1] John Morley, anonymously reviewing Poems and Ballads in the Saturday Review (August 4, 1866): 145-47, singles out "Dolores" for its "nameless shameless abominations," "fleshly things," and "unspeakable foulnesses" (quoted from Swinburne: The Critical Heritage, ed. Clyde K. Hyder [London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970]: 23-24). An unsigned review in London Review (August 4, 1866): 130-31, describes Dolores as "a mere deification of incontinence .... depraved and and morbid in the last degree" (37).
Swinburne responded to these and other reviews in Notes on Poems and Reviews (London: John Camden Hotten, 1866), as edited in Complete Works by Sir Edmond Gosse and Thomas James Wise, Prose Works, Vol. VI (London: William Heinemann, Ltd., 1926): 353-73.
Next on the list of accusation stands the poem of Dolores. The gist and bearing of this I should have thought evident enough, viewed by the light of other which precede and follow it. I have striven here to express that transcient state of spirit through which a man may be supposed to pass, foiled in love and weary of loving, but not yet in sight of rest; seeking refuge in those `violent delights' which `have violent ends,' in fierce and frank sensualities which at least profess to be no more than they are. This poem, like Faustine, is so distinctly symbolic and fanciful that it cannot justly be amenable to judgment as a study in the school of realism. The spirit, bowed and discoloured by suffering and by passion (which are indeed the same thing and the same word), plays for awhile with its pleasures and its pains, mixes and distorts them with a sense half-humorous and half-mournful, exults in bitter and doubtful emotions:
Moods of fantastic sadness, nothing worth.
It sports with sorrow, and jests aginst itself; cries out for freedom and confesses the chain; decorates with the name of goddess, crowns anew as the mystical Cotytto, some woman, real or ideal, in whom the pride of life with its companion lusts is incarnate. In her lover's half-shut eyes, her fierce unchaste beauty is transfigured, her cruel sensual eyes have a meaning and a message; there are memories and secrets in the kisses of her lips. She is the darker Venus, fed with burnt-offering and blood-sacrifice; the veiled image of that pleasure which men impelled by satiety and perverted by power have sought through ways as strange as Nero's before and since his time; the daughter of lust and death, and holding of both her parents; Our Lady of Pain, antagonist alike of trivial sins and virtues: no Virgin, and unblessed of men; no mother of the Gods or God; no Cybele, served by sexless priests or monks, adored of Origen or Atys; no likeness of her in Dindymus or Loreto.
The next act in this lyrical melodrama of passion represents a new stage and scene. The worship of desire has ceased; the mad commotion of sense has stormed itself out; the spirit, clear of the old regret that drove it upon such violent ways for a respite, healed of the fever that wasted it in the search for relief among fierce fancies and tempestuous pleasures, dreams now of truth discovered and repose attained. Not the martyr's ardour of selfless love, an unprofitable flame that burnt out and did no service -- not the rapid rage of pleasure that seemed for a little to make the flesh divine, to clothe the naked senses with the fiery raiment of faith; but a stingless love, an innocuous desire. `Hesperia,' the tenderest type of woman or of dream, born in the westward `islands of the blest,' where the shadows of all happy and holy things live beyond the sunset a sacred and a sleepless life, dawns upon his eyes a western dawn, risen as the fiery day of passion goes down, and risen where it sank. Here, between moonrise and sunset, lives the love that is gentle and faithful, neither giving too much nor asking -- a bride rather than a mistress, a sister rather than a bride. But not at once, or not for ever, can the past be killed and buried; hither also the huntress follows her flying prey, wounded and weakened, still fresh from the fangs of passion; the cruel hands, the amorous eyes, still glitter and allure. Qui a bu boira: the feet are drawn back towards the ancient ways. Only by lifelong flight, side by side with the goddess that redeems, shall her slave of old escape from the goddess that consumes: if even thus one may be saved, even thus distance the bloodhounds.
This is the myth or fable of my poem; and it is not without design that I have slipped in, between the first and the second part, the verses called The Garden of Proserpine, expressive, as I meant they should be, of that brief total pause of passion and of thought, when the spirit, without fear or hope of good things or evil, hungers and thirsts only after the perfect sleep .... (360-62)
In a letter of September 28, 1866, Swinburne adds, of this essay, "I have proved Dolores to be little less than a second sermon on the Mount" (I, 186). Back to Line
7] Dolores: Latin "dolor, is" (`of pain'). Jean Overton Fuller speculates that she bears some relation to Swinburne's cousin, Mary Gordon (Swinburne: A Critical Biography [London: Chatto and Windus, 1968]: 114). Back to Line
51] Libitina: the goddess of corpses, whose temple provided a market for buying or renting burial goods and contained a register of the dead. Priapus: god of procreation, associated with gardens and vineyards. Back to Line
223] O Thalassian: of the sea, an allusion to Venus, who was born of the foam of the sea. Back to Line
281] Vestal: belonging to Vesta, wife of Coelus and daughter of Saturn. Back to Line
299] Alciphron: unidentified. Arisbe: Arisba, a town on the isle of Lesbos? Back to Line
307] Swinburne's note:
Nam te ptævipuè in suis urbibus colitora Hellespontia, cæteris ostreosior oris. CATULL. Carm. xviii.