lgernon Charles Swinburne's "In the Orchard," unlike many of his other poems, speaks from the seductive female's viewpoint. Although many male poets wrote of the femme fatale as the male victim saw her, the speaker of "In the Orchard" actually is the femme fatale. She invites her lover to lay down with her on the grass and asks him to kiss her, telling him, "Take it then, my flower, my first in June, / My rose, so like a tender mouth it is". For a man to take a woman's flower has often meant to take her virginity. "My rose" doubles as a symbol for both her mouth and her maidenhood. She seduces her victim, "[Loving], till dawn sunder night from day with fire, / dividing [her] delight with [her] desire". Though she piteously begs him to stay with her longer, saying,
Ah, do thy will now; slay me if thou wilt;
There is no building now the walls are built,
No quarrying now the corner-stone is hewn,
No drinking now the vine's whole blood is spilt,
she finally allows him to leave her, claiming that she will die of the separation. Mourning the fact that they must part, she laments "that day should be so soon" and that their time together must end.
Before her lover leaves her, the speaker asks him one last poignant question: "Love, I gave love, is life a better boon?" Did Swinburne write these words as coming only from his character, or were they meant to be a universal question?
Even as she submits to the carnal sin of lust, the speaker cries out to God, asking why the night must end. Why would a sinning woman invoke God's name? Or, inversely, why would a religious woman not only submit to lust, but seduce another? Did Swinburne intend social commentary by means of this particular line?
Swinburne uses the terms "slay," "pain," "death," and "blood" frequently. Although the term blood has often been connotatively linked with lust, typically Swinburne connects heat rather than pain to the imagery. What reasons could he have had for using violent imagery?
Last modified 5 November 2004