Thursday 19 October 2017

The Sunday Poem - Anthony Cronin's Personal Anthology

Anthony Cronin. Photo by Tony Gavin
Anthony Cronin. Photo by Tony Gavin

Algernon Charles Swinburne

It is not impossible that the present enthusiasm for SM may lead to some sort of revival in the poetic fortunes of Algernon Charles Swinburne.

When Tennyson died in the early 1890's the Victorians cast around for a great poet to succeed him, and Swinburne seemed to many to be the obvious choice. There were the usual qualifications: a radical past both poetical and, in terms of sympathy at least, political. There were the extensive and perceptive books of criticism to accompany the large amount of poetry.

But there were obstacles. To many the verse seemed over-luscious - as he said himself, 'verbose' in a time when poetry was about to become more economical and compressed. This meant that Swinburne's reputation, subject to attack by Eliot and Leavis, would diminish rapidly after his death. He is no longer one of the Great Victorians though he is capable of marvellous lines and stanzas. Perhaps even a leaning towards SM, said to have been acquired at Eton, may not save it from further decline.

from Dolores

O garment not golden but gilded,

O garden where all men may dwell,

O tower not of ivory, but builded

By hands that reach heaven from hell;

O mystical rose of the mire,

O house not of gold but of gain,

O house of unquenchable fire,

Our Lady of Pain!

O lips full of lust and of laughter,

Curled snakes that are fed from my breast,

Bite hard, lest remembrance come after,

And press with new lips where you pressed.

For my heart too springs up at the pressure,

Mine eyelids too moisten and burn;

Ah, feed me and fill me with pleasure,

Ere pain come in turn.

In yesterday's reach and tomorrow's,

Out of sight though they lie of today,

There have been and there yet shall be sorrows

That smite not and bite not in play.

The life and the love thou despisest,

These hurt us indeed, and in vain,

O wise among women, and wisest,

Our Lady of Pain.

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