Friday, November 30, 2012

Poem: Dolores Replies to Swinburne by GK Chesterton

I like to keep my Collected Poems of GK Chesterton handy, and browse through it occasionally, because there's always a new gem to turn up. A month or two back, I found this one, Dolores Replies to Swinburne, in a series of poems titled "Replies to the Poets".

Those whom God wishes to destroy, He first gives really bad taste in hair. Also see: Hitler.
I hadn't read Swinburne's original poem, Dolores. Now I have read about half of the thing, which does go on "for several pages", and while the verse has some of the crash and glitter of a Chesterton poem, the effect is more diseased. Algernon Charles Swinburne was an anti-Christian poet of the 1800s, of the "decadent" school, although Oscar Wilde found his claims to vice pretentious! And here, to give you a taste, are a couple of stanzas of Dolores:

Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel
Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour;
The heavy white limbs, and the cruel
Red mouth like a venomous flower;
When these are gone by with their glories,
What shall rest of thee then, what remain,
O mystic and sombre Dolores,
                Our Lady of Pain?


Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?
Men touch them, and change in a trice
The lilies and languors of virtue
For the raptures and roses of vice;
Those lie where thy foot on the floor is,
These crown and caress thee and chain,
O splendid and sterile Dolores,
               Our Lady of Pain.


Ad infinitum. Chesterton's delightful poem is a little more to the point!

Dolores Replies to Swinburne
GK Chesterton 

Cold passions, and perfectly cruel,
Long odes that go on for an hour,
With a most economical jewel
And a quite metaphorical flower.
I implore you to stop it and stow it,
I adjure you, relent and refrain,
Oh, pagan Priapean poet,
               You give me a pain.

I am sorry, old dear, if I hurt you,
No doubt it is all very nice
With the lilies and languors of virtue
And the raptures and roses of vice.
But the notion impels me to anger,
That vice is all rapture for me,
And if you think virtue is languor
               Just try it and see.

We shall know then the critics discover
If your poems were shallow or deep;
Who read you from cover to cover,
Will know if they sleep not or sleep.
But you say I’ve endured through the ages
(Which is rude) as Our Lady of Pain,
You have said it for several pages,
               So say it again.


Christina Baehr said...

Hilarious! Thanks for that. Did you know Swinburne got on quite well personally with Christina Rossetti? I get a kick out of that.

Suzannah said...

I gathered as much from his Wikipedia page just now. That's almost as oddly-matched a friendship as Chesterton's with Shaw...


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