Swinburne is not one of the poets one hears much quoted today but in his time he was a force to be reckoned with as he upset the status quo being both a rebel and a radical.
Swinburne was a radical character and an alcoholic, with leanings towards sado-masochism, who incensed many of his fellow Victorians, but the main problem for the Vicrorians was that he was an atheist. The poet’s funeral at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight was also controversial as he left instructions that there was to be no Christian ceremony. However, against his wishes, some of the normal prayers were read out.
As a poet he was a skilful exponent of French verse forms and obscure poetic metres but he was frequently criticised for his concentration on musicality at the expense of sense. (Similar complaints were later levelled at Dylan Thomas.) Browning famously referred to his work as being: ‘a fuzz of words’.
One of his supporters was Thomas Hardy who was much influenced by Swinburne’s atheism, and who in 1910 wrote A Singer Asleep whilst sitting next to Swinburne’s grave.
A short excerpt from one of Swinburne’s poems.
From too much hope of living, From hope and fear set free, We thank with brief thanksgiving Whatever gods may be That no life lives for ever; That dead men rise up never; That even the weariest river Winds somewhere safe to sea.
Summer’s over, the chairs are wrecked, I’ll pile ‘em up, see if I can balance them and maybe make a bridge for the cats to walk over before I trash them (the chairs, not the cats). Hmm. Looks quite good against the sky. O-M-G, I’ve created an art installation! Look at that. Could I sell it? Could I invite people to my garden to look at it? Could I call myself an artist? Pity the Council has no spare money due to the cuts, otherwise, I could ask them to buy it as a piece of civic furniture. Would be perfect in the current zeitgeist.
You don’t know about CCTV yet, you think I’m just an image on a computer. But moggie, I’m watching you! Things have moved along since you first pawed a laptop and back here I have your number! I see how your eyes narrow and your tail twitches when I do my twirly thing, how you salivate when I come closer to the screen and when I pussyfoot (pussyfoot, how’s that?) along the wire fence. In your dreams, Clarence, in your dreams. The future is here and it’s mine.