Songs Before Sunrise and Skin Divers

Poetry is a funny thing; it can either hit you over the head with simplicity or slide into your thoughts with obtuse phrasing and rhythm. Swinburne’s Songs Before Sunrise is of the former type, strictly structured and with rhymes in their proper places, the poems explore the full bombast of Swinburne’s style. Although the subject is largely nineteenth century Italian politics, the author uses a great deal of natural imagery to illustrate his own impressions of the country. Particularly striking is the opening of ‘Mentana: First Anniversary’:

At the time when the stars are grey,
And the gold of the molten moon
Fades, and the twilight is thinned,
And the sun leaps up, and the wind,
A light rose, not of the day,
A stronger light than of noon.

In contrast Skin Divers by Anne Michaels is much more quiet (and , I suppose modern for it). This is a book about love and the ways in which it changes or is changed by circumstance. The poems are simply written and, like Songs Before Sunrise utilise nature to highlight stronger truths about human events and emotions. The following is the final stanza of ‘Into Arrival’:

There is earth
that never leaves your hands,
rain that never leaves
your bones. Words so old they are broken
from us, because they can only be
broken. They will not
let go, because some love
is broken from love,
like stones
from stone,
rain from rain,
like the sea
from the sea.


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