On this day in 1837 the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne was born. Swinburne was a well-born and clever young man who did well at Oxford and was able to live a fairly leisured life. We spent much of his childhood when not a school, in Northumbria which he regarded as his spiritual home. Poems such as ‘Grace Darling’ are about this area of the country.
A diminutive five foot four, he was a well-liked member of the Pre-Rapaelite circle. His poetry was considered daring at the time, especially his homage to lesbianism and homosexuality. A rebellious and excitable figure, his alcoholism eventually got the better of him and he spent the last thirty years of his life living quietly, in the care of a close friend in Putney. He was also an algolagniac (one who derives sexual pleasure and arousal from physical pain) and this shows in some of his poetry:
There was a graven image of Desire
Painted with red blood on a ground of gold
Passing between the young men and the old,
And by him Pain, whose body shone like fire,
And Pleasure with gaunt hands that grasped their hire.
Of his left wrist, with fingers clenched and cold,
The insatiable Satiety kept hold,
Walking with feet unshod that pashed the mire.
The senses and the sorrows and the sins,
And the strange loves that suck the breasts of Hate
Till lips and teeth bite in their sharp indenture,
Followed like beasts with flap of wings and fins.
Death stood aloof behind a gaping grate,
Upon whose lock was written Peradventure.”
Today I remember that I seek spiritual progress not spiritual perfection.