"Mother And Lover Of Men, The Sea"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Writing shortly after he had been rejected by a girl whom he loved, Swinburne pours out his misery in this long, rambling, and emotional poem. Because the girl did not love him, he mourns that youth and dreams will be forever dead to him and that nature, once beautiful and full of life, will be now filled with grief. Only the barren sea, the "mother of loves that are swift to fade," remains without change because, unlike humans, it is beyond the touch of time. The image of the sea, one of Swinburne's favorite symbols, is a complex union of love and the death that inevitably comes from love, of birth and the sterile life that follows birth. Whereas the girl has rejected him, the sea will embrace him, an embrace that is death. The quotation comes from Swinburne's suicidal ravings that death is better than a life of continued misery, especially a death by drowning because by this death his decayed body will join the sea itself and enable him to transcend the earth.

I will go back to the great sweet mother,
Mother and lover of men, the sea.
I will go down to her, I and none other,
Close with her, kiss her, and mix her with me;
Cling to her, strive with her, hold her fast:
O fair white mother, in days long past-Born
without sister, born without brother,
Set free my soul as thy soul is free.