For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about “Dead Love” by Algernon Charles Swinburne.
Dead love, by treason slain, lies stark,White as a dead stark-stricken dove:None that pass by him pause to markDead love.
His heart, that strained and yearned and stroveAs toward the sundawn strives the lark,Is cold as all the old joy thereof.
Dead men, re-arisen from dust, may harkWhen rings the trumpet blown above:It will not raise from out the darkDead love.
Despite years of poetry reading and several poetry classes in college, I didn’t discover this poem until it was mentioned in “Ladylike,” Maggie Stiefvater’s novella in The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff.
This poem is much more structured than my go-to favorites. It’s also somehow bleaker perhaps because of the restrained and deliberate language and the way “Dead love.” is dropped rather unceremoniously at the end of the first and third stanzas. There ends up being something unsettling, uncomfortable even, in the poem.
Maybe that was Swinburne’s intention from the start though. It’s hard to say without context. It’s even harder when it comes to interpreting poetry where the author could have a very specific vision in mind or was perhaps just chasing specific words and couplings.
In “Ladylike,” a lot is made of context surrounding a poem–both its meaning and its author–which is why it was so interesting when I came to this poem with no context save for seeing it in a novella. Maybe my sense of unease while reading is context enough for me?
Talk to me about your favorite poems or poetic context in the comments and be sure to check back every day this April for more poetry-related posts and guest posts.