Friday, November 16, 2012

November 16, 1845

Browning responds to Miss Barrett's letter of November 12th after visiting on November 13th:

"Sunday Morning.

At last your letter comes—and the deep joy—(I know and use to analyse my own feelings, and be sober in giving distinctive names to their varieties; this is deep joy)—the true love with which I take this much of you into my heart .. that proves what it is I wanted so long, and find at last, and am happy for ever. I must have more than 'intimated'—I must have spoken plainly out the truth, if I do myself the barest justice, and told you long ago that the admiration at your works went away, quite another way and afar from this love of you: if I could fancy some method of what I shall say happening without all the obvious stumbling-blocks of the falseness, &c which no foolish fancy dares associate with you .. if you could tell me when I next sit by you .. 'I will undeceive you,—I am not the Miss B.—she is upstairs and you shall see her– I only wrote those letters, and am what you see, that is all now left you'—(all the misapprehension having arisen from me, in some inexplicable way) .. I should .. not begin by saying anything, dear, dearest—but after that, I should assure you—soon make you believe that I did not much wonder at the event, for I have been all my life asking what connection there is between the satisfaction at the display of power, and the sympathy with—ever-increasing sympathy with—all imaginable weakness? Look now: Coleridge writes on and on,—at last he writes a note to his 'War-Eclogue,' in which he avers himself to have been actuated by a really—on the whole—benevolent feeling to Mr Pitt when he wrote that stanza in which 'Fire' means to 'cling to him everlastingly' .. where is the long line of admiration now that the end snaps?– And now—here I refuse to fancy .. you know whether, if you never write another line, speak another intelligible word, recognize me by a look, again—whether I shall love you less or more .. more,—having a right to expect more strength with the strange emergency. And it is because I know this, build upon this entirely, that as a reasonable creature, I am bound to look first to what hangs farthest and most loosely from me .. what might go from you to your loss, and so to mine, to say the least .. because I want all of you, not just so much as I could not live without—and because I see the danger of your entirely generous disposition and cannot quite, yet, bring myself to profit by it in the quiet way you recommend. Always remember, I never wrote to you, all the years, on the strength of your poetry .. tho’ I constantly heard of you thro’ Mr K. and was near seeing you once, and might have easily availed myself of his intervention to commend any letter to your notice, so as to reach you out of the foolish crowd of rushers-in upon genius .. who come and eat their bread and cheese on the high-altar—and talk of reverence without one of its surest instincts—never quiet till they cut their initials on the cheek of the Medicean Venus to prove they worship her. My admiration, as I said, went its natural way in silence—but when on my return to England in December, late in the month, Mr K. sent those Poems to my sister, and I read my name there—and when, a day or two after, I met him and, beginning to speak my mind on them, and getting on no better than I should now, said quite naturally—'if I were to write this, now?'—and he assured me with his perfect kindness, you would be even 'pleased' to hear from me under those circumstances .. nay,—for I will tell you all, in this, in everything—when he wrote me a note soon after to re-assure me on that point .. then I did write, on account of my purely personal obligation, tho’ of course taking that occasion to allude to the general and customary delight in your works: I did write, on the whole, unwillingly .. in the consciousness of having to speak on a subject which I felt thoroughly concerning, and could not be satisfied with an imperfect expression of: as for expecting then what has followed .. I shall only say I was scheming how to get done with England and go to my heart in Italy. And now, my love—I am round you .. my whole life is wound up and down and over you .. I feel you stir everywhere: I am not conscious of thinking or feeling but about you, with some reference to you—so I will live, so may I die! And you have blessed me beyond the bond, in more than in giving me yourself to love,—inasmuch as you believed me from the first .. what you call 'dream-work' was real of its kind, did you not think? and now you believe me, I believe and am happy, in what I write with my heart full of love for you: why do you tell me of a doubt, as now, and bid me not clear it up, 'not answer you?'– Have I done wrong in thus answering? Never, never do me direct wrong and hide for a moment from me what a word can explain as now: you see, you thought, if but for a moment, I loved your intellect,—or what predominates in your poetry and is most distinct from your heart,—better, or as well as you—did you not? and I have told you every thing,—explained everything .. have I not? And now I will dare .. yes, dearest, kiss you back to my heart again; my own. There—and there!"
Browning has really been magnificent in his letter writing lately. This is another very compelling letter, lifting Miss Barrett up and giving her the assurance that she needs. I must admit that I am not sure what distinction he is trying to make here in this previous paragraph and I wonder if he knows himself. On first reading it seems that he is saying that her poetry or gift at writing poetry does not come into his feelings toward her; he wrote his first letter to her out of obligation for her kind mention of him in her poem. He says if he really felt compelled by the brilliance of her poetry he would have written long before. And yet, if you look at his first letter to her he says that he loved her and her poems. Here, he says he did not care and was simply preparing to leave the country. That he loves her but he does not know why is a perfectly acceptable explanation, but he does not leave it at that, he is making it perhaps more complicated than it is.

I think it really comes together in the next paragraph. The distinction, I believe, that he is trying to make in the following paragraph, is that he loves her and not her poetry. He doesn't love the mechanical rhyme and rhythm, the nuts and bolts and her brilliance at stringing the words together. He believes that the poetry is her. And that is what he loves, he loves her. He draws a line across the paper and begins again:


"And since I wrote what is above, I have been reading among other poems that sonnet—'Past and Future'—which affects me more than any poem I ever read. How can I put your poetry away from you, even in these ineffectual attempts to concentrate myself upon, and better apply myself to, what remains?—poor, poor work it is,—for is not that sonnet to be loved as a true utterance of yours? I cannot attempt to put down the thoughts that rise: may God bless me, as you pray, by letting that beloved hand shake the less .. I will only ask, the less .. for being laid on mine thro’ this life! And, indeed, you write down, for me to calmly read, that I make you happy! Then it is .. as with all power .. God thro’ the weakest instrumentality .. and I am past expression proud and grateful– My love, I am

your RB"
Here is Past and Future so that you may see the reference:
MY future will not copy fair my past
On any leaf but Heaven's. Be fully done,
Supernal Will ! I would not fain be one
Who, satisfying thirst and breaking fast
Upon the fulness of the heart, at last
Saith no grace after meat. My wine hath run
Indeed out of my cup, and there is none
To gather up the bread of my repast
Scattered and trampled ! Yet I find some good
In earth's green herbs, and streams that bubble up
Clear from the darkling ground, — content until
I sit with angels before better food.
Dear Christ ! when thy new vintage fills my cup,
This hand shall shake no more, nor that wine spill.

"I must answer your questions: I am better .. and will certainly have your injunction before my eyes and work quite moderately. Your letters come straight to me—my father’s go to Town, except on extraordinary occasions, so that all come for my first looking-over. I saw Mr K. last night at the Amateur Comedy—and heaps of old acquaintances—and came home tired and savage—and yearned literally, for a letter this morning, and so it came! and I was well again. So, I am not even to have your low spirits leaning on mine? It was just because I always find you alike, and ever like yourself, that I seemed to discern a depth, when you spoke of 'some days' and what they made uneven where all is agreeable to me: do not, now, deprive me of a right—a right, to find you as you are, .. get no habit of being cheerful with me– I have universal sympathy and can show you a side of me, a true face, turn as you may: if you are cheerful, so will I be .. if sad, my cheerfulness will be all the while behind, and propping up, any sadness that meets yours, if that should be necessary. As for my question about the opium .. you do not misunderstand that neither: I trust in the eventual consummation of my .. shall I not say, our .. hopes; and all that bears upon your health immediately or prospectively, affects me—how it affects me! will you write again? Wednesday, remember! Mr K. wants me to go to him one of the three next days after. I will bring you some letters .. one from Landor. Why should I trouble you about 'Pomfret'?

And Luria .. does it so interest you? Better is to come of it– How you lift me up!–"
So, her letters go straight to Browning Jr., there is no chance that Browning Sr. will get to read her secret missives. Poor Browning Sr., he is deprived of a great pleasure. And as much as he finds her 'even' when he sees her, he must see the depths of her sadness if he believes that she 'lives' in her poems. He demands the 'right' of seeing her as she is and supporting her however she is. He certainly can find the right words if he puts his mind to it. As for her giving him her copy of 'Pomfret', I think we shall hear more of this presently. And despite her writing a veritable essay on 'Luria', he is far more interested in her than in her analysis of his poetry. As well he should be. This woman needs to be continually wooed or she will doubt his love.

His comment about her being 'even' has come back to me now. Behold Sonnet XV, yes, she needs to be constantly wooed and assured:

Accuse me not, beseech thee, that I wear
Too calm and sad a face in front of thine
For we two look two ways, and cannot shine
With the same sunlight on our brow and hair.
On me thou lookest with no doubting care,
As on a bee shut in a crystalline;
Since sorrow hath shut me safe in love’s divine,
And to spread wing and fly in the outer air
Were most impossible failure, if I strove
To fail so. But I look on thee—on thee—
Beholding, besides love, the end of love,
Hearing oblivion beyond memory;
As one who sits and gazes from above,
Over the rivers to the bitter sea.

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