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Universal Elements of Poetry

vers de societé - This genre of verse is characteristically a delicate, polished, cultured humor, the verse of social amenities and polished wit with a flippant tone, It has an old history beginning with Greek poet Anacreon followed by Romans Catullus and Horace. There are examples in all subsequent eras. In France, there was Jean Froissart (1333-1400). Then England with the Cavalier poets Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Thomas Carew (1555-1620), and Richard Lovelace (1618-1657) and Alexander Pope’s (1688-1744) Rape of the Lock.

In the 19th century it was encouraged by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) who once commented that The Vision of Sir Launfal is a “work of no lasting value” for as public interest in the event wanes nothing of value in such “rattlety-bang” verse remains. A good example would be My Aunt. Some lesser known poets of this same genre were William Ernest Henley’s 1920's English Sonnet with rhyme abab,cdcd,efef,gg The Barmaid:

Though, if you ask her name, she says Elise,
Being plain Elizabeth, e'en let it pass,
And own that, if her aspirates take their ease,
She ever makes a point, in washing glass,
Handling the engine, turning taps for tots,
And countering change, and scorning what men say,
Of posing as a dove among the pots,
Nor often gives her dignity away.
Her head's a work of art, and, if her eyes
Be tired and ignorant, she has a waist;
Cheaply the Mode she shadows; and she tries
From penny novels to amend her taste;
And, having mopped the zinc for certain years,
And faced the gas, she fades and disappears.

and Austin Dobson (1840-1921) On the Future of Poetry.

In the 20th century came another variant with Ogden Nash who wrote verse with a sophisticated, strictly urban view of ordinary events.

victorian poetry - Tennyson and Browning

Now we turn to the works of two poetic stars of the Victorian era. That is not to say that Tennyson, the lyricist, (1809-1892) and Browning, the analyst, (1812-1889) were the only versifiers during this long period, but they were the reigning ones. Other works worthy of study were those written by Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Arthur Clough (1819-1861), Coventry Patmore (1823-1896), the Rossettis, Dante (1828-1882), and Christina (1830-1894), William Morris (1834-1896), Charles Swinburne 1837-1901), and Thomas Hardy (1840-1928). All of these, to some degree, tended toward realism, focusing on man rather than nature, influenced by scientific exploration of the mind and its faults and a spark of speculation concerning the legitimacy of the spiritual ideal.

Of Tennyson Hugh Fausett writes: “When all that was second-rate in his philosophy, trite in his moralizing or pathos in his sentiment is forgotten, he will be remembered as the supreme lyrical poet of an age whose mortal disease he so deeply sensed and so melodiously assuaged.” “Beautiful in structure, harmonious in form, and musical in expression.” In other words he was not counting syllables, length of lines, nor rhyme of words.

The Poet 1830

The poet in a golden clime was born,
With golden stars above;
Dower’d with the hate of hate, the scorn or scorn,

The love of love.

He saw thre life and death, thre’ good and ill,
He saw thro’ his own soul
The marvel of the everlasting will,
An open scroll.

Before him lay; with echoing feet he threaded
The secretest walks of fame;
The viewless arrows of his thoughts were headed
And wing’d with flame.

Like Indian reeds blown from his silver tongue,
And of so fierce a flight,
From Calpe unto Caucasus they sung,
Filling with light

And vagrant melodies the winds which bore
Them earthward till they lit;
Then, like the arrow-seeds of the field flower,
The fruitful wit.

Cleaving took rout, and springing forth anew
Where’er they fall, behold,
Like to the mother plant in semblance, grew
A flower all gold,

And bravely furnish'd all abroad to fling
The winged shafts of truth,
To throng with stately blooms the breathing spring
Of Hope and Youth.

So many minds did gird their orbs with beams,
Tho' one did fling the fire.
Heaven flow'd upon the soul in many dreams
Of high desire.

Thus truth was multiplied on truth, the world
Like one great garden show'd,
And thro' the wreaths of floating dark upcurl'd,
Rare sunrise flow'd.

And Freedom rear'd in that august sunrise
Her beautiful bold brow,
When rites and forms before his burning eyes
Melted like snow.

There was no blood upon her maiden robes
Sunn'd by those orient skies;
But round about the circles of the globes
Of her keen eyes

And in her raiment's hem was traced in flame
Wisdom, a name to shake
All evil dreams of power--a sacred name.
And when she spake, *

Her words did gather thunder as they ran,
And as the lightning to the thunder
Which follows it, riving the spirit of man,
Making earth wonder,

So was their meaning to her words.
No sword Of wrath her right arm whirl'd,
But one poor poet's scroll, and with 'his' word
She shook the world

*In the original the 12th stanza read

And in the bodure of her robe was writ
Wisdom, a name to shake
Hoar anarchies, as with a thunderfit,
And when she spake.

The meaning of “the hate of hate” was explained by the Reverend F. W. Robertson “that is, the Prophet of Truth receives for his dower the scorn of men in whim scorn dwells, hatred from men who hate, while his reward is the gratitudes and affection of men who seek the truth which they love, more eagerly than the faults which their acuteness can blame.” W. J. Rolfe writes “A very intelligent lady once told me that she had always understood “hate of hate” to mean the utmost intensity of hate. The poets passions and sensibilities being to those of ordinary men as moonlight to sunlight, and as water unto wine.” Note that Tennyson has already succombed to the symbolism of the word “arrow”.

Carlyle describes him as: “a fine, large featured, dim-eyed, bronze-colored, shaggy-headed man; dusty, smoky, free and easy.” Tennyson was by no means stable in temperament; this coupled with black, unkempt hair and flowing beard and eyes of blackened pools was not a sight radiating comfort on a dark street. He was subject to trance-like appearances and “prolonged periods of morbidity and depression.” He cries in verse: “I am void, dark, formless, utterly destroyed.” Also read Oi peontes (Rheontes):

All thoughts, all creeds, all dreams are true,
All visions wild and strange;
Man is the measure of all truth
Unto himself. All truth is change,

All men do walk in sleep, and all
Have faith in that they dream
For all things are as they seem to all,
An all things flow like a stream.

There is no rest, no calm, no pause,
Nor good nor ill, nor light nor shade,
Nor essence nor eternal laws:
For nothing is, but all is made,

But if I dream that all these are,
They are to me for that I dream;
For all things are as they seem to all,
And all things flow like a stream.

Note: . To understand this poem it would be best to review the Heraclitean doctrine of flux or unity in the world of change thus all natural transformations involve contraries, ex. without evil there would be no good; hot and cold; war and peace. “Without the one contrary the other would not exist, and without contraries the cosmos would not exist.”

Also these lines from The Mystic:

Ye knew him not: he was not one of ye...
He often lying broad awake, and yet
Remaining from the body, and apart
In intellect and power and will, hath heard
Time flowing in the middle of the night..

Alfred wrote this of himself: “According to the best of my recollection when I was about eight years old I covered two sides of a slate with Thomsonian blank verse in praise of flowers...Thomson being the only poet I knew...About ten or eleven Pope’s Iliad became a favourite of mine and I wrote hundrends and hundreds of lines in Popeian metre...At about twelve I wrote an epic of about 6000 lines a la Walter Scott...” The streams of connected words flowed from his pen throughout his long life. Not that they ever amounted to anything. At seventeen, Tennyson and help from his brother Charles, published a first collection of poems and his fellow under-graduates at Cambridge promptly anointed him “poet philosopher of the coming age.”

But Tennyson’s early publications first group in 1830 and 1833 were not received with accolades. Even his best words The Lotos Eaters and The Lady of Shalott were described in the Tory Quarterly Review “as the work of a namby-pamby, minimy-piminy poet.” Sneered at by Lockhart “trodden on by an elephant”, Tennyson lapsed into a period of self-doubt and lack of productivity that lasted ten years. Tennyson’s themes reflected his own episodes of “black fits” and visions yet at the same time believing in his outpourings he becomes “a poet lofty and aloof as his own eagle perched above the world, who yet screamed with agony at the first nip of the the tiniest critic.” He once wrote a reply to his most unrelenting critic, John Lockhart, son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott, who wrote under the name of Christopher North.

You did late review my lays,
Crusty Christopher;
You did mingle blame and praise,
Rusty Christopher,
When I learnt from whom it came,
I forgave you all the blame,
Musty Christopher;
I could not forgive the praise,
Fusty Christopher.

And finally when John Stuart Mill was about to review his the works in his 1833 collection he tried to stop the process and wrote: “I do not wish to be dragged forward again in any shape before the reading public at present, particularly on the score of my old poems, most of which so corrected as to make them much less imperfect.” (Tennyson was almost obsessive with correcting his work). Then followed the long period of silence. When he regained his confidence there came forth Morte d’Arthur, The Palace of Art, Locksley Hall, and from these came a continuous sale of his works and a recommendation from Sir Robert Peel for a pension of two hundred pounds from the government “in accordance with the old English custom of putting on the ‘civil list’ the names of those who have devoted to worthy purposes great intellectual powers. Still the pension had its critics mostly the poet Bulwer-Lytton, pseudonym Owen Meredith, who had completed The Wanderer, Clytemnestra, and Lucile and the dramatist James Sheridan Knowles. The latter’s satire The New Timon in which he referred to Tennyson “school Miss Alfred” with a note “the most that can be said of Mr. Tennyson is, that he is the favourite of a small circle; to the mass of the public little more than his name is known--he has moved no thousands--he has created no world of characters–-he has labored out no deathless truths, nor enlarged our knowedge of the human heart by the delineation of various and
elevating passions.”

All of this soon to be eclipsed by the publishing of the endearing In Memoriam where he speaks to the universal experience of death. He laments a lost friend and his recovery from doubt to faith. At another time he wrote these words on the death of his first-born son: “He lay like a little warrior, having fought the fight, and failed, with his hands clenched, and frown on his brow....It was Easter Sunday and at his birth I heard the great roll of the organ, of the uplifted psalm...Dead as he was I felt proud of him. Dear little nameless one that hast lived tho’ thou has never breathed, I, thy father, love thee and weep over thee, tho’ thou has no place in the Universe. Who knows? It may be that thou hast.”

De Profundis (trans:out of the depths) was written on the birth of his second son in 1872 named Hallam for his deceased friend Arthur Hallam. This was a popular theme for Victorians both Christina Rossetti (poem) and Oscar Wilde (essay) wrote on this same title:

Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
Where all that was. to be in all that was
Whirl'd for a million æons thro' the vast
Waste dawn of multitudinous-eddying light —
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
Thro' all this changing world of changeless law,
And every phase of ever-heightening life,
And nine long months of antenatal gloom,
With this last moon, this crescent — her dark orb
Touch'd with earth's light — thou comest, darling boy;
Our own; a babe in lineament and limb
Perfect, and prophet of the perfect man;
Whose face and form are hers and mine in one,
Indissolubly married like our love;
Live and be happy in thyself, and serve
This mortal race thy kin so well that men
May bless thee as we bless thee, O young life
Breaking with laughter from the dark, and may
The fated channel where thy motion lives
Be prosperously shaped, and sway thy course
Along the years of haste and random youth
Unshatter'd, then full-current thro' full man,
And last in kindly curves, with gentlest fall,
By quiet fields, a slowly-dying power,
To that last deep where we and thou are still.

Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
From that great deep before our world begins
Whereon the Spirit of God moves as he will —
Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep,
From that true world within the world we see,
Whereof our world is but the hounding shore —
Out of the deep, spirit, out of the deep,
With this ninth moon that sends the hidden sun
Down yon dark sea, thou comest, darling boy.
For in the world, which is not ours, they said
"Let us make man," and that which should be man,
From that one light no man can look upon,
Drew to this shore lit by the suns and moons
And all the shadows. O dear spirit half-lost
In thine own shadow and this fleshly sign
That thou art thou — who wailest being born
And banish'd into mystery, and the pain
Of this divisible-indivisible world
Among the numerable-innumerable
Sun, sun, and sun, thro' finite-infinite space
In finite-infinite time — our mortal veil
And shatter'd phantom of that infinite One,
Who made thee unconceivably thyself
Out of his whole world-self and all in all —
Live thou, and of the grain and husk, the grape
And ivyberry, choose; and still depart
From death to death thro' life and life, and find
Nearer and ever nearer Him who wrought
Not matter, nor the finite-infinite,
But this main miracle, that thou art thou,
With power on thine own act and on the world.

Themes speckled with madness, mystical dreams, coupled with despondency were a reflection of his inner fear that he would succomb to mental illness as his father had been. In The Two Voices written on the death of his closest friend, Arthur Hallam, he questions the meaning and value of life. Just a reminder, try to resist the lure of the sound byte - read the entire poem.

A still small voice spake unto me,
"Thou art so full of misery,
Were it not better not to be?"

Then to the still small voice I said;
"Let me not cast in endless shade
What is so wonderfully made".

To which the voice did urge reply;
"To-day I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
"An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.

"He dried his wings: like gauze they grew:
Thro' crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew."
I said, "When first the world began
Young Nature thro' five cycles ran,
And in the sixth she moulded man.

"She gave him mind, the lordliest
Proportion, and, above the rest,
Dominion in the head and breast."

Thereto the silent voice replied;
"Self-blinded are you by your pride:
Look up thro' night: the world is wide.

"This truth within thy mind rehearse,
That in a boundless universe
Is boundless better, boundless worse.

"Think you this mould of hopes and fears
Could find no statelier than his peers
In yonder hundred million spheres?"

It spake, moreover, in my mind:
"Tho' thou wert scatter'd to the wind,
Yet is there plenty of the kind".

Then did my response clearer fall:
"No compound of this earthly ball
Is like another, all in all".

To which he answer'd scoffingly;
"Good soul! suppose I grant it thee,
Who'll weep for thy deficiency?

"Or will one beam be less intense,
When thy peculiar difference
Is cancell'd in the world of sense?"
I would have said, "Thou canst not know,"
But my full heart, that work'd below,
Rain'd thro' my sight its overflow.

Again the voice spake unto me:
"Thou art so steep'd in misery,
Surely 'twere better not to be.

"Thine anguish will not let thee sleep,
Nor any train of reason keep:
Thou canst not think, but thou wilt weep."

I said, "The years with change advance:
If I make dark my countenance,
I shut my life from happier chance.

"Some turn this sickness yet might take,
Ev'n yet." But he: "What drug can make
A wither'd palsy cease to shake?"

I wept, "Tho' I should die, I know
That all about the thorn will blow
In tufts of rosy-tinted snow;

"And men, thro' novel spheres of thought
Still moving after truth long sought,
Will learn new things when I am not."

"Yet," said the secret voice, "some time,
Sooner or later, will gray prime
Make thy grass hoar with early rime.

"Not less swift souls that yearn for light,
Rapt after heaven's starry flight,
Would sweep the tracts of day and night.

"Not less the bee would range her cells,
The furzy prickle fire the dells,
The foxglove cluster dappled bells."

I said that "all the years invent;
Each month is various to present
The world with some development.

"Were this not well, to bide mine hour,
Tho' watching from a ruin'd tower
How grows the day of human power?"

"The highest-mounted mind," he said,
"Still sees the sacred morning spread
The silent summit overhead.

Will thirty seasons render plain
Those lonely lights that still remain,
Just breaking over land and main?

"Or make that morn, from his cold crown
And crystal silence creeping down,
Flood with full daylight glebe and town?

"Forerun thy peers, thy time, and let
Thy feet, millenniums hence, be set
In midst of knowledge, dream'd not yet.

"Thou hast not gain'd a real height,
Nor art thou nearer to the light,
Because the scale is infinite.
“Twere better not to breathe or speak,
Than cry for strength, remaining weak,
And seem to find, but still to seek.

"Moreover, but to seem to find
Asks what thou lackest, thought resign'd,
A healthy frame, a quiet mind."

I said, "When I am gone away,
'He dared not tarry,' men will say,
Doing dishonour to my clay."

"This is more vile," he made reply,
"To breathe and loathe, to live and sigh,
Than once from dread of pain to die.

"Sick art thou--a divided will
Still heaping on the fear of ill
The fear of men, a coward still.

"Do men love thee? Art thou so bound
To men, that how thy name may sound
Will vex thee lying underground?

"The memory of the wither'd leaf
In endless time is scarce more brief
Than of the garner'd Autumn-sheaf.

"Go, vexed Spirit, sleep in trust;
The right ear, that is fill'd with dust,
Hears little of the false or just."

"Hard task, to pluck resolve," I cried,
"From emptiness and the waste wide
Of that abyss, or scornful pride!

"Nay--rather yet that I could raise
One hope that warm'd me in the days
While still I yearn'd for human praise.

“When, wide in soul, and bold of tongue,
Aong the tents I paused and sung,
The distant battle flash'd and rung.

"I sung the joyful Paean clear,
And, sitting, burnish'd without fear
The brand, the buckler, and the spear--

“Waiting to strive a happy strife,
To war with falsehood to the knife,
And not to lose the good of life--

"Some hidden principle to move,
To put together, part and prove,
And mete the bounds of hate and love--

"As far as might be, to carve out
Free space for every human doubt,
That the whole mind might orb about--

"To search thro' all I felt or saw,
The springs of life, the depths of awe,
And reach the law within the law:

"At least, not rotting like a weed,
But, having sown some generous seed,
Fruitful of further thought and deed,

"To pass, when Life her light withdraws,
Not void of righteous self-applause,
Nor in a merely selfish cause--

"In some good cause, not in mine own,
To perish, wept for, honour'd, known,
And like a warrior overthrown;

"Whose eyes are dim with glorious tears,
When, soil'd with noble dust, he hears
His country's war-song thrill his ears:

"Then dying of a mortal stroke,
What time the foeman's line is broke.
And all the war is roll'd in smoke."

"Yea!" said the voice, "thy dream was good,
While thou abodest in the bud.
It was the stirring of the blood.

"If Nature put not forth her power
About the opening of the flower,
Who is it that could live an hour?
"Then comes the check, the change, the fall.
Pain rises up, old pleasures pall.
There is one remedy for all.

"Yet hadst thou, thro' enduring pain,
Link'd month to month with such a chain
Of knitted purport, all were vain.

"Thou hadst not between death and birth
Dissolved the riddle of the earth.
So were thy labour little worth.

"That men with knowledge merely play'd,
I told thee--hardly nigher made,
Tho' scaling slow from grade to grade;

"Much less this dreamer, deaf and blind,
Named man, may hope some truth to find,
That bears relation to the mind.

"For every worm beneath the moon
Draws different threads, and late and soon
Spins, toiling out his own cocoon.

"Cry, faint not: either Truth is born
Beyond the polar gleam forlorn,
Or in the gateways of the morn.

"Cry, faint not, climb: the summits slope
Beyond the furthest nights of hope,
Wrapt in dense cloud from base to cope.

"Sometimes a little corner shines,
As over rainy mist inclines
A gleaming crag with belts of pines.

"I will go forward, sayest thou,
I shall not fail to find her now.
Look up, the fold is on her brow.

"If straight thy track, or if oblique,
Thou know'st not. Shadows thou dost strike,
Embracing cloud, Ixion-like;

"And owning but a little more
Than beasts, abidest lame and poor,
Calling thyself a little lower

"Than angels. Cease to wail and brawl!
Why inch by inch to darkness crawl?
There is one remedy for all."

"O dull, one-sided voice," said I,
"Wilt thou make everything a lie,
To flatter me that I may die?

"I know that age to age succeeds,
Blowing a noise of tongues and deeds,
A dust of systems and of creeds.

"I cannot hide that some have striven,
Achieving calm, to whom was given
The joy that mixes man with Heaven:

"Who, rowing hard against the stream,
Saw distant gates of Eden gleam,
And did not dream it was a dream";

"But heard, by secret transport led,
Ev'n in the charnels of the dead,
The murmur of the fountain-head--

"Which did accomplish their desire,--
Bore and forbore, and did not tire,
Like Stephen, an unquenched fire.

"He heeded not reviling tones,
Nor sold his heart to idle moans,
Tho' cursed and scorn'd, and bruised with stones:

"But looking upward, full of grace,
He pray'd, and from a happy place
God's glory smote him on the face."

The sullen answer slid betwixt:
"Not that the grounds of hope were fix'd,
The elements were kindlier mix'd."

I said, "I toil beneath the curse,
But, knowing not the universe,
I fear to slide from bad to worse.

"And that, in seeking to undo
One riddle, and to find the true,
I knit a hundred others new:

"Or that this anguish fleeting hence,
Unmanacled from bonds of sense,
Be fix'd and froz'n to permanence:

"For I go, weak from suffering here;
Naked I go, and void of cheer:
What is it that I may not fear?"

"Consider well," the voice replied,
"His face, that two hours since hath died;
Wilt thou find passion, pain or pride?

"Will he obey when one commands?
Or answer should one press his hands?
He answers not, nor understands.

"His palms are folded on his breast:
There is no other thing express'd
But long disquiet merged in rest.

"His lips are very mild and meek:
Tho' one should smite him on the cheek,
And on the mouth, he will not speak.

"His little daughter, whose sweet face
He kiss'd, taking his last embrace,
Becomes dishonour to her race--

"His sons grow up that bear his name,
Some grow to honour, some to shame,--
But he is chill to praise or blame.

"He will not hear the north wind rave,
Nor, moaning, household shelter crave
From winter rains that beat his grave.

"High up the vapours fold and swim:
About him broods the twilight dim:
The place he knew forgetteth him."

"If all be dark, vague voice," I said,
"These things are wrapt in doubt and dread,
Nor canst thou show the dead are dead.

"The sap dries up: the plant declines.
A deeper tale my heart divines.
Know I not Death? the outward signs?

"I found him when my years were few;
A shadow on the graves I knew,
And darkness in the village yew.

"From grave to grave the shadow crept:
In her still place the morning wept:
Touch'd by his feet the daisy slept.

"The simple senses crown'd his head:
'Omega! thou art Lord,' they
said; 'We find no motion in the dead.'

"Why, if man rot in dreamless ease,
Should that plain fact, as taught by these,
Not make him sure that he shall cease?

"Who forged that other influence,
That heat of inward evidence,
By which he doubts against the sense?

"He owns the fatal gift of eyes,
That read his spirit blindly wise,
Not simple as a thing that dies.

"Here sits he shaping wings to fly:
His heart forebodes a mystery:
He names the name Eternity.

"That type of Perfect in his mind
In Nature can he nowhere find.
He sows himself in every wind.

"He seems to hear a Heavenly Friend,
And thro' thick veils to apprehend
A labour working to an end.

"The end and the beginning vex
His reason: many things perplex,
With motions, checks, and counterchecks.

"He knows a baseness in his blood
At such strange war with something good,
He may not do the thing he would.

"Heaven opens inward, chasms yawn.
Vast images in glimmering dawn,
Half shown, are broken and withdrawn.

"Ah! sure within him and without,
Could his dark wisdom find it out,
There must be answer to his doubt.

But thou canst answer not again.
With thine own weapon art thou slain,
Or thou wilt answer but in vain.

"The doubt would rest, I dare not solve.
In the same circle we revolve.
Assurance only breeds resolve."

As when a billow, blown against,
Falls back, the voice with which I fenced
A little ceased, but recommenced.

"Where wert thou when thy father play'd
In his free field, and pastime made,
A merry boy in sun and shade?

"A merry boy they called him then.
He sat upon the knees of men
In days that never come again,

"Before the little ducts began
To feed thy bones with lime, and ran
Their course, till thou wert also man:

"Who took a wife, who rear'd his race,
Whose wrinkles gather'd on his face,
Whose troubles number with his days:

"A life of nothings, nothing-worth,
From that first nothing ere his birth
To that last nothing under earth!"

"These words," I said, "are like the rest,
No certain clearness, but at best
A vague suspicion of the breast:

"But if I grant, thou might'st defend
The thesis which thy words intend--
That to begin implies to end;

"Yet how should I for certain hold,
Because my memory is so cold,
That I first was in human mould?

"I cannot make this matter plain,
But I would shoot, howe'er in vain,
A random arrow from the brain.

"It may be that no life is found,
Which only to one engine bound
Falls off, but cycles always round.

"As old mythologies relate,
Some draught of Lethe might await
The slipping thro' from state to state.

"As here we find in trances, men
Forget the dream that happens then,
Until they fall in trance again.

"So might we, if our state were such
As one before, remember much,
For those two likes might meet and touch.

"But, if I lapsed from nobler place,
Some legend of a fallen race
Alone might hint of my disgrace;

"Some vague emotion of delight
In gazing up an Alpine height,
Some yearning toward the lamps of night.

"Or if thro' lower lives I came
Tho' all experience past became
Consolidate in mind and frame

"I might forget my weaker lot;

For is not our first year forgot?
The haunts of memory echo not.

"And men, whose reason long was blind,
From cells of madness unconfined,
Oft lose whole years of darker mind.

"Much more, if first I floated free,
As naked essence, must I be
Incompetent of memory:

"For memory dealing but with time,
And he with matter, could she climb
Beyond her own material prime?

"Moreover, something is or seems,
That touches me with mystic gleams,
Like glimpses of forgotten dreams--

"Of something felt, like something here;
Of something done, I know not where;
Such as no language may declare."

The still voice laugh'd. "I talk," said he,
"Not with thy dreams.
Suffice it thee Thy pain is a reality."

"But thou," said I, "hast miss'd thy mark,
Who sought'st to wreck my mortal ark,
By making all the horizon dark.

"Why not set forth, if I should do
This rashness, that which might ensue
With this old soul in organs new?

"Whatever crazy sorrow saith,
No life that breathes with human breath
Has ever truly long'd for death.

"'Tis life, whereof our nerves are scant,
Oh life, not death, for which we pant;
More life, and fuller, that I want."

I ceased, and sat as one forlorn.
Then said the voice, in quiet scorn,

"Behold it is the Sabbath morn".

And I arose, and I released
The casement, and the light increased
With freshness in the dawning east.

Like soften'd airs that blowing steal,
When meres begin to uncongeal,
The sweet church bells began to peal.

On to God's house the people prest:
Passing the place where each must rest,
Each enter'd like a welcome guest.

One walk'd between his wife and child,
ith measur'd footfall firm and mild,
And now and then he gravely smiled.

The prudent partner of his blood
Lean'd on him, faithful, gentle, good,
Wearing the rose of womanhood.

And in their double love secure,
The little maiden walk'd demure,
Pacing with downward eyelids pure.

These three made unity so sweet,
My frozen heart began to beat,
Remembering its ancient heat.

I blest them, and they wander'd on:
I spoke, but answer came there none:
The dull and bitter voice was gone.

A second voice was at mine ear,
A little whisper silver-clear,
A murmur, "Be of better cheer".

As from some blissful neighbourhood,
A notice faintly understood,
"I see the end, and know the good".

A little hint to solace woe,
A hint, a whisper breathing low,
"I may not speak of what I know".

Like an Aeolian harp that wakes
No certain air, but overtakes
Far thought with music that it makes:

Such seem'd the whisper at my side:
"What is it thou knowest, sweet voice?" I cried.
"A hidden hope," the voice replied:

So heavenly-toned, that in that hour
From out my sullen heart a power
Broke, like the rainbow from the shower,

To feel, altho' no tongue can prove
That every cloud, that spreads above
And veileth love, itself is love.

And forth into the fields I went,
And Nature's living motion lent
The pulse of hope to discontent.

I wonder'd at the bounteous hours,

The slow result of winter showers:
You scarce could see the grass for flowers.

I wonder'd, while I paced along:
The woods were fill'd so full with song,
There seem'd no room for sense of wrong.

So variously seem'd all things wrought,
I marvell'd how the mind was brought
To anchor by one gloomy thought

And wherefore rather I made choice
To commune with that barren voice,
Than him that said, "Rejoice! Rejoice!

The quest theme recurs again in many of his later poems and describes the conflict in a soul between skepticism and faith. As in Tithonus, Ulysses, Locksley Hall, and The Vision of Sin. In this work the poet offers that man is nature’s highest product and offers the example of the dragonfly that upon death becomes a grub. Also in line 229 the reference to the perfection of man is a result of a balanced mixture of four elements; earth, air, fire and water. A similar reference in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, verse five line 73.

Another theme is grief where the lines are appropriate in any era, see Come not, When I am Dead:

Come not, when I am dead,
To drop foolish tears upon my grave,
To trample round my fallen head,
And vex the unhappy dust thou would’st not save.
There, let the wind sweep and the plover cry;
But thou, go by.
Child, if it were thine error or thy crime

I care no longer, being all unblest:
Wed whom thou wilt, but I am sick of time,
And I desire to rest.
Pass on, weak heart, and leave me where I lie;
Go by, go by.

His son writes, a few days before my father’s death he said to me, ‘Mind you put Crossing the Bar at the end of all editions of my poems.”

Tennyson’s poems paint pictures in words thus appealing to his readers who claim by closing their eyes they can produce an image. Marshall McLuhan’s work Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry is an excellent tribute to the “landscape poetry” of Tennyson. Also this from Charles Wilson. “Save for Chaucer, no one has portrayed bucolic life with technique so consummate or knowledge so intimate.” Some examples are “flakes of fire”, “dry-tongued laurels”, falling showers from shaking poplars, ruby-budded lime, and bellowing caves. Read The Talking Oak.

He once was accused of appropriating words of bygone poets. To this he responded: “I do not object to your finding parallelisms. They must always recur. A Chinese scholar some time ago wrote to me saying that in an unknown untranslated Chinese poem there were two lines of mine, almost word for word. Why not? Are not human eyes all over the world looking at the same objects, and must there not consequently be coincidences of thought and impressions and expressions? It is scarcely possible for anyone to say or write anything, in this late time of the world, to which, in the rest of the literature of the world, a parallel could not somewhere be found. I could multiply instances but I will not bore you. But there is I fear, a prosaic set growing up among us, editors of booklets, bookworms, index-makers, or men of great memories and no imagination, who impute themselves to the poet. And so believe that he, too, has no imagination, but is forever poking his nose between the pages of some old volume in order to see what he can appropriate. They will not allow one to say ‘Ring the bells,’ without finding that we have taken it from Sir P. Sydney or even a simple expression as ‘the ocean roars’ without finding out the precise verse in Homer or Horace from which we have plagiarized it.”

Another recurrent symbol is that of the “high-born maiden” the image of “an isolated and unhappy maiden” half divine, half feared; placed within the legendary tales of King Arthur whom he believes was a real person allegorically representing the highest nature of man: his achievements genuine history. Tennyson had a keen devotion to the ideal knighthood of reverence for women, dedication to purity and truth, manly courtesy, and heroic deeds. However these dramatic poems are not highly regarded. You may wish to read The Princess, Lancelot and Elaine, the Lady of Shalott, and Idyls of the King. We need only to read the dedication address To the Queen to substantiate his devotion to country past and present. Written in quartiles with rhyme abba:

Revered, beloved O you that hold
A nobler office upon earth
Than arms or power of brain, or birth
Could give the warrior kings of old.

Victoria since your Royal grace
To one of less desert allows
This laurel greener from the brows
Of him that utter’d nothing base:

And should your greatness, and the care
That yokes with empire, yield you time
To make demand of modern rhyme
If aught of ancient worth be there;
Then while a sweeter music wakes

And thro’ wild March the throstle calls,
Where all about your palace walls
The sunlit almond blossom shakes.
Take, Madam, this poor book of song;
For tho’ the faults were thick as dust
In vacant chambers I could trust
Your kindness. May you rule us long.

And leave us rulers of your blood
As noble till the latest day!
May children of our children say,
She wrought her people lasting good;

She brought a vast design to pass,

When Europe and the scattered ends
Of our fierce world were mixt as friends
And brethren to her halls of glass.*
*refers to the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851.

Her court was pure; her life serene:
God gave her peace; her land reposed;
A thousand claims to reverence closed
In her as Mother, Wife, and Queen;

And statesmen at her council met
Who knew the seasons when to take
Occasion by the hand, and make
the bounds of freedom wider yet*

*This stanza quoted by Gladstone in the House of Commons.

By shaping some August decree
Which kept her throne unshaken still,
Broad based upon her people’s will
And compassed by the inviolate sea.

We would like to call attention to one of Tennyson’s shorter poems, Lady Clara Vere de Vere. Written as dramatic monologue where the subject of the poem is not the speaker but the person addressed. Here is an upper-class lady who vamped a young youth through guile and deceit whereupon the youth killed himself “the languid enchantress and the independent yeoman.” But the verse itself spawned “the scorn of a democrat for a degenerate aristocrat” and “a simple maid in her flower is worth a hundred coats-of-arms”.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
Of me you shall not win renown:
You thought to break a country heart
For pastime, ere you went to town.
At me you smiled, but unbeguiled
I saw the snare, and I retired;
The daughter of a hundred earls,
You are not one to be desired.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
I know you proud to bear your name;
Your pride is yet no mate for mine,
Too proud to care from whence I came.
Nor would I break for your sweet sake
A heart that dotes on truer charms.
A simple maiden in her flower
Is worth a hundred coats-of-arms.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
Some meeker pupil you must find,
For, were you queen of all that is,
I could not stoop to such a mind.
You sought to prove how I could love,
And my disdain is my reply.
The lion on your old stone gates
Is not more cold to you than I.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
You put strange memories in my head.
Not thrice your branching limes have blown
Since I beheld young Laurence dead.
O, your sweet eyes, your low replies!
A great enchantress you may be;
But there was that across his throat
Which you had hardly cared to see.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
When thus he met his mother’s view,
She had the passion of her kind,
She spake some certain truths of you.
Indeed I heard one bitter word
That scarce is fit for you to hear;
Her manners had not that repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.
Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
There stands a spectre in your hall;
The guilt of blood is at your door;
You changed a wholesome heart to gall.
You held your course without remorse,
To make him trust his modest worth,
And, last, you fix’d a vacant stare,
And slew him with your noble birth.

Trust me, Clara Vere de Vere,
From yon blue heavens above us bent
The gardener Adam and his wife
Smile at the claims of long descent.
However it be, it seems to me,
‘Tis only noble to be good
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood.

I know you Clara Vere de Vere,
You pine among your halls and towers;
Lanquid light of your proud eyes
Is wearied of the rolling hours.
In glowing health, with boundless wealth,
But sickening of a vague disease,
You know so ill to deal with time,
You needs must play such pranks as these.

Clara, Clara Vere de Vere,

If time be heavy on your hands,
Are there no beggars at your gate,
Nor any poor about your lands?
O, Teach the orphan-boy to read,
Or teach the orphan-girl to sew;
Pray Heaven for a human heart,
And let the foolish yeoman go.

This poem was originally titled The Grand Old Gardener. Tennyson by nature is not didactic but in the last lines he does offer some constructive alternatives do the idle aristocracy. First, there this poem by Lewis Carroll titled Echoes.

Lady Clara Vere de Vere
Was eight years old, she said:
Every ringlet, lightly shaken ran itself in golden thread.
She took her little porringer:
Of me she shall not win renown:
For the baseness of its nature shall have strength to drag her down.

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid?
There stands the Inspector at thy door:
Like a dog, he hunts for boys who know not two and two are four.”

“Kind words are more than coronets,”
She said, and wondering looked at me:
“It is the dead unhappy night, and I must hurry home to tea.”

Also, a film satire taken from the poem lines “Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.” The black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets remains on the top 100 best classic films.

About Browning, the dramatic realist: Just as we explored Tennyson, the lyricist, for faith, sentiment, and the idyllic; we will explore Browning for thought, inference, and reasoning while comparing both in terms of their major thematic output: style, patriotism, love, art, and faith.

We open with this comparison written many years ago by Guy Boas: the last place, a poet will be judged as a poet, and not as a philosopher, or preacher or psychologist. That which finally holds Tennyson and Browning apart is a quality which cannot be pout as a one-word heading over a section of poems. Tennyson at his finest is one of the world’s great masters of ornate verbal music...Browning at his best approaches Shakespeare in power of tense and vivid description... Browning wrote lyrics of beauty, but the lyrics of Tennyson are more beautiful; his blank verse is noble, yet if falls below Shakespeare. But the curious grave of the Grammarian is alone upon the mountains and can be compared or contrasted neither with the work of Tennyson nor any other... The summit of Tennyson is neither curious nor lonely. It is a matchless dignity of music...Nothing like the exquisite melody of the Lady of Shalott, Oenone, or The Lotos-Eaters, is to be heard in Browning. The end is as the beginning. The more the tiger lily and the rose are scrutinized the more unlike they appear in all respects but one: both, at their freshest are perfection.”

Note: Boas opens this discussion with an analogy “To put the tiger lily and the rose into the same vase does not make harmony, but it arrests attention.” The soil is the same but it yields a different flower.

And yet another comment from F. Lucas: “Browning tended to wear his Victorian clothes inside out; but they were the same clothes...a little threadbare. Both he (Tennyson) and Browning seem to me pure poets damaged by being too much honored as prophets in their own country. In consequence they were led more to preach, where they should have sung.”

Tennyson the patriot and Browning the ex-patriot, and the patriotic theme: Browning was already roaming the world in such unusual places as Russia, Moravia and the like. These wanderings are reflected in titles such as: Home Thoughts from Abroad with the famous lines “Oh, to be in England now that April’s there” and Home Thoughts from the Sea which was to be the third part of “thoughts from abroad” referencing Cape Saint Vincent, the southwest point of Portugal, where Napoleon won a victory in 1797. And the last effort was Nationality in Drinks:

My heart sank with our Claret-flask,
Just now, beneath the heavy sedges
That serve this Pond's black face for mask
And still at yonder broken edges
O' the hole, where up the bubbles glisten,
After my heart I look and listen.
Originally titled Claret and Tokay
Our laughing little flask, compelled
Thro' depth to depth more bleak and shady;
As when, both arms beside her held,
Feet straightened out, some gay French lady
Is caught up from life's light and motion,
And dropped into death's silent ocean!
Up jumped Tokay on our table,
Like a pygmy castle-warder,
Dwarfish to see, but stout and able,
Arms and accoutrements all in order;
And fierce he looked North, then, wheeling South,
Blew with his bugle a challenge to Drouth,
Cocked his flap-hat with the tosspot-feather,
Twisted his thumb in his red moustache,
Jingled his huge brass spurs together,
Tightened his waist with its Buda sash,
And then, with an impudence nought could abash,
Shrugged his hump-shoulder, to tell the beholder,
For twenty such knaves he should laugh but the bolder:
And so, with his sword-hilt gallantly jutting,
And dexter-hand on his haunch abutting,
Went the little man, Sir Ausbruch, strutting!
pygmy castle-warder is a figure on the label of a Tokay bottle
Buda:old capital of Hungary in 1873
Here's to Nelson's memory!
'Tis the second time that I, at sea,
Right off Cape Trafalgar here,
Have drunk it deep in British Beer.
Nelson for ever---any time
Am I his to command in prose or rhyme!
Give me of Nelson only a touch,
And I save it, be it little or much:
Here's one our Captain gives, and so
Down at the word, by George, shall it go!
He says that at Greenwich they point the beholder
To Nelson's coat, ‘still with tar on the shoulder:
For he used to lean with one shoulder digging,
Jigging, as it were, and zig-zag-zigging
Up against the mizen-rigging!'
Referencing the second time Browning passed Trafalgar the site of Nelson's greatest victory and his death.
Hospital east of London on the Thames where Nelson's personal belongings were given.

Browning wrote on patriotism but not English patriotism, for example the Patriot which some critics believe to reference the Battle of Novara and the collapse of the Italian struggle for freedom but in a better sense it is a story of reward and punishment for a hero who served but one year. There is also Incident at the French Camp. Here is The Patriot:

It was roses, roses, all the way,
With myrtle mixed in my path like mad:
The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
A year ago on this very day.

The air broke into a mist with bells,
The old walls rocked with the crowd and cries.
Had I said, "Good folk, mere noise repels
But give me your sun from yonder skies!"

They had answered, "And afterward, what else?"
Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun
To give it my loving friends to keep!
Nought man could do, have I left undone:
And you see my harvest, what I reap
This very day, now a year is run.

There's nobody on the house-tops now
Just a palsied few at the windows set;
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
At the Shambles' Gate or, better yet,
By the very scaffold's foot, I trow.

I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
A rope cuts both my wrists behind;
And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
For they fling, whoever has a mind,
Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.

Thus I entered, and thus I go!
In triumphs, people have dropped down dead.
"Paid by the world, what dost thou owe
Me?"--God might question; now instead,'Tis God shall repay: I am safer so.

Browning’s background, which was quite plebeian, private school and uneventful, a little vulgar and lacking in manners. When his father inquired “Well, Robert, what are you going to be?” He replied that a poet’s life might suit him. Thus at the age of thirty-three he wrote:

What has life, then, brought to me?
Nothing except thirty-three.

When he began to write of human life it can be said that of “the good, bad and ugly” Tennyson preferred the “good”; Browning, “the bad and ugly”. Ugly as in lunatic, charlatan, crank, criminal or other abnormally behaving creature. Likewise in poetry of love they differ philosophically. : Tennyson favors reverence and sanctity, as in Maud and Love and Duty. Browning, monsters and villains as in The Statue and The Bust where the hero, supposedly to be Duke Ferdinand of Florence, desires the wife of another nobleman. When the young wife returns the admiration at an event, the husband locks her in her chamber. From then on they spend five years exchanging glances through a window. She hires a sculptor to reproduce her youth and beauty to put in the window. The Duke engages his own sculptor to create a marble statue of him on his horse that she may gaze upon, presumably the bust gazes at the statue forever.

There’s a palace in Florence, the world knows well,
And a statue watches it from the square,
And this story of both do our townsmen tell.

Ages ago, a lady there,
At the farthest window facing the East,
Asked, "Who rides by with the royal air?"

The bridesmaids' prattle around her ceased;
She leaned forth, one on either hand;
They saw how the blush of the bride increased --

They felt by its beats her heart expand
As one at each ear and both in a breath
Whispered, "The Great-Duke Ferdinand."
That self-same instant, underneath,
The Duke rode past in his idle way,
Empty and fine like a swordless sheath.

Gay he rode, with a friend as gay,
Till he threw his head back "Who is she?"
"A bride the Riccardi brings home today."
Hair in heaps lay heavily
Over a pale brow spirit-pure --
Carved like the heart of the coal-black tree,

Crisped like a war-steed's encolure
And vainly sought to dissemble her eyes
Of the blackest black our eyes endure.
And lo, a blade for a knight's emprise
Filled the fine empty sheath of a man,
The Duke grew straightway brave and wise.

He looked at her, as a lover can;
She looked at him, as one who awakes:
The past was a sleep, and their life began.
Now, love so ordered for both their sakes,
A feast was held that selfsame night
In the pile which the mighty shadow makes.

(For Via Larga is three-parts light,
But the palace overshadows one,
Because of a crime which may God requite!

To Florence and God the wrong was done,
Through the first republic's murder there
By Cosimo and his cursèd son.)
The Duke (with the statue's face in the square)
Turned in the midst of his multitude
At the bright approach of the bridal pair.

Face to face the lovers stood
A single minute and no more,
While the bridegroom bent as a man subdued

Bowed till his bonnet brushed the floor --
For the Duke on the lady a kiss conferred,
As the courtly custom was of yore.
In a minute can lovers exchange a word?
If a word did pass, which I do not think,
Only one out of the thousand heard.

That was the bridegroom.
At day's brink
He and his bride were alone at last
In a bedchamber by a taper's blink.
Calmly he said that her lot was cast,
That the door she had passed was shut on her
Till the final catafalque repassed.

The world meanwhile, its noise and stir,
Through a certain window facing the East,
She could watch like a convent's chronicler.

Since passing the door might lead to a feast,
And a feast might lead to so much beside,
He, of many evils, chose the least. "Freely I choose too," said the bride --
"Your window and its world suffice," Replied the tongue, while the heart replied --
"If I spend the night with that devil twice,
May his window serve as my loop of hell Whence a damned soul looks on paradise!

"I fly to the Duke who loves me well,
Sit by his side and laugh at sorrow
Ere I count another ave-bell.

"'Tis only the coat of a page to borrow,
And tie my hair in a horse-boy's trim,
And I save my soul -- but not tomorrow" --

(She checked herself and her eye grew dim)
"My father tarries to bless my state:
I must keep it one day more for him.

"Is one day more so long to wait?
Moreover the Duke rides past, I know;
We shall see each other, sure as fate."

She turned on her side and slept. Just so!
So we resolve on a thing and sleep:
So did the lady, ages ago.

That night the Duke said, "Dear or cheap
As the cost of this cup of bliss may prove
To body or soul, I will drain it deep."
And on the morrow, bold with love,
He beckoned the bridegroom (close on call,
As his duty bade, by the Duke's alcove)

And smiled "'Twas a very funeral,
Your lady will think, this feast of ours, --
A shame to efface, whate'er befall!
"What if we break from the Arno bowers,
And try if Petraja, cool and green,
Cure last night's fault with this morning's flowers?"
The bridegroom, not a thought to be seen
On his steady brow and quiet mouth,
Said, "Too much favour for me so mean!

"But, alas! my lady leaves the South;
Each wind that comes from the Apennine
Is a menace to her tender youth:
"Nor a way exists, the wise opine,
If she quits her palace twice this year,
To avert the flower of life's decline."
Quoth the Duke, "A sage and a kindly fear.
Moreover Petraja is cold this spring:
Be our feast tonight as usual here!"
And then to himself "Which night shall bring
Thy bride to her lover's embraces, fool
Or I am the fool, and thou art the king!

"Yet my passion must wait a night, nor cool
For tonight the Envoy arrives from France
Whose heart I unlock with thyself, my tool.

"I need thee still and might miss perchance.
Today is not wholly lost, beside,
With its hope of my lady's countenance:

"For I ride what should I do but ride?
And passing her palace, if I list,
May glance at its window -- well betide!"
So said, so done: nor the lady missed
One ray that broke from the ardent brow,
Nor a curl of the lips where the spirit kissed.

Be sure that each renewed the vow,
No morrow's sun should arise and set
And leave them then as it left them now.

But next day passed, and next day yet,
With still fresh cause to wait one day more
Ere each leaped over the parapet.
And still, as love's brief morning wore,
With a gentle start, half smile, half sigh,
They found love not as it seemed before.

They thought it would work infallibly,
But not in despite of heaven and earth:
The rose would blow when the storm passed by.

Meantime they could profit in winter's dearth
By store of fruits that supplant the rose:
The world and its ways have a certain worth:
And to press a point while these oppose
Were simple policy; better wait:
We lose no friends and we gain no foes.

Meantime, worse fates than a lover's fate,
Who daily may ride and pass and look
Where his lady watches behind the grate!

And she -- she watched the square like a book
Holding one picture and only one,
Which daily to find she undertook:

When the picture was reached the book was done,
And she turned from the picture at night to scheme
Of tearing it out for herself next sun.

So weeks grew months, years; gleam by gleam
The glory dropped from their youth and love,
And both perceived they had dreamed a dream;

Which hovered as dreams do, still above:
But who can take a dream for a truth?
Oh, hide our eyes from the next remove!
One day as the lady saw her youth
Depart, and the silver thread that streaked
Her hair, and, worn by the serpent's tooth,

The brow so puckered, the chin so peaked, --
And wondered who the woman was,
Hollow-eyed and haggard-cheeked,
Fronting her silent in the glass --
"Summon here," she suddenly said,
"Before the rest of my old self pass,

"Him, the Carver, a hand to aid,
Who fashions the clay no love will change,
And fixes a beauty never to fade.

"Let Robbia's craft so apt and strange
Arrest the remains of young and fair,
And rivet them while the seasons range.
"Make me a face on the window there,
Waiting as ever, mute the while,
My love to pass below in the square!

"And let me think that it may beguile
Dreary days which the dead must spend
Down in their darkness under the aisle,
"To say, 'What matters it at the end?
I did no more while my heart was warm
Than does that image, my pale-faced friend.'

"Where is the use of the lip's red charm,
The heaven of hair, the pride of the brow,
And the blood that blues the inside arm
"Unless we turn, as the soul knows how,
The earthly gift to an end divine?
A lady of clay is as good, I trow."
But long ere Robbia's cornice, fine,
With flowers and fruits which leaves enlace,
Was set where now is the empty shrine

(And, leaning out of a bright blue space,
As a ghost might lean from a chink of sky,
The passionate pale lady's face
Eyeing ever, with earnest eye
And quick-turned neck at its breathless stretch,
Some one who ever is passing by )
The Duke had sighed like the simplest wretch

In Florence, "Youth my dream escapes!
Will its record stay?" And he bade them fetch
Some subtle moulder of brazen shapes
"Can the soul, the will, die out of a man
Ere his body find the grave that gapes?

"John of Douay shall effect my plan,
Set me on horseback here aloft,
Alive, as the crafty sculptor can,
"In the very square I have crossed so oft:
That men may admire, when future suns
Shall touch the eyes to a purpose soft,

"While the mouth and the brow stay brave in bronze --
Admire and say, 'When he was alive
How he would take his pleasure once!'

"And it shall go hard but I contrive
To listen the while, and laugh in my tomb
At idleness which aspires to strive."
So! While these wait the trump of doom,

How do their spirits pass, I wonder,
Nights and days in the narrow room?
Still, I suppose, they sit and ponder
What a gift life was, ages ago,
Six steps out of the chapel yonder.
Only they see not God, I know,
Nor all that chivalry of his,
The soldier-saints who, row on row,

Burn upward each to his point of bliss --
Since, the end of life being manifest,
He had burned his way through the world to this.
I hear you reproach, "But delay was best,
For their end was a crime." -- Oh, a crime will do
As well, I reply, to serve for a test,
As a virtue golden through and through,
Sufficient to vindicate itself
And prove its worth at a moment's view!

Must a game be played for the sake of pelf?
Where a button goes, 'twere an epigram
To offer the stamp of the very Guelph.

The true has no value beyond the sham:
As well the counter as coin, I submit,
When your table's a hat, and your prize a dram.

Stake your counter as boldly every whit,
Venture as warily, use the same skill,
Do your best, whether winning or losing it,

If you choose to play! -- is my principle.
Let a man contend to the uttermost
For his life's set prize, be it what it will!

The counter our lovers staked was lost
As surely as if it were lawful coin:
And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost

Is the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin,
Though the end in sight was a vice,
I say. You of the virtue (we issue join)
How strive you? De te, fabula.

For Tennyson, love is portrayed as “conjugal fidelity” and the sanctity of marriage. . Romantically portrayed in Idylls of the King . In his poem Love and Duty two lovers cannot marry because duty must come first. A similar theme occurs in The Princess. Browning has a different idea: for him affairs of the heart should never be sacrificed for expediency as in Youth and Art where the two fail to marry due to lack of funds:

It once might have been, once only:
We lodged in a street together,
You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
I, a lone she-bird of his feather.

Your trade was with sticks and clay,
You thumbed, thrust, patted and polished,
Then laughed "They will see some day
Smith made, and Gibson demolished."

My business was song, song, song;
I chirped, cheeped, trilled and twittered,
"Kate Brown's on the boards ere long,
And Grisi's existence embittered!"

I learned no more by a warble
Than you by a sketch in plaster;
You wanted a piece of marble,
I needed a music-master.

We studied hard in our styles,
Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,
For air looked out on the tiles,
For fun watched each other's windows.

You lounged, like a boy of the South,
Cap and blouse nay, a bit of beard too;
Or you got it, rubbing your mouth
With fingers the clay adhered to.

And I soon managed to find
Weak points in the flower-fence facing,
Was forced to put up a blind
And be safe in my corset-lacing.

No harm! It was not my fault

If you never turned your eye's tail up
As I shook upon E in alt,
Or ran the chromatic scale up:

For spring bade the sparrows pair,
And the boys and girls gave guesses,
And stalls in our street looked rare

With bulrush and watercresses.

Why did not you pinch a flower
In a pellet of clay and fling it?
Why did not I put a power
Of thanks in a look, or sing it?

I did look, sharp as a lynx,
(And yet the memory rankles,)
When models arrived, some minx
Tripped up-stairs, she and her ankles.

But I think I gave you as good!
"That foreign fellow,--who can know
How she pays, in a playful mood,
For his tuning her that piano?"

Could you say so, and never say
"Suppose we join hands and fortunes,
And I fetch her from over the way,
Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?"

No, no: you would not be rash,
Nor I rasher and something over:
You've to settle yet Gibson's hash,
And Grisi yet lives in clover.

But you meet the Prince at the Board,
I'm queen myself at bals-paré,
I've married a rich old lord,
And you're dubbed knight and an R.A.

Each life unfulfilled, you see;
It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
We have not sighed deep, laughed free,

Starved, feasted, despaired,--been happy.

And nobody calls you a dunce,
And people suppose me clever:
This could but have happened once,
And we missed it, lost it for ever.

An American hero would put it in shorter words: “Be sure your right, then go ahead!” Davy Crocket.

In poems of art there are also differences. Tennyson views art as the conflict between love and beauty while to Browning art is love and beauty. So Tennyson writes The Palace of Art where the speaker argues for “art for art’s sake” she builds himself a “lordly pleasure-house” but falls into spiritual despair that can only be erased by abandoning the palace and return to a humble cottage and life among men. Thus devotion to beauty and the exclusion of the outer world can only result in the despair and stagnation that accompanies deep loneliness. James Spedding wrote the poem “represents allegorically the condition of a mind which, in the love of beauty and the triumphant consciousness of knowledge and intellectual supremacy, in the intense enjoyment of its own power and glory, has lost sight of its relation to man and God."

I built my soul a lordly pleasure-house,
Wherein at ease for aye to dwell.
I said, ‘O Soul, make merry and carouse,
Dear soul, for all is well.’

A huge crag-platform, smooth as burnish'd brass,
I chose. The ranged ramparts bright
From level meadow-bases of deep grass
Suddenly scaled the light.

Thereon I built it firm. Of ledge or shelf
The rock rose clear, or winding stair.
My soul would live alone unto herself
In her high palace there.

And ’hile the world runs round and round,’ I said,
‘Reign thou apart, a quiet king,
Still as, while Saturn whirls his steadfast shade
Sleeps on his luminous ring.’
To which my soul made answer readily:
‘Trust me, in bliss I shall abide
In this great mansion, that is built for me,
So royal-rich and wide.’
Four courts I made, East, West and South and North,
In each a squared lawn, wherefrom
The golden gorge of dragons spouted forth
A flood of fountain-foam.
And round the cool green courts there ran a row
Of cloisters, branched like mighty woods,
Echoing all night to that sonorous flow
Of spouted fountain-floods.
And round the roofs a gilded gallery
That lent broad verge to distant lands,
Far as the wild swan wings, to where the sky
Dipoed down to sea and sands.
From those four jets four currents in one swell
Across the mountain streamed below
In misty folds, that floating as they fell
Lit up a torrent-bow.
And high on every peak a statue seemed
To hang on tiptoe, tossing up

A cloud of incense of all odor steamed
From out a golden cup.
So that she thought, ‘And who shall gaze upon
My palace with unblinded eyes,
While this great bow will waver in the sun,
And that sweet incense rise?’
For that sweet incense rose and never faild,
And, while day sank or mounted higher,
The light aerial gallery, golden-railed,
Burnt like a fringe of fire.
Likewise the deep-set windows, stained and traced,
Would seem slow-flaming crimson fires
From shadowed grots of arches interlaced,
And tipped with frost-like spires.

Full of long-sounding corridors it was,
That over-vaulted grateful gloom,
Through which the livelong day my soul did pass,
Well-pleased, from room to room.
Full of great rooms and small the palace stood,
All various, each a perfect whole
From living Nature, fit for every mood
And change of my still soul.
For some were hung with arras green and blue,
Showing a gaudy summer-morn,
Where with puff'd cheek the belted hunter blew
His wreathed bugle-horn.
One seemed all dark and red a tract of sand,
And someone pacing there alone,
Who paced for ever in a glimmering land,
Lit with a low large moon.
One showed an iron coast and angry waves
You seemed to hear them climb and fall
And roar rock-thwarted under bellowing caves,
Beneath the windy wall.
And one, a full-fed river winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
The ragged rims of thunder brooding low,
With shadow-streaks of rain.

And one, the reapers at their sultry toil.
In front they bound the sheaves. Behind
Were realms of upland, prodigal in oil,
And hoary to the wind.
And one a foreground black with stones and slags,
Beyond, a line of heights, and higher
All barred with long white cloud the scornful crags,
And highest, snow and fire.
And one, an English home gray twilight poured
On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
Softer than sleep all things in order stored,
A haunt of ancient Peace.
Nor these alone, but every landscape fair,
As fit for every mood of mind,
Or gay, or grave, or sweet, or stern, was there,
Not less than truth designed.

Or the maid-mother by a crucifix.
In tracts of pasture sunny-warm.
Beneath branch-work of costly sardonyx
Sat smiling, babe in arm.
Or in a clear-walled city on the sea,
Near gilded organ-pipes, her hair
with white roses, slept Saint Cecily;
An angel looked at her.

Or thronging all one porch of Paradise
A group of Houris bowed to see
The dying Islamite, with hands and eyes
That said, We wait for thee.

Or mythic Uther's deeply-wounded son
In some fair space of sloping greens
Lay, dozing in the vale of Avalon,
And watched by weeping queens.
Or hollowing one hand against his ear,
To list a foot-fall, ere he saw
The wood-nymph, stayed the Ausonian king to hear
Of wisdom and of law.
Or over hills with peaky tops engrailed,
And many a tract of palm and rice,
The throne of Indian Cama slowly sailed
A summer fanned with spice.

Or sweet Europa's mantle blew unclasped,
From off her shoulder backward borne:
From one hand drooped a crocus: one hand grasped
The mild bull's golden horn.
Or else flushed Ganymede, his rosy thigh
Half-buried in the Eagle's down,
Sole as a flying star shot through the sky
Above the pillared town.
Nor these alone: but every legend fair
Which the supreme Caucasian mind
Carved out of Nature for itself was there'
Not less than life designed.

Then in the towers I placed great bells that swung,
Moved of themselves, with silver sound;
And with choice paintings of wise men I hung
The royal dais round.

For there was Milton like a seraph strong,
Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild;
And there the world-worn Dante grasped his song,
And somewhat grimly smiled.

And there the Ionian father of the rest;
A million wrinkles carved his skin;
A hundred winters snowed upon his breast,
From cheek and throat and chin.

Above, the fair hall-ceiling stately-set
Many an arch high- up did lift,
And angels rising and descending met
With interchange of gift.
Below was all choicely planned
With cycles of the human tale
Of this wide world, the times of every land
So wrought they will not fail.

The people here, a beast of burden slow,
Toiled onward, pricked with goads and stings;
Here played, a tiger, rolling to and fro
The heads and crowns of kings;

Here rose, an athlete, strong to break or bind
All force in bonds that might endure,
And here once more like some sick man declined,
And trusted any cure.

But over these she trod: and those great bells
Aan to chime. She took her throne:
She sat betwixt the shining Oriels.
To sing her songs alone.

And through the topmost Oriels, colored flame
Two godlike faces gazed below;
Plato the wise, and large-browed Verulam,
The first of those who know.
And all those names that in their motion were
Full-welling fountain-heads of change,
Betwixt the slender shafts were blazon'd fair
In diverse raiment strange:

Through which the lights' rose, amber, emerald, blue,
Flushed in her temples and her eyes,
And from her lips, as morn from Memnon, drew
Rivers of melodies.

No nightingale delighteth to prolong
Her low preamble all alone,
More than my soul to hear her echoed song
Throb thro' the ribbed stone;

Singing and murmuring in her feastful mirth,
Joying to feel herself alive,
Lord over Nature, Lord of the visible earth,
Lord of the senses five;

Communing with herself: ‘All these are mine,
And let the world have peace or wars,
'T is one to me.’ She when young night divine
Crowned dying day with stars,

Making sweet close of his delicious toils —
Lit light in wreaths and anadems,
And pure quintessences of precious oils
In hollowed moons of gems,

To mimic heaven; and clapped her hands and cried,
I marvel if my still delight
In this great house so royal-rich, and wide,
Be flattered to the height.

‘O all things fair to sate my various eyes!
O shapes and hues that please me well!
O silent faces of the Great and Wise,
My Gods, with whom I dwell!
‘O God-like isolation which art mine,
I can but count thee perfect gain,
What time I watch the darkening droves of swine
That range on yonder plain.
‘In filthy sloughs they roll a prurient skin,
They graze and wallow, breed and sleep;
And oft some brainless devil enters in,
And drives them to the deep."

Then of the moral instinct would she prate
And of the rising from the dead,
As hers by right of full-accomplished Fate;
And at the last she said:

‘I take possession of man's mind and deed.
‘I care not what the sects may brawl.
I sit as God holding no form of creed,
But contemplating all.’

Full oft the riddle of the painful earth
Flash'd thro' her as she sat alone,
Yet not the less held she her solemn mirth,
And intellectual throne.

And so she throve and prospered: so three years
She prospered; on the fourth she fell,
Like Herod, when the shout was in his ears,
Struck through with pangs of hell.

Lest she should fail and perish utterly,
God, before whom ever lie bare
The abysmal deeps of Personality,
Plagued her with sore despair.

When she would think, wherever she turned her sight
The airy hand confusion wrought,
Wrote, "Mene, mene," and divided quite
The kingdom of her thought.
Deep dread and loathing of her solitude
Fell on her, from which mood was born
Scorn of herself; again, from out that mood
Laughter at her self-scorn.

‘What! is not this my place of strength,’ she said,
‘My spacious mansion built for me,
Whereof the strong foundation-stones were laid
Since my first memory.’

But in dark corners of her palace stood
uncertain shapes; and unawares
On white-eyed phantasms weeping tears of blood,
And horrible nightmares,

And hollow shades enclosing hearts of flame,
And, with dim fretted foreheads all,
On corpses three-months-old at noon she came,
That stood against the wall.

A spot of dull stagnation, without light
Or power of movement, seemed my soul,
'Mid onward-sloping motions infinite
Making for one sure goal.

A still salt pool, locked in with bars of sand,
Left on the shore; that hears all night
The plunging seas draw backward from the land
Their moon-led waters white.

A star that with the choral starry dance
Joined not, but stood, and standing saw
The hollow orb of moving Circumstance
Rolled round by one fixed law.

Back on herself her serpent pride had curled
‘No voice," she shrieked in that lone hall,
‘No voice breaks thro' the stillness of this world:
One deep, deep silence all!’

She, moldering with the dull earth's moldering sod,
Inwrapt tenfold in slothful shame,
Lay there exiled from eternal God,
Lost to her place and name;

And death and life she hated equally,
And nothing saw, for her despair,
But dreadful time, dreadful eternity,
No comfort anywhere;

Remaining utterly confused with fears,
And ever worse with growing time,
And ever unrelieved by dismal tears,
And all alone in crime:
Shut up as in a crumbling tomb, girt round
With blackness as a solid wall,
Far off she seemed to hear the dully sound
Of human footsteps fall.

As in strange lands a traveler walking slow,
In doubt and great perplexity,
A little before moon-rise hears the low
Moan of an unknown sea;

And knows not if it be thunder, or a sound
Of rocks thrown down, or one deep cry
Of great wild beasts; then thinketh, ‘I have found
A new land, but I die.’

She howled aloud, ‘I am on fire within.
There comes no murmur of reply.
What is it that will take away my sin,
And save me lest I die?’

So when four years were wholly finished,
She threw her royal robes away.
‘Make me a cottage in the vale,’ she said,
‘Where I may mourn and pray.

I pull not down my palace towers, that are
So lightly, beautifully built.
Perchance I may return with others there
When I have purged my guilt.’

Browning in turn wrote Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea Del Sarto or The Faultless Painter. Written in his favorite form this dramatic monologue, the artist falls into marriage with a scheming, selfish woman who forces him into damaging choices that destroy his career. This High Renaissance talented painter locks himself in marriage to an oppressive relationship. Pressured by friends to abandon her as his career begins to plummet, he finally acknowledges that it is she who has blocked his attempts at success in his life. At the same time, he is unable to bring himself to give her up “or put her away” as his friends have pleaded.

Source of the oft spoken words “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp:”

But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I'll work then for your friend's friend, never fear,
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
Oh, I'll content him,--but to-morrow, Love!
I often am much wearier than you think,
This evening more than usual, and it seems
As if--forgive now--should you let me sit
Here by the window with your hand in mine
And look a half-hour forth on Fiesole,
Both of one mind, as married people use,
Quietly, quietly the evening through,
I might get up to-morrow to my work
Cheerful and fresh as ever. Let us try.
To-morrow, how you shall be glad for this!

Your soft hand is a woman of itself,
And mine the man's bared breast she curls inside.
Don't count the time lost, neither; you must serve
For each of the five pictures we require:
It saves a model. So! keep looking so--
My serpentining beauty, rounds on rounds!
--How could you ever prick those perfect ears,
Even to put the pearl there! oh, so sweet--
My face, my moon, my everybody's moon,
Which everybody looks on and calls his,
And, I suppose, is looked on by in turn,
While she looks--no one's: very dear, no less.
You smile? why, there's my picture ready made,
There's what we painters call our harmony!
A common greyness silvers everything,
All in a twilight, you and I alike
You, at the point of your first pride in me
(That's gone you know), but I, at every point;
My youth, my hope, my art, being all toned down
To yonder sober pleasant Fiesole.
There's the bell clinking from the chapel-top;
That length of convent-wall across the way
Holds the trees safer, huddled more inside;
The last monk leaves the garden; days decrease,
And autumn grows, autumn in everything.
Eh? the whole seems to fall into a shape
As if I saw alike my work and self
And all that I was born to be and do,
A twilight-piece. Love, we are in God's hand.
How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead;
So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!
I feel he laid the fetter: let it lie!
This chamber for example turn your head
All that's behind us! You don't understand
Nor care to understand about my art,
But you can hear at least when people speak:
And that cartoon, the second from the door
It is the thing, Love! so such things should be
Behold Madonna! I am bold to say.
I can do with my pencil what I know,
What I see, what at bottom of my heart
I wish for, if I ever wish so deep
Do easily, too when I say, perfectly,
I do not boast, perhaps: yourself are judge,
Who listened to the Legate's talk last week,
And just as much they used to say in France.
At any rate 'tis easy, all of it!
No sketches first, no studies, that's long past:
I do what many dream of, all their lives,
Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
Who strive you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.
There burns a truer light of God in them,
In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain,
Heart, or whate'er else, than goes on to prompt
This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine.
Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,
Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me,
Enter and take their place there sure enough,
Though they come back and cannot tell the world.
My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.
The sudden blood of these men! at a word
Praise them, it boils, or blame them, it boils too.
I, painting from myself and to myself,
Know what I do, am unmoved by men's blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello's outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for? All is silver-grey,
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!
I know both what I want and what might gain,
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
"Had I been two, another and myself,
"Our head would have overlooked the world!" No doubt.
Yonder's a work now, of that famous youth
The Urbinate who died five years ago.
('Tis copied, George Vasari sent it me.)
Well, I can fancy how he did it all,
Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see,
Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him,
Above and through his art for it gives way;

That arm is wrongly put and there again
A fault to pardon in the drawing's lines,
Its body, so to speak: its soul is right,
He means right that, a child may understand.
Still, what an arm! and I could alter it:
But all the play, the insight and the stretch
(Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out?
Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul,
We might have risen to Rafael, I and you!
Nay, Love, you did give all I asked, I think
More than I merit, yes, by many times.
But had you oh, with the same perfect brow,
And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth,
And the low voice my soul hears, as a bird
The fowler's pipe, and follows to the snare
Had you, with these the same, but brought a mind!
Some women do so. Had the mouth there urged
"God and the glory! never care for gain.
"The present by the future, what is that?
"Live for fame, side by side with Agnolo!
"Rafael is waiting: up to God, all three!"
I might have done it for you. So it seems:
Perhaps not. All is as God over-rules.
Beside, incentives come from the soul's self;
The rest avail not. Why do I need you?
What wife had Rafael, or has Agnolo?
In this world, who can do a thing, will not;
And who would do it, cannot, I perceive:
Yet the will's somewhat somewhat, too, the power
And thus we half-men struggle. At the end,
God, I conclude, compensates, punishes.
'Tis safer for me, if the award be strict,
That I am something underrated here,
Poor this long while, despised, to speak the truth.
I dared not, do you know, leave home all day,
For fear of chancing on the Paris lords.
The best is when they pass and look aside;
But they speak sometimes; I must bear it all.
Well may they speak! That Francis, that first time,
And that long festal year at Fontainebleau!
I surely then could sometimes leave the ground,
Put on the glory, Rafael's daily wear,
In that humane great monarch's golden look,
One finger in his beard or twisted curl
Over his mouth's good mark that made the smile,
One arm about my shoulder, round my neck,
The jingle of his gold chain in my ear,
I painting proudly with his breath on me,
All his court round him, seeing with his eyes,
Such frank French eyes, and such a fire of souls
Profuse, my hand kept plying by those hearts,
And, best of all, this, this, this face beyond,
This in the background, waiting on my work,
To crown the issue with a last reward!
A good time, was it not, my kingly days?
And had you not grown restless... but I know
'Tis done and past: 'twas right, my instinct said:
Too live the life grew, golden and not grey,
And I'm the weak-eyed bat no sun should tempt
Out of the grange whose four walls make his world.
How could it end in any other way?
You called me, and I came home to your heart.
The triumph was to reach and stay there; since
I reached it ere the triumph, what is lost?
Let my hands frame your face in your hair's gold,
You beautiful Lucrezia that are mine!
"Rafael did this, Andrea painted that;
"The Roman's is the better when you pray,
"But still the other's Virgin was his wife "
Men will excuse me. I am glad to judge
Both pictures in your presence; clearer grows
My better fortune, I resolve to think.
For, do you know, Lucrezia, as God lives,
Said one day Agnolo, his very self,
To Rafae I have known it all these years . . .
(When the young man was flaming out his thoughts
Upon a palace-wall for Rome to see,
Too lifted up in heart because of it)
"Friend, there's a certain sorry little scrub
"Goes up and down our Florence, none cares how,
"Who, were he set to plan and execute
"As you are, pricked on by your popes and kings,"
Would bring the sweat into that brow of yours!"
To Rafael's!--And indeed the arm is wrong.
I hardly dare . . . yet, only you to see,
Give the chalk here--quick, thus, the line should go!
Ay, but the soul! he's Rafael! rub it out!
Still, all I care for, if he spoke the truth,
(What he? why, who but Michel Agnolo?
Do you forget already words like those?)
If really there was such a chance, so lost,
Is, whether you're not grateful but more pleased.
Well, let me think so. And you smile indeed!
This hour has been an hour! Another smile?

If you would sit thus by me every night
I should work better, do you comprehend?
I mean that I should earn more, give you more.
See, it is settled dusk now; there's a star;
Morello's gone, the watch-lights show the wall,
The cue-owls speak the name we call them by.
Come from the window, love, come in, at last,
Inside the melancholy little house
We built to be so gay with. God is just.
King Francis may forgive me: oft at nights
When I look up from painting, eyes tired out,
The walls become illumined, brick from brick
Distinct, instead of mortar, fierce bright gold,
That gold of his I did cement them with!
Let us but love each other. Must you go?
That Cousin here again? he waits outside?
Must see you--you, and not with me? Those loans?
More gaming debts to pay? you smiled for that?
Well, let smiles buy me! have you more to spend?
While hand and eye and something of a heart
Are left me, work's my ware, and what's it worth?
I'll pay my fancy. Only let me sit
The grey remainder of the evening out,
Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly
How I could paint, were I but back in France,
One picture, just one more--the Virgin's face,
Not yours this time! I want you at my side
To hear them--that is, Michel Agnolo--
Judge all I do and tell you of its worth.
Will you? To-morrow, satisfy your friend.
I take the subjects for his corridor,
Finish the portrait out of hand--there, there,
And throw him in another thing or two
If he demurs; the whole should prove enough
To pay for this same Cousin's freak. Beside,
What's better and what's all I care about,
Get you the thirteen scudi for the ruff!
Love, does that please you?
Ah, but what does he,The Cousin!
Wht does he to please you more?

I am grown peaceful as old age to-night.
I regret little, I would change still less.
Since there my past life lies, why alter it?
The very wrong to Francis!--it is true
I took his coin, was tempted and complied,
And built this house and sinned, and all is said.
My father and my mother died of want.
Well, had I riches of my own? you see
How one gets rich! Let each one bear his lot.
They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died:
And I have laboured somewhat in my time
And not been paid profusely. Some good son
Paint my two hundred pictures--let him try!
No doubt, there's something strikes a balance. Yes,
You loved me quite enough. it seems to-night.
This must suffice me here. What would one have?
In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance--
Four great walls in the New Jerusalem,
Meted on each side by the angel's reed,
For Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo and me
To cover--the three first without a wife,
While I have mine! So--still they overcome
Because there's still Lucrezia,--as I choose.

Again the Cousin's whistle! Go, my Love

Browning’s poetry reflects the area in which he lived, the Italian markets, museums, and tabloids. I sometimes wonder if his stories would have been quite different had he remained in England. By his own admission he wrote in De Gustibus “Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it: Italy.” Browning’s three long poems The Ring and the Book, Fra Lippo Lippi, and Andrea del Sorto pursue the same theme that beauty could exist without soul. A story appeared in the local paper about a tragic love story involving a triple murder: Browning purchased a copy for one lira and began work on The Ring and the Book. He writes of natural happenings; of pop culture, what is real but hardly of long term interest. We see much truth in the description given by F. Lucas: a poetry “like a dry bed of Alpine torrent down which a flood of bast, untamed energy has roared and foamed itself away, leaving a desolation of dead and bleaching stones; yet with here and there a narrow channel where a rush of waters still spins and dances, bright and living, towards its eternal goal.”

Those “narrow channels” may be found in one of his shorter works The Last Ride Together, written in the style of dramatic monologue it concerns rejected love. The speaker, assumed as the poet, is faced with ending a relationship. It goes on and on about how things could have been better but rationalizing that they could have ended up worse in that instead of parting friends they could have lasted longer in hate. He suggest going for one last ride together. The poem leaves with but six memorable words from canto five “all men strive, and who succeeds.”

I said---Then, dearest, since 'tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seemed meant for, fails,
Since this was written and needs must be
My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness!
Take back the hope you gave, I claim
Only a memory of the same,
And this beside, if you will not blame,
Your leave for one more last ride with me.

My mistress bent that brow of hers;
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
When pity would be softening through,
Fixed me, a breathing-while or two,
With life or death in the balance: right!
The blood replenished me again;
My last thought was at least not vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end tonight?

Hush! if you saw some western cloud
All billowy-bosomed, over-bowed
By many benedictions sun's
And moon's and evening-star's at once
And so, you, looking and loving best,
Conscious grew, your passion drew
Cloud, sunset, moonrise, star-shine too,
Down on you, near and yet more near,
Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!
Thus leant she and lingered joy and fear!
Thus lay she a moment on my breast.

Then we began to ride. My soul
Smoothed itself out, a long-cramped scroll
Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
Past hopes already lay behind.
What need to strive with a life awry?
Had I said that, had I done this,
So might I gain, so might I miss.
Might she have loved me? just as well
She might have hated, who can tell!
Where had I been now if the worst befell?
And here we are riding, she and I.

Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds?
We rode; it seemed my spirit flew,
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rushed by on either side.
I thought, All labour, yet no less
Bear up beneath their unsuccess.
Look at the end of work, contrast
The petty done, the undone vast,
This present of theirs with the hopeful past!
I hoped she would love me; here we ride.

What hand and brain went ever paired?
What heart alike conceived and dared?
What act proved all its thought had been?
What will but felt the fleshly screen?
We ride and I see her bosom heave.
There's many a crown for who can reach,
Ten lines, a statesman's life in each!
The flag stuck on a heap of bones,
A soldier's doing! what atones?
They scratch his name on the Abbey-stones.
My riding is better, by their leave.

What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell
What we felt only; you expressed
You hold things beautiful the best,
And pace them in rhyme so, side by side.
'Tis something, nay 'tis much: but then,
Have you yourself what's best for men?
Are you poor, sick, old ere your time
Nearer one whit your own sublime
Than we who never have turned a rhyme?
Sing, riding's a joy! For me, I ride.

And you, great sculptor -so, you gave
A score of years to Art, her slave,
And that's your Venus, whence we turn
To yonder girl that fords the burn!
You acquiesce, and shall I repine?
What, man of music, you grown grey
With notes and nothing else to say,
Is this your sole praise from a friend,
“Greatly his opera's strains intend,
Put in music we know how fashions end!''
I gave my youth; but we ride, in fine.

Who knows what's fit for us? Had fate
Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being had I signed the bond
Still one must lead some life beyond,
Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried.
This foot once planted on the goal,
This glory-garland round my soul,
Could I descry such? Try and test!
I sink back shuddering from the quest.
Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?
Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.

And yet she has not spoke so long!
What if heaven be that, fair and strong
At life's best, with our eyes upturned
Whither life's flower is first discerned,
We, fixed so, ever should so abide?
What if we still ride on, we two
With life for ever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity,
And heaven just prove that I and she
Ride, ride together, for ever ride?

As to religion, Tennyson leaves no doubt as to his Christianity, however Browning is another matter. Some have written about his lack of devoutness. But there are some redeeming words in both Rabbi ben Ezra and Pippa Passes.

Here is Rabbi ben Ezra, rhyming is aab,ccb. Although based upon an authentic Rabbi who lived in the twelfth the poem uses the theist who expresses a viewpoint the antithesis of Epicurean and Skeptic, as one who lives for the passing moment. It contains a memorable ten words “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.” It rejects the idea that youth is the only good time in life; man continues to grow with wisdom occurring just before death. It makes the analogy of God as a potter. He makes a cup; the base is the beginning and only with the cup’s completion and life’s ending does man become useful to God. One should rejoice, not mourn the end of ones life.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"

Not that, amassing flowers,
Youth sighed, "Which rose make ours,
Which lily leave and then as best recall!"
Not that, admiring stars,
It yearned "Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!"

Not for such hopes and fears
Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark!
Rather I prize the doubt
Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.

Poor vaunt of life indeed,
Were man but formed to feed
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast:
Such feasting ended, then
As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

Rejoice we are allied
To That which doth provideAnd not partake, effect and not receive!
A spark disturbs our clod;
Nearer we hold of God.
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.

Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!

For thence, a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks,
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale.

What is he but a brute
Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play?
To man, propose this test
Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?

Yet gifts should prove their use:
I own the Past profuse
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
Eyes, ears took in their dole,
Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once "How good to live and learn?"

Not once beat "Praise be Thine!
I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:
Perfect I call Thy plan:
Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete, I trust what Thou shall do!"

For pleasant is this flesh;
Our soul, in its rose-mesh
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest:
Would we some prize might hold
To match those manifold
Possessions of the brute, gain most, as we did best!

Let us not always say,
"Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!"As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry "All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!"

Therefore I summon age
To grant youth's heritage,
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
Thence shall I pass, approvedA man, for aye removed
From the developed brute; a God tho' in the germ.

And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue

Youth ended, I shall try
My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
And I shall weigh the same,
Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.

For, note when evening shuts,
A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the gray:
A whisper from the west
Shoots "Add this to the rest,
Take it and try its worth: here dies another day."

So, still within this life,
Tho' lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last,
"This rage was right i' the main,
That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now I have proved the Past."

For more is not reserved
To man, with soul just nerved
To act to-morrow what he learns to-day:
Here, work enough to watch
The Master work, and catch
Hints of the proper craft, tricks of the tool's true play.

As it was better, youth
Should strive, thro' acts uncouth,
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
So, better, age, exemptFrom strife, should know, than tempt
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death, nor be afraid!

Enough now, if the Right
And Good and InfiniteBe named¡ here, as thou callest thy hand thine own,
With knowledge absolute,
Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel alone.

Be there, for once and all,
Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past!
Was I, the world arraigned,
Were they, my soul disdained,
Right? Let age speak the truth and give us peace at last!

Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
Ten, who in ears and eyes
Match me: we all surmise,
They, this thing, and I, that: whom shall my soul believe?

Not on the vulgar mass
Called "work," must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
O'er which, from level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straight way to its mind, could value in a trice:

But all, the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account:
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount:

Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke thro' language and escaped:
All I could never be,
All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.

Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
That metaphor! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay, —
Thou, to whom fools propound,When the wine makes its round,
"Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!"

Fool! All that is, at all,
Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee,
That was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure.

He fixed thee mid this dance
Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
Machinery just meant
To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

What tho' the earlier grooves
Which ran the laughing loves
Around thy base, no longer pause and press?
What tho' about thy rim,
Scull-things in order grim
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress?

Look not thou down but up!
To uses of a cup
The festal board, lamp's flash and trumpet's peal,
The new wine's foaming flow,
The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what need’st thou with earth's wheel?

But I need, now as then,
Thee, God, who mouldest men!
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
Did I, to the wheel of life
With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily, mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst.

So take and use Thy work,
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

Browning wrote Pippa Passes as a poetic drama with thrteen characters: Pippa, Ottima, Sebald, Students, Gottlieb, Schramm, Jules, Phene, Police, Bluphocks, Luigi, Girls, and Monsignor. Alexandra Leighton describes the incident which spawned the writing: “Mr Browning was walking alone, in a wood near Dulwich, when the image flashed upon him of some one walking thus alone through life; one apparently too obscure to leave a trace of his or her passage, yet exercising a lasting though unconscious influence at every step of it; and the image shaped itself into the little silk-winder of Asolo by the name of Felippa, thus “Pippa.”

Keep in mind that Browning was most interested in examining human psychology and believed in a subconscious . Today this might be classified as a dark drama. Pippa is a young girl who works all year in a silk mill located in Asola, Italy. Each year she has one day off, New Year’s Day, which she decides to go into town and see what other people are doing on the holiday. The play is divided into Morning, Noon, and Night with a final epilogue. As she walks through the streets of Asola she sings her song. The song she sings alters the destinies of each as they hear it even though she herself give no indication that she is aware of the effects. For example first song affirms that we are all equal in God’s eyes. The song is:

All service ranks the same with God:
If now, as formerly he trod
Paradise, his presence fills
Our earth, each only as God wills
Can work God’s puppets, best and worst,
Are we; there is no last nor first.

The first passage involves two characters, Sebald and Ottima, adulterous lovers who have just murdered Ottima’s husband. Sebald hears Pippa’s Song:

The year’s at the spring.
And day’s at the morn!
Morning’s at seven:
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing:
the snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in his heaven
All’s right with the world!

Sebald: God’s in his heaven! Do you hear that: Who spoke? ...
My brain is drowned now quite drowned: all I feel swift-recurring intervals
A hurry-down within me, as of waters
Loosened to smother up some ghastly pit:
There they go-whirls from a black fiery sea?

Ottima: Not me - to him, O god, be merciful!.

We conclude with this quote from Matthew Arnold taken from Study of Poetry:

“Poetry interprets in two ways: it interprets by expressing with magical felicity the physiognomy and movement of the outward world, and it interprets by expressing with inspired conviction, the ideas and laws of the inward world of man’s moral and spiritual nature. In other words poetry is interpretive by having a natural magic in it and by having moral profundity. In both ways it illuminates man; it gives him a satisfying sense of reality; it reconciles him with himself and the universe. The greatest poets unite in themselves the faculty of both kinds of interpretation, the naturalistic and the moral. But it is observable that in the poets who unite both kinds, the latter (the moral) usually ends by making itself the master.”

villanelle - During the Renaissance this was a Troubadour's simple country song of no particular form. The French word villanelle comes from the Italian word villanella, which derives from the Latin villa (farm) and villano (farmhand). The form as we know it today was described in an 1844 treatise by a French Romantic poet-critic named Wilhelm Tnint(1813). It is a fixed nineteen-line dual-refrain poem comprised of five tercets and a concluding quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; and again in the final stanza.

The only known example from the Renaissance is Jean Passerats (1534-1602) Jay perdu ma tourterelle:

J'ai perdu ma tourterelle.
N'est-ce point elle que j'oi?
Je veux aller apres elle.

Tu regrettes ta femelle.
Helas! ainsi fais-je, moi.
J'ai perdu ma tourterelle.

Si ton amour est fidele,
Aussi est ferme ma foi.
Je veux aller apres elle.

Ta plainte se renouvelle.
Toujours plaindre je me dol.
J'ai perdu ma tourterelle.

En ne voyant plus ma belle,
Plus rien de beau je ne vol.
Je veux aller apres elle.

Mort que tant de fois j'appelle,
Prends ce qui se donne a toi.
J'ai perdu ma tourterelle.
Je veux aller apres elle.

For some reason the villanelle lacked popularity with the era of French post-Romantic and Decadent verse. It reached England in the early nineteenth century and became an alternative to the free verse movement. James Joyce (1854-1900), W.H. Auden (1907-1973) and William Empson 1906-1984) were leaders of the revival. Their work allowed the villanelle to be correctly called the only fixed form of contemporary invention in English. Edwin Arlington Robinson's villanelle The House on the Hill was first published in The Globe in September 1894.

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill.
They are all gone away.

Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.

Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,

And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.

There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.

Later, English poets such as W. H. Auden, Oscar Wilde, and Seamus Heany, and American poets David Shapiro, Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop focused on themes other than the original free-form Renaissance idealized life. Here is Heany's Villanelle For an Anniversary:

A spirit moved. John Harvard walked the yard,
The atom lay unsplit, the west unwon,
The books stood open and the gates unbarred.

The maps dreamt on like moondust. Nothing stirred.
The future was a verb in hibernation.
A spirit moved, John Harvard walked the yard.

Before the classic style, before the clapboard,
All through the small hours of an origin,
The books stood open and the gate unbarred.

Night passage of a migratory bird.
Wingflap. Gownflap. Like a homing pigeon
A spirit moved, John Harvard walked the yard.

Was that his soul (look) sped to its reward
By grace or works? A shooting star? An omen?
The books stood open and the gate unbarred.

Begin again where frosts and tests were hard.
Find yourself or founder. Here, imagine
A spirit moves, John Harvard walks the yard,
The books stand open and the gates unbarred.

And some American villanelles by David Shapiro, Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop.

David Shapiro's The Carburetor at Venice:

I have had an accident. I cannot see.
I have broken my glasses and Ive missed my train.
I like you very much. Do you like me?

I need a guide. I need a secretary.
For when? For tomorrow. I will come again.
I have had an accident. I cannot see.

I need an interpreter. Here is my key.
Ouch! Stop! How long will it take? Please use novocaine.
I like you very much. Do you like me?

Remove your clothes. Open your mouth and lie
Like an interesting city under an airplane.
I have had an accident. I cannot see.

The battery is dead. Charge up the battery.
Can you draw me a map of the road Im on?
I like you very much. Do you like me?

Can I see you today for the whole day? How long will that be?
Here is a present for you. A silver brain.
I have had an accident. I cannot see.
I like you very much. Do you like me?

Sylvia Plath's Lament:

The sting of bees took away my father
who walked in a swarming shroud of wings
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

Lightning licked in a yellow lather
but missed the mark with snaking fangs:
the sting of bees too away my father.

Trouncing the sea like a ragin bather,
he rode the flood in a pride of prongs
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

A scowl of sun struck down my mother,
tolling her grave with golden gongs,
but the sting of bees took away my father.

He counted the guns of god a bother,
laughed at the ambush of angels' tongues,
and scorned the tick of the falling weather.

O ransack the four winds and find another
man who can mangle the grin of kings:
the sting of bees took away my father
who scorned the tick of the falling weather.

And Poet Laureate Elizabeth Bishop's One Art:

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

For a Copy of Theocritus

O singer of the field and fold,
Theocritus! Pan’s pipe was thine,
Thine was the happier Age of Gold.

For thee the scent of new-turned mould,
The bee-hives, and the murmuring pine,
O Singer of the field and fold!

Thou sang’st the simple feasts of old,
The beechern bowl made glad with wine
Thine was the hppier Age of Gold.

Thou bad’st the rustic loves be told,
Thou bad’st the uneful reeds combine,
O singer of the field and fold!

And round thee, ever-laughing, rolled
The blithe and glue Sicilian brine
Thine was the happier age of Gold.

Alas for us, Our songs are cold;
Our Northern suns too sadly shine:
O singer of the field and fold,
Thine was the happier Age of Gold!

The poet was Henry Dobson (1840-1921) who spent much time of his early life in France and was instrumental in popularizing French poetry forms. He wrote to help accommodate the boredom of his life as a clerk on the Board of Trade. He once wrote of himself:

“Too low my lot for lofty deed;
I pipe but fancies on a reed.

virgule - A slanting stroke indicating the division of a line into feet.

volta - Usually in a sonnet between sections that turn the poem in a new

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