A.C. Swinburne's "Hymn to Proserpine" (1866) offers the lament of an unnamed person living in the fourth century A.D. who is grieving the passing of paganism and classical forms of religion for the rise of Christianity. This poem commences with the phrase, "Vicisti, Galilaee", Latin for "You have conquered, O Galilean," setting the tone for the rest of this dramatic monologue. Similar to Browning, Swinburne uses a speaker to present the thoughts of a representative class of people who are going through a period of transition, in this case, a change from one religion to another.

Swinburne uses opposites throughout the poem, such as "pleasure and pain" and "joy and sorrow," to convey a sense of to a great degree in this poem, namely to remind the reader of the paradoxical nature of the characters of the poem itself, particularly Persephone, the goddess of death and rebirth, two opposites. Swinburne allows the reader to view a cultural landscape depicted by the mental portrait of a fourth-century pagan. By doing so, Swinburne creates an effective contemplative piece in which he disparages the rise of Christianity and provides a foreboding warning with mythological characters and familiar themes such as sleep and death.

Swinburne concludes the poem with a contemplation of the future of Christianity, claiming that it took will "die as my fathers died, and sleep as they sleep", implying that Christianity will fall just as paganism had fallen. Although Swinburne's conclusion is ominous, it is nevertheless expected.

Discussion Questions

Swinburne pays careful attention to the detail of this poem and his particular rhyme scheme is well known as well, why do you suppose he made the poem so easily relatable. Who do you think was the audience for this poem?

Swinburne uses contradictory words and phrases throughout the poem, do you think this is an effective way of conveying his message? Which of these phrases do you think was the most effective?

Many of Swinburne's poems such as "Evening of the Broads" also have a mellow and sorrowful tone; how are these two poems similar? Do they have similar themes although they do not share a common topic?

I felt as though Swinburne's rhyme scheme allowed me to understand his message more clearly as understanding parallels was facilitated. Why do you think he went with this form as opposed to others? Do you think it's an effective way of expressing his ideas?


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Last modified 6 November 2006