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Short poem

Selected Poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Index to poems

For the crown of our life as it closes
Is darkness, the fruit thereof dust;
No thorns go as deep as a rose's,
And love is more cruel than lust.
Time turns the old days to derision,
Our loves into corpses or wives;
And marriage and death and division
Make barren our lives.
        (Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs), 153-160)
  1. Atalanta in Calydon (excerpt)
  2. Atalanta in Calydon: A Tragedy (complete text)
  3. Ave Atque Vale
  4. A Ballad of Burdens
  5. A Ballad of Death
  6. A Ballad of François Villon, Prince of All Ballad-Makers
  7. A Channel Crossing
  8. Choriambics
  9. The Complaint of Lisa
  10. Cor Cordium
  11. Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs)
  12. Étude Réaliste (excerpt)
  13. The Epitaph in Form of a Ballad which Villon Made for Himself and his Comrades
  14. Faustine
  15. A Forsaken Garden
  16. The Garden of Proserpine
  17. Hendecasyllabics
  18. Hertha
  19. The Higher Pantheism in a Nutshell
  20. Hymn to Proserpine
  21. In Memory of Walter Savage Landor
  22. In the Bay
  23. Itylus
  24. The Last Oracle
  25. Laus Veneris
  26. A Leave-taking
  27. March: An Ode
  28. Nephelidia
  29. The Pilgrims
  30. The Roundel
  31. Sapphics
  32. A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Browning
  33. Sestina
  34. A Swimmer's Dream
  35. To a Cat
  36. The Triumph of Time

Notes on Life and Works

Swinburne was born April 5, 1837, in London, the child of an admiral, Captain Charles Henry Swinburne, and Lady Henrietta Swinburne. He spent his childhood at Capheaton Hall, Bonchurch, the Isle of Wight, moved on to receive his education in classics, French and Italian and metrics at Eton (1849-54) and then Balliol College, Oxford (January 1856), but eventaully left university without a degree in 1860. His first two published works were plays, The Queen Mother and Rosamond, which came out in 1861. In the years before his first triumph, Atalanta in Calydon, published in 1865, Swinburne visited Italy, where he met Walter Savage Landor, and he lived for a time in Cheyne Row, Chelsea, with D. G. Rossetti and George Meredith. In 1864 Swinburne's cousin Mary Julia Charlotte Gordon announced that she would marry (June 1865). This news much disappointed Swinburne and is perhaps reflected in poems like "Dolores." In 1865 Swinburne brought out Chastelard, a Tragedy, the first part of a Mary Queen of Scots trilogy, to be completed by Bothwell (1874), and Mary Stuart (1881). Swinburne published his greatest volume of poems, Poems and Ballads, in 1866. It contains "Dolores," "Hymn to Proserpine," "Faustine," and a dozen other dark, exquisitely musical poems. Their voice has proved unique in English poetry, but they caused an unequalled scandal by flouting accepted Victorian moral, religious and social standards. Controversy spilled over in personal attacks on his character by John Morley (Saturday Review August 4, 1866) and others. Swinburne defended his poems as art for the sake of art, and his interests in sado-masochism as impersonal, in Notes on Poems and Reviews; and W. M. Rossetti followed suit in Swinburne's Poems and Ballads: A Criticism the same year.

Swinburne's later volumes of poetry less often matched the creativity of his early years. These include Song of Italy (1867), Songs before Sunrise (1871), Erechtheus (1876), Poems and Ballads, second series (1878), Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), A Century of Roundels (1883), A Midsummer Holiday (1884), Marino Faliero (1885), Locrine (1887), Poems and Ballads, third series (1889), The Sisters (1892), Astrophel (1894), The Tale of Balen (1896), Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899), A Channel Passage (1904), and The Duke of Gandia (1908).

In 1879 Swinburne's alcoholism caused his legal advisor and friend Walter Theodore Watts-Dunton to take him away from London to The Pines near the bottom of Putney Hill. This personal care extended Swinburne's life by 30 years, during which he wrote astute criticism of Shakespeare, Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Blake, and Victor Hugo (cf. Essays and Studies [1875]) as well as two novels, A Year's Letters (1877), reissued in 1905 as Love's Cross Currents, and Lesbia Brandon (1952). Swinburne never married. He died 10 April 1909.

Biographical information

Given name: Algernon Charles
Family name: Swinburne
Birth date: 5 April 1837
Death date: 10 April 1909
Family relations
          father: Charles Henry Swinburne
          mother: Jane Henrietta Swinburne
          sister: Isabel Swinburne
          Eton: 1849
          Balliol College, Oxford: 24 January 1856
          Roman Catholic
          Nihilist: 1857
          Second Prince Consort's prize, French and Italian: 1852
          First prize, French and Italian: 1853
          Taylorian scholarship for French and Italian: 1858
Literary period: Victorian
          Isle of Wight
          Chester Street, Grosvenor Place, London: 5 April 1837
          Capheaton: 1859 to 1860
          Holmwood, near Henley-on-Thames: 1866
          12 North Crescent, Alfred Place, London: 1873
          3 Great James Street, London: 1873
          Deafness: 1875
          Pneumonia: November 1903
Cause of death: Pneumonia
Buried at: Bonchurch
First RPO edition: 1999