decorated initial 'L'ast week, upon examining some of Swinburne's erotic poetry, we noted his distinctive use of paradox and binaries. Now as we enter into the almost intangible world of Swinburne's landscape poetry, we realize that the poet's use of paradox only becomes more complex and more acute. It is difficult even to envision the setting of a poem such as "Evening on the Broads," for here images are at once drawn and erased, realized and then abstracted. It seems that when we settle into the Swinburnian landscape, we must leave behind all preconceived notions of time and space and enter into a world rich with hyperboles and abstractions. Swinburne thus begins his poem "Evening on the Broads" somewhat deceptively, for he quite simply describes the image of the sunset covering the face of the sea with light. However, once Swinburne enters into a series of personifications (i.e of the night, sun, sea, wind etc . . .), he throws his reader into a complex web of paradox. In this almost literally inconceivable landscape, darkness coexists with light; land mimics water, and death spawns birth. For example, Swinburne describes the night as the "brood" that weighs down the sky with "blossoms." The night is, furthermore, comparable to the spring whose darkness is "encumbered with flowers." Likewise, the sunset "enwinds," "dissembles," "trembles" (with fear and pleasure), and even mimics the pulse of a heart, but, nevertheless, it sits all the while immobile (or "still") in the air (lines 17-18). Clearly Swinburne is attempting to deconstruct our habitual notions of binaries such as dark vs. light, day vs. night, motion vs. stillness etc . . . In the context of Swinburne's "Evening on the Broads," no longer does light emerge from darkness or life simply result in death, but rather here "the womb is the tomb" and the "grave" a "seed." We cannot even imagine the sunset here in linear terms as a mere descent into the darkness. Rather, Swinburne describes the sun as almost hesitating on the horizon, dropping, then rising, and then falling again:

Fainter the beams of the loves of the daylight season rekindled
Wane, and the memories of hours that were fair with the love of them fade:
Loftier, aloft of the lights of the sunset stricken and dwindled,
Gather the signs of the love at the heart of the night new-made.

Swinburne's abstract images slip only deeper and deeper into a poetry of contradiction. Even at the very end of the poem when the sun has finally set, we do not feel the expected calm of night. Rather, these descriptive paradoxes are left unresolved, and the elements of nature and the heavens remain in constant fury, at war with one another in the inscrutable darkness:

And the sunset at last and the twilight are dead: and the darkness is breathless
With fear of the wind's breath rising that seems and seems not to sleep:
But a sense of sound of it always, a spirit unsleeping and deathless,
Ghost or God, evermore moves on the face of the deep.

Questions

How does the poem work itself out spatially? Think about the relationship of the wind to the sea and the sea to the earth and the heavens. Also, consider the switch in the middle of the poem to the speaker standing on the shore and how Swinburne creates a sense of microcosm and macrocosm.

How do we reconcile the juxtapositions of distance and proximity and motion and stillness in the poem?

Does the latter paradox of motion in stillness affect the poem's physical progression? (In relation to this last question, think about the actual setting of the sun throughout the poem and how the beginning of the poem relates to the end).


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Last modified 10 November 2003