Hymn to Proserpine "Thou Hast Conquered, O Pale Galilean"

Algernon Charles Swinburne

"Thou Hast Conquered, O Pale Galilean"

Context: "Hymn to Proserpine" is sung by a pagan after the proclamation in Rome of the Christian faith. The poem is also an expression of Swinburne's philosophy that all things will pass, including love: "I have lived long enough, having seen one thing, that love hath an end." The speaker in the poem advances the thought that much is taken out of life by the new Christian God. This new God does not recognize that gaiety and sensuous pleasure and beauty, as well as cruelty, are a part of the pleasure and pain of life. In this time of crisis, the speaker asks his favorite goddess, Proserpine, who is Queen of the Underworld and the personification of death, to remain near him. Whereas many have accepted and embraced the new emphasis on compassion, pity, and mercy, he cannot see that these values will endure. He looks upon them as being transient and a definite barrier to living life to its fullest–"And all the wings of the Loves, and all the joy before death." With Christ being the leader of this new religion with its milder values, he is spoken of as the "pale Galilean." And since Christianity has become the proclaimed religion, the "pale Galilean" has conquered.

For no man under the sky lives twice, outliving his day.
And grief is a grievous thing, and a man hath enough of his tears:
Why should he labour, and bring fresh grief to blacken his years?
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
Laurel is green for a season, and love is sweet for a day; . . .