Saturday, November 17, 2012

November 17, 1845

Miss Barrett responds to Browning's very strong letter of the 16th. It does seem sometimes that when Browning pulls his thoughts together and clearly states what is in his mind and heart it moves Miss Barrett to melancholy. She never seems worthy in herself. And she often finds herself struggling to make herself clearly understood, for her arguments are very precise in her mind.
"How you overcome me as always you do—& where is the answer to anything except too deep down in the heart for even the pearldivers? But understand .. what you do not quite .. that I did not mistake you as far even as you say here & even 'for a moment.' I did not write any of that letter in a 'doubt' of you—not a word .. I was simply looking back in it on my own states of feeling, .. looking back from that point of your praise to what was better .. (or I should not have looked back)—and, so, coming to tell you, by a natural association, how the completely opposite point to that of any praise was the one which struck me first & most, viz .. the no-reason of your reasoning .. acknowledged to be yours. Of course I acknowledge it to be yours, .. that high reason of no reason—I acknowledged it to be yours (did’nt I?) in acknowledging that it made an impression on me. And then, referring to the traditions of my experience such as I told them to you, I meant, so, further to acknowledge that I would rather be cared for in that unreasonable way, than for the best reason in the world. But all that was history & philosophy simply—was it not?—& not doubt of you.

The truth is .. since we really are talking truths in this world .. that I never have doubted you—ah, you know!– I felt from the beginning so sure of the nobility & integrity in you that I would have trusted you to make a path for my soul—that, you know. I felt certain that you believed of yourself every word you spoke or wrote—& you must not blame me if I thought besides sometimes (it was the extent of my thought) that you were selfdeceived as to the nature of your own feelings. If you could turn over every page of my heart like the pages of a book, you would see nothing there offensive to the least of your feelings .. not even to the outside fringes of your man’s vanity .. should you have any vanity like a man,—which I do doubt. I never wronged you in the least of things—never .. I thank God for it– But ‘selfdeceived,’ it was so easy for you to be!—see how on every side & day by day, men are .. & women too .. in this sort of feelings. ‘Selfdeceived,’ it was so possible for you to be, & while I thought it possible, could I help thinking it best for you that it should be so—& was it not right in me to persist in thinking it possible?– It was my reverence for you that made me persist!– What was I that I should think otherwise? I had been shut up here too long face to face with my own spirit, not to know myself, &, so, to have lost the common illusions of vanity. All the men I had ever known could not make your stature among them. So it was not distrust, but reverence rather. I sate by while the angel stirred the water, & I called it Marah [bitter]Do not blame me now, .. my angel!

Nor say that I 'do not lean' on you with all the weight of my 'past' .. because I do!– You cannot guess what you are to me—you cannot—it is not possible:—&, though I have said that before, I must say it again .. for it comes again to be said– It is something to me between dream & miracle, all of it—as if some dream of my earliest brightest dreaming-time had been lying through these dark years to steep in the sunshine, returning to me in a double light. Can it be, I say to myself, that you feel for me so?—can it be meant for me?—this from you?

If it is your 'right' that I should be gloomy at will with you, you exercise it, I do think—for although I cannot promise to be very sorrowful when you come, (how could that be?) yet from different motives it seems to me that I have written to you quite superfluities about my 'abomination of desolation',—yes indeed, & blamed myself afterwards. And now I must say this besides. When grief came upon grief, I never was tempted to ask ‘How have I deserved this of God,' as sufferers sometimes do: I always felt that there must be cause enough .. corruption enough, needing purification .. weakness enough, needing strengthening .. nothing of the chastisement could come to me without cause & need. But in this different hour, when joy follows joy, & God makes me happy, as you say, through you .. I cannot repress the .. 'How have I deserved this of Him'–?– I know I have not– I know I do not."
Is it not entirely human and perhaps uniquely Christian that she feels that she deserves the griefs that come to her but at the same time she does not feel worthy of happiness. I suspect that this is a reflection of her emotions and not a statement of her intellect. She knows better but because she had to cope with sadness she justified it as punishment and so cannot conceive that her corruption has faded to such an extent that she should be rewarded. Do we not all fear at times that happiness is a trick that will snatched away from us at the slightest infraction?

"Could it be that heart & life were devastated to make room for you?—if so, it was well done,—dearest!– They leave the ground fallow before the wheat–

‘Were you wrong in answering?’ Surely not .. unless it is wrong to show all this goodness .. & too much, it may be for me. When the plants droop for drought & the too copious showers fall suddenly, silver upon silver, .. they die sometimes of the reverse of their adversities– But no—that, even, shall not be a danger! And if I said ‘Do not answer,’ I did not mean that I would not have a doubt removed—(having no doubt!) but I was simply unwilling to seem to be asking for golden words .. going down the aisles with that large silken purse, as quĂȘteuse [collection-taker]Try to understand."
Her morbid streak in certainly on display in this paragraph with the visual of the drought stricken plant dying from too much water. Happily she saw her own morbidity and pulled back from it. Ultimately she does not want to appear too needy.

"On wednesday then!—— George is invited to meet you on thursday at Mr Kenyon’s.

The Examiner speaks well, upon the whole, & with allowances. Oh, that absurdity about metaphysics apart from poetry!– ‘Can such things be’ in one of the best reviews of the day? Mr Kenyon was here on sunday & talking of the poems with real living tears in his eyes & on his cheeks– But I will tell you. Luria is to climb to the place of a great work, I see. And if I write too long letters, is it not because you spoil me, & because (being spoilt) I cannot help it?– May God bless you always!–

Your EBB–"
This exchange between the poets has been one of the clearest they have had. Not too, too many vagaries of thought. Will they be able to keep up this clarity? I would not count on it. My prediction is that Browning will revert to type soon and leave us all wondering what he is talking about.

Look at Sonnet XVI and wonder if it was a response to this exchange of letters:

And yet, because thou overcomest so,
Because thou art more noble and like a king,
Thou canst prevail against my fears and fling
Thy purple round me, till my heart shall grow
Too close against thine heart henceforth to know
How it shook when alone. Why, conquering
May prove as lordly and complete a thing
In lifting upward, as in crushing low!
And as a vanquished soldier yields his sword
To one who lifts him from the bloody earth,
Even so, Belovëd, I at last record,
Here ends my strife. If thou invite me forth,
I rise above abasement at the word.
Make thy love larger to enlarge my worth!

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