Magazine article Word Ways

Swinburne's "Nephelidia"

Magazine article Word Ways

Swinburne's "Nephelidia"

Article excerpt

ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE (1837~1909)

Conventional literary wisdom has it that Swinburne's "Nephelidia" ("Cloudlets") must have been intended as a parody of its author's own poetic style. Perhaps so--it does, certainly, share a characteristic style of construction with much of his other verse. But then again, why should it not, since Swinburne after all wrote both? And why should he have wished to parody his own signature poetic style. Perhaps conventional wisdom has leapt to a false conclusion here--perhaps "Nephelidia" was actually composed primarily in a whimsical spirit of wordplay, and is no deliberate self-lampoon but simply an intellectual exercise poetical linguistics undertaken for the sheer joy of the thing. But whatever his motivation for the poem we may confidently admit Swinburne to the fraternity that includes the likes of Poe, Carrol and Lear, namely, celebrated 19th century poets known to have appreciated and practiced wordplay.

                                Nephelidia
From the depth of the dreamy decline of the dawn through a notable
nimbus of nebulous noonshine,
  Pallid and pink as the palm of the flag-flower that flickers with fear
of
  the flies as they float, Are the looks of our lovers that lustrously
lean from a marvel of mystic miraculous moonshine,
  These that we feel in the blood of our blushes that thicken and
threaten
  with throbs through the throat.
Thicken and thrill as a theatre thronged at appeal of an actor's
appalled agitation,
  Fainter with fears of the fires of the future than pale with the
promise
  of pride in the past; Flushed with the famishing fullness of fever
that reddens with radiance of rathe* recreation,
  Gaunt as the ghastliest glimpses that gleam through the gloom of the
  gloaming when ghosts go aghast? … 
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