SWINBURNE: Portrait of a Poet by Philip Henderson

SWINBURNE: Portrait of a Poet

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Swinburne may not have been the ""exquisite"" poet Henderson believes him to be and over-confidently expects him to become again now that the negative influence of Pound and Eliot which made ""poetry almost indistinguishable from prose"" (?) has receded -- but he certainly was one of the more exotic and febrile blooms of the English literary landscape so that one reads about him and the period (Henderson knows it well -- two earlier books on William Morris and his friends) with wayward interest. Early on someone observed ""That boy is a flame of fire"" and so he was up to his red, red hair and his intemperate conduct -- his tumultuous poetry (plays, novels as well), his excitation, his drinking, and particularly his flagellant activities here attributed to the early ""swishings"" at Eton. By his mid-thirties he was burned out and his failed health and depressed spirits led to the last thirty years of custodial retreat at The Pines with his friend, Watts-Dunton, away from his closest companions of the early years -- Rossetti, Richard Burton and Burne-Jones who called him ""dear little Carrots."" He was a gentle sprite even if Henderson never really goes into any of the deeper psychogenic difficulties. And if he was a ""magnificent"" poet -- and many of the poems are reproduced in the text -- their beauty remains exclusively in the eyes of the beholder. Most modern readers will remain unpersuaded and may agree with Swinburne's own comment on his (later) works and their indulged ""tendency to the dulcet and luscious form of verbosity.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Macmillan