdom to do well;
Such sons were of thy womb,
England, for love of whom
Thy name is not yet writ with theirs that fell,
But, till thou quite forget
What were thy children, yet
On the pale lips of hope is as a spell;
And Shelley's heart and Landor's mind
Lit thee with latter watch-fires; why wilt thou be blind? On the Eve of Revolution

“O our Republic that shalt bind in bands
The kingdomless far lands
And link the chainless ages; thou that wast
With England ere she passed
Among the faded nations, and shalt be
Again, when sea to sea
Calls through the wind and light of morning time,
And throneless clime to clime
Makes antiphonal answer; thou art
Where one man’s perfect heart
Burns, one man’s brow is brightened for thy sake,
Thin, strong to make or break.”

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“In the tercentenary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Swinburne found a subject that enlisted his noblest sympathies, and produced one of the greatest of his patriotic poems.” Payne

“A Republican who was also an Englishman...”

“Swinburne has always been an avowed republican, his ideal of republicanism being that of Milton...rather than that of the spokesmen of modern democracy. It is such a republic, a commonwealth in which men shall be wise enough to trust those whom they have exalted to leadership, in which a recognition of the duties of man shall be reckoned of more importance than a clamorous insistence upon his rights.”

Our second characteristic is literary scholarship through criticism. (In response to criticism on the choice of subject-matter)

“The question whether past or present afford the highest matter for high poetry and offer the noblest reward to the noble workman...is really less debatable on any rational ground that the question of the aim of art...Art knows nothing of time; for her there is one tense, and all ages in her sight are alike present; there is nothing old in her sight, and nothing new...She cannot be vulgarized by the touch of the present or deadened by the contact of the past...No form is obsolete, no subject out of date, if the right man be there to rehandle it.” Essays and Studies

“We may heartily appreciate, we may cordially admire, the literary and personal energies of such writers as Byron and Carlyle; but we must recognise that the man who sees a great poet in the histrionic rhapsodist to whom all great poetry was hateful, or a great philosophic and political teacher in the passionate and distempered humorist whose religious ideal was a modified Moloch worship, and whose political creed found dungeons of a czar, does rightly or wrongly accept and respect the pretensions of writers who can be acceptable as prophets or respectable as teachers to no man who accepts the traditions of English independence or respects the inheritance of English poetry.” Essays and Studies

“The best beloved will always be Charles Lamb. His charm is incomparable with any other men’s. It is impossible merely to like him: you must, as Wordsworth bade the redbreast whom he saw chasing the butterfly, ‘love him, or leave him alone’...There is in his work a sweetness like no other fragrance, a magic like no second spell in all the world of letter.” Essays and Studies

“His work was done at Missolonghi; all of his work for which the fates could spare him time...Few can ever have gone wearier to the grave; none with less fear. He had done enough to earn his rest. Forgetful now and set free for ever from all faults and foes, he passed through the doorway of no ignoble death out of reach of time, out of sight of love, out of hearing of hatred, beyond the blame of England and the praise of Greece. In the full strength of spirit and of body his destiny overtook him, and made an end of all his labours.” On Byron

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“He is also probably one of the greatest of scholars among the poets of any country, writing poetry in English or French, in Greek and Latin. For learning, there are certainly few among the poets of England who would not have been obliged to bow before him.” Lafdacio Hearn

“That Swinburne possesses those qualities of scholarship connected with wide reading, knowledge of classical French, and Italian languages and literature and that, more narrowly, he possesses complete knowledge of the King James version of the Bible and of the Book of Common Prayer are all facts too generally acknowledged...Also recognized is his facility as a translator...” Meredith B. Raymond

“Swinburne’s strong desire to keep abreast of current literature and reviews by his numerous and constant demands for books and periodicals which he always insisted be sent immediately upon publication.” Letters to Andrew Chatto

“Swinburne’s prose is so considerable in amount and so rich in content that, were he not so much greater s a poet, it would still mark him as one of the intellectual forces of his age.” William Payne

“The historical scholarship, the eleborate and almost incredibly patient working out of its [Erectheus] enomous plt, the sustained ardour of this immense drama afford the highest proof we have that Swinburne was no more brilliant improvisor, but a student and artist capable of planning greatly and executing with nimute finish.” Welby

“Criticism withou accurate science of the thing criticised can indeed have no other value then may belong to the genuine record of a spontaneous impression; but it is not less certain that criticism which busies itself only with the outer husk or technical shell of a great artist’s work, taking no account of the spirit or the thought which informs it, cannot have even so much value as this.” A Study of Ben Johnson Swinburne

“In spite of his scholarship, he was placed only in the second class in classical Moderations, earned no classical prizes, and never took a degree; but in 1858 he had the Taylorian prize for French and Italian. It is clear that he was a very great reader, especially of poetry ; even twenty years later he could not really feel that prose could be as good as verse.” Edward Reed

Our third characteristic is the passionate salute to positive, moral positions.

“No braver, to trustier, no purer,
No stronger and clearer a soul
Bore witness more splendid and surer
For manhood found perfect and whole
Since man was a warrior and dreamer
Than his who in hatred of wrong
Would fain have arisen a redeemer
By sword or by song.” Dedication
“Through our works
Find righteous or unrighteous judgment, this
At least is ours, to make them righteous” Marino Faliero Act III

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“The duty to praise what is noble, and the duty to hat3e and assail whatever holds in thrall the holy spirit of man.” Henderson

“The great love of great things, the great scorn of small men, the strong tenderness of heart, the tender strength of spirit, which won for him honour from all that were honourable. Ready even in a too fervent manner to accept, to praise, to believe in worth and return thanks for it, he will have no man or thing impede or divert him, either for love’s sake or for hate’s.” William Blake Swinburne

“Nothing is to be made by an artist out of scepticism, half-hearted or double-hearted doubts or creeds; nothing out of mere defection and misty mental weather. Tempest or calm you may put to use, but hardly a flat fog...Deep reading doubt and large discourse are poetical; so is faith, so are sorrow and joy; but so are not the small troubles of spirits that nibble and quibble about beliefs of living and dear; so are not those sickly moods which rewarmed and weakened by feeding on the sullen drugs of dejection; and the savour of this disease is enough to deaden the fresh air of poetry. Nothing which leaves us depressed is a true work of art. We must have light though it be lightning, and air though it be storm.” Swinburne Complete Works

“Mr. Tennyson has lowered the note and deformed the outline of the Arthurian story, by reducing Arthur to the level of a wittol. Guinevere to the level of a woman of intrigue, and Launcelot to the level of a correspondent. Treated as he ha treated it, the story is rather a case for the divorce court than for poetry.” Swinburne Complete Works

“A poet of the first order raises all subjects to the first rank, and puts the lifeblood on an equal interest into Hebrew forms or Greek, mediaeval or modern, yesterday or yesterage...When the subject matter -either because of some innate quality or the manner in which the poet has treated it - has achieved the spiritual perfection of nobility or dignity, the external, technical quality of the work cannot fail to be similarly perfect.” Thomas E. Connolly Swinburne’s Theory of Poetry

Our fourth characteristic is the use of colorful phrases and pathological extremes.

“I am wrought
Out of myself even by this pause and peace,
In heaven and earth, that will not know of us
Nor what we compass: in the face of things,
Here the eye of everduring life,
That changes not in changing, fear and hope,
That life we live, the life we take, alike
Decline and dwindle from the shape,
Their import and significance; all seem,
Less good and evil, with less hate and love,
Then we would have them for our high heart’s sake...

And froth and drift of the sea;
And dust of the laboring earth;
And bodies of things to be
In the houses of death and of birth;
And wrought with weeping and laughter
And fashioned with loathing and laughter,
With life before and after
For a day and a night and a morrow...” Songs Before Sunrise - Act I

“Beside or above me
Naught is there to go; Love or unlove me,
Unknow me or know,
I am that which unloves me and loves; I am stricken, and I am the
blow.” Hertha

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“Even the severest of Swinburne’s early critics could not deny that he had the gift of melody, that he played upon English speech as a virtuoso plays upon his instrument, that he evoked from our language wonderful new rhythmical effects and hitherto unsuspected possibilities of harmony.” William Payne

“...astonished the age by the remarkable originality and brilliancy of the verse as well as by the audacity of theme and treatment.” Edward Reed

“There is no such thing as a dumb poet or a handless painter. The essence of an artist is that he should be articulate.” Essays and Studies Swinburne

“Of all English poets that one who has appolied the widest scholarship and study, assisted by great original prosodic gift, to the varying and accomplishing of English metre.” George Saintsbury

The poetical atmosphere was exhausted and heavy," says Professor Mackail, " like that of a sultry afternoon darkening to thunder. Out of that stagnation broke, all in a moment, the blaze and crash Atalanta in Calydon. It was something quite new, quite unexampled. It revealed a new language in English, a new world as it seemed in poetry."

Our fifth characteristic is sacrifice of subject and image to endless metrical form.

“And grief shall endure not for ever, I know
As things that are not shall these things be;
We shall live through seasons of sun and of snow,
And none be grievous as they to me,
We shall hear, as one in a trance that hears,
The sound of time, the rhyme of the years;
Wrecked hope and passionate pain will grow
As tender things of spring-tide sea.” Triumph of Time

“Are ye so strong, O kings, O strong men? Nay,
Waste all ye will and gather that ye shall not slay,
Even thought, that fire nor iron can affright,
The woundless and invisible thought that goes
Free throughout time as north or south wind blows,
Far throughout space as east or west sea flows,
Ann all dark things before it are made bright.

Thy thought, thy word, O soul republican,
O spirit of life, O god whose name is man:
What sea of sorrows but thy sight shall span?” A Year’s Burden

“Snowdrops that plead for pardon
And pine from fright,...” Before the Mirror

“You should love me a little, my one love,
One love for a week and a day,
For either has hardly begun love,
For the space of a sickle-sweep, say.
Suppose we should settle to tray love,
It may be as sweet as its fame;
Set your love again beside my love
they may be so nearly the same.” To Boo

“Love, that is first and last of all things made,
The light that has the living world for shade,
The spirit that for temporal veil has on
The souls of all men, woven in unison,
One fiery raiment with all lives inwrought
And lights of sunny and starry deed and thought.” Tristram and Lyonesse [Note: the characteristics of stopped and enjambed couplets are combined.]

“Though the many lights dwindle to one light,
There is help if the heaven has one,
Through the skies be discrowned of the sunlight,
And the earth dispossessed of the sun,
they have moonlight and sleep for repayment
When, refereshed as a bride and set free,
With stars and sea-winds in her raiment,
Night sinks on the sea.” Dedication from Poems and Ballads

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“Metrical perfection has not yet become a habit with Swinburne; almost every poem [Poems and Ballads] is an astonishment to its author as well as to the reader...He riots in his mastery. He goes to the extremes of complication and simplicity in stanzaic forms, crowds his rhymes together and then separates them more widely than almost any predecessor...makes them move with a slow, emphatic, scornful stamp; he invents new stanzaic moulds with amazing facility, and then shows that he can be just as original in adaptation as of...Fitzgerald’s quatrain.”

“The attendant danger of such excellence is the sacrifice of sense to sound and image. And it must be admitted that though Swinburne’s thought may be manifold and startling, its roots do not go deep; frequently the exuberance of his diction chokes whatever thought was growing. He captures the ear and the imagination but he does not always touch the heart.” Charles Gayley et al

“Swinburne's sense of rhythm, however, was divorced in large measure from his sense of reality. He was a poet without the poet's gift of sight. “Swinburne's poems did not make pictures. Swinburne had not the necessary sense of the lovely form of the things around him.” William Morris

“The verse does not merely run, it spins, gyrating, and revolving in itself as well as proceeding in its orbit...all the metaphors and simlies of water, light, wind, fire, all the modes of motion inspire and animate this astonishing poetry.” William Payne

“The first impression that Swinburne makes on the reader is one of unqualified admiration for his marvelous technique...He surpasses every Victorian poet excepting Tennyson in his instinctive perception of the music latent in our language.” Edward Reed

“Again and again in Swinburne’s work we find not a progression of thought or emotion, but merely a progression in the harmonies of verse. His melodic gift misleads him.” Reed

“A fanciful critic has put down the faulty lengthiness of Swinburne's poems to a "sea- obsession," saying that ‘his major forces and his high creative impulse have been mainly devoted to the splendidly impossible feat of providing continual lyrical change for the most monotonous theme in existence.’" Edward Reed

Our sixth characteristic is lover of the sky, sea, wind, rain, and cold.

“When the sail
First caught between stretched ropes the roaring west,
And all our oars smote eastward, and the wind
First flung round faces of seafaring men
White splendid snow-flakes of the sundering foam.:

“And over them, while death and life shall be
The light and sound and darkness of the sea.” The Altar of Righteousness

“For what has he whose will sees clear
To do with doubt and faith and fear,
Swift hopes and slow despondencies?
His heart is equal with the sea's
And with the sea-wind's, and his ear
Is level to the speech of these,
And his soul communes and takes cheer
With the actual earth's equalities,
Air, light, and night, hills, winds, and streams,
And seeks not strength from strengthless dreams.” Prelude

“This flower that smells of honey and the sea,
With laurustine, seems in my hand to be
A white star made of memory long ago
Lit in the heaven of dear times dead to me.” Relics

“Between two seas the sea-bird’s wing makes halt,
Wind-weary; while with lifting head he waits
For breath to reinspire him from the gates
That open still toward sunrise on the vault
High-domed of morning.” Songs of Springtide

“Sea, and bright wind, and heaven of ardent air,
More dear than all things earth-born;
O to me Mother more dear than love's own longing, sea,
More than love's eyes are, fair...”

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“Most characteristic is the delight he takes in sky and sea, in wide landscapes and natural forces like sun and wind and rain. In the presence of these Swinburne felt his blood tingle and his senses awaken. It was therefore right that he should introduce them..”

“The sea is one of Swinburne’s chief sources of inspiration; his rhythms have caught something of the sweep and surge of its waves, yet the lines that bring the ocean before our eyes do not come from his poems.” Reed

“Though he writes much of sky and sea, Swinburne appears at times as a recluse, as one who lived in the world of books, in a world created by his own imagination.” Reed

“Riding and climbing were good, and very good, but swimming was best of all. The north might be better than the south : the sea was always the sea. In after years he wrote many poems about the sea and hardly one without it. The sea and not the earth, he said, was his mother. Sometimes he coupled with it the wind, hailing them, as in The Garden of Cymodoce...” Reed

Our seventh characteristic is the desire for clarity and explicitness through repetition:

“Because there is but one truth;
Because there is but one banner;
Because there is but one light;
Because we have with us our youth
Once, and one chance and one manner
Of service, and then the night.”

“The lilacs and langours of virtue...The roses and raptures of vice...Thou art noble and nude and antique.” Poems and Ballads

“No sweeter, no kindlier, no fairer,
No lovelier a soul from its birth
Wore ever a brighter and rarer
Life’s raiment for life upon earth
...
No braver, no trustier, no purer,
No stonger and clearer a soul
Bore witness more splendid and surer
For manhood found perfect and whole...” Tribute

Comments from critics, colleagues, and himself.

“The additive and repetitive elements of balance, restatement, and contrast are plainly reflective of Swinburne’s desire for explicitness and clarity"

“Some of the repetitions may indicate simply the poet's infatuation with certain words, but that infatuation would not be without significance. The use of the verb and the substantive " dream " six times in eighteen lines spoken by Althaea, and the constant use of "divide" and " division " (not to speak of "sever" and "sunder"), and above all of " fire " and " light," " bright " and " shine," these are not accidents. "Fire" and "light," "bright" and "shine," with "desire" and "high" and "sky," and other words which their vowel sound and Swinburne's usage make cognate, were to become master words in his poetry. It can almost be said that he never writes one of those words without repeating it or matching it with one of the others. Whether it be through the influence of these words or something in the "i" sound that his nature found expressive, I cannot say, but in many of the poems in all his books it is predominant, so that when he praises a thing he must call it bright : the wind is bright, the sea is bright : and for him the characteristic quality of the human face is its light. Pure repetition, also, is one of the deliberate properties of his style, repetition of an idea...” Edward Thomas

In closing we remind all that Swinburne’s never a let a year has pass without publishing something of importance in either verse or prose.

“From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.”