THE TITANS OF LUXURIOUS SOUND: POE V. SWINBURNE!

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:

A LEAVE-TAKING

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!

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