Desire lines
Swinburne and lyric crisis
in Algernon Charles Swinburne
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This chapter suggests that Algernon Charles Swinburne's work might be located in relation to a period in the history of the lyric genre when poetry confronts modernity, and vice versa. It begins with a reading of a central genre 'problem' of Poems and Ballads, First Series. Swinburne may have been caricatured in 1866 as a 'melodious twanger of another man's lyre', but in dramatising the desire lines of a collective lyric subjectivity he makes a crucial statement on the cultural crisis in and formation of the genre. Swinburne's 'The Roundel' is a poem about the form itself and sets the parameters for the volume's commentary on poetic voice. The 'desire lines' concept, elaborated through a reading of the roundels, gives us a model for how Swinburne finds in sexual desire a trope for the community of the lyric subject.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Unofficial Laureate


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