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Month: May, 2013

XXXlX. Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXlX. Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace

Because thou hast the power and own’st the grace
To look through and behind this mask of me
(Against which years have beat thus blanchingly
With their rains), and behold my soul’s true face,
The dim and weary witness of life’s race, –
Because thou hast the faith and love to see,
Through that same soul’s distracting lethargy,
The patient angel waiting for a place
In the new Heavens, – because nor sin nor woe,
Nor God’s infliction, nor death’s neighbourhood,
Nor all which others viewing, turn to go,
Nor all which makes me tired of all, self-viewed, –
Nothing repels thee, . . . dearest, teach me so
To pour out gratitude, as thou dost good!

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

_____________________________

after XXXVlll indeed iconic poems, wherein
Elizabeth speaks nearly exclusively about
herself, intimately and, as history would
show, epochally, breaking new, fertile,
Romantic in this instance, ground, she
turns her attention here to someone else,
to Robert, her paragon

Bette Midler would later say, now that’s
enough about me, let’s talk about you,
what do you think about me

having shed some of her insecurity,
Elizabeth seems equally more solid, less
fragmented, in her inordinate, indeed
disarming, ardour

you’ll note a return to rhyme, metre, cadence,
commas are in the right place, the reiteration
of certain words, like markers, beat rhythm
as well as emphasis, the ground of the
verses seems sounder, sound, all elements
which earlier would have determined the
very parameters of poetry, as though she
could now return to balance, order, lyricism,
even convention, when turned away from
strictly herself, a lesson I’m sure we could
all learn

Schubert, incidentally, could ‘ve easily set
this to music, as indeed someone else did
here only over a year ago, David MacIntyre,
and called it Love in Public“, an inspiration
which set me off on this very journey

to date this is my very favourite of Elizabeth‘s
poems

Richard

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XXXVlll. First time he kissed me, he but only kissed – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXVlll. First time he kissed me, he but only kissed

First time he kissed me, he but only kissed
The fingers of this hand wherewith I write;
And ever since, it grew more clean and white,
Slow to world-greetings, quick with its “Oh, list,”
When the angels speak. A ring of amethyst
I could not wear here, plainer to my sight,
Than that first kiss. The second passed in height
The first, and sought the forehead, and half missed,
Half falling on the hair. O beyond meed!
That was the chrism of love, which love’s own crown,
With sanctifying sweetness, did precede.
The third upon my lips was folded down
In perfect, purple state; since when, indeed,
I have been proud and said, “My love, my own.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

________________________

had the sonnet allowed for more lines,
instead of its strict fourteen, this poem
could not ‘ve not become indecent,
“purple”, she says, indeed

nor, for that matter, more clear, Elizabeth
has succumbed to his one, two, three
kisses, enough to now call him [m]y love,
my own”

meed is a reward, and archaic

chrism is holy anointing oil, nearly also
now, but sacramentally, lost

so intimate a declaration as this would’ve
been unprecedented in 1845-46, when
these poems were written, though we’re
used to much more flagrant stuff nowadays

that this had been written by a woman
must’ve been nearly scandalous, though
such was allowing the Romantic Age, and
this “most flagrant” expression would
become eventually its very symbol, the
exploration of the human heart, the highly
intimate revelations of an individual soul

Elizabeth Barrett Browning holds the top
spot here, nobody does it better

in intrinsically less overtly graphic music,
Chopin

Richard Strauss does a similar thing in his
opera “Salome” several years later, several,
indeed, decades later, 1905, but in reverse,
Salome wants to first of all touch John the
Baptist’s skin, he won’t allow it, undaunted
she asks to touch his black hair, nor will
he allow that, she insists further on a kiss,
which doesn’t either come, the scene is
lurid and shocking

“nothing in the world is as red as your
mouth”,
she begs, “let me kiss it, your
mouth”

my dear, I cautioned

later she will dance the Dance of the Seven
Veils
“,
lately performed even, after the veils
are, one by one, off, naked

for which she gets John the Baptist’s head,
and finally gets her kiss

honest

the version I saw was unforgettable,
though it had taken a free ticket to
get me there

Richard

psst: you’ll note, incidentally, that this poem
is not an avowal, but a confidence,
spoken to us, not to him, a not
insignificant factor

miracles‏

when I started looking for miracles,
I found out that there indeed were
some, as a matter of fact, many

here’s another, in case you missed
the last one

Richard

XXXVll. Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make – Elizabeth Barrett Browning‏

from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXXVll. Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make

Pardon, oh, pardon, that my soul should make,
Of all that strong divineness which I know
For thine and thee, an image only so
Formed of the sand, and fit to shift and break.
It is that distant years which did not take
Thy sovranty, recoiling with a blow,
Have forced my swimming brain to undergo
Their doubt and dread, and blindly to forsake
The purity of likeness and distort
Thy worthiest love to a worthless counterfeit:
As if a shipwrecked Pagan, safe in port,
His guardian sea-god to commemorate,
Should set a sculptured porpoise, gills a-snort
And vibrant tail, within the temple-gate

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

_________________________

though Elizabeth Barrett Browning is ever
abstruse, dare I say, even Baroque – the
epoch of distorted perspectives and
dimensions which preceded the Classical
Era – in her not only grammatical but also
metaphorical constructions, to the point of,
as in the last, her XXXVlth sonnet, being
incomprehensible, too athwart for my taste,
or even my tolerance, here she returns to
form to shine again in her own Romantic
Age, a more literate time, as opposed to
our more visual one, where straight talk
would not ‘ve passed muster as worthy
of any art, that would happen only later
as a reaction to too elaborate artifice,
which you might already even decry,
for instance, in these sonnets

but to make distinctive the form – the sonnet
goes back to at least Shakespeare, who is
even an obvious inspiration for Elizabeth
she would’ve had to embroider her own
version of it, which she could only have
done with fresh artifice upon the ancient
structure, like decorative elaborations on
the traditional tablecloth

if they work it’s because the artifice meets
the substance equally, enough to give
meaning to the poem, verve to the
reinvigorated tabletop

but often, dear Elizabeth, for me, and I would
think for many others in our Twitter age, for
the most part your poems do only just, albeit
enough to make you nevertheless iconic

for Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Chopin
represent for us now more than any of the
other Romantics their distinctive Age, and
with great, let there be no doubt, and easily
demonstrated, authority

Pardon, oh, pardon is not a breeze but it
expands admirably, and distinctively, on her
other masterpieces, or should I say here,
mistresspieces

forgive my soul, she asks, for mistaking your
“strong divineness” for something as fleeting
as “sand”, something “fit to shift and break”

his “sovranty” – sovereignty, which finds its
etymological roots in the French word
“souveraineté”, should you be wondering –
had not been a part of her past, her “distant
years”
and therefore led to her confusion,
her “swimming brain”, imagining he might
be “a worthless counterfeit” – haven’t we all
been there – instead of the “worthiest love”

she compares herself to a “shipwrecked
Pagan”,
who, saved, “safe in port”, gives
thanks, pays homage, to “a sea-god”, “a
sculptured porpoise, gills a-snort”,
rather
than, of course, her One and True
Christian God, an interesting instance
of religious iconographical inflexibility,
as though her Christian God had more
authenticity than the sea deity

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it should be
noted, remained ever to her Divinity devout
despite the intermittent fluctuations of her
less religiously committed husband

who nevertheless remained ever to her
true, and ever, both romantically and
Romantically, by her, stalwart

Richard