Limyaael

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09:28 am: Wherein I am fannish about Swinburne.
Have I mentioned lately that Swinburne's Anactoria is the most beautiful thing in existence?

Well, it is. It's based on bits of Sappho's poetry apparently directed towards Anactoria, but is much longer and more personal, from Sappho's point of view.

"Ah, ah, thy beauty! like a beast it bites,
Stings like an adder, like an arrow smites.
Ah sweet, and sweet again, and seven times sweet,
The paces and the pauses of thy feet!
Ah sweeter than all sleep or summer air
The fallen fillets fragrant from thine hair!
Yea, though their alien kisses do me wrong,
Sweeter thy lips than mine with all their song..."

"Would I not plague thee dying overmuch?
Would I not hurt thee perfectly? not touch
Thy pores of sense with torture, and make bright
Thine eyes with bloodlike tears and grievous light?
Strike pang from pang as note is struck from note,
Catch the sob's middle music in thy throat,
Take thy limbs living, and new-mould with these
A lyre of many faultless agonies?"

All right, so it's also kind of weird. But still! Beautiful.



He's just so interesting. He's not simple. He was Christian up until about eighteen, then became an atheist, but parts of his poems also reflect pantheistic beliefs. (Whether he himself did is a different matter). He also knew the Bible very well, and used phrases from it in his anti-Christian poetry.

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!

And his imagery is damn near unique. From "Dolores," again:

When, with flame all around him aspirant,
Stood flushed, as a harp-player stands,
The implacable beautiful tyrant,
Rose-crowned, having death in his hands;
And a sound as the sound of loud water
Smote far through the flight of the fires,
And mixed with the lightning of slaughter
A thunder of lyres.

He also wrote two novels (though one of them was never finished), several plays, and lots and lots of criticism of other poets, playwrights, and novelists. He was also a very skilled parodist. He parodies Browning, Tennyson, and himself in a book called the Heptalogia that I've never yet been able to get a hold of, but several of the poems are online: The Higher Pantheism in a Nutshell, which is a parody of Tennyson's "The Higher Pantheism," and Nephelidia, his parody of his own style.

He wrote a lot of poems on the psychology of sex, which of course made people uncomfortable. His subjects included bisexuality, lesbianism, sadomasochism, incest, necrophilia, voyeurism, and combinations of all of those. His Poems and Ballads, First Series was burned in 1866, and people objected heavily, calling him things like "the libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs." Swinburne wrote back, and criticized them in turn. Emerson scolded him for the morality of his poetry, and he called Emerson an ape chattering in his own excrement. He wasn't about to back down from the right to write anything he wanted.

He had red hair, was very short, and had an abnormally large head. He made spasmodic jerky movements all the time, and he might have had epilepsy. He certainly had a drinking problem. He nearly drank himself to death before a friend of his, Theodore Watts-Dunton, rescued him and kept him under virtual house arrest for the last 30 years of his life. Watts-Dunton did that by hiding his boots, so that Swinburne couldn't go to London and drink. Swinburne apparently got fed up with this at one point and yelled, "Oh God, if there is a God, which there isn't, where are my damn boots?"

Supposedly, living with Watts-Dunton destroyed his poetry, since he became more conservative and wrote a lot of poems about babies, but I would like to ask what A Nympholept is doing in 1894 then, if he had lost all ability to write poetry.

He deeply loved the sea, and it was an image that appeared in almost all his major poetry. Probably his first memory was of his father hurling him into the sea when he was three years old and letting him swim. He also loved Sappho, Walter Savage Landor, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire (he wrote Ave Atque Vale as an elegy for Baudelaire), the Rossettis, Shelley, Shakespeare, and a lot of the Elizabethan playwrights.

There's just so much about him to like and be fascinated by and say, "Huh? Why did he do that?" at.



*reads "Anactoria" again*

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