Swinburne is a poet I have loved dearly since I first discovered his sapphics as a teenager—still some of my favorite sapphics of all time. On a visceral level, I find him cathartic. One of the prized possessions in my poetry library is a rare six-volume set of his complete works. I found it on sale in a little bookstore in New Orleans one evening on the way to dinner during an MLA convention, and carried it, dripping out of a heavy box, to the restaurant. There I ran into Charles Bernstein, who turned out to be the only other person I’ve ever met who owns that set too—thus substantiating both the root kinship between formalism and language poetry and the power of Swinburne over freethinking poets of wildly different approaches.
This poem inhabits stanzas more kinetically than any other poem I know. I love to read it in times of despair and confusion; it always comforts me. I am aware that, for all the years I have loved it, and even though I have published several poems of my own about Persephone, I have still never really read it, mentally, figuring out what it means on a denotative level. I haven’t felt I needed to or wanted to, yet. Someday I will.
The Garden of Proserpine