Miltonic echoes in Swinburne's Tristram

Anthony H. Harrison, Professor of English, North Carolina State University


Note 3, Chapter 6, of the author's Swinburne's Medievalism: A Study in Victorian Love Poetry which Louisiana State University Press published in 1979. It has been included in the Victorian web with the kind permission of the author, who of course retains copyright.

Kerry McSweeney is correct in noting the Miltonic echoes in Swinburne's description of the drinking of the potion, but he does not detect the irony in them. He claims that "it is doubtless because Swinburne wished to invest this moment of his poem with a gravity and resonance that he alludes so deliberately to the Miltonic description of the fall.... But a comparison of the two situations suggests no theological or moral similarities. In this regard 'serpentine desire' is unfortunate; for Swinburne-as the rest of the poem manifests-hardly means to suggest that Tristram and Iseult become creatures of sin and evil or lose their place in the scheme of creation and descend to a bestial level. There is no suggestion in the poem that they are guilty of anything, nor that they have fallen at all" ("Structure," 695). Regarding this second point, we must keep in mind that most of the time the Christian ethos dominates the two principal characters' self-awareness and acts as an ironic counterpoint to the narrative perspective.

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Last updated: June 2000