The Poets of Epicurus, V: Swinburne

2012-12-20

On June 9, 1889, a group of Italian freethinkers dedicated a statue of Giordano Bruno on the very spot in Rome where he had been burned at the stake in 1600 for his heretical views (which, as I explained yesterday, were substantially Epicurean). To mark the occasion, the English poet and secularist Charles Algernon Swinburne wrote a fine poem entitled The Monument of Giordano Bruno, which I recently republished at the Monadnock Press. Swinburne also wrote a poem entitled For the Feast of Giordano Bruno, Philosopher and Martyr. In it, Swinburne links the freethinker Bruno to Lucretius and thereby implicitly to Epicurus:

Lift up thy light on us and on thine own,
O soul whose spirit on earth was as a rod
To scourge off priests, a sword to pierce their God,
A staff for man's free thought to walk alone,
A lamp to lead him far from shrine and throne
On ways untrodden where his fathers trod
Ere earth's heart withered at a high priest's nod
And all men's mouths that made not prayer made moan.
From bonds and torments and the ravening flame
Surely thy spirit of sense rose up to greet
Lucretius, where such only spirits meet,
And walk with him apart till Shelley came
To make the heaven of heavens more heavenly sweet
And mix with yours a third incorporate name.

(Note that Swinburne also lauds Percy Bysshe Shelley as among the same illustrious company as Lucretius and Bruno; I have yet to read much of Shelley's work but he might appear in a future installment of "The Poets of Epicurus".)

Unfortunately, my copy of the complete poems of Swinburne is packed away right now. I'll make sure to dig it out soon and report further if I find more traces of Epicurus in Swinburne's work.


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