Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August 1

Today we shall look at a wonderful letter from Miss Barrett to Mr. Boyd dated August 1, 1844 in which she describes, among other poetic news, the creation of her poem "Lady Geraldine's Courtship":

"Last Saturday, upon its being discovered that my first volume consisted of only 208 pages, and my second of 280 pages, Mr. Moxon uttered a cry of reprehension, and wished to tear me to pieces by his printers, as the Bacchantes did Orpheus. Perhaps you might have heard my head moaning all the way to St. John's Wood! He wanted to tear away several poems from the end of the second volume, and tie them on to the end of the first! I could not and would not hear of this, because I had set my mind on having 'Dead Pan' to conclude with. So there was nothing for it but to finish a ballad poem called 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship,' which was lying by me, and I did so by writing, i.e. composing, one hundred and forty lines last Saturday! I seemed to be in a dream all day! Long lines too—with fifteen syllables in each! I see you shake your head all this way off. Moreover it is a 'romance of the age,' treating of railroads, routes, and all manner of 'temporalities,' and in so radical a temper that I expect to be reproved for it by the Conservative reviews round. By the way, did I tell you of the good news I had from America the third of this month? The 'Drama of Exile' is in the hands of a New York publisher; and having been submitted to various chief critics of the country on its way, was praised loudly and extravagantly. This was, however, by a private reading only. A bookseller at Philadelphia had announced it for publication—he intended to take it up when the English edition reached America; but upon its being represented to him that the New York publisher had proof sheets direct from the author and would give copy money, he abandoned his intention to the other. I confess I feel very much pleased at the kind spirit—the spirit of eager kindness indeed—with which the Americans receive my poetry. It is not wrong to be pleased, I hope. In this country there may be mortifications waiting for me; quite enough to keep my modesty in a state of cultivation. I do not know. I hope the work will be out this week, and then! Did I explain to you that what 'Lady Geraldine's Courtship' was wanted for was to increase the size of the first volume, so as to restore the equilibrium of volumes, without dislocating 'Pan'? Oh, how anxious I shall be to hear your opinion! If you tell me that I have lost my intellects, what in the world shall I do then—what shall I do? My Americans—that is, my Americans who were in at the private reading, and perhaps I myself—are of opinion that I have made great progress since 'The Seraphim.' It seems to me that I have more reach, whether in thought or language. But then, to you it may appear quite otherwise, and I shall be very melancholy if it does. Only you must tell me the precise truth; and I trust to you that you will let me have it in its integrity.
All the life and strength which are in me, seem to have passed into my poetry. It is my pou sto [you stand]—not to move the world; but to live on in.
I must not forget to tell you that there is a poem towards the end of the second volume, called 'Cyprus Wine,' which I have done myself the honor and pleasure of associating with your name. I thought that you would not be displeased by it, as a proof of grateful regard from me.
Talking of wines, the Mountain has its attraction, but certainly is not to be compared to the Cyprus. You will see how I have praised the latter. Well, now I must say 'good-bye,' which you will praise me for!
Dearest Mr. Boyd's affectionate
P.S.—Nota beneI wish to forewarn you that I have cut away in the text none of my vowels by apostrophes. When I say 'To efface,' wanting two-syllable measure, I do not write 'T' efface' as in the old fashion, but 'To efface' full length. This is the style of the day. Also you will find me a little lax perhaps in metre—a freedom which is the result not of carelessness, but of conviction, and indeed of much patient study of the great Fathers of English poetry—not meaning Mr. Pope. Be as patient with me as you can. You shall have the volumes as soon as they are ready.

"Lady Geraldine's Countship" is interesting for several reasons. The most telling one for readers of this blog is that fact that Miss Barrett mentions Browning, along with other contemporary poets, in the poem. This being brought to his attention through his sister, was the impetus for Browning writing to Miss Barrett for the first time, in January 1845. Here is the stanza which brought forth the letter:

Or at times a modern volume, Wordsworth's solemn-thoughted idyl,
Howitt's ballad-verse, or Tennyson's enchanted reverie,--
Or from Browning some "Pomegranate," which, if cut deep down the middle,
Shows a heart within blood-tinctured, of a veined humanity.

None of the other writers mentioned wrote her a letter of appreciation, but I suspect that the letter from Browning came after much coaching and prodding from Mr. Kenyon who loved to promote Miss Barrett's charms to his friends.

Another point of interest in the poem is the 15 syllable lines, which she mentions here. This rhythm is copied by Poe for the very well know "The Raven". Poe was struck so much by this poem and the poet that he dedicated the volume containing "The Raven" to Miss Barrett, perhaps as amends for lifting her rhythm. So this particular poem, written on the fly to fill out a volume of poems, had a significant impact on her life and career as a poet.

Her need to warn Boyd, who was stuck in ancient Greek poetry, about her newfangled poetry style of not using contractions was characteristic of her kindness and her sense of humor.

Her description of the act of composing the poem, "I seemed to be in a dream all day!" is a common symptom of writers who seem to leave themselves when they write.

"All the life and strength which are in me, seem to have passed into my poetry," was the same kind of thing she wrote to Browning when they began their correspondence and in fact was her main motivation for corresponding with this fellow poet. But soon all the life and strength combined into her new obsession: Browning. Her career as a poet has taken off, soon her life will take off in another way.

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