lgernon Charles Swinburne's poem "Hymn to Prosperpine" conveys the confusion of a Roman who struggles to come to terms with the feeling that the Roman gods have been "dethroned . . . deceased, cast forth, [and] wiped out in a day" (line 13) with the arrival of Christianity. Among the speaker's numerous professions of distaste for this situation, is the skepticism that Christ can give mankind anything more than the gods were able to. In lines 30-35, the speaker goes so far as to reproach Christ for making human existence, which is already difficult, that much harder:
Nay for a little while we live, and life hath mutable wings.
A little while and we die; shall life not thrive as it may?
For no man under the sky lives twice, outliving his day.
And grief is a grievous thing, and a man hath enough of his tears:
Why should he labour, and bring fresh grief to blacken his years?
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has gone grey from thy breath.
The speaker's main complaint in this poem, however, is the transitory nature of religion. The concern is expressed that "the old faiths loosen and fall, the new years ruin and rend," (line 40). Even though the speaker admits that religions cycle through time like the seasons, the speakerdeclares he will continue to revere Proserpine as "she shall surely abide in the end" (line 91).
1. Throughout the poem, the speaker connects Proserpine with death. How can the reader reconcile this relationship with the fact that Swinburne also relates her description with that of abundance and natural fertility?
2. Is there any way to discern the speaker's gender since Swinburne does not explicitly state this fact? Would it change the poem's effect in any way?
3. Swinburne's speaker frequently refers to the symbol of a rose (lines 83, 88 and 97). What is the significance of these multiple references?
Last modified 17 November 2003