Algernon Swinburne

Algernon Swinburne

b. 1837 d. 1909


In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland, at the sea-down's edge between windward and lee, walled round with rocks as an inland island, the ghost of a garden fronts the sea. - Algernon Swinburne 'A Forsaken Garden'


About Algernon Swinburne

Swinburne came from an aristocratic background and drew on a wide range of influences and interests from an early age, including Elizabethan dramatists, Greek and Latin poets and French writers. He was an excitable, extrovert character who made friends with many of the Pre‑Raphaelite Brotherhood at Oxford. He professed an addiction to all kinds of vice, although Oscar Wilde thought Swinburne guilty of considerable exaggeration.

Swinburne’s early collections of poetry, such as Poems and Ballads (1866), were controversial, with their sexually charged sequences, but it was immediately clear that Swinburne was a brilliant technician in terms of rhythm and rhyme, and remarkably versatile. He is credited with inventing the ‘roundel’ verse form.

Swinburne’s alcoholism affected his health, but he was helped to recovery in his forties. He lived another thirty years, becoming more socially respectable and continuing to write poems, verse dramas and a good deal of literary criticism.