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Arthurian and Grail Poetry Essay

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In 1871, Swinburne produced a new collection of poems which he entitled “Songs Before Sunrise”, which echoed a whole generation’s sentiments about Italy’s struggle for freedom. The poet’s stellar piece, “Hertha”, was yet another offering to the pagan altar upon which he worshipped. Hertha, the goddess of fertility, is written as the speaker of a dramatic monologue that aims to declare her superiority and immortality over the Christian God, a tactic Swinburne used to get the attention of the Victorian audience.

He emphasizes, through Hertha, the significance and importance of Mother Nature over God, and provides line after line of physical representations of a “mother” that gives life and nourishment to her offspring, compared to a God who, in Swinburne’s logic, false and provisional. Also, by centering on the “body” of Hertha, Swinburne stays true to his established tradition of sensuality and passion. He ends the poem with Hertha saying “I am man”—completing the ultimate pagan principle of man’s harmony and unity with nature.

Swinburne’s most celebrated work, among his legendary pieces, is 1882’s “Tristram of Lyonesse”.

A veritable triumph in the technical sense, the poem was skillfully written to feature long romantic couplets punctuated with a brilliant arrangement of vowel sounds, rhythm, and alliteration. Swinburne exposes his concept of passion masterfully in this tale of lovers who care for nothing else but their love, and would go to any length to keep the fire burning. Often referred to as Swinburne’s ode to the English dramatists, “Tristram” is, to this day, the most exemplary rendition of the English couplet. IV. Other Literary Accomplishments

As much as Swinburne was known as an exceptional poet was his reputation as an excellent critic. From 1868, he managed to produce a number of volumes of literary criticism, with the best contained in Miscellanies and Essays and Studies. In this series, the genius and poetics of Swinburne are satisfyingly revealed and explored. He also published A Study of Shakespeare, in which he expressed his own great technical competencies and proficiencies in the areas of music and rhythm in poetry, by praising the iconic master of story, song, and technical excellence.

It is quite apparent that Swinburne had intentionally limited his paganistic and atheistic principles to his poetry—the literary criticism that bears his name almost always stays firmly on the positive side, with nary a mention of technical or thematic shortcomings of the authors he discusses. With Swinburne’s passing in 1909, the Victorian society of England lost one of its greatest masters in lyric poetry, whose genius and brilliance were quite overflowing that he found it necessary to go against the tide, and stand by the least accepted constructs of society. V. Conclusion

The question regarding Swinburne’s religious influences in his poetry has been clearly answered, and has validated the original logic proposed. There are indeed references to Christianity and traditional beliefs in almost all his poetry, which he strategically decided to use to disprove many of the paradigms established by the Church. With his declared propensity to explore the ideals of physical pain and pleasure, sexual passion, and excessive living, through a great deal of wit, sarcasm, and morbidity, the reading audience is left shocked and astonished way beyond their accepted levels.

However, it takes one as talented as Swinburne to effectively realize the relationship between two opposing poles—Christianity and immorality—and use the commonalities to create an ideology that is all at once controversial and unacceptable, but also incredible and brilliant.


Apiryon, T. ‘Algernon Charles Swinburne’, The Hermetic Library, 1995, retrieved 12 July 2008 from http://www. hermetic. com/sabazius/swinburne. htm Bartleby, ‘The Rossettis, William Morries, Swinburne, and Others’. Bartleby. com, retrieved on 12 July 2008 from http://www. bartleby. com/223/0508.

html Cymru, Gordd. ‘Arthurian and Grail Poetry’, Celtic Twilight, 2000, retireved 12 July 2008 from http://celtic-twilight. com/camelot/poetry/swinburne/index. htm Representative Poetry Online, ‘Selected Poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837- 1909), retrieved on 12 July 2008 from http://rpo. library. utoronto. ca/poet/319. html Sawhney, Paramvir, ‘Gestalt Paganism in AC Swinburne’s Hertha’ The Victorian Web, 2006, retrieved on 12 July 2008 from http://victorianweb. org/authors/swinburne/sawhney9. html Thomas, Edward, ‘A Modern Bacchant’, The New York Times, 29 December 1912.

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