Saturday, March 24, 2012

March 24

March 24, 1846 was the day following a visit from Mr. Browning and Miss Barrett begins with thanks for the flowers:

"My first business when you are out of the room and the house, and the street perhaps, is to arrange the flowers and to gather out of them all the thoughts you leave between the leaves and at the end of the stalks. And shall I tell you what happened, not yesterday, but the Thursday before? no, it was the Friday morning, when I found, or rather Wilson found and held up from my chair, a bunch of dead blue violets. Quite dead they seemed! You had dropped them and I had sate on them, and where we murdered them they had lain, poor things, all the night through. And Wilson thought it the vainest of labours when she saw me set about reviving them, cutting the stalks afresh, and dipping them head and ears into water—but then she did not know how you, and I, and ours, live under a miraculous dispensation, and could only simply be astonished when they took to blowing again as if they never had wanted the dew of the garden, ... yes, and when at last they outlived all the prosperity of the contemporary white violets which flourished in water from the beginning, and were free from the disadvantage of having been sate upon. Now you shall thank me for this letter, it is at once so amusing and instructive."

All this talk of sitting on the flowers makes me wonder where the 'e' went in 'sate'. At what point did it become superfluous in standard English? Next she turns to poetry again, wondering why he wont explain the meaning of the title of his series of poems, "Bells and Pomegranates":

"Dearest, I persist in thinking that you ought not to be too disdainful to explain your meaning in the Pomegranates. Surely you might say in a word or two that, your title having been doubted about (to your surprise, you might say!), you refer the doubters to the Jewish priest's robe, and the Rabbinical gloss ... for I suppose it is a gloss on the robe ... do you not think so? Consider that Mr. Kenyon and I may fairly represent the average intelligence of your readers,—and that he was altogether in the clouds as to your meaning ... had not the most distant notion of it,—while I, taking hold of the priest's garment, missed the Rabbins and the distinctive significance, as completely as he did. Then for Vasari, it is not the handbook of the whole world, however it may be Mrs. Jameson's. Now why should you be too proud to teach such persons as only desire to be taught? I persist—I shall teaze you."

Well, there is no doubt that she shall 'teaze' him. That is what she does. The best part is that he does provide an explanation in this next edition and I can't make heads or tails out of it. So much for my "average intelligence".

And next a report from the brothers Barrett:

"This morning my brothers have been saying ... 'Ah you had Mr. Browning with you yesterday, I see by the flowers,' ... just as if they said 'I see queen Mab has been with you.' Then Stormie took the opportunity of swearing to me by all his gods that your name was mentioned lately in the House of Commons—is that true? or untrue? He forgot to tell me at the time, he says,—and you were named with others and in relation to copyright matters. Is it true?
If you have killed Luria as you helped to kill my violets, what shall I say, do you fancy? Well—we shall see! Do not kill yourself, beloved, in any case! The ιοστεφανοι Μουσαι [violet crowned Muses] had better die themselves first! Ah—what am I writing? What nonsense? I mean, in deep earnest, the deepest, that you should take care and exercise, and not be vexed for Luria's sake—Luria will have his triumph presently!"

So while Miss Barrett is writing in the lightest of moods Browning wades into the murky waters of 'hating' to write to her:

"My own dearest, if you do—(for I confess to nothing of the kind), but if you should detect an unwillingness to write at certain times, what would that prove,—I mean, what that one need shrink from avowing? If I never had you before me except when writing letters to you—then! Why, we do not even talk much now! witness Mr. Buckingham and his voyage that ought to have been discussed!—Oh, how coldly I should write,—how the bleak-looking paper would seem unpropitious to carry my feeling—if all had to begin and try to find words this way!"

So he would rather talk than write but then they don't talk when together. This does not bode well for future correspondence.

"Now, this morning I have been out—to town and back—and for all the walking my head aches—and I have the conviction that presently when I resign myself to think of you wholly, with only the pretext,—the make-believe of occupation, in the shape of some book to turn over the leaves of,—I shall see you and soon be well; so soon! You must know, there is a chair (one of the kind called gondóla-chairs by upholsterers—with an emphasized o)—which occupies the precise place, stands just in the same relation to this chair I sit on now, that yours stands in and occupies—to the left of the fire: and, how often, how always I turn in the dusk and see the dearest real Ba with me.

How entirely kind to take that trouble, give those sittings for me! Do you think the kindness has missed its due effect? No, no, I am glad,—(knowing what I now know,—what you meant should be, and did all in your power to prevent) that I have not received the picture, if anything short of an adequate likeness. 'Nil nisi—te!' [Nothing if not-you!] But I have set my heart on seeing it—will you remember next time, next Saturday?"

This last paragraph apparently refers to a portrait that Miss Barrett sate for with her brother Alfred which Browning is coveting.

1 comment:

  1. I think men are like that, just happy to sit and not talk but not communicate in any other way. He does communicate though even when she accuses him otherwise. Ah, relationships. So complicated.