Friday, December 14, 2007

ad interim: saucy swinburne

So I finished my latest trawl thru The Cantos the other day – from soup to nuts over six months, Odysseus in Hades to all those lyrical, fragmentary regrets. A grand read, tho a trifle tiring in the final stretches. And then I pulled down Richard Sieburth's Library of America edition of Pound's Poems and Translations, wondering if I would see more in the early stretches than I had before.

Well, this time around I saw – or rather, heard – quite a lot of Celtic Twilight-era Yeats. Certain verbal tics, like Pound's repeated use of the adjective "dim" to describe the hair of whatever beloved his persona happens to be addressing. But I also heard a good deal of Swinburne, which sent me back to the Swinburne I'd been reading last spring (in, of all places, Orlando), a nice fat Carcanet Selected Poems that I seem to have bought in Florence for 5000 lire some years ago.

Now like everybody else I'd heard lots about Swinburne's S&M propensities, but I'd only seen flashes of them in the poetry. Not so this time around. I won't even start on "Dolores," a 440-line hymn to "Our Lady of Pain," a phantasmagoric tour thru a sensual underworld that makes Eyes Wide Shut seem rather tame (no, wait, Eyes Wide Shut was rather tame...). Instead, I'll fasten on a single unforgettable stanza from a little love ditty entitled "A Match." It begins tamely, innocently:
If love were what the rose is,
And I were like a leaf,
Our lives would grow together
In sad or singing weather,
Blown fields or flowerful closes,
Green pleasure or grey grief;
If love were what the rose is,
And I were like the leaf.
The poem gets progressively weirder from there, contrasting "life" & "death," "sorrow" & "joy," but settling down in the penultimate stanza to a chaste "If you were April's lady, / And I were lord in May..." But then there's the final stanza, which plunges it all into a scene that ought to be illustrated by Félicien Rops, or acted out by Bettie Page:
If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain,
We'd hunt down love together,
Pluck out his flying-feather,
And teach his feet a measure,
And find his mouth a rein;
If you were queen of pleasure,
And I were king of pain.
Am I the only one who finds this irresistably kinky?


E. M. Selinger said...


I've loved Swinburne since I was a teen. The older I get, the more I like him.

Hey Mark, did you know I have him on my plate (in my power, under my thumb) for Herb two issues from now? Maybe I can get H to give me Zukofsky as well, so I can call the piece "S/Z."

Not much kink in Zuk, though--even in "Bottom: On Shakespeare." (If that were "Topping Shakespeare," or even "Tupping," they'd be a fine pair, sure.)

Mark Scroggins said...

Oh, many moons ago somebody -- prominent poet, somebody we know, retained secondhand etc. -- suggested I call one of my MLA papers "Spanking Zukofsky's Bottom." Hurts so good.

Mark Scroggins said...


Archambeau said...

Are you the only one? Hells no.

I'm betting Swinburne is about to become sort of hip, in that all-but-absolutely unhip way something like a dead English poet can be hip: Jerome McGann's been writing about him, and Simon Jarvis, too, from what I hear. Expect his influence to spread far and wide, until his converts to lurk outside (ahem) specialist leather goods stores nationwide.

Archambeau said...


Josh Hanson said...

Man, I hate Sting. He's like a virus. A line of Swinburne and I've got the Police in my head.

"And find his mouth a rein" stikes me as both a kinky bit of language and a handy bit, too.