rom Queen Yseult to Chastelard and Poems and Ballads, First Series, Swinburne's early works begin to formulate his private mythology of love. Their pattern is most frequently sadomasochistic, involving a lover wracked by unquenchable desires for an often cruel woman and concluding with a wish for death as the only adequate release from and consummation of love's torture.
But these poems often also emphasize less carnal, more metaphysical issues, especially the poet's intuition that death will yield a return to elemental nature, to organic unity with the natural world. As Jerome J. McGann has suggested, Swinburne's mythology of passion is derived primarily from courtly love literature.'
Swinburne's work is dominated from the start by a fascination with . . . the theme of a lost love and the sorrows of a memorial poet-lover.... Swinburne was not only absorbed by the figures of powerful and/or unattainable women at a very early age; he [1/2] also seems always to have been fascinated by the idea of ill-starred love.... [His] obsession ... is essentially a slightly modernized, that is, romanticized version of the topos of the Provençal poet-lover. (McGann, 216).
In a complementary observation, Lionel Stevenson, commenting on Rosamond and The Queen Mother, notes that "the predominant role of women in both plays is to some extent derived from the chivalric exaltation of the sex in the Courts of Love" (The Pre-Raphaelite Poets (New York, 1974),198.). But no commentator has yet explored in depth Swinburne's revisionist and Romantic uses of the values embodied in courtly love literature, as he formulates his private mythology of passion, even in his early, most visceral works.
Before we proceed with such an exploration, some explanation of Swinburne's special interest in medieval French literature is in order. More than in medieval Italian, German, or even English poetry, Swinburne found in the literary traditions descended from the troubadours, at least in potential, a system of amatory, intellectual, philosophical, and political values compatible with his own. Moreover, Swinburne was himself a Francophile, propagating from his early years a myth of his own French lineage and consistently looking to France for new literary figures to champion. Such interests were, however, in large part a response to his early reading and studies. By his early adulthood, Swinburne read and spoke French fluently and knew French history better than that of any other country but England. His affinity for things French and his taste for French literature (and even the French landscape) were self-consciously cultivated throughout his life. Only in the works of Chaucer, and there less often than in medieval French literary traditions and their Romantic progeny, did Swinburne discover congenial literary forms and values that covered the entire range of human experience. One might argue that even his admiration for English Renaissance poetry and drama results from the fact that much of it is grounded in passions and amatory conflicts that derive from troubadour poetry and courtly romance as transmitted through late-medieval Italian literature, especially the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio.
Swinburne's fascination with medieval French culture and history appears not only in his statement to Gosse that the medieval and [2/3] French sections of his uncle's famous library had provided "a source of unfailing enjoyment to him" in his youth but more particularly in his unpublished historical essays on French medieval subjects (see Appendix II). These include discussions of Roman and feudal law, of Charlemagne and the Crusades, as well as of Saint Louis and his biographer, Joinville. The last two of these papers are relatively long and surprisingly knowledgeable and speculative. Like Swinburne's extensive notes on Hallam's Middle Ages, which appear in the sarne autograph notebook, these essays present the young scholar attempting to interpret an enormous amount of data, to mediate between supposed facts and the truth they reveal. What he says about the Crusades demonstrates the difficulty Swinburne felt in coming to terms with the distinction he intuited between reality and its spiritual underpinnings: "To understand the crusades," he insists, "we now think, we should be able to go back to their time: and when that was done, the loss of all later experience and of all analogy would perhaps have the fact actually occurring before our eyes as hard as ever to explain fully."
It was perhaps such difficulties in attaining any genuine "historical" understanding of a plethora of facts from the past that discouraged Swinburne from pursuing professionally his early "leaning towards history," described in a letter to his mother, Lady Jane Swinburne, in April of 1860. At about that time, he was writing his essays on medieval las opposed to classical) history with William Stubbs, who became Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford in 1866. With Stubbs he studied law as well as history, but throughout that winter and early spring, Swinburne appears enthralled only with some of his historical studies. He writes to his mother,
When I have done with routine work I think of taking periods to read in contemporary books if I can keep up my present leaning towards history. I got out (the last time I was at Wallington) all sorts of things about Mary Stuart of the most exciting kind, down to an inventory of her gowns, which gave me great satisfaction.... I am in the meantime taking in (at Oxford) either Charlemagne or St. Louis — possibly both. That is the sort of history I like — live biographical chronicle not dead constitutional records (Letters, I, 35)
Swinburne's fascination with "live biographical chronicle" is, of course, reflected in the titles of most of his longer works of poetry and fiction, which focus on individual protagonists: Fredegond, Rosamond, Atalanta, Mary Stuart, Bothwell, [3/4] Chastelard, Lesbia Brandon, Erechtheus, Tristram, Balen. But that fascination also appears unmistakably in the topics of his 1860 essays, where he shows a keen interest in differentiating the true and the false heroes of history. The latter are exemplified by Charlemagne, whose human and religious values conflict with Swinburne's own. Concerned at the frequency with which Charlemagne appears as the "central figure of a wide and various body of legends," a "constantly reappearing Deus e machina of mediaeval poetry at least as far as the 13th century," Swinburne protests:
witness the legends, to take only two instances out of many, of Amis and Amiloun and Floris and Blancheflore From these and such as these his name passed over into England and assumed a similar prestige there. Even late and grave historians have not thoroughly disengaged the idea of the historical warrior and reformer from that of the man who had been made by anticipation a model of chivalrous action, a centre of chivalrous tradition. The deep and wide anachronism, afterwards taken up by the Italians, which made of Charlemagne an Amadis or a Lancelot has to this day confused and impaired the appreciation of his real position and influence on his time.
Apart from being a "lawgiver of the most clear intuition and profound skill," he was, as Swinburne sees him, "liable to be guided and misguided by the religion of the time in which he lived and acted," a man, in short, incapable of true spiritual vision, despite his enormous political successes.
By contrast, Swinburne perceives Louis IX (1214-1270) as a truly heroic historical figure. Swinburne admires him for two clear reasons. One is that his failures in the Crusades were of genuinely tragic proportions; the other is that he lived at the end of the medieval millennium, the "dark" age — according to Swinburne — of Christian faith. During Louis's lifetime, however, "everywhere the intellectual revolt was begun or beginning," a revolt that would at last enlighten the world. For Swinburne, Louis is a man redeemed by his courage and devotion to his people, which is greater, significantly, than his religious faith. Swinburne characterizes Louis — after his second, disastrous crusade — as an incipient tragic hero:
The failure of his expedition had been utter: and such was his despondency. All Christendom, he said, was disgraced in him and by him. (There was never an completer instance of the growth of a man's greatest glory [4/5]from a noble failure.) Nevertheless it was from this mistimed and mismanged attempt that the chief reputation of st. Louis was to grow. Admitting all the impolicy and aimless misconduct which have to be deducted from the sum of his glory, yet the true valour and purity of purpose, the heroism and the patience he displayed in battle and in worse than battle — his faithful care of his people — his pity of their lost lives — his tenderness for their dishonoured bodies — all these things, even for those who need not regard him as saint or martyr, make his name and his memory among the most pure, noble, worthy of love and loving honour, in all history.
In such commentaries we see Swinburne's early compulsion to admire historical figures who appear to be touchstones of the inescapably tragic human condition, to perceive their engagement with what is at once a deep human reality and a profound spiritual one, but we also must be struck by his refusal to relinquish historical contexts and details, which he can use to empower his imaginative perceptions. It is not surprising, then, that in his finest long Poems we repeatedly find imaginative or spiritual interpretations of material and often historical reality. Although many of his Iyrics are predominantly abstract, his longer Poems are inevitably balanced between concrete details of historical setting and characterization, and abstract, often metaphysical speculations and perceptions. Swinburne emphasizes the mimetic and realistic requirements of literature in his essay on John Webster (1886): "The crowning gift of imagination [is] to make us realize that thus and not otherwise it was" (Bonchurch, XIV, 168-69). At the same time, however, as Thomas Connolly has observed, "the typical Swinburnean terms sublimity and spiritual instinct are used whenever he speaks of the perfect or 'real' imagination" (62). Hence, the historical poet, like a Carlylean historian, according to Swinburne, distills the permanent, spiritual meaning from representative lives, their events and circumstances. In his 1860 notebook essay on Joinville, Swinburne gropes toward this fundamentally Romantic ideal of literary history:
The debatable ground between history and biography is a ground attractive to all men for all reasons. It seems likely to give us a true and clear notion of all that lies choked in an overgrowth of statistics or wanders before modern eyes in the mist of speculation. It is also dangerous ground. A thoroughly bad historical memoir is about the most thoroughly bad book that can well be written. [5/6] It has claims beyond the classics of romance, and duties less strict than the duties of history.
Most of Swinburne's long historical Poems are imaginative biographies that traverse the ground between romance and history. Many of these, like his early works influenced by Morris and Rossetti, have medieval settings because in the Victorian mind the medieval world itself, so frequently mythicized, poeticized, fictionalized, and in other ways idealized, existed on the borderline between romance and history.
Not only do many of Swinburne's undergraduate Poems have medieval French or Arthurian settings and deal explicitly with courtly love themes, but they also attempt to authenticate those themes and settings through careful use of historical details and literary forms while extrapolating from them philosophical propositions that embody his fundamentally Romantic ideology. Two of his first long works of some merit, Rosamond (begun in 1858) and Chastelard (begun in 1859 or 1860), verify his early fascination with the convergence of historically accurate biography and courtly love tradition. He probably had the idea for Rosamond before he met the Pre-Raphaelites.5 This Elizabethan tragedy in five scenes interprets the courtly love ethos that, in historical fact, dominated the court of Henry II. Eleanor of Aquitaine, [5/7] Henry's wife, was famous for upholding courtly fashions, and for providing literature connected with them, long before Henry married her, and she brought her trouvere courtiers with her to England. In Swinburne's play, however, Henry's beautiful mistress, rather than Eleanor, becomes the rapturous exponent of courtly love doctrine and is the victim of the queen's jealousy. But Swinburne does include suggestions of the latter's notoriety as a courtly lady. Courtly love themes dominate this play, whose tragedy is precipitated by the kind of adulterous relationship the troubadour poets idealized, and is consummated in murder by Eleanor. At her death Rosamond requests from her lover even the conventional courtly consolamentum, "one strong kiss out of your heart" (Tragedies, I, 265), and she tries to approach death as a new lover:
Use me the best way found in thee, fair death,
And thou shalt have a pleasure of rnine end,
For I will kiss thee with a patient lip. (Tragedies, 1, 264)
Similarly, in the play named for him, Chastelard's love for Mary Stuart fits the courtly pattern, even to his projecting upon her the image of a "belle dame sans merci". Swinburne represents Mary's largely fictionalized French lover as the traditional, impassioned warrior-bard.
Although it remains impossible to prove unequivocally that Swinburne had become enchanted by courtly love literature long before going to Oxford, it is clear that he had been steeped in it at a very early age. In addition to the evidence from Gosse's biography, some remarks appear in his letters. He writes to Paul Hamilton Hayne (May 2, 1877) that "the [Tristram] story was my delight (as far as a child could understand it) before I was ten years old" (Letters, III, 332). In fact, Swinburne worked at creating his own version of the myth from the time of Queen Yseult to the completion of his masterwork, Tristram of Lyonesse, in 1882. Swinburne's knowledge of medieval French romance and courtly love poetry is further substantiated by James K. Robinson, who speaks at length of French influences. Robinson specifically notes, for instance, that Swinburne "studied and imitated the Middle French Violier des Histoires Romaines" and observes that "A Match" (1862) "consisted of a chain of imperfect triolets adapted from an Old French wooing-song, 'Les Transformations.'" In this context, Ezra Pound acknowledges the mastery of Swinburne's imitation of the [7/8] Pastorela (as revived by Guiraut Riquier) in "An Interlude" (see Robinson and Pound, 103). "In the Orchard," also of Poems and Ballads, First Series, is a superb pastiche of a troubadour allba, as is a passage in "The Queen's Pleasance" from Tristram of Lyonesse (see Poems, IV,51) . And the form of "Laus Veneris" constitutes a clever inversion of the alba's conventions.
Both formal and thematic similarities are easily discernable in Swinburne's works and troubadour poetry, as well as courtly romance. These similarities demonstrate his deep engagement with the values and ethos of courtly love literature, expressed most fully in the highly rhetorical poetry of the troubadours. For them, as for Swinburne, love provided material for art. More important, however, is the fact that for the original troubadours and their successors, love became an obsession to which everything else in life was, at least in theory, subordinate. It encompassed spiritual passions and physical lusts, both of which depended for their perpetuation upon the art that expressed them. Moreover, the substance of their chansons was essentially that of young Swinburne's poetry: "Many of the troubadours extolled the purer forms of Catharsis, and dwelt on the dolorous joy of unsatisfied longing.... They sang of a passion which can never be requited in this world, of death as preferable to any human reward and of the duty of separation from the beloved." In light of Swinburne's own permanently unrequited passion for Mary Gordon, it seems appropriate that he alludes to Jaufre Rudel's courtly devotion to the Countess of Tripoli in "The Triumph of Time," which is almost always read as an autobiographical statement. Rudel's poetry, like
Whatever the settings of his Poems, Swinburne's dominant subject from 1857 to 1882 is Love. He dwells either upon passions that are so "strange" (or masochistic) as to be by definition insatiable (those of Chastelard, Tannhäuser, Sappho, Baudelaire), or upon passions that cannot ever be happily fulfilled because of obstacles (Rosamond's, Meleager's, Phaedra's, Tristram's). In fact, for Swinburne, only man's devotion to an ideal of love can immortalize him, love that
though body and soul were overthrown
Should live for lovets sake of itself alone,
Though spirit and flesh were one thing doomed and dead,
Not wholly annihilated. (Poems, III, 299)
Swinburne's own devotion to his cousin Mary Gordon has even been understood in this way; McGann sees her as "an avatar of the woman doomed to be loved by and lost to him from eternity" (McGann, 218) . Similarly, of course, it is most often the exclusive and total commitment of a lover to his beloved, in spite of (if not because of) insuperable obstacles, that ennobles a man and renders him worthy of reputation in courtly love lore.
Although Swinburne's temperament allowed him to be open to varied and complex influences, the evidence presented here suggests that courtly ideals, as projected in the works of medieval poets and romanceurs, represent one important source of Swinburne's own mythology of love and, as we shall see, of his slightly idiosyncratic brand of mysticism. That evidence is reinforced by the very flexibility of the courtly tradition and of courtly values, which prove remarkably compatible with aspects of Swinburne's life and work that critics.have found irreconcilable. They do not conflict with his republicanism, his philosophical monism, his Hellenism, his advocacy of art for art's sake, or his attraction to Sade (see, for instance, Ezra Pound's essay "Psychology and Troubadours," which suggests an intriguing reconciliation of Swinburne's Hellenism and his delight in courtly literature. ln his Spirit of Romance (New York, n.d.), 91.). If Swinburne was as captivated by courtly love topoi and values as the themes of his poetry and the lostlove myth to which his life conformed suggest, we can understand [9/10] how political, moral, aesthetic, and fundamental religious considerations must all have merged for him in art, as they did for the troubadours. In Woman as Image in Medieval Literature, Joan M. Ferrante explains that in courtly literature beloved women often "personify cosmological forces that govern man's life, in lyric and romance they represent his ideals, his aspirations, the values of his society" (1). For the troubadours and courtly romanceurs, love as a topos became a flexible artistic convention that served to comprehend religious aspirations, to espouse moral values, to cope with carnal lusts, and to etherealize political issues, which resulted in wars fought in the name of love and under the auspices of the beloved.
For instance, in one of his best-known lyrics, "Rassa, domntal qutes frescha e fine," Bertran de Born not only indulges in the obligatory praise of his lady but moves on to a general philosophical discussion of the virtues and pastimes of great men. He concludes with some highly topical remarks on local politics.
Rassa! A lady have I who is fresh and pure, a gracefuL and gay young girl, golden-haired with tints of ruby, with skin as white as hawthorn flower, supple of arm, firm of breast, and like a young rabbit's is her back.... Rassa! This I pray you to agree with: for a great man not to weary of war and not to renounce it for any threat till one has desisted from doing him harm, is worth more than river-sports and hunting, for thereby he wins and thereby upholds high merit. Maurin, against his lord Sir Aigar, is deemed a fine warrior; so let the viscount fight for his lands and title, and let the count seek them from him by force, and let us see him here soon, at Eastertide! (Press, 156-58)
Such a blending of the canso and sirvente forms is also characteristic of Peire Vidal, who is described by Alan Press as alternating "the role of public spokesman with that of impassioned lover" (194). Similarly, Swinburne could be composing the highly political lyrics of Songs before Sunrise, which are much in the tradition of the troubadour sirvente (they are addressed to a political patron), while he was simultaneously at work on the impassioned lyrical verses of Tristram, portions of which often seem to be epic transpositions of troubadour cansos.
Indeed, for Swinburne, there was a fundamental and articulable [10/11]philosophical connection between passion and politics. Of course, the most conspicuous precedents for this connection appear in Swinburne's Romantic precursors, particularly Blake and Shelley. However, no matter how clearly Swinburne's political poems rely upon the precedents set by these two poets, the way in which he perceives passion, especially in its relationship to political philosophy, is more closely aligned to courtly patterns than to Romantic ones, especially in its tragic qualities. Like the troubadours, Swinburne defines passion as a source of suffering, not of Blakean joy or of Shelleyan spiritual redemption. In this he was more like Keats; but in Keats's work we find no systematic relationship between politics and passion, as we do in Blake and Shelley on the one hand, and Swinburne and the troubadours on the other. Swinburne's republicanism originates with the desire for total freedom, a release from the material sufferings of life, which for him are analogous to the sufferings of unrequitable passion. Achieving freedom from a cruel or unattainable lady (the archetype in troubadour poetry) requires precisely what achieving freedom from cruel tyrants necessitates: self-immolation. Chastelard and Meleager, who are martyrs to love, are true brothers to Chthonia, who exults in being a sacrifice to the gods that will prevent Athens' conquest in Erechtheus. In his undergraduate poem "The Death of Sir John Franklin," Swinburne suggests — much in the manner of Bertran de Born — that "love" and "valour" are merely separate manifestations of the same basic human impulse. He eulogizes the British explorer and formulates the supreme value of self-sacrifice, which he never abjured:
neither land nor life
Nor all soft things whereof the will is fain
Nor love of friends nor wedded faith of wife
Nor all of these nor any among these
Make a man's best, but rather loss and strife,
Failure, endurance, and high scorn of ease,
Love strong as death and valour strong as love. [Posthumous Poems, 83-84.]
Indeed, by 1879 when Theodore Watts (later Watts-Dunton) rescued him from a wasting alcoholic suicide, Swinburne had nearly completed his own self-destruction and thereby consummated the [11/12] myth of his lost love in his own life. This myth has been perpetuated by the tireless investigations of commentators in the way that Swinburne himself helped to assure the immortality of Tannhäuser, Chastelard, Meleager, and Tristram, all martyrs to love. Prototypes for the passionate and tragic pattern of these heroes' lives abound in troubadour poetry. Jaufré Rudel, in one of his few surviving poems, describes his love as inexorable and devastating: "I am stricken by joy which slays me, and by a pang of love which ravishes my flesh, whence will my body waste away; and never before did it strike me so hard, nor from any blow did I so languish, for that is not fitting, nor seemly" (Press, 34-35). And Marcabrun echoes the sentiment, as many troubadours do: "He whom noble Love singles out lives gay, courtly and wise; and he whom it rejects, it confounds, and commits to total destruction" (Press, 50-51) . But, paradoxically, Rudel is joyfully reconciled to the inevitable tragic culmination of his passion (as Chastelard, among Swinburne's early heroes, conspicuously is): "Love, gaily I leave you because now I go seeking my highest good; yet by this much was I fortunate that my heart still rejoices for it" (Press, 3839).
For Swinburne, as for courtly writers, the beloved woman is often a destructive force, and love possesses the power "to free the soul from the constraints of the world" as well as "the pains of the world." Indeed, Swinburne's personae who are ennobled in dying for causes they exalt — whether erotic or political — are ultimately freed from the bonds of discontinuous existence and demonstrate the fundamental interconnection of those causes, which they transcend through synthesis after death with organic and metaphysical nature, Swinburne's unitary life-force, Hertha.
Nearly all Swinburne's major poems reveal the courtly influence through their radical emphasis on the interrelatedness not only of passion and politics but also of all actions, all ideals, all life. Ultimately, for him a great poem must not work to exclude any sphere of human perception or activity. The experience it describes must be amenable to extension. As Thomas Connolly explains, for Swinburne the greatest poetry always expresses a "moral passion" which "fills verse 'with divine force of meaning' . . . [and] enable[sl the poet to [12/13] transcend the material world to commune with the spiritual." Formal perfection is, of course, a prerequisite for such an achievement. However, the themes of successful Poems must not appear in isolation. As McGann contends, the "deep ambiguities" of Swinburne's poetry "generate a process of suggestiveness . . . which can only be terminated by the reader's sense of exhaustion or incapacity.... For the poem does not circumscribe its suggestions, and the reader cannot perceive their limits. At the same time, the verse holds its perception of infinite resonances in forms which, by their extremely 'finished' quality, affirm the presence, though not the comprehension, of unity, law, and meaning" (McGann, 170). He adds that Swinburne is one of those poets "who seek to reveal the mysterious order of the universe" and are "forever pursuing the point where multiple worlds of life are felt to impinge upon each other" (McGann, 172) . In many of Swinburne's major poems, modes of thought, experience, and aspiration are all intricately related — stages in an endless metamorphosis. As with the troubadours, poetry represented, in Swinburne's view, the ultimate form of experience, the only form pure enough to comprehend — as all kinds of mysticism must — the simultaneous transformation of every type of experience into every other type, the profound unity of consciousness that can only by artificial analysis be reduced to categories of thought: passion, politics, religion, art. For Swinburne art was a very real sphere of life, the only one in fact where the truly binding relations among types and qualities of experience, what Randolph Hughes terms the "multiform unity of inclusion" (18), can be purely expressed without reduction. Art to be great must be open-ended and allinclusive, a source of infinite generation. In Swinburne's Blakean concept of creativity, art must not contain but rather reflect experience as a series of endless transformations and have an expansive rather than reductive final effect.
Most of these tenets are at least implicit in courtly love poetry and romance. There, as in Swinburne's poetry, spheres of experience and levels of expression frequently merge, as they do, for instance, in the [13/14] poetry of Bertran de Born, Peire Vidal, and their troubadour successors. Unrequited carnal passions are often spiritually ennobling; political loyalty is transformed into service to the beloved; devotion to the lady is equivalent to devotion to God; valorous death in her service becomes the highest good. Thus passion and service often lead to a desire for self-immolation, and death represents release from, as well as fulfillment of, both physical and spiritual passions. All types and levels of experience are focused in the love convention, which is by definition expansive, and all that it encompasses can be adequately expressed only in art. In this respect, Swinburne is in the tradition of Jaufre Rudel. Alan Press has aptly remarked that for Rudel "love . . . is known and experienced only as the end of an unending aspiration, and . . . is made perceptible only in the self-engendered, unique, and utterly isolated reality of the love-song itself" (Press, 28).
Swinburne's early exposure to the literature of the courtly tradition may well have reinforced or even shaped the enormous but characteristic breadth of his intellectual receptivity. Swinburne could simultaneously admire writers who deal with strikingly different spheres of experience — Malory, Whitman, Blake, Baudelaire, Shelley, Villon, and Hugo. He was able in good conscience to propound art for art's sake in William Blake and at the same time compose many of the political and mystical pieces of Songs before Sunrise. And in 1872, reviewing Hugo's L'Année terrible, he could enigmatically reveal his truly expansive critical canons:
No work of art has any worth or life in it that is not done on the absolute terms of art.... thus far we are at one with the preachers of Fart for art.t~~ . . . We admit then that the worth of a poem has properly nothing to do with its moral meaning or design . . . but on the other hand we refuse to admit that art of the highest may not ally itself with moral or religious passion, with the ethics or the politics of a nation or an age. It does not detract from the poetic supremacy of Aeschylus and of Dante, or Milton and of Shelley, that they should have been pleased to put their art to such use: nor does it detract from the sovereign greatness of other poets that they should have no note of song for any such theme. In a word, the doctrine of art for art is true in the positive sense, false in the negative; sound as an affirmation, unsound as a prohibition. (Bonchurch, XIII, 242-46)
Thus, during one period of his career, Swinburne could compose political lyrics, Erechtheus, the plays of the Mary Stuart trilogy, and [14/15] Tristram of Lyonesse without feeling that he was moving among incompatible spheres of experience. Passion and politics, history and myth were all mutually inclusive, and I suggest that Swinburne's early fascination with the values embodied in medieval French poetry, which themselves conflated the sources and ends of passion, religion, politics, and art, conditioned his intellect to a versatility of thought aptly characterized by the monistic inclusiveness of "Hertha."
As both M. C. D'Arcy and Denis de Rougement point out, the courtly love tradition was even flexible enough to sustain carnal superstructures built on its ethereal Platonic foundation. We see a devolution from idealism to carnality in the works of William IX, Raimbaut d'Orange, and even Arnaut Daniel, for example. After beginning one poem with the conventional references to nature, and after introducing his "midonz" as "del mon la bellaire," Raimbaut in one stanza idealizes his beloved while in the next he longs to possess her body: "I shall indeed, lady, have great honour if ever the privilege is adjudged me by you of holding you under the cover, naked in my arms, for you are worth the hundred best together, and in this praise I'm not exaggerating; in that merit alone does my heart rejoice more than if I were emperor" (Press, 112-13). And Arnaut Daniel in several Poems describes even more graphically the carnal aspect of his usually devout and idealized passion: "Would I were hers in body, not in soul! and that she let me, secretly, into her bedroom! For it wounds my heart more than any blow of a rod, that her servant, there where she is, does not enter. Always I'll be with her as flesh and fingernail, and I'll not heed the warning of friend or uncle" (Press, 188-89).
Rougement, in a chapter specifically relevant to the apparent contradiction between Swinburne's fondness for the effusions of Sade and his courtly literary heritage, urges a surprising relationship between Sade's doctrine and that of orthodox devotees of courtly love. He insists that the obsessions of Swinburne's "divine Marquis" arose from and sustained themselves on "the intolerable tension of a mind" that is wracked by both carnal and ideal passions, torn between the amorous possibilities embodied in the myths of Don Juan and of Tristram. Providing evidence of the influence of eourtly love on Sade, Rougement reminds us that "Sade admired the poetry of Petrarch, as he remarks in his. Crimes de l'amour. The admiration had been traditional [15/16] in his family ever since his direct ancestor, Hughes de Sade, married Petrarch's lady, Laure de Noves." Rougement also plausibly insists that the necessary result of the contradictory yearnings of Sade's characters for both sensual and spiritual or ideal gratifications is an insupportable frustration, which demands that one be freed totally from his insatiable passions. For Sade "only murder can restore freedom, and it must be the murder of the beloved, inasmuch as loving is what fetters us." Sade's whole aim, in Rougement's view, is that of morbid courtly lovers and of Swinburne's impassioned personae: to escape the suffering of love through death (211-I2). Lafourcade comments upon the relationship between Swinburne's sadism and his highly "intellectual" theory of love (Jeunesse, 431) and observes that for Swinburne the laws of suffering and death that govern human passion also dominate the operations of nature. But death for Sade meant murder rather than self-immolation. The fact that Swinburne's figures seem equally willing, in their desperation, to grasp either alternative merely reflects the emphasis in his poetry on the urgent human desire to escape from the bonds of passion to the freedom of death and continuity with organic nature, the unitary "Herthian" matrix of us all. (Figures in "Phaedra," "Anactoria," "Les Noyades," and Chastelard are all willing to murder those they love and derive gratification from the prospect of doing so.)
The speaker of "The Triumph of Time" finally yearns for union with the sea, the source of all life, "mother of mutable winds and hours," and for death as the means to achieve that union:
This woven raiment of nights and days,
Were it once cast off and unwound from me,
Naked and glad would I walk in thy ways,
Alive and aware of thy ways and thee;
Clear of the whole world, hidden at home,
Clothed with the green and crowned with the foam,
A pulse of the life of thy straits and bays,
A vein in the heart of the streams of the sea. (Poems, 1, 43)
Swinburne's personae, though often initially afraid of death, always crave their own deaths. Phaedra, Sappho in "Anactoria," Chastelard, Meleager, even Chthonia and Tristram, all share the same goal beyond death. In this respect, too, Swinburne's mythology reflects [16/17] courtly love tradition. As one of the most astute commentators on post-medieval uses of courtly love convention, Lenora Leet Brodwin, observes,
The courtly lover does not have a "love of death" but of the Absolute, the Infinite, all that is beyond the sphere of mortal contingency. Rather, he despises death because it is the final proof of the hated contingency and limitations of human life from which he wished to disassociate himself. But the tragic paradox of his love of the Absolute is that it can only be truly realized in that utter transcendence of mortality which involves his death. If he "triumphs in a transfiguring Death," it is because his fearless embrace of death in the name of an infinite love raises him above its power and unites him to the Absolute. 
Brodwin's formulation holds for Swinburnean figures as well as for traditional courtly lovers. In his philosophy — as it is illustrated in Rosamond, Chastelard, Atalanta in Calydon, the erotic Iyrics of Poems and Ballads, First Series, and Tristram of Lyonesse — passionate experience is finally subordinate to its mystical resolution after death in the divine natural world, the Garden of Proserpine, where
all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams.
Ultimately for Swinburne, Proserpine's "languid lips" are sweeter than love's, because the vision of ideal passion that he dwells on is necessarily superior to any real love relationship that can be formed and consummated in this world of physical constraints. In order to reconcile his intuition of the supremacy of man's immortal spiritual essence with the facts of material existence and carnal passion, Swinburne was forced, even from the first, to conceive of love not primarily in terms of momentary gratifications, but, as did the courtly poets and romanceurs, in ideal terms. For him, timeless intellectual and spiritual experience subsumes and is superior to transient physical and emotional experience. With Swinburne, as with the troubadours, passion resolves finally into philosophy.
Last modified June 2000