Swinburne's 'Dolores' presents a fearsome and grim image of The Lady of Pain, a warped version of 'the sacred feminine' (the classical notion of woman as mystical force or mother goddess). The first half of the poem is predominantly a physical description of the Lady herself, and it later becomes a comment on the demise of pagan worship ('All shrines that were Vestal are flameless'. 'What ailed, O gods, to desert you/ For creeds that refuse and restrain?'). Swinburne disapproval of Christianity is as evident in this poem as it is throughout most of his other works.
Every other stanza ends with the line 'Our Lady of Pain', and there is certainly a continuation evident within the last lines of the other stanzas. For example, the first 12 alternate stanzas within the first 24 all end with negative words or words relating to pain and death; 'sins', 'pain', 'poisonous', 'unknown', 'bitter', 'blind', 'grey', 'barren', 'death' . Although subtle and perhaps not evident at the first reading. there is a shift arounf stanza 24 (line 192). It ends with 'to sweeten the sin', and at this point these recurring statements of negativity cease and are replaced by positive words ( 'foam-white', 'splendid', 'visible', 'new-born', 'kisses and wine').
1. There are a great deal of obscure classical references in this poem. Would it have been accessible to the average reader? What caliber of audience did Swinburne most likely write for?
2. Does classical imagery appear in many of his other works, or is it applied here mostly because the theme concerns the mourning of the loss of pagan worship?3. Why does Swinburne choose to use the imagery of wine so frequently in this poem? Has this device been applied by any other Decadent poets?
All thine the new wine of desire,
The fruit of four lips as they clung
Till the hair and the eyelids took fire,
The foam of a serpentine tongue,
The froth of the serpents of pleasure,
More salt than the foam of the sea,
Now felt as a flame, now at leisure
As wine shed for me.