F. R. Leavis’s charge sheet, in one of his Cambridge seminars (recorded by Charles Winder), requires a robust defence. “Swinburne: Tennysonian, subordination of sense to sound, lapsing away from the sense. Use of words: what could happen after Swinburne? Gilbert Murray’s Euripides happened.” A wash of words with no meaning, the logorrhoea that gives poetry a bad name, the decadent clutter that had to be swept away by the austere lucidity of the Imagists: that was the judgement of my schoolmasters on Swinburne’s verse. He may have been English poetry’s greatest technical innovator of anapaest and iamb in bounding alternation: “When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, / The mother of months in meadow or plain” (Atalanta in Calydon). But he was all too easily parodied as a purveyor of high-sounding nonsense: “When the foam of the bride-cake is white, and / The fierce orange-blossoms are yellow” (Lewis Carroll, “Atalanta in Camden Town”).
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
At the TLS, Jonathan Bate on Swinburne's posthumous reputation. The article persuasively makes the case that Swinburne is well worth reading, after this pungent statement of the arguments against: