Richibi’s Weblog

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Month: May, 2012

ll. But only three in all God’s universe – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

ll. But only three in all God’s universe

But only three in all God’s universe
Have heard this word thou hast said,—Himself, beside
Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied
One of us . . . that was God, . . . and laid the curse
So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce
My sight from seeing thee,—that if I had died,
The deathweights, placed there, would have signified
Less absolute exclusion. ‘Nay’ is worse
From God than from all others, O my friend!
Men could not part us with their worldly jars,
Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;
Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:
And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,
We should but vow the faster for the stars.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning


it took me a week to sort out the obscurities in this
poem, God, she says, put me through so much physical
stress that I, so challenged, could have let myself not
know you – “laid the curse/ So darkly on my eyelids,
as to amerce/My sight from seeing thee” – that
would’ve been existentially, – “had I died” – more
absolute and stark and egregiously black than what
I’ve learned through our conjunction of the bliss and
eternity of such a love, invincible, propelled inexorably
– by the intensity of our shared devotion, despite even
“worldly jars”, worldly distempers, “seas”, “tempests”,
[m]ountain-bars” – that much “faster for the stars”

these obscurities are what steered me away from
poetry when I was younger until a more direct and
less ambiguous parlance emerged

but Elizabeth Barrett Browning has always remained
despite some literary difficulties poignant enough
for me and indeed emotionally reverberant that
she has steadfastly endured, she is too honest
and raw and of course articulate to not be warmly


the Well-Tempered Clavier

the superimposition of musical scales to facilitate
the movement from one scale to another upon a
single instrument without having to each time
tune that instrument is what is meant by
temperament, this appears to have been a
personal adjustment, though of course informed,  
according to each instrumentalist
you’ll note they do that still at the beginning of
any concert, to the tuning dictates of usually the
first violin, who often takes a bow to the applause
of the audience, who mistake him, I’m sure, for
the conductor then, why else so honour that first,
but not especially otherwise eminent, short string 
Bach formalized the process, gave it breadth and
majesty, and ultimately longevity, by composing
his Well-Tempered Clavier, a piece for adjusted
harpsichord originally, which he tuned indeed
himself, and that we hear nowadays most often
on the harpsichord’s more versatile descendant,
the piano
the scales we now listen to in Western music are
Bach’s tempered scales, we would find it difficult
to return to the precise, mathematically accurate 
ones, the most pure, our already skewed tonal
consensus suggests an already altered view of 
the universe not unlike the reimagined orbits of
the earth and sun at the time of Copernicus and
Galileo, all is still essentially exploratory, nothing
but mathematics is stable, we are precariously
balanced in an insubstantiated world, all no surer
ever than illusion
Scott Ross is exemplary 
is no better version, I think, than Glenn Gould‘s 
they establish here faithfully and unequivocally
our musical alphabet
psst: here is a version with moving pictures very
         much worth your while