Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Analysis of "A Ballad of Dreamland" by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Original poem reprinted online here: "A Ballad of Dreamland" by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Originally read: July 14, 2013
More information about the Poet: Algernon Charles Swinburne


So what appears to be octaves are actually two quatrains with a "abab" rhyme scheme pushed together.  And even though the meter may be a bit loose, the rhyme scheme alternates between soft sounds (-es, -red) to harsh sounds (-art).  Also what the octave form brings is immediate juxtaposition that ties in together rather than separate individual stanzas.

In the first stanza the focus is with the speaker, "I hid my heart in a nest of roses" and past me wrote "flowery metaphor" as more of a pun.  But this is the direction the poem goes in the beginning -- the comparison to the self  to metaphor on a slight hyperbolic scale.    The image is nice, but lines like, "Under the roses I hid my heart" invite a symbolic interpretation that leads to the same -- love/heart/hurt/hide.

The second half of the first stanza starts off with a rhetorical question, "Why would it sleep not? Why should it start"  with "it" referring to the heart.  And the lines continue to question the lack of movement of the heart as though not completely in it.  The last line repeats through all three stanzas and the envoi, "Only the song of a secret bird" -- so the silent heart is the song of a secret (unknown, possibly hidden) bird.  High metaphor here.  Why?  Dreamland, where the experiences are more important, and to convey such experiences the high metaphor works here.

The first part of the second stanza has the repetition of "Lie still" which applies to the following: leaves, wind, sun, heart.  Here, an outside force threatens to uncover the still heart -- maybe enliven it, maybe even expose it.  If not the actions of the wind, the sound, "And the wind is unquieter yet than thou art" exposes a comparison -- that the heart is quieter than the wind.    And at this point the speaker sounds exasperated due to the consequence to his own initiative of hiding his heart.

Therefore, with the second half of the second stanza, the speaker confronts his "heart" with this rhetorical question, "Does a thought in thee still as a thorn's wound smart? / Does the fang still fret thee hope deferred? / What bids the lips of thy sleep depart?"  here the questions go from high metaphor to somewhat grounded metaphor -- the decline plus with the drive with questioning shows that the speaker is looking for an answer.  And then the refrain comes with, "On.y the song of the secret bird."  As through to respond back with a image in which the speaker has to unpack.

However the last stanza focuses more on setting.  There's no rhetorical questions, rather description of "green land" that hasn't been traveled with fruit "never was sold in the merchant's mart."  The funny thing here is that the speaker knows this area is unknown like dreamland.    In doing so he's personalizing the unknown.  And with the last half of the poem focusing on "swallows of dreams"  the birds that reoccur.  The movement is there but, "no hound's note wakens the wildwood hart"  So silence the birds, and the heart, and sometimes the wind.  The actions here leave no sonic impression, but more of a emotional one.

The envoy here (I had to look it up to see the possibilities)   sums up the poem.

     In the world of dreams I have chosen my part,
     To sleep for a season and hear no word
     Of true love's truth or of light love's art
     Only the song of a secret bird

Even though the speaker questions the silence of the scene and himself, he insists that he "chose" this part.  Therefore, the questions refer to why.  And the envoy, which does sum up the dilemma, confirms his choice.  A silent heart is better than no heart -- I guess.

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