A later poem, Swinburne's "Evening on the Broads" concerns itself with a landscape bereft of human influence; the speaker, sole man in the midst of nature, finds himself surrounded by inhuman forces violently personified. Though empty of real activity, the quiet beach in "Evening on the Broads" serves as a stage for the actions of vast in power, incalculably aged, and of endless influence, who, though personified, remain far from personable.

The poem begins with tension between two of its most extensively described and well-defined players, the sunset and the night:

OVER two shadowless waters, adrift as a pinnace in peril,
Hangs as 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.

World upon world is enwound in the bountiful girth of her bosom,
Warm and lustrous with life lovely to look on as ours.
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:

The poem draws much from a sunset which suffers so little direct description; here as in the rest of it, colors are scarce to be found, and concrete descriptions of physical features are rarer than gems. While the mind has no difficulty in constructing the cold, baren strand beset by the wind and "the wail of his want unfulfilled", Swinburne does not illustrate just a stretch of sand but a meeting-place of gods.

Questions

Despite the divine and Titanic qualities of his characters, Swinburne — unusually — fails to make any allusions to classical figures. This isn't for lack of parallels — what's he aiming for?

In the same year Swinburne wrote "By the North Shore", another poem about a dreary beach. While that poem makes its strongest point the eventual decay of religion, how does the presence of a (dissolving) human influence on the landscape affect the poem?

The Pre-Raphaelites lack landscape poetry, though there are notable examples of landscape painting; why is it that this poetry comes along now and that earlier landscape lack the energy of Swindburne's poem? Or is Swinburne just catching up to Rain, Steam, Speed?

What is Swinburne's goal in writing a poem about the vast power of nature, the inevitability of destruction, and the constancy of need without using it, as he frequently does, as a means of undermining church or convention?

Related Material


Victorian Web Main Overview A. C. Swinburne Aesthetes & Decadents Leading Questions

Last modified 19 March 2008