"Each Alike Was Greek, Alike Was Free"

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 258

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Context: Few major English poets have the power to hypnotize the reader into a state wherein he accepts obscenities because they are given intoxicating rhythms, but Swinburne, a master at turning ugliness into beauty, has just that ability and uses it to create some of the most unforgettable poems in British literature. Perhaps one reason why he was such a shock to his contemporaries was that he learned quite young how to lift his readers into the sound of his verse; such knowledge, of course, came in part, from the other poets he read and loved. A brilliant, searching intellect, he was not content to read only the literature in his own language; in fact, the strongest influences on his style and thought came from French literature of both the Middle Ages and the nineteenth century. Among the French poets that he loved were the romantic writers of the emotional and sensational poetry of the senses–the poetry of men like Victor Hugo, whom he praises in this eulogy. Hugo, like the German and English Romantics, was instrumental in giving the emotions a primary place in poetry that was a mixture of melodious words and sensual content. Such poetry seemed to Swinburne to have the spirit of Greek verse:

In the fair days when God
By man as godlike trod,
And each alike was Greek, alike was free,
God's lightning spared, they said,
Alone the happier head
Whose laurels screened it; fruitless grace for thee,
To whom the high gods gave of right
Their thunders and their laurels and their light.