Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Selected poems online

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H A (f. R Y M^ O U I R t







From a photograph by Elliott & Fry.










3l 3

Printed in U. S. A.





E. G. R.


Introduction xi

Prefatory Note xliii


Athens : An Ode I

The Armada ... 22

Ode on the Proclamation of the French Republic 50


The Garden of Proserpine 67

Hymn to Proserpine 71

The Last Oracle 79

Hertha 87

Hymn of Man 97


Prelude 112

Siena 119

Perinde ac Cadaver 131

The Pilgrims . . . . 136

Super Flumina Babylonis 141

Mater Dolorosa 148

Mater Triumphalis 153

viii Contentfif


By the North Sea 162

In Guernsey 188

March : An Ode 1 94

A Forsaken Garden 199

On the Verge 204

Recollections 206

Choruses from Atalanta in Calydon .... 209

Choruses from Erechtheus 213

Hesperia 219

Two Preludes 226

A Wasted Vigil 227

The Sundew 230

A Match 232

The Salt of the Earth 234

Of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven . . . .235

A Child's Laughter 236

A Child's Future 237

A Baby's Death 239


Hope and Fear 243

Non Dolet 244

Pelagius 244

The Descent into Hell 247

The Moderates 248

The Burden of Austria 249

Apologia 250

On the Russian Persecution of the Jews . . .250

Dysthanatos 251

Contents; ix

Carnot 252

Vos Deos Laudamus 253

In San Lorenzo 254

The Festival of Beatrice 256

Christopher Marlowe 257

William Shakespeare 258

John Webster 258

Cor Cordium 259

Dickens 260

On the Deaths of Thomas Carlyle and George

Eliot 261

On the Death of Robert Browning .... 262


Thalassius 263

Adieux a Marie Stuart 285

On a Country Road 290

In the Bay 292

In Memory of Walter Savage Landor . . . 305

To Victor Hugo 307

Ave atque Vale 316

Lines on the Monument of Giuseppe Mazzini . 3 26

The Death of Richard Wagner 329

Dedication (Poems and Ballads, I. ) . . . • 33'
Dedication (Poems and Ballads, II.) . . -335


Hendecasyllabics 337

Sapphics 338

X Contentfl!

Choriambics 342

Grand Chorus of Birds from Aristophanes . . 345

A Jacobite's Farewell 348

A Jacobite's Exile 349

The Higher Pantheism in a Nutshell . . -353

Sonnet for a Picture 355

Nephilidia 356

Chronological List of Writings . . . -359

Bibliographical Note 361

Notes 363


Algernon Charles Swinburne is the one great
poet left to the English race, if not to the world, at
the close of the nineteenth century. When his first
works appeared, in the early sixties, the great poets of
the pre- Victorian age, Landor alone excepted, had long
since passed away. He had for contemporaries Tenny-
son, Browning, and Arnold, whose fame was securely
established, and Rossetti and Morris, the early fruits of
whose genius were known to a few, but whose wider
reputation was still to be won. Particularly associated
with the latter two poets in sympathy and aim, Swin-
burne was the first of the trio to attract the attention of
the public at large, and his poetic achievement was
destined to become more considerable and important
than that of either of these fellow workers. A quarter
of a century ago, he was one of six living English poets
of the first rank; between 1882 and 1896 his five
great contemporaries died, leaving him in the position
of solitary preeminence which he has ever since oc-
cupied. It is not easy to find anywhere in the history
of modern letters a parallel to this extraordinary stat"
of affairs ; literature the world over appears to be fast
lapsing into prose, and the torch of high and serious
poetry seems in danger of becoming quenched for lack
of a bearer.

xii 31ntroUuccion

Swinburne was born in London, April 5, 1837.
He was the oldest child of Admiral Charles Henry
Swinburne and Lady Jane Henrietta, daughter of the
third Earl of Ashburnham. He is descended from a
very ancient Northumbrian family which dates, says
Burke, ♦• from so remote a period that the Swinburnes
of Swinburne Casde have been esteemed feudal lords."
The members of the family now living are the direct
descendants of Sir WiUiam de Swinburne, who lived
in the time of Henry III. The present head of the
family is Sir John Edward Swinburne, sixth baronet,
a first cousin of the poet. The Ashburnham lineage is
also long and distinguished, the family having been,
according to Nisbet, " of good account before the Con-
quest." The poet was educated at Eton and Balliol,
but left Oxford without taking a degree. His four years
at the University (i 856-1 860) were notable for his
first printed writings, being five contributions to Under-
graduate Papers, for his academic distinction in French,
Italian, and the classics, and for the beginnings of his
lifelong friendship with Morris, Rossetd, and Burne-
Jones. The year in which he left Oxford marked the
publication of The Queen Mother and Rosamond, his
first book. The following year, a few weeks spent
with his parents in Italy were made for ever memorable
to him by his meedng with the venerable Walter Sav-
age Landor. Returning to England, he devoted him-
self to literary work, in 1865 won the applause of the
judicious with his Atalanta in Calydon and Chastelard,
and, the year following (1866), took the public by
storm with the famous first volume of his Poems and

3IntroDuctton xiii

Ballads. There had been no such sensation iii Eng-
lish poetry since the appearance of the first two cantos
of Childe Harold as was occasioned by this volume,
and there has been no such sensation since. And the
fame thus suddenly achieved was destined to prove no
temporary matter, but has gone on broadening and
deepening with the years ; a new century has begun
its course, and its greatest English name is that of the
poet who first compelled widespread attention nearly
forty years ago. During these years, Swinburne's life
has been distinctly that of a man of letters, and its
events have been his books. A glance at the list of the
writings which bear his name will show with what
faithful industry he has pursued his calling. Most of
the years have been spent in or near London ; since
1879 his home has been at Putney Hill, on the out-
skirts of the metropolis, where he lives with his dearest
friend, Theodore Watts-Dunton, himself a poet of no
mean accomplishment, besides being the most profound
critic of English poetry now living. An ideal compan-
ionship, combined with the pleasures of the simple life,
reading, walking, swimming, the love of children and
the converse of friends, — such have been the circum-
stances of the poet for the past quarter of a century,
such the conditions under which he has produced book
after book of imperishably beautiful poetry.

Before attempting a detailed characterization of that
poetry, it seems desirable to clear the ground by say-
ing a few words about Swinburne's prose, which is
so noteworthy that, even were there no verse to his
account, he would still be one of the most important

xiv 31ntroDuction

writers of our time. His volumes of prose are almost
as numerous as his volumes of verse, and, when we
reckon with them the uncollected matter to be found
in pamphlets, periodicals, and encyclopjedias, the prose
will be found to exceed the verse in quantity. With
respect to quality, of course, the case is different.
Swinburne, like Carlyle, has shown himself perfectly
capable, at need, of writing simple and forcible English
prose, but, also like Carlyle, he has deliberately pre-
ferred to cultivate a style of tortuous complexity and
labyrinthine structure, a style overloaded with epithets
and packed with recondite allusions, a style that is
anything but a model of what prose ought to be. Yet
at its best this style achieves an impressiveness and an
eloquence that are very remarkable ; it imparts real
ideas and becomes the vehicle of a penetrative criticism
and a fine moral fervor.

Swinburne's prose is, of course, so largely con-
cerned with the criticism of literature that its opportun-
ities are restricted, but this does not prevent it fi-om
throwing side-lights upon many subjects of other than
literary interest, or from stimulating the whole intel-
lectual life rather than that section thereof which is
concerned with questions of taste and the fitness of lit-
erary forms to subserve their respective ends. Aside
from a few polemical publications of ephemeral inter-
est, Swinburne's prose work is comprised in three
collections of miscellaneous essays, and in the special
volumes upon William Blake, Charlotte Bronte, Hugo,
Chapman, Jonson, and Shakespeare. There is also a
considerable quantity of uncollected matter, of which

3IntroDuction xv

the most valuable part is a series of essays dealing with
the more important of the Elizabethan dramatists. As
a critic of literature Swinburne is entitled to a high
rank. His involved manner of saying things, and the
warmth of the laudation which he sometimes bestows,
are but incidental defects, after all, and should not be
allowed to obscure the very real and solid merit of his
analysis. There are few books about Shakespeare as
helpfvil and stimulating as Swinburne's Study of the
greatest of poets. It will do for the student precisely
what a whole library of scientific criticism will not do;
it will save him from mechanical methods of judgment
and all the deadening influences of pedantry; it will
impart to him something of its own generous enthusi-
asm and genial insight. This book and its companion
studies upon the Ehzabethan writers have done much
for the proper appreciation of the poetry of our great
dramatic period, and no one, perhaps, has discussed
that poetry with warmer sympathy and deeper insight.
Extravagance in both praise and censure is often charged
against him, and doubtless with justice. But on the
former count of the indictment we may at least urge
that what he calls " the noble pleasure of praising"
is surely one of the most important functions o^ criti-
cism, while on the latter count, despite the occasional
vehemence of the attack, it may be said that he sets
a salutary example against the sort of complacency that
is far too commonly met with in current criticism.

Coming now to a consideration of Swinburne the
poet, we find that his verse is about equally divided
between the dramatic and non-dramatic forms. Of

xvi ;31ntroDuction

dramatic work there are ten volumes, including eleven
plays, one of which is double the ordinary length ; of
non-dramatic work there are fourteen volumes. By the
author's ow^n choice, as shown in the uniform edition
of his poems now in course of issue, Atalanta and
Erechtheus are separated from the section of Dramatic
Works and placed in the section of Poetical Works.
This arrangement tips the balance to the side of the
latter section, which, in the new edition, occupies six
volumes out of the total eleven. It also provides a rea-
sonable pretext for including in the present volume of
selections certain choruses, which could ill be spared,
taken from the two Greek dramas.

Of Swinburne's poems in dramatic form, the two
just mentioned are Greek in theme, and, to an aston-
ishing extent, are also Greek in thought, feeling, and
structure. The Samson Agonistes of Milton is the only
other work in English poetry with which they may
fairly be compared, and even that masterpiece, although
written in imitation of a Greek tragedy, is Hebraic
in its subject. But Atalarita in Calydon and Erechtheus
are Greek through and through — that is, as nearly so
as modern work can possibly be, for it must be said of
all such imitations that •♦ the best in this kind are but
shadows." However deeply a poet of our time may
be in sympathy with the Hellenic spirit, and whatever
knowledge and enthusiasm he may bring to its repro-
duction, the infusion of modern feeling is inevitable
in balance and symmetry and restraint the later work
is the finer of the two, being the product of a riper
and more chastened genius, but the earlier work has

31ntroDuction xvii

aVays been the more popular by reason of its lyrical
spontaneity and the opulence of its inspiration.

Of Swinburne's other dramas, the three which deal
with the fortunes of Mary Queen of Scots, constitut-
ing a single work of comprehensive plan and colossal
execution, are much the most important. Nearly a
score of years went to the composition of this work,
which is a monument to the poet's historical scholar-
ship as well as a masterpiece of flexible and compact
blank verse. Mr. James Douglas says : "It is as if a
Gardiner had turned poet in order to paint passionately
vivid portraits of Mary, of Bothwell, of Darnley, of
John Knox, and of the minor figures in a tragic coil
of doom as awful as that of the Oresteia. ' ' The divi-
sions of the trilogy are respectively entitled Chastelard,
Bothwell, and Mary Stuart. They cover more than a
quarter-century of the Queen's life between her return
from France and her execution. The poet's Jacobite
ancestry, combined with his romantic temperament,
made this subject appeal to him strongly, and he sounds
a more indmate note than is customary with him in
the valedictory verses which mark the completion of hi»

" Queen, for whose house my fathers fought
With hopes that rose and fell,
Red star of boyhood's fiery thought,

** Queen, once of Scots and ever of ours
Whose sires brought forth for you
Their lives to strew "our way like fioweny


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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneSelected poems → online text (page 1 of 17)