Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 1945

Browning writes to Miss Barrett today:

"Friday Morning.

I ought to have written yesterday—so to-day when I need a letter and get none, there is my own fault besides, and the less consolation– A letter from you would light up this sad day: shall I fancy how, if a letter lay there, where I look,—rain might fall and winds blow while I listened to you, long after the words had been laid to heart? But here you are—in your place—with me who am your own—your own—and so the rhyme joins on,

—She shall speak to me in places lone
With a low and holy tone.
Ay! when I have lit my lamp at night
She shall be present with my sprite:
And I will say, whate’er it be,
Every word she telleth me!

Now, is that taken from your book? No—but from my book, which holds my verses as I write them; and as I open it, I read that–"
Browning quotes one of Miss Barrett's poems, 'The Past', which he had written in his own writing portfolio. "They appear inside the cover of his embossed writing portfolio, enclosed within an intricately sketched boxed border and framed by Hebrew, Latin, and Italian inscriptions (leading some to assume that the lines were by RB himself and to publish them under his name). On the facing page of the portfolio appears a printed copy— with the first line in ornate script— of  'How do I love thee,' signed 'E.B. Browning. Above the quotation thus framed appears a Hebrew inscription, 'The possession eternal.' Below it RB wrote a Latin inscription from Virgil’s Aeneid (4.83): 'absens absentum auditque videtque' ('absent [she] both hears and sees [him] absent'). Beneath the Latin inscription in turn, in large, ornate, framed script, appears the Italian phrase, 'ALLA GIORNATA,' which literally means 'to the day,' but is used idiomatically in a commemorative sense (as in 'Here’s to the day we met' or 'to the day we will meet again'), and also to imply that one must live by the day or accept life as it comes. On the same cover of RB’s writing portfolio (though turned upside down) appears an allegorical sketch, evidently of the 'figure of the locust, with the face of a man and the crown upon its head,' from Revelation 9.7." This extended quote is from

"And speaking of verse—somebody gave me a few days ago that Mr Lowell’s book you once mentioned to me: anyone who 'admires' you shall have my sympathy at once—even though he do change the laughing wine-mark into a 'stain' in that perfectly beautiful triplet—nor am I to be indifferent to his good word for myself (—tho’ not very happily connected with the criticism on the epithet in that 'Yorkshire Tragedy' (which has better things, by the way)—seeing that 'white boy,' in old language, meant just 'good boy,' a general epithet—as Johnson notices in the life of Dryden—whom the schoolmaster Busby was used to class with his 'white boys' .. this is hypercriticism, however)– But these American books should not be reprinted here—one asks, what and where is the class to which they address themselves? for, no doubt, we have our congregations of ignoramuses that enjoy the profoundest ignorance imaginable on the subjects treated of—but these are evidently not the audience Mr Lowell reckons on, .. rather,—if one may trust the manner of his setting to work,—he would propound his doctrine to the class always to be found, of spirits instructed up to a certain height and there resting—vines that run up a prop and there tangle and grow to a knot—which want supplying with fresh poles; so the provident man brings his bundle into the grounds, and sticks them in laterally or a-top of the others, as the case requires, and all the old stocks go on growing again—but here, with us, whoever wanted Chaucer, or Chapman, or Ford, got him long ago—what else have Lamb, & Coleridge, & Hazlitt & Hunt and so on to the end of their generation .. what else been doing this many a year? What one passage of all these, cited with the very air of a Columbus, but has been known to all who know anything of poetry this many, many a year? The others, who don’t know anything, are the stocks that have got to shoot, not climb higher—compost, they want in the first place! Ford’s & Crashaw’s rival nightingales—why they have been dissertated on by Wordsworth & Coleridge—then by Lamb & Hazlitt—then worked to death by Hunt, who printed them entire and quoted them to pieces again, in every periodical he was ever engaged upon—and yet after all, here 'Philip'—'must read' (out of a roll of dropping papers with yellow ink tracings, so old!) something at which 'John' claps his hands and says 'Really—that these ancients should own so much wit' &c! The passage no longer looks its fresh self after this veritable passage from hand to hand: as when, in old dances, the belle began the figure with her own partner, and by him was transferred to the next, and so to the next—they ever beginning with all the old alacrity and spirit,—but she bearing a still-accumulating weight of tokens of galantry, and none the better for every fresh pushing and shoving and pulling and hauling—till, at the bottom of the room …

To which Mr Lowell might say, that—No, I will say the true thing against myself .. and it is, that—when I turn from what is in my mind and determine to write about anybody’s book to avoid writing that I love & love & love again my own, dearest love—because of the cuckoo-song of it,—then, I shall be in no better humour with that book than with Mr Lowell’s!"
Ok, stop right there. I feel a sonnet coming on:
Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem a “cuckoo-song,” as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Belovëd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt’s pain
Cry, “Speak once more—thou lovest!” Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

"(But I have a new thing to say or sing—you never before heard me love and bless and send my heart after .. 'Ba'—did you?) Ba .. and that is you! I tried (—more than wanted—) to call you that, on Wednesday! I have a flower here—rather, a star, a mimosa, which must be turned and turned, the side to the light changing in a little time to the leafy side, where all the fans lean and spread .. so I turn your name to me, that side I have not last seen: you cannot tell how I feel glad that you will not part with the name—Barrett—seeing you have two of the same—and must always, moreover, remain my EBB!

Dearest 'E.B.C'—no, no! and so it will never be!"
Stop again, I feel another sonnet coming on:
Yes, call me by my pet-name! let me hear
The name I used to run at, when a child,
From innocent play, and leave the cowslips plied,
To glance up in some face that proved me dear
With the look of its eyes. I miss the clear
Fond voices which, being drawn and reconciled
Into the music of Heaven’s undefiled,
Call me no longer. Silence on the bier,
While I call God—call God!—so let thy mouth
Be heir to those who are now exanimate.
Gather the north flowers to complete the south,
And catch the early love up in the late.
Yes, call me by that name,—and I, in truth,
With the same heart, will answer and not wait.

"Have you seen Mr Kenyon? I did not write .. knowing that such a procedure would draw the kind sure letter in return, with the invitation &c, as if I had asked for it! I had perhaps better call on him some morning very early–

Bless you, my own sweetest. You will write to me, I know in my heart! Ever may God bless you!

For an idle woman she is certainly busy writing sonnet after sonnet. We often and often hear the word 'muse' used but surely this is a true example of a man as a muse. Browning brought forth the inspiration for the sonnets, Miss Barrett had the talent.

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