XL. Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

by richibi

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Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea (1852-18623)

Auguste Ottin

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from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XL. Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours

Oh, yes! they love through all this world of ours!
I will not gainsay love, called love forsooth.
I have heard love talked in my early youth,
And since, not so long back but that the flowers
Then gathered, smell still. Mussulmans and Giaours
Throw kerchiefs at a smile, and have no ruth
For any weeping. Polypheme’s white tooth
Slips on the nut if, after frequent showers,
The shell is over-smooth, – and not so much
Will turn the thing called love, aside to hate
Or else to oblivion. But thou art not such
A lover, my Belovèd! thou canst wait
Through sorrow and sickness, to bring souls to touch,
And think it soon when others cry “Too late.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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esoteric references blur today the meaning of
many Romantic poems, something I remember
distancing me from poetry when I was a boy,
and therefore considered poems such as
this one mannered, not to say pretentious

Polypheme was apparently the name of the
cyclops Odysseus blinded on his return to
Ithaca and his wife, Penelope, in Homer’s
Odyssey“, I know nothing about his white
tooth, slipping on a nut, the frequency of,
wherever, showers, nor smooth, or
otherwise, shells, despite some research
and my generally extended poetic
information, if you’ll allow me here to,
however immodestly, refer to this
erudition

but the message of the poem is not lost,
your love, she says, to her suitor, is like
no other’s, true despite all obstacles,
which often have swayed earlier less
stalwart models in her experience

Polypheme had indeed also loved the lovely
Galatea, in another mythical incarnation,
hopelessly of course, having only one eye
would’ve been necessarily a deal breaker,
both practically and aesthetically, so he
crushed his rival, Acis, under a huge rock,
and that, as they say, was that

others have done worse

“Mussulmans” are of course Mohameddans,
or Muslims, Giaours are their unbelievers,
which is to say, Christians, all of this being
evidently relative, both parties having
discredited, essentially therefore disqualifed,
each others’ deities, therefore Nietzsche, but
that’s another story

all of them nevertheless “Throw kerchiefs
at a smile”,
speak louder than their actions,
all of them “have no ruth / For any weeping”,
cry easily at melodramas, humans all, after
everything, despite conflicting theological
intractabilities

“gainsay”, to refute, deny, she will not deny
that others have loved, she can still “smell”
even, sense the shiver of, when she was
young, its promises

all these nothing, however, to compare to
his unflinching anchor

you’ll note that Elizabeth is again talking
about Robert, she’s probably had enough
by now of herself, not an uncommon
development, I propose, in any interaction

Richard

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