Algernon Charles Swinburne Poems

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Algernon Charles Swinburne
Algernon Swinburne, sketch by RossettiAlgernon Charles Swinburne (April 5, 1837 April 10, 1909) was a Victorian era English poet. His poetry was highly controversial in its day, much of it containing recurring themes of sadomasochism, death-wish, lesbianism and irreligion. Swinburne was born in London, and raised on the Isle of Wight, and at Capheaton Hall, near Wallington, Northumberland. He attended Eton college and then Balliol College, Oxford but had the rare distinction of being rusticated from the university in 1859. He was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and counted among his best friends Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He is considered a decadent poet, although he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged in, a fact which Oscar Wilde famously and acerbically commented upon. Many of his early and still admired poems evoke the Victorian fascination with the Middle Ages, and some of them are explicitly medieval in style, tone and construction, including "The Leper," "Laus Veneris," and "St Dorothy". He was an alcoholic and algolagniac, and a highly excitable character. His health suffered as a result, until he finally had a mental and physical breakdown and was taken into care by his friend Theodore Watts, who looked after him for the rest of his life in Putney. Thereafter he lost his youthful rebelliousness and developed into a figure of social respectability. His mastery of vocabulary, rhyme and metre arguably put him among the most talented English language poets in history, although he has also been criticized for his florid style and word choices that only fit the rhyme scheme rather than contributing to the meaning of the piece. He is the virtual star of the third volume of George Saintsbury's famous History of English Prosody, and A. E. Housman, a more measured and even somewhat hostile critic, devoted paragraphs of praise to his rhyming ability. Painting by William Bell ScottSwinburne's work was once quite popular among undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, though today it has largely gone out of fashion. This largely mirrors the popular and academic consensus regarding his work as well, although his Poems and Ballads, First Series and his Atalanta in Calydon have never been out of critical favor. It was Swinburne's misfortune that the two works, published when he was nearly 30, soon established him as England's premier poet, the successor to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. This was a position he held in the popular mind until his death, but sophisticated critics like A. E. Housman felt, rightly or wrongly, that the job of being one of England's very greatest poets was beyond him. Swinburne may have felt this way himself. He was a highly intelligent man and in later life a much-respected critic, and he himself believed that the older a man was, the more cynical and less trustworthy he became. This of course created problems for him as he aged. After the first Poems and Ballads, Swinburne's later poetry is devoted more to philosophy and politics (notably, in favour of the unification of Italy, particularly in the volume Songs before Sunrise). He does not stop writing love poetry entirely, but the content is much less shocking. His versification, and especially his rhyming technique, remain in top form to the end. Works include: Atalanta in Calydon, Tristram of Lyonesse, Poems and Ballads (series I, II and III -- these contain most of his more controversial works), Songs Before Sunrise, and Lesbia Brandon (published posthumously). T. S. Eliot, reading Swinburne's essays on the Shakespearean and Jonsonian dramatists in The Contemporaries of Shakespeare and The Age of Shakespeare and Swinburne's books on Shakespeare and Jonson, found that as a poet writing notes on poets, he had mastered his material and was "a more reliable guide to them than Hazlitt, Coleridge, or Lamb," Swinburne's three Romantic predecessors, though he characterized Swinburne's prose as "the tumultuous outcry of adjectives, the headstrong rush of undisciplined sentences, are the index to the impatience and perhaps laziness of a disorderly mind."

atalanta in calydon
 
 
CHORUS

When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces,
The mother of ... [read poem]
by night when others soundly slept
 
 
By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes wer... [read poem]
stray birds
 
 
Stray birds of summer come to my
window to sing and fly away.
And yellow leaves of autum... [read poem]
a dialogue between old england and new
 
 
Alas, dear Mother, fairest Queen and best,
With honour, wealth, and peace happy and blest,... [read poem]
verses upon the burning of our house, july 18th, 1666
 
 
Here follows some verses upon the burning
of our house, July. 18th. 1666. Copyed out of
a ... [read poem]
the flesh and the spirit
 
 
In secret place where once I stood
Close by the Banks of Lacrim flood,
I heard two ... [read poem]
geetanjali
 
 
Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them.
Freedom is all I wan... [read poem]
the gardener (lxxxv)
 
 
Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flow... [read poem]
to my dear and loving husband
 
 
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever w... [read poem]
where the mind is without fear
 
 
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where t... [read poem]
at the last watch
 
 
Pity, in place of love,
That pettiest of gifts,
Is but a sugar-coating over neglect.... [read poem]
the flower-school
 
 
When storm-clouds rumble in the sky and
June showers come down,
The moist east wind comes ... [read poem]
prologue
 
 
To sing of Wars, of Captains, and of Kings,
Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,
For m... [read poem]
a forsaken garden
 
 
In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down's edge between windward a... [read poem]
contemplations
 
 
Sometime now past in the Autumnal Tide,
When Ph{oe}bus wanted but one hour to bed,
... [read poem]
krishnakali
 
 
In the village they call her the dark girl
but to me she is the flower Krishnakali
On a cl... [read poem]
in reference to her children, 23 june 1659
 
 
I had eight birds hatcht in one nest,
Four Cocks were there, and Hens the rest.
I nurst th... [read poem]
gitanjali (excerpt)
 
 
The song that I came to sing remains unsung to this day.
I have spent my days in stringing and ... [read poem]
in honour of that high and mighty princess, queen elizabeth
 
 
Although great Queen, thou now in silence lie,
Yet thy loud Herald Fame, doth to the sky
T... [read poem]
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