winburne's narrator in "The Triumph of Time" displays sharply contrasting feelings concerning the loss of his greatest love. In the first stanza, he claims he would "say no word that a man might say, Whose whole life's love goes down in a day." He questions his own sadness, wondering if dwelling on his lost love has any value, asking "is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour, to think of things that are well outworn?" Despite his statement that he does not want to delve into emotions of a lost love — first claiming he will not say a word of it and then by deeming it pointless — the narrator begins to do exactly what he intends to avoid. Swinburne moves from a state of retraction, pulling back from discussing his pain, essentially to bask in it. He claims that he could never love again, that "it will grow not again, this fruit of my heart." This sense of hopelessness then decreases as he remembers the glory of his love;

We, drinking love at the furthest springs,
Covered with love as a covering tree,
We had grown as gods, as the gods above,
Filled from the heart to the lips with love,

The narrator's tone becomes sad again as he laments on what could have been, on regret, and on rejection. He then reverts back to the way he began the poem, by retracting from his pain. He says "I have put my days and dreams out of mind, Days that are over, dreams that are done." The rest of the poem follows the same pattern. The narrator creates distance and then eventually delves into the subject and subsequently creates distance again. At every point that he retracts, he sets the stage for a swelling of emotions. One of the ways in which he creates distance, or retracts, includes questioning the fruitfulness of his sadness. As he did in the first stanza, he later says,

Sick dreams and sad of a dull delight;
For what shall it profit when men are dead
To have dreamed, to have loved with the whole soul's might,
To have looked for day when the day was fled?

Another point in which he retracts from the topic at hand is when, after addressing his lost love directly, he returns to a greater audience and says,

O all fair lovers about the world,
There is none of you, none, that shall comfort me.
My thoughts are as dead things, wrecked and whirled

Swinburne follows the same pattern on a smaller scale when he says "I shall not change you. Nay though I might." He begins with retraction and then continues with discussion of it. Swinburne consistently approaches a topic, shows a swelling of emotion, and then withdraws from it again.

Discussion Questions

1.Much of the poem includes imagery and metaphors about the sea. The use of the sea may function in both the theme of the poem and in the way it was constructed. How does the rhythm of his writing as described above resemble a wave? Was this pattern intentional?

2. Other writers in the Victorian era begin a piece by withdrawing. In this poem, Swinburne asks what value exists in dwelling on lost love but ends up discussing it anyway. In "Traffic" by John Ruskin, Ruskin begins by saying what he will not tell the audience (what style of architecture to build in) but then works his way up to telling them anyway. In "Traffic," the method described occurs only once, beginning the piece, while in Swinburne's poem, it serves in a rhythmic pattern. Why might the authors' use of the same method differ in this way?

3. What other authors employ the method of expressing avoidance of a topic but then delving into it? How effective is this method in engaging the audience? What role does the audience play in each of these pieces, particularly in "The Triumph of Time."

4. In the quotations above, Swinburne twice asks what good it does to dwell on misery and lost love. Once he says "is it worth a tear, is it worth an hour?" and again he says "for what shall it profit when men are dead." It seems as though he shows brief concerned with the practical matters of his feelings, such as the time he wastes or the fruitlessness of his misery. Why does Swinburne mention practical thoughts such as these and then stray from them completely?

5.What types of literary devices or patterns exist constantly throughout the poem? Take for example, rhyme scheme, alliterations, or specific metaphorical references. How do these tools work together to relay the themes of the poem, if at all?

6. How is this poem autobiographical? How does it represent his beliefs and experiences? For example, how do biblical references in his poetry reflect his thoughts on religion?


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

Last modified 6 April 2009