Swinburne makes regular use of “twain” in the first half of “The Triumph of Time”, which emphasises his use of pairs and opposites throughout the poem. It can be used in multiple senses, as 'twice' or “two” or even “together.” It first appears in the second stanza:
Though joy be done with and grief be vain,
Time shall not sever us wholly in twain.
Just as joy and grief are explored as a pair, this use of “twain&rdquo refers to his literal pairing with his beloved. It is only one stanza later that “twain” reappears:
It will grow not again, this fruit of my heart,
Smitten with sunbeams, ruined with rain.
The singing seasons divide and depart,
Winter and summer depart in twain.
He is using opposites once again as a negative reference: both summer and winter have figuratively suffocated his love, and as they 'divide and depart' they are simultaneously conquering him, despite the blatant difference in the seasons.
The narrator uses grand metaphors to demonstrate the enormity of their potential love:
We had stood as the sure stars stand, and moved
As the moon moves, loving the world; and seen
Grief collapse as a thing disproved,
Death consume as a thing unclean.
Twain halves of a perfect heart, made fast
Soul to soul while the years fell past;
Had you loved me once, as you have not loved;
Had the chance been with us that has not been.
Their love would have defeated time and their souls and hearts been paired inextricably. Yet this love is not so, rather the tragic opposite is true - his was a love that was not returned.
The next appearance of the word is in the narrator's wishful desire that the love between himself and his beloved be as even that of the "Mother of loves":
I would we twain were even as she,
Lost in the night and the light of the sea
Here Swinburne explores the rejected love through the uncertainty of the sea, with the stark contrast between "night" and "light". The sea itself, with its ever-changing, never-lasting body, its simultaneously calm and destructive nature, and its propensity to both support and destroy, is a constant metaphor for the oblivion he craves.
Swinburne's final use of "twain" is, fittingly, with an air of finality.
But now, you are twain, you are cloven apart,
Flesh of his flesh, but heart of my heart;
And deep in one is the bitter root,
And sweet for one is the lifelong flower.
Swinburne's imagery of flesh from the heart, split in "twain", is manifested in the dichotomy of the "bitter root" and the "lifelong flower".
The word "twain" is just one of the many devices Swinburne uses to accentuate the imagery created by his pairings and opposites, of which there are many throughout the poem. Growth and destruction, love and lack thereof, tranquillity and violence, sweetness and acrimony, light and dark, are just a few of the couples that serve to emphasise Swinburne's exploration of the boundaries between the land and the sea, one moment and the next, and ultimately life and death.
1. What other pairings are there? What else does Swinburne aim to portray in using them?
2. In “The Triumph of Time” the seasons conquer, the stars stand, and the sea yearns. In “Porphyria's Lover” Browning, like Swinburne, projects human emotions and actions on inanimate objects. What do they aim to achieve in so doing? What other similarities are there between the two poems and the styles of the two poets?
3. How does Swinburne's imagery differ from that of other Tennyson, the Rossettis, and Browning? What different poetic forms does he use??
Last modified 11 April 2009