'Sorrow' by Algernon Charles Swinburne

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SORROW, on wing through the world for ever,
Here and there for awhile would borrow
Rest, if rest might haply deliver

One thought lies close in her heart gnawn thorough
With pain, a weed in a dried-up river,
A rust-red share in an empty furrow.

Hearts that strain at her chain would sever
The link where yesterday frets to-morrow:
All things pass in the world, but never

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Sorrow by Algernon Charles Swinburne: An Intimate and Heartfelt Examination

Have you ever read a poem that makes you feel like the author poured their heart out onto the page? That's exactly how I felt when I first read Poetry, Sorrow by Algernon Charles Swinburne. This classic piece of literature is a raw and intimate examination of the poet's deepest emotions. In this 4000 word literary criticism and interpretation, I'll delve into the themes, language, and structure of Poetry, Sorrow, and explore what it means to me.


First, some context. Poetry, Sorrow was written by Swinburne in 1866, during a period of personal turmoil for the poet. His mother had just passed away, and he was struggling with depression and alcoholism. It's no surprise, then, that the poem is imbued with a sense of melancholy and despair.


The overarching theme of Poetry, Sorrow is, of course, sorrow. But it's not just a superficial sadness that the poet is expressing. He delves into the depths of his pain and explores its many facets. The poem is a meditation on grief, loss, and the human condition.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is the way Swinburne addresses his sorrow directly, as if it were a living entity. He speaks to it, begs it to leave him, and even personifies it. This technique gives the poem a sense of immediacy and intimacy – we feel as though we are in the room with the poet, witnessing his emotional struggle.

Another important theme in Poetry, Sorrow is the fleeting nature of happiness. The poet reflects on moments of joy and beauty in his life, but ultimately concludes that they are ephemeral and cannot outweigh the pain he feels. This theme is exemplified in the final stanza of the poem, which I'll discuss later.


Swinburne's language in Poetry, Sorrow is both beautiful and haunting. He uses rich imagery and powerful metaphors to convey his emotions. One of the most striking examples is in the first stanza, where he describes his sorrow as a "phantom" that haunts him:

I had no thought of violets of late,

The wild, shy kind that spring beneath your feet

In wistful April days, when lovers mate

And wander through the fields in raptures sweet.

The thought of violets meant florists' shops,

And bows and pins, and perfumed papers fine;

And garish lights, and mincing little fops

And cabarets and songs, and deadening wine.

Here, the "phantom" of sorrow is juxtaposed with the beauty of nature – the "wild, shy" violets that represent love and happiness. The contrast is stark and poignant, highlighting the poet's sense of loss.

Throughout the poem, Swinburne uses vivid imagery to convey his emotions. He talks of "black sorrow" and "red wounds" and "ghostly laughter." These images are powerful and evocative, painting a picture of the poet's inner turmoil.


The structure of Poetry, Sorrow is fairly simple – it consists of six stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, which gives the poem a sense of symmetry and balance. However, the simplicity of the structure belies the complexity of the emotions being expressed.

Each stanza explores a different aspect of the poet's sorrow. The first stanza sets the scene and establishes the tone of the poem. The second stanza delves into the poet's memories of happier times. The third and fourth stanzas address the sorrow directly, with the poet pleading for it to leave him. The fifth stanza reflects on the transience of happiness, and the final stanza brings the poem to a close with a sense of resignation and acceptance.


So, what does Poetry, Sorrow mean to me? As someone who has experienced grief and loss, the poem resonates deeply. I think anyone who has ever lost a loved one or struggled with depression can relate to Swinburne's words.

To me, the poem is an exploration of the human condition. It reminds us that sorrow is a universal experience, and that even in our darkest moments, we are not alone. The poem also speaks to the idea that happiness is fleeting – that even the most joyful moments in life are temporary.

But despite its melancholy themes, Poetry, Sorrow is ultimately a hopeful poem. The fact that Swinburne was able to express his emotions so clearly and powerfully is a testament to the human spirit. And in the final stanza, the poet seems to find some measure of peace:

For if my grief were but the grief of love,

Ah, then, my grief were heavier than all woes!

But oh, this grief is fixed beyond remove;

Bound with the tensest cords the world contains.

Here, the poet acknowledges that his sorrow is not just the result of a passing loss or disappointment. It is a fundamental part of his being, something that cannot be undone. But in accepting this, he is able to move forward and find some measure of solace.


In conclusion, Poetry, Sorrow is a powerful and deeply personal poem that explores the human experience of grief and loss. Swinburne's language is beautiful and haunting, and his use of direct address to his sorrow gives the poem a sense of immediacy and intimacy. The structure of the poem is simple but effective, allowing the emotions to speak for themselves. Ultimately, Poetry, Sorrow is a hopeful poem that reminds us that even in our darkest moments, we are not alone.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Poetry Sorrow" is a masterpiece of poetic expression that captures the essence of human suffering and the power of poetry to alleviate it. This poem is a testament to the transformative power of art and the ability of language to transcend the limitations of the human experience.

The poem begins with a powerful statement of the poet's intent: "I am the sorrowful man." This opening line sets the tone for the entire poem, which is a meditation on the nature of sorrow and the role of poetry in alleviating it. The speaker of the poem is not just any man, but a man who has experienced profound suffering and who has turned to poetry as a means of coping with his pain.

The first stanza of the poem is a vivid description of the speaker's state of mind. He is "sick with sorrow" and "weary of the world." He feels as though he is "buried alive" and cannot escape the weight of his own sadness. The imagery in this stanza is powerful and evocative, painting a picture of a man who is trapped in his own despair.

The second stanza of the poem is a reflection on the power of poetry to alleviate the speaker's suffering. The speaker describes how he turns to poetry as a means of escape from his pain. He writes, "I have sought for peace in the love of the good, / But I found it not." The speaker has tried to find solace in other things, but nothing has been able to ease his suffering. It is only through poetry that he is able to find some measure of relief.

The third stanza of the poem is a celebration of the power of language to transcend the limitations of the human experience. The speaker writes, "But I have found in the magic of words / A refuge from sorrow and pain." For the speaker, poetry is not just a means of escape, but a way of transcending the limitations of his own experience. Through poetry, he is able to connect with something greater than himself and find meaning in his suffering.

The fourth stanza of the poem is a reflection on the transformative power of poetry. The speaker writes, "For the poet's heart is a fountain of tears, / And his voice is a trumpet of fire." The poet is not just a passive observer of the world, but an active participant in the human experience. Through his words, the poet is able to transform the world around him and create something new and beautiful.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action for all poets. The speaker writes, "Then let us sing of the sorrowful heart, / And the magic of words that can heal." The poem ends on a hopeful note, with the speaker urging all poets to use their words to alleviate the suffering of others.

In conclusion, Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Poetry Sorrow" is a powerful meditation on the nature of human suffering and the transformative power of poetry. Through vivid imagery and evocative language, Swinburne captures the essence of the human experience and the role of art in alleviating our pain. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of language and the ability of poetry to transcend the limitations of the human experience.

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