Saturday, July 21, 2012

July 21

On July 21, 1845 Miss Barrett is tormenting Browning because he read her "Essay on Mind" without her permission:

"....I 'will not have the heart to blame' you—except for reading my books against my will, which was very wrong indeed. Mr. Kenyon asked me, I remember, (he had a mania of sending my copybook literature round the world to this person and that person, and I was roused at last into binding him by a vow to do so no more) I remember he asked me ... 'Is Mr. Browning to be excepted?'; to which I answered that nobody was to be excepted—and thus he was quite right in resisting to the death ... or to dinner-time ... just as you were quite wrong after dinner. Now, could a woman have been more curious? Could the very author of the book have done worse?"

Don't think this conversation is over. Her teazing is going to put Browning on the defensive. But for now she moves on to a review of his poems:

"I leave my sins and yours gladly, to get into the Hood poems which have delighted me so—and first to the St. Praxed's which is of course the finest and most powerful ... and indeed full of the power of life ... and of death. It has impressed me very much. Then the 'Angel and Child,' with all its beauty and significance!—and the 'Garden Fancies' ... some of the stanzas about the name of the flower, with such exquisite music in them, and grace of every kind—and with that beautiful and musical use of the word 'meandering,' which I never remember having seen used in relation to sound before. It does to mate with your 'simmering quiet' in Sordello, which brings the summer air into the room as sure as you read it. Then I like your burial of the pedant so much!—you have quite the damp smell of funguses and the sense of creeping things through and through it. And the 'Laboratory' is hideous as you meant to make it:—only I object a little to your tendency ... which is almost a habit, and is very observable in this poem I think, ... of making lines difficult for the reader to read ... see the opening lines of this poem. Not that music is required everywhere, nor in them certainly, but that the uncertainty of rhythm throws the reader's mind off the rail ... and interrupts his progress with you and your influence with him. Where we have not direct pleasure from rhythm, and where no peculiar impression is to be produced by the changes in it, we should be encouraged by the poet to forget it altogether; should we not? I am quite wrong perhaps—but you see how I do not conceal my wrongnesses where they mix themselves up with my sincere impressions. And how could it be that no one within my hearing ever spoke of these poems? Because it is true that I never saw one of them—never!—except the 'Tokay,' which is inferior to all; and that I was quite unaware of your having printed so much with Hood—or at all, except this 'Tokay,' and this 'Duchess'! The world is very deaf and dumb, I think—but in the end, we need not be afraid of its not learning its lesson."

As we were discussing 'knowing' people  over the last couple of days, I think this is the one area that they do know each other. They can read and analyse each other's poems as few others could. We actually see a lot more of her working at analysing his new poems than he working on hers, probably because he had a book going into the press at this time. I like her straightforward description of why his poems are not more commercially successful: he makes the reader work too hard. I cannot recall, now that I stop to think about it, an instance where he pinned down the major weaknesses of her poetry the way she does with his. By this time in 1846 they seldom discuss poetry, all is love and drama by then. So enjoy the poetry discussions where you can.

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