"Noble And Nude And Antique"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The subtitle of Swinburne's poem is "Notre-Dame des Sept Doleurs," Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows. The Dolores of the poem, called also Our Lady of Pain, is an anti-Madonna; she is a pagan figure, the daughter of Libitina, an ancient Tuscan goddess of death and burial, and Priapus, a Greek deity, the son of Dionysus and Aphrodite, a god of fertility and husbandry. The persona of the poem, who speaks of Dolores, sees her as partly a woman, partly a goddess; she is partly real, partly ideal; she is attractive and she is repellant; she is unchaste, and she is cruel. Swinburne said of her himself, "She is the darker Venus, fed with burnt-offering and blood sacrifice." It is from her ancestry, of course, that Dolores has her two-fold nature: from her father comes the lust and fertility, and from her mother there comes death and pain. The persona of the poem seems to delight in both aspects of Dolores; he is drawn to her love, enjoys it, and yet is pained by it. Dolores, as an idealized figure, lives on, though the individual lovers pass and die:

Who gave thee thy wisdom? what stories
That stung thee, what visions that smote?
Wert thou pure and a maiden, Dolores,
When desire took thee first by the throat?
What bud was the shell of a blossom
That all men may smell to and pluck?
What milk fed thee first at what bosom?
What sins gave thee suck?
We shift and bedeck and bedrape us,
Thou art noble and nude and antique;
Libitina thy mother, Priapus
Thy father, a Tuscan and Greek.
We play with light loves in the portal,
And wince and relent and refrain;
Lovers die, and we know thee immortal,
Our Lady of Pain.