poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox


About this poet

Algernon Charles Swinburne, English poet and critic, was born on April 5, 1837, in London. His family, aristocratic on both sides, divided their time between family estates in Northumberland and the Isle of Wight. The dramatic landscapes of these two homes would later influence his poetry.

He attended Eton beginning in 1849, and in 1856 he matriculated at Oxford University as a student in Balliol College. There, he became friends with the Pre-Raphaelite painters and joined an undergraduate group of intellectuals who called themselves the “Old Mortality.” While he began writing both poetry and criticism at Oxford, he left without a degree in 1859 and moved to London.

The literary social life that Swinburne began at Oxford extended to his life in London, where he frequented parties and associated with many cultural figures. He published his first book, a collection of two dramas titled The Queen-Mother and Rosamond (B. M. Pickering, 1860). His two subsequent dramas, Atlanta in Calydon (Edward Moxon, 1865) and Chastelard (E. P. Dutton, 1866), were received more positively in his literary spheres, but it was not until 1866 that his career catapulted with the publication of his first poetry collection.

Poems and Ballads (Edward Moxon, 1866) had a notable impact on Victorian poetry with its groundbreaking portrayal of sexuality and taboo. Swinburne is known for the sensation that this book produced in the literary community, but also for the range of his subsequent poetry collections. He published several more books of poetry, including the political Songs Before Sunrise (F. S. Ellis, 1871) and the French-influenced Poems and Ballads, Second Series (Chatto and Windus, 1878).

He was also the author of an influential body of literary criticism, of which T. S. Eliot wrote, “whatever our opinion of Swinburne’s verse, the notes upon poets by a poet of Swinburne’s dimensions must be read with attention and respect.”

After his health deteriorated in the 1870s, he moved to Putney to live with his close friend Theodore Watts-Dunton. While he continued to write, it is argued that the quality of his work declined in this later period. He died in London on April 10, 1909.

Selected Bibliography

Poems and Ballads, Second Series (Chatto and Windus, 1878)
Songs Before Sunrise (F. S. Ellis, 1871)
Poems and Ballads (Edward Moxon, 1866)
Chastelard (E. P. Dutton, 1865),
Atlanta in Calydon (Edward Moxon, 1865)
The Queen-Mother and Rosamond (B. M. Pickering, 1860)


From the French of the Vidame de Chartres

When the fields catch flower
   And the underwood is green,
And from bower unto bower
   The songs of the birds begin,
   I sing with sighing between.
When I laugh and sing,
   I am heavy at heart for my sin;
I am sad in the spring
   For my love that I shall not win,
For a foolish thing.

This profit I have of my woe,
   That I know, as I sing,
I know he will needs have it so
   Who is master and king,
   Who is lord of the spirit of spring.
I will serve her and will not spare
   Till her pity awake
Who is good, who is pure, who is fair,
   Even her for whose sake
Love hath ta'en me and slain unaware.

O my lord, O Love,
   I have laid my life at thy feet;
Have thy will thereof,
   Do as it please thee with it,
   For what shall please thee is sweet.
I am come unto thee
   To do thee service, O Love;
Yet cannot I see
   Thou wilt take any pity thereof,
Any mercy on me.

But the grace I have long time sought
   Comes never in sight,
If in her it abideth not,
   Through thy mercy and might,
   Whose heart is the world's delight.
Thou hast sworn without fail I shall die,
   For my heart is set
On what hurts me, I wot not why,
   But cannot forget
What I love, what I sing for and sigh.

She is worthy of praise,
   For this grief of her giving is worth
All the joy of my days
   That lie between death's day and birth,
   All the lordship of things upon earth.
Nay, what have I said?
   I would not be glad if I could;
My dream and my dread
   Are of her, and for her sake I would
That my life were fled.

Lo, sweet, if I durst not pray to you,
   Then were I dead;
If I sang not a little to say to you,
   (Could it be said)
   O my love, how my heart would be fed;
Ah sweet who hast hold of my heart,
   For thy love's sake I live,
Do but tell me, ere either depart,
   What a lover may give
For a woman so fair as thou art.

The lovers that disbelieve,
   False rumours shall grieve
And evil-speaking shall part.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 6, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on April 6, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Algernon Charles Swinburne, English poet and critic, was born on April 5, 1837, in London.

by this poet

Before our lives divide for ever, 
      While time is with us and hands are free, 
(Time, swift to fasten and swift to sever 
      Hand from hand, as we stand by the sea) 
I will say no word that a man might say 
Whose whole life's love goes down in a day; 
For this could never have been; and never,

(Double Sestina)

Decameron, x. 7

There is no woman living that draws breath
So sad as I, though all things sadden her.
There is not one upon life’s weariest way
Who is weary as I am weary of all but death.
Toward whom I


I hid my heart in a nest of roses,
   Out of the sun’s way, hidden apart;
In a softer bed than the soft white snow’s is,
   Under the roses I hid my heart.
   Why would it sleep not? why should it start,
When never a leaf of the rose-tree stirred?
   What made sleep flutter his wings