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Swinburne, Sade, and Blake: The Pleasure-Pain Paradox

Julian Baird
Victorian Poetry
Vol. 9, No. 1/2, An Issue Commemorating the Centennial of the Publication of "Songs before Sunrise" (Spring - Summer, 1971), pp. 49-75
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40001588
Page Count: 27
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Swinburne, Sade, and Blake: The Pleasure-Pain Paradox
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Abstract

"Poems and Ballads" may be unified by the exploration in the separate poems of various aspects of love and lust, pleasure and pain, God and nature, virtue and vice. These concerns engaged Swinburne intellectually in his reading of Sade and Blake. The former he saw as an unsuccessful rebel against Christian notions of asceticism. The latter is presented in Swinburne's study of him (which he was working on concurrently with the composition of "Poems and Ballads") as rejecting the notions of a transcendent deity and of the dichotomy between body and soul in human nature, together with the traditional moral implications derived from these notions. "A Ballad of Life" and "A Ballad of Death," the opening poems, are thematically prefatory to the volume and correspond to Blake's "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience." They also reveal Swinburne's concurrent interest in Lucretia Borgia and his admiration for her-in Blakean terms-as emancipated from the tyranny of asceticism. In "Laus Veneris," the third poem in the volume, Swinburne uses Tannhäuser as a "persona" to explore subtly the relationships between eroticism, asceticism, guilt and emancipation in a Blakean-inspired inversion of good and evil, heaven and hell.

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