Interpretation of Shadow, Silence and the Sea by A. C. Swinburne

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Interpretation of Shadow, Silence and the Sea by A. C. Swinburne

From what we know about Swinburne’s creativity, his poetry is a colourful mixture of philosophical statements, artistically painted images and ubiquitous alliteration. His principal theme in lyric is nature, which is used both as a material for the whole poem and as a detail to introduce other themes and images.

Analyzing Shadow, Silence and the Sea, we first see the description of landscape. Swinburne is known to have been fascinated with landscapes, especially water scenes. The poet himself confesses of “a pure delight in the sense of the sea” (letter to Edwin Harrison on February 5, 1890). The fact, that the poem was written nearly a quarter of a century later after the actual voyage to Loch Torridon, suggests that the impression was still vivid in Swinburne’s mind and seemed to correspond to his way of thinking.

In addition, his choice of theme makes him a follower of the Romantic tradition. Image of sea and the peculiar devotion to night were crucial to the Romantic poets. As a person associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, Swinburne would highly value their creativity.

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The major artistic device used in the poem is alliteration. Swinburne builds it by repeating the sounds s and sh inside words which create an image of a spectacular yet peaceful starry night. It seems strange, as these sounds are usually associated with the ideas of doubt and questioning. However, Swinburne’s love for the paradox may make this choice appropriate. On the other hand, it helps us to a fuller understanding of the poem, making the sea peaceful and dangerous at once. In another sea poem, A Swimmer’s Dream, Swinburne compares swimming and enjoying the sea to sleeping and, ultimately, ...

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