Wednesday, April 5, 2017

For National Poetry Month: 30 Poets, #5

Portrait by William Bell Scott

From The Writer's Almanac, a poet born 180 years ago today:
It’s the birthday of the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, born in London (1837). He was just over five feet tall. His cousin wrote about him during their school days: “He was strangely tiny. His limbs were small and delicate; and his sloping shoulders looked far too weak to carry his great head, the size of which was exaggerated by the tousled mass of red hair standing almost at right angles to it. Hero-worshippers talk of his hair as having been a ‘golden aureole.’ At that time there was nothing golden about it. Red, violent, aggressive red it was, unmistakable, unpoetical carrots.” Swinburne liked Eton, where he was known as “mad Swinburne,” and he hated Oxford. But it was there that he befriended the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who called him “my little Northumbrian friend.” As roommates, they kept a pet wombat and got drunk together frequently. Swinburne was famous for his outrageous personality—extremely melodramatic, he liked to slide naked down banisters, and he would literally skip around a room, shrieking his poetry at the top of his lungs. Oscar Wilde called him “a braggart in matters of vice.” But he was a popular and respected poet in his own right. His books include Atalanta in Calydon (1865), Poems and Ballads I (1866), and Tristram of Lyonesse (1882).  
That most rara of avises, a Wikipedia contributor with a sense of fun, elaborated:
A controversial figure at the time, Swinburne was a sado-masochist and alcoholic and was obsessed with the Middle Ages and lesbianism. 
Swinburne wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, cannibalism, sado-masochism, and anti-theism. His poems have many common motifs, such as the Ocean, Time, and Death.  
Swinburne was an alcoholic and algolagniac and highly excitable. He liked to be flogged. His health suffered; and, in 1879 at the age of 42, he was taken into care by his friend, lawyer Theodore Watts, who looked after him for the rest of his life at The Pines, 11 Putney Hill, Putney SW15. Thereafter, he lost his youthful rebelliousness and developed into a figure of social respectability. It was said of Watts that he saved the man and killed the poet. Swinburne died at the Pines on 10 April 1909 at the age of 72 and was buried at St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight. 
...Swinburne is considered a poet of the decadent school, although he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged in to advertise his deviance – he spread a rumour that he had had sex with, then eaten, a monkey; Oscar Wilde stated that Swinburne was "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestialiser." Common gossip of the time reported that he had a deep crush on the explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, despite the fact that Swinburne himself hated travel.
...Swinburne was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1903 to 1907 and again in 1909. 
H. P. Lovecraft considered Swinburne "the only real poet in either England or America after the death of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe."
Love and Sleep


Lying asleep between the strokes of night 
    I saw my love lean over my sad bed, 
    Pale as the duskiest lily’s leaf or head, 
Smooth-skinned and dark, with bare throat made to bite, 
Too wan for blushing and too warm for white, 
    But perfect-coloured without white or red. 
    And her lips opened amorously, and said – 
I wist not what, saving one word – Delight. 

And all her face was honey to my mouth, 
    And all her body pasture to mine eyes; 
         The long lithe arms and hotter hands than fire, 
The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south, 
    The bright light feet, the splendid supple thighs 
         And glittering eyelids of my soul’s desire. 

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