fredag den 16. oktober 2015


Dante Gabriel Rossetti is the suffering artist of every teenage daydream I have ever had. His poetry, in shadows, dwell on nothing but longing and sensuality, and his paintings are portraits of pale, unearthly muses:

Venus Venticordia, 1868
Water Willow, 1871

From "Through Death to Love":
Like labour-laden moonclouds faint to flee
From winds that sweep the winter-bitten wold,--
Like multiform circumfluence manifold
Of night's flood-tide,--like terrors that agree
Of hoarse-tongued fire and inarticulate sea,--
Even such, within some glass dimmed by our breath,
Our hearts discern wild images of Death,
Shadows and shoals that edge eternity.

Robert Buchanan, however, is the acidic, witty critic I would be honoured to one day become. In 1871 he reviews Rossetti's newly published collection Poems, under the title "The Fleshly School of Poetry". Please, enjoy pieces of poison from his proselike attack:

 IF, on the occasion of any public performance of Shakspere's great tragedy, the actors who perform the parts of Rosencranz and Guildenstern were, by a preconcerted arrangement and by means of what is technically known as "gagging," to make themselves fully as prominent as the leading character, and to indulge in soliloquies and business strictly belonging to Hamlet himself, the result would be, to say the least of it, astonishing; yet a very similar effect is produced on the unprejudiced mind when the "walking gentlemen" of the fleshly school of poetry, [...] obtrude their lesser identities and parade their smaller idiosyncrasies in the front rank of leading performers. [..] the present drama of poetry might be cast as follows: Mr. Tennyson supporting the part of Hamlet, Mr. Matthew Arnold that of Horatio, Mr. Bailey that of Voltimand, Mr. Buchanan that of Cornelius, Messrs. Swinburne and Morris the parts of Rosencranz and Guildenstern.  (p. 334) good truth, it is scarcely possible to discuss with any seriousness the pretensions with which foolish friends and small critics have surrounded the fleshly school, which, in spite of its spasmodic ramifications in the erotic direction, is merely one of the many sub-Tennysonian schools expanded to supernatural dimensions, and endeavouring by affectations all its own to overshadow its connection with the great original. (p. 335)
...we question if there is anything in the unfortunate "Poems and Ballads" quite so questionable on the score of thorough nastiness as many pieces in Mr. Rossetti's collection. Mr. Swinburne was wilder, more outrageous, more blasphemous, and his subjects were more atrocious in themselves; yet the hysterical tone slew the animalism, the furiousness of epithet lowered the sensation; and the first feeling of disgust at such themes as Laus Veneris and Anactoria, faded away into comic amazement. It was only a little mad boy letting off squibs; not a great strong man, who might be really dangerous to society. "I will be naughty!" screamed the little boy; but, after all, what did it matter? It is quite different, however, when a grown man, with the self-control and easy audacity of actual experience, comes forward to chronicle his amorous sensations, and, first proclaiming in a loud voice his literary maturity, and consequent responsibility, shamelessly prints and publishes such a piece of writing as this sonnet on Nuptial Sleep (p. 338) [follow link for some extremely dirty stuff, time considered]
We hover uncertainly between picturesqueness and namby-pamby... (p. 341)
We would rather believe that Mr. Rossetti lacks comprehension than that he is deficient in sincerity; yet really, to paraphrase the words which Johnson applied to Thomas Sheridan, Mr. Rossetti is affected, naturally affected, but it must have taken him a great deal of trouble to become what we now see him — such an excess of affectation is not in nature. (p. 341)
The fact that these gentlemen are so easily imitated is the most damning proof of their inferiority. What merits they have lie with their faults on the surface, and can be caught by any young gentleman as easily as the measles, only they are rather more difficult to get rid of. (p. 347)