Swinburne's Spasms: Poems and Ballads and the 'Spasmodic School'



Blair K (2006) Swinburne's Spasms: Poems and Ballads and the 'Spasmodic School'. Yearbook of English Studies, 36 (2), pp. 180-196.

First paragraph: From its publication in 1866 onwards, critical response to Swinburne's first volume, Poems and Ballads, can be summed up by Rikky Rooksby's comment that: 'not only did it strike Victorian poetry with the force of a tidal wave; it sent ripples of sexual and religious rebellion far and wide'. The purpose of this article is not to deny the novelty and force of Swinburne's collection, but to suggest that by recovering a literary and cultural context in which Swinburne could be read as a 'spasmodic' poet -- the successor to a group of young poets who enjoyed intense but brief popularity in the 1850s -- we can see that certain aspects of Poems and Ballads would have seemed strangely familiar to a contemporary audience. Swinburne's engagement with a literary movement which is gradually being recovered as one of the key poetic developments of the 1850s has been recently noted, but never extensively dis cussed. It may seem surprising that he could have perceived himself (and been perceived) not solely as the heir of Keats and Shelley, or Gautier and Baudelaire, but as the successor to a school of poets whose fame was short-lived and who seemed so distant from him in terms of class, background, religion, and education. Yet reading Swinburne in relation to spasmodism can intensify our sense of him as a radical poet, besides showing how many of the concerns of his 1860s poems were highly contemporary. His early interest in spasmodic poetry, I argue, meant that even if he developed more profound influences later, he built upon spasmodic principles in his first published collection.

Yearbook of English Studies: Volume 36, Issue 2

Publication date31/12/2006
PublisherModern Humanities Research Association

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Professor Kirstie Blair
Professor Kirstie Blair

Dean of Faculty of Arts and Humanities, AH Management and Support Team