One of the first trends that we note upon looking at most of Swinburne's landscape and erotic poetry is his tendency towards the use of paradox. Nevertheless, if we take this technique as a lens through which to observe Swinburnian verse, we find ourselves caught in a kaleidoscopic world of abstractions. In most of Swinburne's landscape poetry, images are at once drawn and then erased, observations asserted and then rejected, and we essentially find ourselves groping blindly through dark scenes ensconced in contradiction. However, once we understand the multiple reasons for Swinburne's attraction to this particular poetic device, we also comprehend the Swinburnian vision as one which is always and necessarily dependent upon the phenomenology of contradiction and ambiguity.
When defining and then redefining an image or a scene, Swinburne is, first and foremost, illustrating the transient nature of time. In poems such as "Evening on the Broads" and "On the Cliffs," as descriptions are stated and then retracted not only does the speaker slowly feel his way towards a physical picture of the landscape but also the natural forms themselves change shape; they emerge and reemerge, are sculpted, remolded, and reborn. This process of metamorphosis becomes for Swinburne the quintessential representation of time, and yet, despite this logical and constant state of physical transformation, the reader more often than not finds himself forever in between two worlds. The sense of being caught in a physical and temporal state of in-between is most likely still the fault of Swinburne's forever-warring paradoxes. However, it is only when we realize another sense in which Swinburne uses paradox that this constant state of in-between seems to resolve itself. When Swinburne aligns two binaries, he is not always necessarily relating them to one another through a distancing technique, but rather he is, also, conjoining these opposites. Swinburne is thus mostly attracted to the moment of unity in which two opposing forms become one. However, like the slow evolution that takes place in Swinburnian metamorphosis, this fusion of forms too is a process. It becomes for Swinburne the ultimate metamorphosis, the state towards which all elements seem destined. Paradox, for Swinburne, thus involves a process of unfolding, and as binary oppositions struggle with one another throughout his poems, they ultimately come together in an almost erotic moment of union. This pointed interest in the moment of unity likewise accounts for Swinburne's structural and metaphorical dependence on circularity. Thus we come to see the paradoxical landscape as a circular landscape, and all of the contradictions of Swinburnian verse finally resolve themselves in time and space into the single form, or shape, of a circle.
The circular pattern works itself out both spatially and temporally in Swinburne's landscape poems. Here, Swinburne tends to work in patterns of concentricity in which forms devour or are contained within one another. At times, for Swinburne, the essence of a thing is defined by nature through its opposite, and thus Swinburne begins to develop a poetic outline in which forces and objects in the external world are at odds with one another, battling until they are finally united in the resolution of the poem. It is, therefore, no coincidence that Swinburne chooses to begin such poems as "Evening on the Broads" or "On the Cliffs" in a state of in-between. The very setting of "Evening on the Broads" on its most literal level illustrates this sensation of being physically in the middle of two worlds and two states, for the speaker (who is only later introduced in the poem) watches the sun as is hangs over a cliff between two bodies of water:
Over two shadowless waters, adrift as a pinnace in peril,
Hangs in heavy suspense, charged with irresolute light,
Softly the soul of the sunset upholden awhile on the sterile
Waves and wastes of the land, half repossessed by the night.
Inland glimmer the shadows as asleep and afar in the breathless
Twilight: yonder the depths darken afar and asleep.
Slowly the semblance of death out of heaven descends on the deathless
Waters: hardly the light lives on the face of the deep —
Hardly, but here for awhile. All over the grey soft shallow
Hover the colours and clouds of the twilight, void of a star. [lines 1-10].
Immediately, Swinburne throws his reader into a landscape of suspenseful paradox, for already we see here that the opposing land and sea are somehow distinct from and yet similar to one another when they are both described as part of the overall sterility and waste of the scene. We must, however, not be too quick to comprehend Swinburne's view of sterility and nothingness as absolute, for we will later see how this tehomic absence becomes like the sea, which is both a graveyard and a breeding ground, a setting of death and reproduction. Nevertheless, Swinburne does begin the poem with absences and voids, and we see in descriptions such as the "shadowless waters" and the "starless twilight" images which are there and yet not there. The effect of alluding to such absences is thus one of anticipated change, and Swinburne sets us up for the shadows, the stars, and the night by highlighting their present, but temporary, nonexistence. The speaker also indicates an oncoming shift in the scene by accentuating the transient nature of its imagery. The light here, particularly, is described as being ephemeral when the speaker states that it "hardly lives" on the surface of the sea. Swinburne thus captures the transience of the twilight most forcefully in the vacillating light of the sun. Although we can, on the one hand, interpret this slow progression of day into night as being somewhat linear, for the personified night is, in fact, beginning to consume the sun, Swinburne does not completely allow us to fall back into such linear notions of time and space. The very fact that the scene is "glimmering" and that the light is flickering rather than easily dying out suggests that we are witnessing a struggle between day and night. This is, nevertheless, the most clear-cut imagery that appears in the poem, for we still have a sense of perspective in which the light is placed inland, or closer to the speaker, and the darkness is coming in from far away. However, the very fact that the speaker is all the while speaking of the "soul" of the sunset, rather than the sun itself, and not of death, but rather the "semblance," or appearance, of death descending on "the deathless," begins to create a mysterious sense of interiority and exteriority in the poem in which the objects of nature seem to be somehow concentrically arranged within one another. Furthermore, the notion that the darkness emerges or is born out of something greater, or more whole, sets the reader up for a scene in which distance might very well converge upon proximity and motion meet stasis.
In the description of the night in the next six lines, we get an even better sense of the sunset as a metamorphosis. Here, Swinburne describes the night as being youthful, or as just developing, when he compares it to a fledgling bird. However, as the night emerges, it is also endowed with the possibility of infinite unfolding and transformation, and we see soon see the night not as a state of pure darkness, but as a non-absolute, as an sensual entity of multiple facets and forms:
As a bird unfledged is the broad-winged night, whose winglets are callow
Yet, but soon with their plumes will she cover her brood from afar,
Cover the brood of her worlds that cumber the skies with their blossom
Thick as the darkness of leaf-shadowed spring is encumbered with flowers,
World upon world is enwound in the bountiful girth of her bosom,
Warm and lustrous with life lovely to look on as ours. [lines 11-16]
We can almost see the night's wings here in the process of widening and spreading, and yet, as Swinburne evokes this image of the external qualities of a birdlike night (its wings, its feather etc . . .), he also gives the night an internal quality when he depicts its bosom as containing "worlds upon worlds." This act of layering accounts for the complexity of a single form and likewise allows for the abounding paradox noted in the above passage. While the "brood" makes the sky heavy with its "blossoms," the darkness is compared to the flowering spring. Nonetheless, we can reconcile ourselves, once again, with these paradoxes when we recall the Swinburnian conception of opposing natures as being wrapped into the same scene or element. By comparing the thickness of the darkness to the spring, Swinburne thus writes about the night in an emerging and continual sense and also disassociates the darkness from its archetypal, or more clichéd, descriptions. Here, the dark is not cold, but rather warm; it is not deadly, but rather bountiful and full of life. Even as we sort through these paradoxes, however, it is difficult to get a clear sense of the scene being described. If the darkness is, for example, as thick as the leaf-shadowed spring, then is it thick at all? Rather, it seems, that in this image of speckled or patched light, the speaker is suggesting that the light is in a slow process of thinning, and the dark in a slow process of thickening. Furthermore, we must note that these progressions are not only slow, but wavering. We must, therefore, be careful in unraveling these paradoxes, for at times, Swinburne seems to define an image by what it is not, and in doing so both distinguishes it from and unites it with its opposite.
The struggle between the night and day only increases in its intensity in the next eight lines which describe the sunset. Here, Swinburne introduces another paradox in the poem between motion and stillness and, in endowing the sunset with human emotion, reveals every sensation as also being two-fold:
Still is the sunset adrift as a spirit in doubt that dissembles
Still with itself, being sick of division and dimmed by dismay
Nay, not so; but with love and delight beyond passion it trembles,
Fearful and fain of the night, lovely with love of the day:
Fain and fearful of rest that is like unto death, and begotten
Out of the womb of the tomb, born of the seed of the grave:
Lovely with shadows of loves that are only not wholly forgotten,
Only not wholly suppressed by the dark as a wreck by the wave. [lines 17-24]
The struggle of the passage of the daylight into night is mirrored here in a paradox involving motion and stillness. Although the sunset is described as being "still" and almost as being a passive, or indecisive, agent (for it is "adrift as a spirit in doubt"), it actively "dissembles" and "trembles." Swinburne thus seems to be depicting a struggle in which the sun desires to remain afloat on the horizon but is at war with the natural descent of day into night. The waning of the light then reflects the waning of both the sun's emotional and physical strength when the speaker attributes the dimness of the sunset to its being tired, "or sick of division." Upon using the word "division," Swinburne immediately rearticulates this verb into a metaphorical union. The struggle between the day and night thus becomes passionate and is almost romanticized, or even eroticized, as these binaries seem to divide and then reunite through a heavily descriptive use of language. The sudden turn here becomes characteristic of the unfolding, metamorphosing pattern of the poem. Emotions, as they are linked to actions, thus become paradoxical, for the sunset trembles with both fear and passion (a painful pleasure also common to Swinburne's erotic poetry). Furthermore, whereas the sunset is afraid of the night and in love with the day, Swinburne suggests that these two opposing forces of night and day, like the rest and the darkness, stem from the same place: "begotten out of the womb of the tomb, born of the seed of the grave" (line 22). Although Swinburne once again acknowledges this sense of unity and similar origin, he does not yet resolve these warring paradoxes, for the sunset is still an image endowed with the visible memories of the day (or its "loves") and is still "only not wholly" sinking into the darkness. This partiality, or switching back and forth between unity and division, heightens the suspense and the emotional struggle of the poem and meanwhile forces the reader to unpack the layered, paradoxical imagery of the scene. As the language, however, mirrors the binary oppositions woven into a single phrase or form, the slow disintegration of the day prevails, and although the overall structure of the poem may suggest circularity, as readers, we must also move synchronically with the verse, or linearly, with the descent of the setting sun. Swinburne, nonetheless, manages to reconcile the forward movement of time with the circular image of space by creating a sense of microcosm and macrocosm. Although the movement of the day into night seems linear, it still suggests a return of the day, just as the larger cycles hinted at in the poem of "womb to tomb" and "seed to grave" create a suggestive backdrop, or background, to the basic, dominant scene of the sunset.
Another way in which we see a scale develop in relation to the concentric representations of space is by Swinburne's distinctions between the physical body of a thing and its essence, revealed in the next two lines: "Still there linger the loves of the morning and noon, in a vision / Blindly beheld, but in vain: ghosts that are tired, and would rest" (lines 25-26). As the sunlight fades, Swinburne equates its shadowy and ambiguous dimness with a "spirit" (line 17) or "ghost." This comparison not only ultimately anticipates the ending of the poem, but also it accounts for the coexistence of two binaries. Once two forms converge, or metamorphose, Swinburne seems to suggest, they adopt the outward physicality or aspect of one shape or natural phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is always the essence of the internal form which has been consumed; that is to say, the night may retain the essence of the day, or the sea may be a grave endowed with the possibility of rebirth. Therefore, we must be careful to acknowledge the inevitably circular patterns of time in a poem which focuses primarily on spatial circularity, for the two are suggestive of one and the same phenomenon. As in Swinburne's "Hymn to Proserpine," while one era, one god, or one form may overshadow another, we must always account for the inevitability of return, the transience of a moment in time, and the complex overlapping of developing forms.
This sense of microcosm and macrocosm peaks approximately half way through the poem when the speaker — the "I" of the poem — is finally introduced. Thus the individual man becomes part of the overarching landscape, and this union accounts for the personifications in the poem and the psychological, or emotional, projections onto nature. Once again, we see a fusion of interiority and exteriority with the introduction of the speaker, and it is, therefore, no coincidence that this introduction is juxtaposed with another concentric image of birth existing within death, and wake within sleep:
Things are thrilled in their sleep as with a sense of a sure new birth
But here by the sandbank watching, with eyes on the sea-line, stranger
Grows to me also the weight of the sea-ridge gazed on of me. [lines 56-58]
The constant switch in these lines from the perspective or sight of the sea and that of the person, or spectator, thus becomes an exchange of gazes which establishes distance and yet asserts, or at least measures, an increasing proximity between the observer and the observed. As the wave curls forward to the land, it closes in on the spectator, threatening to devour him and include him in what is slowly becoming a unified moment in time and space, a circular landscape. Nonetheless, the speaker must see something natural about this union, for he observes the wave as being: "Heavily heaped up, changefully changeless, void though of danger / Void not of menace . . . (lines 59-60). The nature of the sea here is of unfaltering changefulness, and we see in this very image of the wave rearing up over the shore a sort of cycling that echoes the constant metamorphosis of form throughout the poem. Thus the fact that the wave wants to consume the smaller body of the speaker only patterns the natural concentricity of the scene, and the speaker, seeing his fate thus accepts it, finding it "menacing" but not "dangerous." The exchange between the speaker on the land and the wave in the sea, therefore, becomes like the struggle between night into day, or life into death; it embodies the paradox of motion in stillness (for the wave moves forward and yet is still enough to be crystallized into an image of suspense) and, furthermore, is endowed both with a certain passionate uprising against, and a peaceful acceptance of, our fate. Before the light finally dies (lines 80-82), the speaker notices the convergence of, or the foreboding similarity between the cliff behind him and the sea before him: "Like as the wave is before me, behind is the bank deep-drifted; / Yellow and thick as the back is behind me in front is the wave (lines 61-62)." Thus, the rest of the poem seems to mimic the motion of the wave slowly eating away at the shore, a movement reflective of an erosion of time and form and yet also symbolic of the convergence of two elements metamorphosing into one larger body.
There is another coupling of elements, or binaries, in the poem which occurs notably after the light has died out and the night has triumphed over the day. Here, Swinburne describes an interaction between the wind and the sea similar to that in "By the North Sea." This almost sexual relationship, or struggle, is one defined in "Evening on the Broads" as it is in "By the North Sea" like a battle between spirit and body in which the wind represents an essence or soul, and the sea, like the overall frame of the scene, is a vast container:
All the solitude sighs with a blind expectation
Somewhat unknown of its own sad heart, grown heartsick of strife:
Till sometime its wild heart maddens, and moans, and the vast ululation
Takes wing with the clouds on the waters, and wails to be quit of its life.
For the spirit and soul of the waste of the wind, and his wings with their waving
Darken and lighten the darkness and light of it thickened or thinned;
But the heart that impels them is even as a conqueror's insatiably craving
That victory can fill not, as power cannot satiate the want of the wind. [lines 121-28]
The wind here, compared with a spirit, both becomes internal to the sea and the overall landscape of the poem, and we see a final struggle or breaking out of the essence of a form from its bodily enclosure when "[it] takes wing with the clouds on the waters." This passionate battle between the wind and the sea thus encapsulates all of the previous metaphors of form that proceed it, for the struggle takes on the birdlike, or winglike, aspect of the night, the wavelike aspect of the sea, and also the vacillations between light and dark seen at the beginning of the poem. Thus the essence of the landscape is all encompassing but is still susceptible to the passage of time. Of course, we must note the biblical connotations behind the comparison between the wind and a spirit, for Swinburne also seems to be invoking the wind as breath, and thus he endows it with the transient nature of time. When the solitude, a descriptive metaphor for the entire scene, "sighs," it, therefore, emits a final breath indicative of the end of life. Thus the dying of the day is paralleled with the dying of a man, and this parallel is later more pronounced when Swinburne compares the heart of the wind to that of a "strong man aching in vain" (line 134). Death, Swinburne seems to say, arrives unexpectedly, but the moment of struggle at the end of life is what is most captivating about this turn in the circle. In death, the spirit, like the raging wind on the waters, mourns the loss of its bodily form as it is consumed by something larger such as the earth or sea, and here Swinburne suggests that the struggle between the spirit and the form, the body and the soul, becomes so intense that just as the light starts to sicken earlier in the poem, man begins to crave the finality of death. This assertion is somewhat similar to Ernest Dowson's claim in "Extreme Unction" (text) that there is an ultimate relief, a rest, that we crave in the ending of life, in death's triumph over vanity or breath-like transience. Yet, unlike Dowson, Swinburne does not seem to describe death as an ultimate transition into stasis and as a cessation of time. Rather, Swinburne seems to suggest in the lines above that the spirit never stops mourning; like a conqueror craving victory, like the desire of the wind, the spirit is never satiated. Ultimately, it is the sound of the mourning, the shadow of our existence that haunts the face of the deep:
And the sunset at last and the twilight are dead: and the darkness is breathless
With fear of the wind's breath rising that seems and seems not to sleep:
But a sense of the sound of it alway, a spirit unsleeping and deathless,
Ghost or God, evermore moves on the face of the deep. [lines 137-40]
Just as Swinburne thus completes the poem with the death of the twilight and the seemingly absolute and breathless darkness, he withdraws this concrete ending or sensation of finality. Rather, the speaker says, the wind, or the breath, creates a constant anxiety within the scene, and there is a ghostlike essence similar to the sound of mourning which resolves the poem into a final paradox: the uncertainty of sleepless sleep. As we note the parallel here between the spirit on the face of the deep and the opening lines of Genesis: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters" (G 1:1-3), we see that the wind in "Evening on the Broads" who is the "sprit and soul of the waste" and whose movement is responsible for the flickers of light in the darkness becomes the final hope for reproduction. Whether or not the lingering spirit at the end of the day is comparable to God or is simply the ghost of man and his voice of mourning, Swinburne asserts that even the final darkness at the close of day is endowed with light, just as death is endowed with an essence, or possibility, of rebirth. "Evening on the Broads" thus resolves the struggle seen at twilight into the singular form of the night, but it nevertheless speaks to a lingering paradox, in which essence is inextricably linked to form, that haunts the overall landscape and scene. There is, asserts Swinburne, always creation in nothingness, fertility in waste, day in night, and although natural forms or phenomena may briefly divide, may be at war with one another throughout the passage of time, they will always resolve themselves into the unified body of the circle.
The structure of other landscape poems such as "On the Cliffs" seems to take on the same circular pattern as "Evening on the Broads" in which we enter the poem through an in-between state of ambiguity and end it with a sense of resolved internality and externality, with a consummate union of paradox. In "On the Cliffs," however, this progression is also condensed into the smaller space of the first stanza, and Swinburne immediately creates a union between microcosm and macrocosm:
Between the moondawn and the sundown here
The twilight hangs half starless; half the sea
Still quivers as for love or pain or fear
Or pleasure mightier than these all may be
A man's live heart might beat
Wherein a God's with mortal blood should meet
And fill its pulse too full to bear the strain
With fear or love or pleasure's twin-born, pain.
Fiercely the gaunt woods to the grim soil cling
That bears for all fair fruits
Wan wild sparse flowers of windy wintry spring
Between the tortive serpent-shapen roots
Wherethrough their dim growth hardly strikes and shoots
And shews one gracious thing
Hardly, to speak for summer one sweet word
Of summer's self-scarce heard. [lines 1-16]
Once again, Swinburne chooses the image of the twilight to evoke a stage of middle ground, and here the speaker places us between the paradoxes of the moon and the sun, the dawn and the down. Unlike in "Evening on the Broads," the landscape is humanized very quickly in "On the Cliffs," and Swinburne is also quick to draw parallels between the sea and man, the sea and a demigod. Once again, the motion of the sea trembles like the sunset in "Evening on the Broads" with both fear and passion, but here Swinburne further eroticizes the quiver of the sea by defining it as a reaction to "pain," "fear," "love," and "pleasure." Intertwining these paradoxical emotions, Swinburne plays on an eroticism which is akin to the sadomasochism seen in "Anactoria" when he speaks of "pleasure's twin-born pain." However, the enjambment between lines three and four suggests that pleasure is, perhaps, greater than, or perhaps simply, an accumulation of love, pain, and fear. However, the enjambment in the next two lines also suggests that it could also be man's heart which is "mightier" than these emotions. Either way, Swinburne works within this intentional ambiguity to reveal a concentric conception of forms in which pleasure, pain etc . . . are contained within man's heart, or in which fear, pain, and love help to construct the multi-faceted nature of pleasure. Nevertheless, the pun on the word "mightier" renders this hierarchy even more ambiguous, for here the word "might" both indicates strength or greatness and becomes synonymous with the word "perhaps." The situational usage of "might" not only undermines the former usage of the word, but also it adds uncertainty and increased hesitation to the pulsing heart.
We thus begin to see these related images and sensations not so much as existing in a hierarchy but as being joined together, enwrapped within a web of concentricity that, once again, eliminates all distinctions between interiority and exteriority. For example, the surface of the sea moves like the internal heart of man, and this movement is likewise compared to the more intense strain of emotional sensation found within a god who is also part man. From the outset of the poem, Swinburne has, therefore, already embarked on a circular union of forms, and this technique only carries over into the image of the tree roots clinging to the earth and the paradoxes of the "sparse flowers" and the "wintry spring." Here also, Swinburne begins to allude to both the transience of time as it relates to the transience of form, for the tree and plant roots grow into "one gracious thing," but yet the roots "hardly" shoot. This use of the word "hardly" not only refers to the swift metamorphosis from sprout to plant, but also refers to the ephemeral nature of the tree, or plant, itself, for Swinburne stresses the repetition of the word "hardly" before and after the growth of the "thing." The tree, or flower, which is itself a union, representative of oneness, undergoes its own cyclical transience, and this image of the growth and death of the flower is reinforced in the swift passage of the seasons alluded to in the following line: "Of summer's self scarce heard." Thus we note the importance of such ephemeral transformations in nature as phenomena which drive the motion behind the Swinburnian circle.
Swinburne's concentric or circular manipulation of space is somewhat unique among his contemporaries, and we see this pattern in a number of his landscape poems, most markedly in "Evening on the Broads," "On the cliffs," and "The Forsaken Garden." However, once Swinburne begins to relate spatial concentricity and metamorphosis to transience, he starts to play with biblical and other Victorian conceptions of time. In both his erotic and his landscape poetry, Swinburne works with another struggle between natural forces, that between human desire and the power of time. Here, the ephemeral nature of time seems to be at odds with the physical union, or melding, of two lovers. This type of struggle, we realize, becomes particularly interesting in light of Swinburne's magnetic, or converging, notions of time and space, for it seems to ask the question: is the circularity of time greater than the circularity of form? In "The Triumph of Time," Swinburne explores this possibility and manages to avoid any kind of hierarchy between the two. The poem itself, is nevertheless, written in the vein of a Browning-esque monologue, and we must all the while acknowledge the fact that although the speaker believes that the union between two lovers is more powerful than time, he is, nonetheless, the product of an unrequited love. Thus the "Triumph of Time" is one over a love, or a union, never consummated:
Is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour,
To think of things that are well outworn?
Of fruitless husk and fugitive flower,
The dream foregone and the deed forborne?
Though joy be done with and grief be vain,
Time shall not sever us wholly in twain;
Earth is not spoilt for a single shower;
But the rain has ruined the ungrown corn. [lines 9-16]
The speaker's voice is, of course, somewhat contradictory, for although he disregards the worth of contemplating things lost, he proceeds to mourn for his dead, and yet unrequited, love. From the outset of the poem, the speaker asserts his belief that time cannot sever two souls, but time has, nonetheless, still (as seen in the metaphor of the rain and the ungrown corn) prevented him from ever hopefully uniting with his object of desire. Once again, Swinburne allows his speaker to make a distinction here between the body and the essence, or soul, of a person, and likewise the speaker later states that this union, whether or not it be dreamlike or otherwise, is one of spirit and not flesh: "But now, you are twain, you are cloven apart, / Flesh of his [Christ's] flesh, but heart of my heart" (lines 101-102). Throughout the poem, the speaker seems to thus follow the trend of the Tennysonian maxim, "T'is better to have loved and lost, / Than never to have loved at all" (In Memoriam, 85, lines 3-4) and at one point even states: "Let come what will, there is one thing worth, / To have had fair love in the life upon earth" (lines 133-34). However, this grandiose view of life and love becomes somewhat darker in Swinburne's "Triumph of Time" than in Tennyson's In Memoriam, and as in "Anactoria," the speaker of "The Triumph of Time" not only yearns for death, but eroticizes it. The second to last stanza thus connotes the possibility of dying from the tires of love rather than the passage of time:
I shall go my ways, tread out my measure,
Fill the days of my daily breath
With fugitive things not good to treasure,
Do as the world doth, say as it saith;
But if we had loved each other --O sweet,
Had you felt, lying under the palms of your feet,
The heart of my heart, beating harder with pleasure
To feel you tread it to dust and death — [lines 377-384]
The speaker begins this passage by submitting himself over to time, but this kind of acceptance of his fate is unlike that in Tennyson's "Ulysses" in which the speaker's wanderlust forces him to leave home again with his companions and triumphantly live out his old age until he is consumed by time and death:
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die. [lines 57-61]
Ulysses' hubris thus seems to be one of conquering space and not time, whereas the speaker in "Triumph of Time" clearly poses a challenge to time when he forcefully declares, "Time shall not sever us wholly in twain." What is, however, so unique about Swinburne's representative struggle with time is not the speaker's fervent desire to escape it, for other poems from the Victorian era such as Browning's "Two in the Compagna" and Hopkins' "No Worst There is None" reveal such a painfulness of time. Rather, in "The Triumph of Time," the speaker seems to engage in an almost masochistic relationship with time when he gives himself over "to fugitive things not good to treasure." This masochistic undertone carries over into the next two lines when the speaker states he would rather have been literally downtrodden by his love and than conquered by time: "The heart of my heart, beating harder with pleasure / To feel you tread it to dust and death." Once again, the speaker when he refers to "the heart of [his] heart" alludes to an internal space deeper even than his heart, and we see a sort of breaking out from an interior to an exterior space, subtler than, but also similar to, the image of the night in "Evening on the Broads." The allusion to the palms beneath the feet of the speaker's lost love not only seems to physically resurrect her but also reveal the speaker himself as a sacrificial Christ-figure. Whether or not the speaker means this comparison in a figurative or literal sense, the allusions to the resurrection and also to heaven, or the afterlife, in the last lines of the poem both act symbolically as means through which love can be eternalized and thus triumph over the transience of time.
In "A Forsaken Garden," however, the speaker makes a far more subtle distinction between the union of love confronting the transience of time. Here, we see more clearly the relationship between circular unions in space and the circularity of time, for Swinburne works again with the archetypes of Genesis and returning to the earth. Nevertheless, time plays out, perhaps circularly, but this circularity is one which accentuates both the stasis, along with the movement, of the circle. Thus we see the isolation of the garden as something unmoving and apart. Here, once again, Swinburne begins his poem with a concentric landscape:
In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down's edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead. [lines 1-8]
Again, Swinburne introduces the landscape through a state of in-between in which he physically brings the reader to the edge of the land, between "windward and lee" (away from and towards the wind), "lowland and highland." The "inland island" and the thorn and brushwood enclosure also attribute to a sense of interior space and concentricity within the poem. Furthermore, the image of the "ghost of a garden" brings us back to "Evening on the Broads" in which after death the spirit of a thing, having adopted a new form, wanders ghostlike over the landscape. Swinburne thus calls into question the reality or physicality of the garden, and we are left to wonder whether the garden is a mere spirit or an actual place in the external world. Immediately, we note that there is something otherworldly and apart about the forsaken garden, for although the speaker alludes to past cycles throughout the poem, in the garden, we seem to be stuck in the stasis of the circle, and the poet begins to suggest that in a circular pattern of time, things change but never change, move and yet go nowhere. For example in the above opening stanza, the speaker refers to a time when the plants grew from the grave, or when life sprouted from death. Still, these very weeds have now died, and it is almost unclear whether or not they will cycle back, whether or not they will sprout again.
Later in the poem, the speaker very clearly addresses the above question concerning the union of two lovers struggling against the trappings of time. When he addresses these questions, however, the underlying resolution of the poem starts to surface, and we begin to see how "A Forsaken Garden" is quite different from a poem such as "Evening on the Broads." What if, Swinburne asks, we were to remain in the spatial, or physical, confinement of the circle and never stop cycling? Thus the middle of poem undergoes a progression in which time slows down, and like the hands of a slowly breaking clock, eventually comes to a complete stop:
Or they [the lover's whose love died in the previous stanza] loved their life
through, and then went whither?
And were one to the end — but what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must whither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.
All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.
Here death may deal not again for ever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend. [lines 49-68]
In the first stanza cited above, the speaker claims that love does fall apart amid the transience of time, and we assume that the two lovers are thus parted, or "severed in twain," at death. The word "whither" in line forty-nine thus becomes a double entendre in which it is unclear where the lovers go, but also which suggests that the lovers themselves, like flowers, have withered or disintegrated with time. At first, the parting of the lovers in death is ambiguous due to the question marks at the end of the lines and also due to the emphasis upon the ambiguous nature of death. The speaker begins by questioning what happens to us in death, but then by the end of the stanza places the lovers in the earth, or in the grave of the sea. Thus the lovers lose their ability to feel emotional love in burial and death, and Swinburne's allusion to the ocean as a grave prompts him compare the grotesque weeds of the sea to the blossoming flowers of life and love. Nevertheless, Swinburne does not suggest that the physical molding of the two forms of the lovers vanishes or breaks apart at the end of life. Whereas they lose their conscious capacity for love, Swinburne claims, the lovers yet become part of an even greater union once they are put into the earth, and this assertion becomes even clearer at the beginning of the next stanza: "All are at one now, roses and lovers." Here, the poet begins to slow down the movement of the circle, for whereas in the previous stanzas we see the transience of time revealed in a juxtaposition between the past and present (the love lost and the physical departure in death), in the eighth stanza of the poem, all conceptions of the past seem to dissipate. Unlike in "Evening on the Broads," here "not a breath of the time that has been hovers." As soon as all memory of the past and the cycles backward have disappeared, the speaker switches his focus almost immediately to the future. Thus the cycle seems to slow down, still moving forward but not forward enough to reach the point of return in the circle, and, therefore, the speaker states that the past has vanished from the air which is "now soft with a summer to be." The verb tenses in the stanza suddenly hinge on this one line, and the speaker instantly jumps forward to a time when all lovers of the present sleep, or are placed into the earth, with the lovers of the past. This ultimate union, although it is suggestive of a future similar to the past, seems to hint at a final death, a death which may have the capacity to end the constant natural cycling between death and birth. Whereas this imagined future, in which death may not "deal again" and change may "come to an end" is something of a visionary apocalypse, we must distinguish between this fantasy of stasis and the reality of time. At this point, the speaker has slowed time from past to future and then to a dreamlike end.
However, the poem does not stop here, and just after the speaker alludes to an eschatological vision of the future indicated in the images of the collapsing cliffs and land and a final, devouring flood of the sea, he suddenly switches back to the present, ending the poem in its original timeframe:
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange alter,
Death lies dead. [lines 77-80]
Although it is difficult to decipher the implications of this dramatic and yet ambiguous end, the opening phrase of these last lines, "Here now," is quite telling. This imagined apocalypse suggests a final break away from the redundancy of the circle and follows through with the Christian notion of time as beginning with the expulsion from the garden in Genesis and ending with a return to a static paradise in Revelations. Thus Swinburne compares the present isolation and cessation of time in the garden (death lies dead) to the promise of a future paradise. Nevertheless, as in "Hymn to Proserpine," in "A Forsaken Garden," Swinburne does not submit himself entirely to Christian time. If we look at how the verb tenses throughout the poem indicate an overlapping cycle of time, we realize that the poem begins with the present in the first stanza, moves to the future in the second, cycles back to the present in the third and fourth stanzas, then jumps to the past in stanzas five through seven, then once again returns to the present at the start of the eighth stanza until it moves to the future again from the end of the eighth stanza up until half-way through the final stanza, which ultimately resolves itself, not in the future, but once again in the present. Thus the poem's pattern goes as follows: present --future --present --past --present --future --present. The poem, therefore, takes on the structural time pattern of a circle (or a cycle between present and future, present and past) and also suggests an elliptical shift back to the past at the end of the poem. Although the close of the last stanza mimics the Christian ideology of a final, static meeting between past and present which never plans on cycling forward or backward again, there is a level on which Swinburne suggests that this resolution is an impossibility. When viewed in the light of Swinburne's other poems, death's suicide seems somewhat ironic. First and foremost, we must construe the poem along the lines of the Swinburnian vision in which there is no absolute in anything, in which nature is a slave to paradox, and in which the intrigue of the circle arises out of its form as a unified object indicative of time as a phenomenon of movement and stasis. Once we keep this conception of time and space in mind, we also see that Swinburne seems to portray death not in the ideological framework of Christianity, but rather in the light of a Greek god who meets his tragic end. Thus Death's suicide is a climax of tragic irony in which Death himself becomes subject to the laws of time that claim: "all things [must] falter." The end of "A Forsaken Garden," therefore, illustrates an implication of the Christian notion of time as an allegory in which the heroic Death will die a finalizing death. However, in subtly constructing a language of time and a vocabulary of images which lend themselves to a circular, or even concentric, conception of space, Swinburne plays with the Christian narrative. We can, therefore, almost anticipate a comedic sequel, or episode II, at the end of the poem in which Death, after returning to the earth and undergoing his own, self-constructed cycle of time and metamorphosis, is reborn in a world where even Death comes to life again.
In conclusion, the Swinburnian verse thus seems to suggest that the circularity of time always links to the circularity of space, and just as time folds back on itself, forms fold and grow into one another. Furthermore, there is a sense in which these circles become part of a scale of microcosm and macrocosm, in which natural objects and bodies configure themselves concentrically. This notion of time and space, for Swinburne, becomes inextricably linked to the phenomenon of metamorphosis, and, therefore, as objects vanish in nature, as bonds are severed, they are ultimately reconfigured and reunited to other metamorphosing forms. There is a way, then, in which the Swinburnian world allows nothing to be lost but also allows nothing to remain a constant. As the erotic union of two lovers is wrenched apart with time, the lovers are "only not wholly" parted from one another, for they will transform and reunite in another shape, and in another space, different from that microcosmic dimension that exists in the body of two lovers. We thus see two constants in the Swinburnian vision: change and union. The fact, however, that the body can transform, but as in Ovidian metamorphosis, the essence of a thing is never lost, allows for the ghostly quality that pervades much of Swinburne's landscape poetry and, perhaps, also accounts for the somewhat fearless attitude towards death in his erotic poetry. Such notions of concentricity, of unchanging change, and ghostly essence also seem to give meaning to Swinburne's very humanized landscapes, which are both endowed with the sensual and emotional reactions of a person and are often laden with personifications. Swinburne thus establishes himself amongst his Victorian contemporaries as an obsessive believer in the symbolic, the structural, the erotic, the visual, the temporal, and the spatial implications of the circle.
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