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Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837 - 1909) was a Victorian era English poet and literary critic. His poetry was highly controversial in its day, although he is now considered to be one of the great poets of Britain. He touched on many themes, including liberty, the relationship between pleasure and pain, and the psychology of sexual passion (Sabazius, 1995). He also had interest in de Sade, masochism, and femmes fatales, along with a great disdain of Christianity. He wrote poems in favor of the independence of Italy, fueled by a hatred of tyranny. Swinburne served as inspiration for many future poets, not the least of which was Aleister Crowley.


Swinburne studied at Balliol College, Oxford. He was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and he first gained literary fame with Atalanta in Calydon (1865), a drama in classical Greek form.

He is considered a "decadent" poet, albeit that he professed to perhaps rather more vice than he actually indulged in, a fact which Oscar Wilde notably and acerbically commented upon. "Dolores" is a Swinburne poem notable for its decadent mood and matter.

Many of his poems evoke the Victorian fascination with the medieval period, and some of them are explicitly medieval in style, tone and construction, these representatives notably being "The Leper," "Laus Veneris" and "St. Dorothy."

He was a great inspiration to English Romantics of the 19th century. British students at Oxford and Cambridge gathered in the university quadrangles to chant passages from Swinburne's Poems and Ballads (1866). His book length essay on William Blake was instrumental in bringing the earlier poet to critical attention.

He was an alcoholic and a highly excitable character. His health suffered as a result, until he finally broke down and was taken into care by his friend Theodore Watts, who looked after him for the rest of his life in Putney. Thereafter he settled into his poetry, publishing another 23 volumes of work.

From Atalanta in Calydon

      The full streams feed on flower of rushes,
            Ripe grasses trammel a travelling foot,
      The faint fresh flame of the young year flushes
            From leaf to flower and flower to fruit.
      And fruit and leaf are as gold and fire,
      And the oat is heard above the lyre,
      And the hooféd heel of satyr crushes
            The chestnut-husk at the chestnut-root.

Crowley on Swinburne

Aleister Crowley canonized Swinburne as a saint of the Gnostic Catholic Church.

Swinburne had been an enormous influence on Crowley's poetic sensibilities; Crowley "could not doubt, after the first acquaintance that he was a classic." (Confessions, p. 114)

As Crowley wrote in an early draft of his General Principles of Astrology, "Swinburne had been tabooed, reformed and nullified. Victorianism was convinced that he was a negligible quantity, but the younger generation knew him by heart, and was already acting on his revolutionary conceptions." In another section, Crowley recounted:

A much stronger case is Swinburne, who was literally saturated with antiquity. He wrote almost entirely of classical mythology or legend; he imitated the actual meters used by Greek poets or French, using such forgotten forms as the ballade and the chaunt royale. He even wrote poems in Greek, Latin and French, so admirably formed that they might have been written three thousand years before. He then spent twenty years with Mary Queen of Scots and the Elizabethans. He wrote numerous ballads in the style of different authors of almost forgotten periods. Even his most modern work was suffused with the ancient spirit. (General Principles of Astrology, p. 575)

In Crowley's Rites of Eleusis, a series of public pieces of ritual theater, he used many of Swinburne's poems, including "Ilicet," "Hertha," "The Garden of Proserpine," and several choruses from Atalanta in Calydon.


  • The Queen-Mother; Rosamond (1860)
  • Atalanta in Calydon (1865)
  • Chastelard (1865)
  • Notes on Poems and Reviews (1866)
  • Poems and Ballads [1st ser.] (1866)
  • A Song of Italy (1867)
  • Siena (1868)
  • William Blake (1868)
  • Christabel and the Lyrical and Imaginative Poems of S.T. Coleridge (1869)
  • Ode on the Proclamation of the French Republic (1870)
  • Songs Before Sunrise (1871)
  • Under the Microscope (1872)
  • Bothwell (1874)
  • Essays and Studies (1875)
  • George Chapman (1875)
  • Songs of Two Nations (1875)
  • Erechtheus (1876)
  • Note of an English Republican on the Muscovite Crusade (1876)
  • A Note on Charlotte Brontë (1877) NF
  • Poems and Ballads: Second Series (1878)
  • The Heptalogia; or, The Seven Against Sense (1880)
  • Songs of the Springtides (1880)
  • Studies in Song (1880)
  • A Study of Shakespeare (1880)
  • Mary Stuart (1881)
  • Tristram of Lyonesse, and Other Poems (1882)
  • A Century of Roundels (1883)
  • A Midsummer Holiday, and Other Poems (1884)
  • Marino Faliero (1885)
  • A Study of Victor Hugo (1886)
  • Locrine (1887)
  • Poems and Ballads: Third Series (1889)
  • A Study of Ben Jonson (1889)
  • The Sisters (1892)
  • Astrophel, and Other Poems (1894
  • Studies in Prose and Poetry (1894)
  • The Tale of Balen (1896)
  • A Channel Passage (1899)
  • Rosamund, Queen of the Lombards (1899)
  • A Channel Passage, and Other Poems (1904)
  • Love's Cross-Currents (1905)
  • The Age of Shakespeare (1908)
  • The Duke of Gandia (1908)

Further Reading

A modern study of his religious attitudes:

  • Swinburne and His Gods: the Roots and Growth of an Agnostic Poetry by Margot Kathleen Louis (ISBN 0773507159)

External link


  • Crowley, Aleister. (1979). The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. London;Boston : Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Crowley, Aleister. (2002). The General Principles of Astrology. Boston, MA : Weiser Books.
  • Nicolson, Harold. (1969). Swinburne. [n.p.], Archon.
  • Thomas, Donald. (1979). Swinburne: The Poet in His World. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
  • Drabble, M. & Stringer, J. (1996). "Swinburne, Algernon Charles." The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature. Retrieved from Oxford Reference Online on Sept. 22, 2004.
  • Wikipedia. (2004). Algernon Swinburne. Retreived on Sept. 22, 2004.
  • Sabazius. (1995). (Algernon Charles) Swinburne. Retreived from The Invisible Basilica on Sept. 22, 2004.

Document Source

  • This page was originally sourced from Thelemapedia. Retrieved May 2009.