Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving and Swinburne?

The following was today's Daily Literary Quote:
"From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea."

I was surprised to see this quote in relation to Thanksgiving, because it has absolutely nothing to do with our American holiday except for the word itself. (I guess it's hard to find poems that have to do with turkeys, Pilgrims, and being grateful.) The quote comes from a poem entitled "The Garden of Proserpine" and is about Hades, the ancient Greek land of the dead, and its reigning queen Proserpine, who's described elsewhere in the poem as having "cold immortal hands" that she uses to welcome newly dead men. Fun stuff, huh? (You can read the full text of the poem by clicking here.) The author of the poem is the Victorian writer Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), whom you see here at the age of 22 or 23 when he was painted by William Bell Scott (image courtesy of the Victorian Web). As you can see, he had a small frame and outrageous, flaming red hair. A talented poet, he socialized with the Pre-Raphaelites. He loved to drink and had a reputation for indulging in a sexual life that included going to a whorehouse that specialized in flagellation (i.e., he liked to get whipped). He even reputedly chased Simeon Solomon, both of them naked, down the staircase at Dante Gabriel Rossetti's house in London. And people think the Victorians were prudes! I wrote about Rossetti and Swinburne for my master's thesis a while back, concentrating on paired examples of the fatal woman motif (she's such a stunner that her beauty overpowers and ultimately destroys men). Examples include Lucrezia Borgia, Venus, Lilith, and Proserpine. This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of Swinburne's death, and there were a few academic events to commemorate it, but Swinburne still isn't well known outside the world of Victorianists, which is shame, because his poetry is rather titillating, and was considered quite scandalous when his first edition of Poems and Ballads was published in 1866

Happy Thanksgiving to my readers! I am grateful for your encouragement, support, and comments about bklynbiblio, so keep them coming.

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