Algernon Swinburne: nominated for a Nobel eight times. His aristocratic, maternal grandfather had 17 children

When the world moulders away and the ruins of the past become beautiful, falling down in their departing ruin, beautiful, art falls madly in love with the past, and all that’s new seems brutal, unpoetic, fast.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is a beautiful, red, island-wound in the middle of the 19th century, a realm in which High Romanticism found a practical home in a leafy, backwards-looking guild. The Brotherhood helped Whitman when America was neglecting him; it fostered Beautiful Socialism and kept artful, wan love alive; it is no surprise that swooning Swinburne was associated with The Brotherhood, or that Swinburne lives anew in Scarriet’s Romanticism Tourney, or that Swinburne is fated to face off in the first round against Poe.

Swinburne and Poe are “Wall-of-Sound” poets, creating waterfalls of poetic sound in their poems; their excess is logical, for poetry is not painting, nor is it philosophy; why shouldn’t poetry, then, use sound to maximum effect, since this is what distinguishes it from painting and philosophy? 

Both men were excessive, yet correct in their excess.   

Rumor of personal excess followed both men; Poe was more chaste, but both instinctively responded to false accusation in the same manner: confessing to more falsehood. Swinburne: I had sex with a monkey and ate it!  Poe: I set fire to my grandmother!

The following ballad shows Swinburne in typical rhyming fervor, but here is rigor and order, as well; a bracing, sane, beautifully built poem:


Let us go hence, my songs; she will not hear.
Let us go hence together without fear;
Keep silence now, for singing-time is over,
And ended all old things and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me as we all love her.
Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear,
She would not hear.

Let us rise up and part; she will not know.
Let us go seaward as the great winds go,
Full of blown sand and foam; what help is here?
There is no help, for all these things are so,
And all the world is bitter as a tear.
And how these things are, though you strove to show,
She would not know.

Let us go home and hence; she will not weep.
We gave love many dreams and days to keep,
Flowers without scent, and fruits that would not grow,
Saying, `If thou wilt, thrust in thy sickle and reap.’
All is reaped now; no grass is left to mow;
And we that sowed, though all we fell on sleep,
She would not weep.

Let us go hence and rest; she will not love.
She shall not hear us if we sing hereof,
Nor see love’s ways, how sore they are and steep.
Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough.
Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep;
And though she saw all heaven in flower above,
She would not love.

Let us give up, go down; she will not care.
Though all the stars made gold of all the air,
And the sea moving saw before it move
One moon-flower making all the foam-flowers fair;
Though all those waves went over us, and drove
Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair,
She would not care.

Let us go hence, go hence; she will not see.
Sing all once more together; surely she,
She too, remembering days and words that were,
Will turn a little toward us, sighing; but we,
We are hence, we are gone, as though we had not been there.
Nay, and though all men seeing had pity on me,
She would not see.

Poe’s Raven needs no introduction.   

In the work of poets like Poe and Swinburne, we see that thought and rhyme do go together.

Poe prevails, 77-73, but we cannot soon forget the Swinburne!


  1. marcusbales said,

    April 25, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    A Forsaken Garden
    AC Swinburne

    In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
    At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
    Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
    The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
    A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
    The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
    Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
    Now lie dead.

    The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
    To the low last edge of the long lone land.
    If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
    Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
    So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
    Through branches and briars if a man make way,
    He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
    Night and day.

    The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
    That crawls by a track none turn to climb
    To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
    Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
    The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
    The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
    The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
    These remain.

    Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
    As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
    From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
    Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
    Over the meadows that blossom and wither
    Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
    Only the sun and the rain come hither
    All year long.

    The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
    One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
    Only the wind here hovers and revels
    In a round where life seems barren as death.
    Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
    Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
    Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
    Years ago.

    Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
    Did he whisper? “look forth from the flowers to the sea;
    For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
    And men that love lightly may die–but we?”
    And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
    And for ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
    In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
    Love was dead.

    Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
    And were one to the end–but what end who knows?
    Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
    As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
    Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
    What love was ever as deep as a grave?
    They are loveless now as the grass above them
    Or the wave.

    All are at one now, roses and lovers,
    Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
    Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
    In the air now soft with a summer to be.
    Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
    Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
    When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
    We shall sleep.

    Here death may deal not again for ever;
    Here change may come not till all change end.
    From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
    Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
    Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
    While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
    Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
    Roll the sea.

    Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
    Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
    Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
    The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
    Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
    Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
    As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
    Death lies dead.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 26, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      Thank you, Marcus.

      This is beautiful. This is poetry.

      We need a Swinburne revival.


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