October 29, 2019

Max’s Musings

By Max Molleston

Over our lives we learn of famous couples. I think of Anthony and Cleopatra, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Brownings. Lovers Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, courting by letters of literature and life. Elizabeth Barrett married her admiring poet Robert Browning. Their history and rightfully, histories, display a wealth of skill, power and trauma that keeps them alive to this day.

The Brownings: Letters and Poetry prepared by Christopher Ricks from copyrights of John Murray and Harvard University. Ricks edition copyright, 1970. Writings of Elizabeth and Robert are published within 725 pages and include letters from years 1845 and 1846. Letters and poems overlay 281 pages for Elizabeth and for Robert, 415 pages. Ricks recounts Brownings’ initial letter of January 10, 1845. “I love your verses with all my heart Miss Barrett-—and this is no off-hand complimentary I shall write—-Whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius, and there a graceful and natural ending to the thing.”

Elizabeth had been partner to ailments for many years. Some were better with their residence in Florence, Italy for fifteen years, but Elizabeth’s health challenges were always troubling, especially with her lungs. From what is considered the initial correspondence to Browning, Elizabeth returns straight forward expression. “It is kind of you to wish to know how I was, and not unkind of me to suspend my answer to your question-—for indeed I have not been very well, not have had much heart for saying so. Yet for me, I should not grumble. There has been nothing very bad the matter with me—-I only grow weaker than usual, and learn my lesson of being mortal. In a corner-— and then all this must end! April is coming.”

Among interesting aspects of the Browning’s lives was their rank as poets. A 1993 edition titled Elizabeth Barrett Browning, selected poems, gives the early winner of the poetry duo to Elizabeth. If we speculate, the Gramercy Books collection places Elizabeth’s death in late June, 1861. Husband Robert lived on another 30 years and is proclaimed one of the greatest poets in the English language.

An initial poem in Elizabeth’s offerings is titled AN ISLAND. It is long and organized. Six line stanzas, thirty in number, separated by Roman Numerals.

My dream is of an island-place

Which distant seas keep lonely,

A little island on whose face

The stars are watchers only:

Those bright still stars! they need

not seem brighter or stiller in my dream.

Elizabeth’s writing, intense yet forthright, simple, with emotional tones hid all round. Knowledge and use she mastered piled on heaps of respect for her skills. No wonder Robert Browning could not resist her abilities, her thoughts in her poems and mastery she used to place line after line into romance and wonder. Theirs is a compelling story, if not saddened, and great poetry, placing the pair at pinnacle for each effort.

December brings us times of great sentiment from many celebrations and occasions. Join us in joy.

Filed Under: History