n "Evening on the Broads", A.C. Swinburne uses the occasion of a sunset upon the water as a vehicle for a wildly lyrical treatise on the moment between life and death, that timeless, wavering moment in which time stands still. Swinburne is effective in using the content of his material to produce a fitting form for the text, through meter, rhyme, repetition, and a heavy reliance on adjective and simile — though I wonder if he goes so far as to negate much of the actuality of the event through the sheer heaviness of his devices.
In the section I have chosen, the speaker reflects on the moment when the sun gives way to darkness:
Fainter the beams of the loves of the daylight season kindled
Wane, and the memories of hours that were fair with the love of them fade:
Loftier, aloft of the lights of the sunset stricken and dwindled,
Gather the signs of the love at the heart of the night new-made.
New-made night, new-born of the sunset, immeasurable, endless,
Opens the secret of love hid from of old in her heart,
In the deep sweet heart full-charged with faultless love of the friendless
Spirits of men that are eased when the wheels of the sun depart.
I couldn't help feeling while reading this poem that if his image was so fitting, or if his ideas were so timeless and changeless, he might have been able to be a little more subtle with his devices. Is this, though just another effect, what might this authorial desperation mean for the sense of loss that permeates the poem?
What is the effect of such heavy use of simile? To what effect does Swinburne use this device, what of the obvious artifice (uncertainty) of simile?
The poem's meter constantly returns to an anapest-dactyl swing. What in the setting of the poem does this remind you of, if anything? What is the effect of this type of a meter over time? How does it relate to other meters (ie: iambic)? What part(s) of the poem, if any, is this constant swing a reflection of?
Swinburne mediates the meter often with the phrase, or a variation of the phrase "of the". What is the effect of such an empty phrase (in terms of meaning) in the middle of this type of meter?
What is the effect of the choice to present this poem as a single stanza? Does it seem that there were other options?
For much of the poem, I found myself distracted by the sounds of the words. What is the effect of this progression of repetition, (ie: "loftier" to "aloft" to "lights") these vectors of "changeless change"?
I think Swinburne does a good job in this poem of replicating a feeling of waiting while creating a complimentary feel of inevitability. What role does his heavy use of adjectives, like "fainter," "loftier," "fair," "immeasurable," "endless," play in this? Where does the feeling of inevitability lie amidst a mass of adjectives? Do these adjective point at all to a sense of authorship? What effect might this have?
Last modified 5 November 2003