Swinburne wrote a number of elegiac poems of varying quality, but with “Ave Atque Vale,” he produced one of the important elegies of English literature. Not only had Swinburne introduced Baudelaire’s poetry in England with his The Spectator review of 1862, he also recognized in the French poet a kindred spirit. The opening lines of his elegy, “Shall I strew on thee rose or rue or laurel,/ Brother, on this that was the veil of thee?” call to Charles Baudelaire as his brother in a deep, spiritual sense.
These lines already convey the basic technique of Swinburne’s poem by drawing upon the words evocative of Baudelaire himself. The allusions to flowers parallel the title of Les Fleurs du mal (1857, 1861, 1868; Flowers of Evil, 1931), and in calling Baudelaire “Brother,” Swinburne echoes “Au Lecteur,” Baudelaire’s opening poem, where the latter addresses his reader as “mon frère.” Swinburne echoes the regular rhythms of Baudelaire’s verse, abandoning in this elegy his frequent anapests for iambic rhythm, though he concludes each stanza with a three-foot line that has the effect of leaving something unfinished, a feeling that one has been deprived, as Swinburne was by Baudelaire’s death.
The fraternity between the two poets lay largely in their exploitation of the unconventional. Rather than fresh flowers, Swinburne suggests “Or wilt thou rather, as on earth before,/ Half-faded fiery...
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