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Major Poems and Selected Prose

Major Poems and Selected Prose

Algernon Charles Swinburne
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
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  • Book Info
    Major Poems and Selected Prose
    Book Description:

    Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) is, with Browning and Tennyson, one of the touchstone Victorian poets. He was a major critic and an important fiction writer as well. Emerging out of the Pre-Raphaelite circle, his bold and innovative work made him both a celebrated and controversial writer at home and a figure of international importance. Hugo, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé were among his great admirers. Jerome McGann and Charles L. Sligh now present a generous sampling of Swinburne's poetry and prose. This wide-ranging collection satisfies a long need for a comprehensive selection of Swinburne's work. It is accompanied by learned and critically incisive commentaries and notes.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18579-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxviii)
    Jerome McGann

    Neither Swinburne nor his writings are normal or ordinary. “Demoniac youth,” Ruskin called him, and to Maupassant he was “the most extravagant artistic person alive in the world today.” Descriptions like that recur in the numerous contemporary reports, though many also express horror at the person Edward Burne-Jones called “the most poetic personality I have ever known.” So Bayard Taylor observes that “I admire in him . . . the mad, unrestrained preponderance of the imagination. It is a god-like quality, but he sometimes uses it like the devil. . . . He told me some things, unspeakably shocking, which...

    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  6. Part One Poetry

  7. Part Two Collected Prose

      (pp. 337-342)

      Nothing is so tenacious of life as a bad poet. The opossum, we are credibly informed, survives for hours after its brains are blown out by a pistol. The author of “The Monomaniac’s Tragedy” lives, writes, and finds a publisher; nay, it should appear, admirers also. Nevertheless, the chastisement inflicted for his first offence was severe enough to have killed a dozen rising prose writers. Eve, a Mystery, was anatomized “with a bitter and severe delight” by all the critics who noticed it, with the exception (we believe) of Mr. Wheldrake himself. But neither as poet nor as critic was...

      (pp. 343-347)

      To some English readers the name of M. Baudelaire may be known rather through his admirable translations, and the criticisms on American and English writers appended to these, and framing them in fit and sufficient commentary, than by his volume of poems, which, perhaps, has hardly yet had time to make its way among us. That it will in the long run fail of its meed of admiration, whether here or in France, we do not believe. Impeded at starting by a foolish and shameless prosecution, the first edition was, it appears, withdrawn before anything like a fair hearing had...

      (pp. 348-359)

      It is by no wish of my own that I accept the task now proposed to me. To vindicate or defend myself from the assault or the charge of men whom, but for their attacks, I might never have heard of, is an office which I, or any writer who respects his work, cannot without reluctance stoop to undertake. As long as the attacks on my book—I have seen a few, I am told there are many—were confined within the usual limits of the anonymous press, I let them pass without the notice to which they appeared to...

    • FROM “BYRON” (1866, 1875)
      (pp. 360-362)

      The most delicate and thoughtful of English critics has charged the present generation of Englishmen with forgetfulness of Byron. It is not a light charge: and it is not ungrounded. Men born when this century was getting into its forties were baptized into another church than his with the rites of another creed. Upon their ears, first after the cadences of elder poets, fell the faultless and fervent melodies of Tennyson. To them, chief among the past heroes of the younger century, three men appeared as predominant in poetry; Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley. Behind these were effaced, on either hand,...

    • FROM “MATTHEW ARNOLD’S NEW POEMS” (1867, 1875)
      (pp. 363-369)

      A French critic has expressed this in words which I may quote here, torn out from their context: — “Le côté fort du caractère d’un peuple fait souvent le côté faible de sa poésie. Ces poëtes anglais pèchent du côté de la raison religieuse. Ce n’est pas que les anglais soient effectivement ou trop religieux ou trop raisonnables. C’est qu’ils ont la manie de vouloir réconcilier les choses irréconciliables. On voit cela partout, dans la politique, dans les beaux arts, dans la vie pratique, dan la vie idéale. Leur république est juchée sur des échasses féodales, attifée des guenilles étincelantes...

      (pp. 370-371)

      But in one separate head there is more tragic attraction than in these: a woman’s, three times studied, with divine and subtle care; sketched and re-sketched in youth and age, beautiful always beyond desire and cruel beyond words; fairer than heaven and more terrible than hell; pale with pride and weary with wrong-doing; a silent anger against God and man burns, white and repressed, through her clear features. In one drawing she wears a head-dress of eastern fashion rather than western, but in effect made out of the artist’s mind only; plaited in the likeness of close-welded scales as of...

    • FROM “NOTES ON SOME PICTURES OF 1868” (1868, 1875)
      (pp. 372-374)

      It is well known that the painter of whom I now propose to speak has never suffered exclusion or acceptance at the hand of any academy. To such acceptance or such rejection all other men of any note have been and may be liable. It is not less well known that his work must always hold its place as second in significance and value to no work done by any painter of his time. Among the many great works of Mr. D. G. Rossetti, I know of none greater than his two latest. These are types of sensual beauty and...

      (pp. 375-384)

      He was born and baptized into the church of rebels; we can hardly imagine a time or scheme of things in which he could have lived and worked without some interval of revolt. All that was accepted for art, all that was taken for poetry, he rejected as barren symbols, and would fain have broken up as mendacious idols. What was best to other men, and in effect excellent of its kind, was to him worst. Reynolds and Rubens were daubers and devils. The complement or corollary of this habit of mind was that he would accept and admire even...

    • FROM “VICTOR HUGO” (1869, 1872, 1875)
      (pp. 385-389)

      Once only in my life I have seen the likeness of Victor Hugo’s genius. Crossing over when a boy from Ostend, I had the fortune to be caught in midchannel by a thunderstorm strong enough to delay the packet some three good hours over the due time. About midnight the thundercloud was right overhead, full of incessant sound and fire, lightening and darkening so rapidly that it seemed to have life, and a delight in its life. At the same hour the sky was clear to the west, and all along the sea-line there sprang and sank as to music...

      (pp. 390-394)

      This “House of Life” has in it so many mansions, so many halls of state and bowers of music, chapels for worship and chambers for festival, that no guest can declare on a first entrance the secret of its scheme. Spirit and sense together, eyesight and hearing and thought, are absorbed in splendour of sounds and glory of colours distinguishable only by delight. But the scheme is solid and harmonious; there is no waste in this luxury of genius: the whole is lovelier than its loveliest part. Again and again may one turn the leaves in search of some one...

      (pp. 395-399)

      The gift of which I would speak is that of a power to make us feel in every nerve, at every step forward which our imagination is compelled to take under the guidance of another’s, that thus and not otherwise, but in all things altogether even as we are told and shown, it was and it must have been with the human figures set before us in their action and their suffering; that thus and not otherwise they absolutely must and would have felt and thought and spoken under the proposed conditions. It is something for a writer to have...

    • “EMILY BRONTË” (1883, 1886)
      (pp. 400-406)

      To the England of our own time, it has often enough been remarked, the novel is what the drama was to the England of Shakespeare’s. The same general interest produced the same incessant demand for the same inexhaustible supply of imaginative produce, in a shape more suited to the genius of a later day and the conditions of a changed society. Assuming this simple explanation to be sufficient for the obvious fact that in the modern world of English letters the novel is everywhere and the drama is nowhere, we may remark one radical point of difference between the taste...

  8. Part Three Uncollected Poetry

    • Dies Irae
      (pp. 409-410)
    • [The High Victorian Tone]
      (pp. 410-410)
    • [Sonnet: Body Beautiful]
      (pp. 411-411)
    • The Ballad of Villon and Fat Madge
      (pp. 411-412)
    • A Ballad of Dead Creeds
      (pp. 412-413)
    • The Cannibal Catechism (versified from the writings of a Father of the Church)
      (pp. 413-415)
    • Cleopatra
      (pp. 415-418)
    • from “Arthur’s Flogging”
      (pp. 418-422)
    • [Sonnet: Between Two Seas]
      (pp. 422-422)
    • Poeta Loquitur
      (pp. 422-424)
    • Disgust: A Dramatic Monologue
      (pp. 424-426)
  9. Part Four Uncollected Prose

      (pp. 429-432)

      In June 1836, the Andryot household consisted of M. Andryot père, aged fifty-four, thin, nervous, bilious, and speculative; Mme. Andryot mère, forty-two, fat, red, and fierce; the son René; the daughter Sylvie; the wife of René, Héloise Ducorneau her maiden name, presumably the heroine of this criminal case. M. Poulain, Mme. Andryot’s father, died July 1836. His fortune, got by grocery, fell to his married daughter; the only legacy was one of 3000 francs to his grand-daughter-in-law. It is noticeable that Mlle. Ducorneau’s early reputation was of the most equivocal. She had a coarse beauty and a broad fashion of...

    • Dead Love (Once a Week, 1862)
      (pp. 433-436)

      About the time of the great troubles in France, that fell out between the parties of Armagnac and of Burgundy, there was slain in a fight in Paris a follower of the Duke John, who was a good knight called Messire Jacques d’Aspremont. This Jacques was a very fair and strong man, hardy of his hands, and before he was slain he did many things wonderful and of great courage, and forty of the folk of the other party he slew, and many of these were great captains, of whom the chief and the worthiest was Messire Olivier de Bois-Percé;...

      (pp. 437-439)

      There was a certain woman in the city of Pistoja who loved a man that was a painter; but she was espoused to one that was a merchant, and on a day she was married to him with great solemnity.

      For many weeks this painter would come to her, and she would find means to withdraw herself from her husband that she might be the more given up to his love.

      Now he, that is the painter, was a man of very evil conversation, and the woman became by his means infected with much wickedness; so that once she said...

      (pp. 440-444)

      In every age there is a certain quantity of moral force secretly at work, busied with whatever of skill and energy may be at hand to further it, in counteracting the tendencies of the time. Small bands of laborious believers gather in fierce heat and haste about some rallying-point of belief or disbelief, clutch hold of some weapon, blunt or sharp, anything to hit with—take to their fists even—use alike the flail and the rapier to hack or thrash withal at received opinions. Much chaff they do occasionally send flying from under the flails; occasionally too the flails...

      (pp. 445-451)

      . . . And behold, she lay there upon her couch bed, and was laughing a little to herself under her breath. There was nothing upon her, not a shred of silk or purple, but only the clothing of that adorable and supreme beauty of her flesh which God made her with for the delight of men. She lay along upon soft great pillows that were tumbled about under her body, and was turned clean over on her left side. That was the most wonderful thing to behold that ever came in the eyes of any man. She had one...

      (pp. 452-466)

      She arranged her hair and went down to the children. A great desire to devour the time till nightfall impelled her, passive as before a wind. It was already but an hour from twilight: she had suffered long, and lain long torpid. In two hours it would be time to expect the end. That all would not return who had gone forth she knew well enough. At any minute some evil and horror nameless to herself might be at point to happen. Alone and silent, she would surely fall ill or go mad. She had impulses, bitter and strong, blind...

    • To E. C. Stedman, Feb. 1875 [a Memoir]
      (pp. 467-474)

      February 20, 1875

      My dear Mr. Stedman

      I have just received your letter and the kindly and able article accompanying it. First of all, accept my cordial thanks for both and my assurance that I consider the latter the most powerful as well as the most gratifying to me personally I ever read on the subject. Then I must say how glad I am that you have done me the justice not to attribute my long neglect in writing to graceless and discourteous ingratitude. The enforced delay began through inability to write at the time with the proper fullness, being...

    (pp. 475-492)
  11. Bibliography to the Introduction
    (pp. 493-494)
    (pp. 495-498)