December 26, 2017

Swinburne on Swinburne [Filed under: General Discussion.Swinburne, Algernon Charles]

Swinburne has long been my favorite poet, and on winter nights like tonight, I love to curl up with a small glass of some choice intoxicating liquor and read some intoxicating Swinburne verse. But I am aware that there are some who do not think, as I do, that Swinburne was the greatest English poet of the 19th century. Swinburne himself was also aware of his critics, and had a singular response to them: he outdid them. His “Poeta Loquitur” is hard to find on the internet (and strangely, it is one of a handful of poems that was omitted from my copy of his “complete” works), so I have had to piece this version together from various snippets—it may well not be entirely accurate. Still, I want to share with the world this lovely bit of Swinburne’s self-criticism, warts and all.

Poeta Loquitur

If a person conceives an opinion
  That my verses are stuff that will wash,
Or my Muse has one plume on her pinion,
  That person’s opinion is bosh.
My philosophy, politics, free-thought!
  Are worth not three skips of a flea,
And the emptiest of thoughts that can be thought
  Are mine on the sea.

In a maze of monotonous murmur
  Where reason roves ruined by rhyme,
In a voice neither graver nor firmer
  Than the bells on a fool’s cap chime,
A partly pretentiously pensive,
  With a Muse that deserves to be skinned,
Makes language and metre offensive
  With rhymes on the wind.

A perennial procession of phrases
  Pranked primly, though pruriently prime,
Precipitates preaching on praises
  In a ruffianly riot of rhyme
Through the pressure of print on my pages:
  But reckless the reader must be
Who imagines me one of the sages
  That steer through Time’s sea.

Mad mixtures of Frenchified offal
  With insults to Christendom’s creed,
Blind blasphemy, schoolboylike scoff, all
  These blazon me blockhead indeed.
I conceive myself obviously some one
  Whose audience will never be thinned,
But the pupil must needs be a rum one
  Whose teacher is wind.

In my poems, with ravishing rapture
  Storm strikes me and strokes me and stings:
But I’m scarcely the bird you might capture
  Out of doors in the thick of such things.
I prefer to be well out of harm’s way
  When tempest makes tremble the tree,
And the wind with armipotent arm-sway
  Makes soap of the sea.

Hanging hard on the rent rags of others,
  Who before me did better, I try
To believe them my sisters and brothers,
  Though I know what a low lot am I.
The mere sight of a church sets me yelping
  Like a boy that at football is shinned!
But the cause must indeed be past helping
  Whose gospel is wind!

All the pale past’s red record of history
  Is dusty with damnable deeds;
But the future’s mild motherly mystery
  Peers pure of all crowns and all creeds.
Truth dawns on time’s resonant ruin,
  Frank, fulminant, fragrant and free
And apparently this is the doing
  Of wind on the sea.

Fame flutters in front of pretension
  Whose flagstaff is flagrantly fine
And it cannot be needful to mention
  That such beyond question is mine.
Some singers indulging in curses,
  Though sinful, have splendidly sinned:
But my would-be maleficent verses
  Are nothing but wind.

Interestingly, I did find one other person who appears to have appreciated Swinburne’s work almost as much as I do: a book reviewer for New Zealand’s Otago Daily Times writing under the name “Constant Reader” (presumably notDorothy Parker). Here is a review of a pocket volume of Swinburne’s verse that this Constant Reader wrote in 1918.

August 17, 2013

The Internet Is Not Yet Full: A Brief Tale of Two Poems [Filed under: Noyes, Alfred.Swinburne, Algernon Charles]

In a brief moment of quiet this afternoon, I was browsing the poetry shelf in my home library today and noticed a book I did not know we owned: Sonnets of This Century, edited and arranged, with a critical introduction on the sonnet, by William Sharp. The little volume was published by Walter Scott of Paternoster Row, London, in 1888 (though the copy at Google Books shows a publication date of 1886), and contains a reasonable selection of nineteenth century sonnets. I browsed the author index and noticed a small number of entries by Algernon Charles Swinburne, who has long been my favorite poet. I did not recognize any of the titles, so I opened the book and read one called “Hope and Fear”:

Hope and Fear

Beneath the shadow of dawn’s aerial cope,
    With eyes enkindled as the sun’s own sphere,
    Hope from the front of youth in godlike cheer
Looks Godward, past the shades where blind men grope
Round the dark door that prayers nor dreams can ope,
    And makes for joy the very darkness dear
    That gives her wide wings play ; nor dreams that fear
At noon may rise and pierce the heart of hope.
Then, when the soul leaves off to dream and yearn,
May truth first purge her eyesight to discern
    What once being known leaves time no power to appal ;
Till youth at last, ere yet youth be not, learn
    The kind wise word that falls from years that fall—
    ‘Hope thou not much, and fear thou not at all.

The poem is the first in a collection of sonnets Swinburne published in “Tristram of Lyonesse and Other Poems” in 1882. I do not have a copy of Tristram and had never seen the sonnet before. It is certainly not Swinburne’s best, but the last line is somewhat catchy. So I was rather surprised when I pulled another book off my shelf—A Letter to Lucian by Alfred Noyes, published in 1956—and quite by accident landed on the following poem:

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May 27, 2004

Selections [Filed under: Swinburne, Algernon Charles]

from Félise

Two gifts perforce he has given us yet,
  Though sad things stay and glad things fly ;
Two gifts he has given us, to forget
  All glad and sad things that go by,
  And then to die.

from Ilicet

A little sorrow, a little pleasure,
Fate metes us from the dusty measure
  That holds the date of all of us ;
We are born with travail and strong crying,
And from the birth-day to the dying
  The likeness of our life is thus.

from Satia te Sanguine

Where, when the gods would be cruel,
  Do they go for a torture ? where
Plant thorns, set pain like a jewel ?
  Ah, not in the flesh, not there !

The racks of earth and the rods
  Are weak as foam on the sands ;
In the heart is the prey for gods,
  Who crucify hearts, not hands.

December 9, 2003

RE: Nephelidia [Filed under: Group Meetings.Swinburne, Algernon Charles]

I tell ya, I’m such a sucker for alliteration. (That and lights on trees in the winter.) So, needless to say, I enjoyed the Swinburne poem you posted Mike.

The snow is blowing out here in Nebraska, but not as high as the trees. That’s a good thing though since I intend to come home tomorrow. Thursday at Jon’s place sounds good to me.

See you all soon!

December 6, 2003

Happy Birthday, Lawless [Filed under: Swinburne, Algernon Charles]

A poem in your honor:

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