Weekly Assignment #10

November 6, 2006 at 1:37 pm (Weekly Assignments)

Oops. Sorry for not posting the Swinburne assignment last week. Those of you who have not already posted questions, please do add your comments to this post.



  1. Chris Nelson said,

    I hope I read the right article, but here goes: What was Tennyson’s reaction, if any, to Swinburne’s “Under the Microscope?”

  2. Jake Burnett said,

    What place did Prosperine have in the Victorian imagination?

  3. Matt Simmons said,

    What can someone find on the publication history of Swinburne’s poetry, as the extremely controversial nature of these poems suggests, if they were indeed publically published and sold well, perhaps a greater liberalism in Victorian society than we like to credit it for possessing?

  4. Lindsay S. said,

    Do we know whether Swinburne was at all influenced by the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon when he was writing Hymn to Proserpine?

  5. Susanna Branyon said,

    Swinburne’s poetry leads me to believe that he is not in fact an atheist, but rather a theist who thinks God is bad…that is to say, captial B Bad, or the opposite of Good; if this is so, what is the name for this belief system (because I’ve never encountered it before) and what other minds of the day shared it?

  6. Jake Burnett said,

    I’ll take Susanna’s question.

  7. Eric G said,

    I’ll take Jake’s question.

  8. Holly Ellern said,

    I should probably clarify what I mean by “rejection of God” in my question on Swinburne. I guess my question hinges a lot more on my own interpretation of the poem than I thought. I saw the speaker of the poem as an almost Miltonic Adam figure. Eve (here embodied by Venus) has already listened to the serpent and chosen to disobey God. At this point in _Paradise Lost_ I may be a little fuzzy (so someone please correct me if I’m wrong). But if I remember right, there are some lines where Eve has fallen but Adam hasn’t yet. She tries to convince him to eat the fruit–some traditions, I think, claim that she seduces him. He has to decide whether he will “die” with her or remain with God. He chooses her over God.
    I believe I see something similar in Swinburne. Now the speaker isn’t “unfallen” by any means (or is he?). But he is in conflict over whether he should do his religious “duty” and resist his desire, or if he should do what his human nature wants to do. Venus (Eve) is associated in many places with serpent imagery, even taking the form of Medusa (a Gorgon) at one point in the poem with snakes as her hair. In a sense, she takes on the role of the serpent like the Miltonic Eve. The serpent himself doesn’t say a word to Adam, but Eve does. Is she responsible (at least in part) for his downfall? Adam even goes so far as to claim, “it was that woman you gave me!” But he makes his choice. He’d rather be with her (“in hell” as Swinburne’s speaker believes) than with God. For example: “Alas, Lord, surely thou art great and fair./But lo her wonderfully woven hair!” (ll. 17-18).
    Because Milton was so popular and influential in the 19th century, I wonder if Christian readers would have automatically connected “Laus Veneris” with Eden, or if they would just have been appalled at the poem’s pagan content. Or could they have seen the poem in the way Renaissance scholars regarded classical texts: using pagan elements as metaphors-of-sorts to demonstrate aspects of what it means to be human?
    This raises other questions in my mind about the speaker and his situation. The speaker seems to have reached a “point of no return.” Is this poem about a loss of innocence? If so, is that loss unavoidable? Is Swinburne making a greater statement about humankind here? How much free will does the speaker really have? Does he reject religion purely out of his own choice? Is he capable of making a different choice? Or is Swinburne (and/or the speaker) being a bit of a misogynist here? Is it “all that woman’s fault?” Also, for Swinburne and his speaker, can desire exist totally independent of “the woman?” Or are the two inseparable?
    I may be totally off on all of this. But it was just a thought.

  9. Eric Gerson said,

    As the “goddess of death” (Louis 316), Proserpine’s image was used by Victorian and Edwardian poets to express pessimism, and in the case of Swinburne, to relate pessimism to the moral implications of Swinburne’s poetry that threaten Christianity (Loius 312). Loius further contends that Proserpine, as the “queen of the Underworld” (313), is used not as death, but as a means of exploring “what happens after death” (313). This is especially relevant, I believe, since Swinburne’s poetry is “godless” (314), and thus to represent a god as the answer to life and death is ironic. Proserpine is meant to represent a Christ figure, as she died, then resurrects. However, if Swinburne’s poetry is godless as Loius proposes, then the pessimistic attitude to Proserpine’s resurrection imagery, and question as to the implications of the afterlife suggest a meaningless to life in Christian terms. Christianity is based, at least in part, on the notion that to do right will be rewarded with an eternity in Heaven. If the afterlife does not exist, and Proserpine’s pagan, non-Christian resurrection is meant to symbolize this, then the life of a Christian is pointless.
    Louis, Margot K. “Proserpine nad Pessimism: Goddesses of Death, Life, and Language from Swinburne to Wharton.” Modern Philology 96.3 (Feb. 1999): 312-46.

  10. Chris Nelson said,

    I’ll take Lindsay’s question.

  11. Josh Gane said,

    How do you think Victorian critics reacted to Swinburne’s strong and gritty imagery?

  12. Matt Simmons said,

    Our own Dr. Harrison answers your question, along with giving a really interesting analysis of Swinburne’s poetic theory:
    “Swinburne’s Losses: The Poetics of Passion.” ELH, 49.3, Autumn ’82. 689-706.
    You can find it on JSTOR. But, if you don’t really want to read it–contemporary critics seem to have despised Swinburne, seeing his stuff as basically garbage–well written garbage, but garbage nonetheless–that was morally base and intellectually vapid. A. C. S. of course disagreed, seeing his work as a through, if taxing and disconcerting, exploration of passion, sexuality, and relationships–both intrahuman and with the Divine.

  13. Susanna Branyon said,

    I’ll see if I can’t add something to Aaron’s question about “froth” from the other posting…

  14. Susanna Branyon said,

    I know we talked about your froth/foam imagery question in class, but I wanted to find some proof for you.
    Here ’tis.
    Aphrodite was apparently born of the foam of the sea. Her name derives from the Greek word for foam–“aphros.” Think, of course, aphrodisiac, etc…
    This supports the class conclusion that the image of foam and semen being connected…as opposed to my “foam and beer” proposal.
    Cheney, Linda De Girolami. “The Oyster in Dutch Genre Paintings: Moral or Erotic Symbolism?” Artibus et Historiae. Vol. 8, No. 15 (1987): 155 – 158.

  15. Chris Nelson said,

    You picked a hard one! After nearly an hour of searching, I was able to find a mention of SONG OF SOLOMON in reference to Swinburne, although not necissarily related to “Hymn to Proserpine.” In her book, SWINBURNE AND HIS GODS: THE ROOTS AND GROWTH OF AN AGNOSTIC POETRY, Margot Kathleen Louis writes that Swinburne’s women are not “gardens inclosed,” as the female subject of SOLOMON is. Rather, they are gardens “where all men may dwell.” While I fully admit that I am reaching here, I would argue that Swinburne, because of his religious upbringing, was aware of SOLOMON while composing “Hymn,” although I will not venture a guess as to the degree of influence. I’m tired; can you tell?
    Louis, Margot Kathleen. SWINBURNE AND HIS GODS: THE ROOTS AND GROWTH OF AN AGNOSTIC POETRY. Montreal, McGill-Queen’s University Press: 1990.

  16. Josh Gane said,

    I did not find anything in reference to Hymn of Proserpine with regards to Song of Solomon. I did however find it mentioned in an article called “Time and Eternity in Swinburne” with reference to another poem. It is actually in the footnotes of the article. Here is the qoute from the footnotes, with the reference to Song of Solomon at the end. It makes more sense when read with the actual article. I don’t know if that is any help.
    “Hendecasyllabics,” in the same volume, offers a reverse apocalypse in which the very extremity of the desolation of the winter anticipated by the poem qualifies this desolation for serving as a kind of absolute. This is comparable to the motif of “Winter as Gain” in”Ave atque Vale.” In the earlier poem, the point is enforced by biblical allusion (Revelation, Psalms, Song of Solomon, Prophets)…..
    Ridenour, George M. Time and Eternity in Swinburne: Minute Paticulars in Five Poems. ELH, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Spring, 1978), ppp. 107-130.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: