"The Lilies And Languors Of Virtue"
Context: Written in praise of a prostitute, this poem shows the soul broken by suffering and passion, half-humorously playing with pleasures even as it fully recognizes its pain. The woman of the poem brings the speaker only sorrow, yet he is unwilling and unable to flee from her. As in many of Swinburne's poems, pleasure and pain, freedom and bondage, suffering and joy are strangely joined so that the soul must experience the full extreme of the one in order to enjoy the other. Dolores, "Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows," is a fitting symbol for the idol of such a philosophy. As a prostitute she is the goddess of self-inflicted pain, a deity who makes men willingly exchange the comforts of virtue for the misery of vice. As a woman she suffers from her own sterile life and makes others suffer by desiring her; she turns virtue into vice and now makes vice into an endless state of suffering for whoever desires her because she forces men to love her but cannot return their love.
Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?Men touch them, and change in a triceThe lilies and languors of virtueFor the raptures and roses of vice;Those lie where thy foot on the floor is,These crown and caress thee and chain,O splendid and sterile Dolores,Our Lady of Pain.