According to Antony H. Harrison, Swinburne's investigations of sexuality derive from a philosophical (or religious) position. "Death and the achievement of organic continuity with the universe represent the end and culmination of sexual passion for the major figures in most of Swinburne's early poems" (87), and at the same time many of his male figures have traits usually considered feminine and his women have those considered male.

Swinburne imagined a primordial sexlessness in man which precluded the strife of passions men now suffer. This ideal of the "perfect spiritual hermaphrodite" can be seen, like Yeats's Byzantine spirits, as a mystical vision of the prelaspsarian harmony of soul which characterized man before incarnation [birth], or as the asexual organicism to which he returns after death. . . . As Swinburne remarks of Blake's conception of the eternal androgyne, that being is "male and female, who from of old was neither female nor male, but perfect man [ie human being] without division of flesh, until the setting of sex against sex by the malignity of animal creation. . . . Swinburne was hardly alone in his hermaphroditic quest. As A. J. L. Busst has demonstrated, the figure of the androgyne permeates nineteenth-century literature. (89)

How does this interpretation of Swinburne's mystical philosophy relate to his political and landscape poetry? Does the sensuousness and decadence of "Dolores," "Laus Veneris," and similar poems make this argument more or less likely?

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Last modified 1998