lgernon Charles Swinburne never hesitated to express his own political beliefs in his poetry. In "Before a Crucifix" Swinburne presents his view of the hypocritical nature of the Christian religion by asking a simple question, "Hast thou fed full men's starved-out souls?" The poem describes a weathered, beaten down cross positioned on the side of the road, in front of which the poor come to pray. The glory of Christianity, waning, destroyed by nature and time. Swinburne, speaking directly to the crucifix, charges the Christian church with having utilized the crucifixion of Christ to repress the working class and profit from their suffering. Christ, as a member of the working class himself, becomes the tool through which the monarchy keeps the working class down.
Thy blood the priests make poison of,
And in gold shekels coin thy love.
Swinburne calls to the people to free themselves from this oppression and hypocrisy. He argues that worshipping Christ does no good for the body or soul of the people forced to bow and pray at his feet.
It was for this, that prayers like these
Should spend themselves about thy feet,
And with hard overlaboured knees
Kneeling, these slaves of men should beat
Bosoms too lean to suckle sons
And fruitless as their orisons?
Swinburne describes the crucifix as "helpless" and "eyeless," reiterating the idea that the modern church has exploited Christ as a person. Christ, helpless and without knowledge, has become the source of oppression for the poor. Swinburne desires a more free-thinking morality based in reason rather than code. For Swinburne, the church, controlled by the monarchy, has its own agendas and purpose, unrelated to the overall good of its congregation.
1. Does Swinburne discuss the effect that religion has had on creativity and the arts in "Before A Crucifix"?
2. Christ, according to poem, is in a permanent state of suffering. Does Swinburne offer a solution to how this idea should be remedied?
3. Swinburne championed a morality that was based in reason rather than a predetermined moral code such as that employed by the church. How does this reflect his views on death and an after-life?
- Religion and Politics in "Before a Crucifix"
- The Corruption of Catholicism in Swinburne's "Before a Crucifix"
Last modified 6 November 2004