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The Owners of Melancholy

"For there where love wounds is the moan rising from the wound, and it ever cries out in the feeling of his absence."

 - St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle


Brief pause here in the middle of writing a Victorian Poetry paper.

I am writing about C. A. Swinburne and the way he has been tidily categorize as an atheist.  No, he isn't a Christian, and yes, he is quite angry at the Church.  He feels as though he's been led on by those who would have him believe a fairy tale that isn't true.  He revolts against the notion that we are to live a life without fear or pain because God has a plan that will someday make it all better.

Swinburne's landscapes are melancholy.  He paints wastelands that prefigure Eliot's.  His world is metaphysically bleak, but physically charged with the power of nature, and there's something about the natural world that won't allow him to stop asking questions about what life really means.

It's not fair to cut Christians off from this sort of despair.  That's a funny statement, but lately I have been reading works by extremely faithful people whose laments and pain put Swinburne to shame.  Take John of the Cross, for example.  The aches he feels cut to the core.  For him, love is a wound.  Love comes and goes and we are utterly unable to control it's ability to hurt us, enthrall us, and leave us grasping and searching.  It's as if he who is aware of God's absence feels it the deepest - because there exists a notion of what is right, its absence feels terribly, wrenchingly wrong.

So odd that this painful, wounded, moaning state describes the joyful Christian.  But it does.  How I would love to work out this paradox, but suffice it for today to say that Swinburne's pain cannot be the essence of his atheism.  There has to be something more to it - he is not rejecting enough.

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