Art, Literature, Poetry, Politics and a little History
The Lost Mistress BY ROBERT BROWNING
All’s over, then: does truth sound bitter
As one at first believes?
Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter
About your cottage eaves!
And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,
I noticed that, today;
One day more bursts them open fully
– You know the red turns grey.
Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?
May I take your hand in mine?
Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merest
Keep much that I resign:
For each glance of the eye so bright and black,
Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, –
Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,
Though it stay in my soul for ever! –
Yet I will but say what mere friends say,
Or only a thought stronger;
I will hold your hand but as long as all may,
Or so very little longer!
I found this poem which in a collection from a local charity shop in a battered old hardback for just £6. I rather like Browning for his lyrical accessibility. I know that he was greatly loved by the blind Cornish poet, Jack Clemo, for his love of Italy. I remember from school days being very moved by “How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”. Indeed it is now said that it his dramatic monologues which are his greatest contribution. Oscar Wilde writes;”Yes, Browning was great. And as what will he be remembered? As a poet? Ah, not as a poet! He will be remembered as a writer of fiction, as the most supreme writer of fiction, it may be, that we have ever had. His sense of dramatic situation was unrivalled, and, if he could not answer his own problems, he could at least put problems forth, and what more should an artist do? Considered from the point of view of a creator of character he ranks next to him who made Hamlet.”
Returning to the poem above there are certain lines that are both moving and puzzling. “The leaf buds on the vine are wooly” to me suggests that they are both ready to open but some how covered with a kind of moss which is suggestive of some plant that is about to flower and at the same time about to decline. Thus suggestive of the situation the poet finds himself in relation to his would-be mistress. The vine is, of course biblical (John 15.1 and also John 15.4) and brings in another note about time and decay. The colour red turning to gray might I suppose refer to the colour of the grape and the bloom or mould upon it-but clearly signifies passion, like Paradise lost. The seasonal confusions within the poem I find suggestive of the inner turmoil related to the loss of the beloved.
Buried in woods we lay, you recollect;
Swift ran the searching tempest overhead;
And ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burnt through the pine-tree roof,—here burnt and there,
As if God’s messenger through the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture,
Feeling for guilty thee and me.
I find that reading verses in German somehow memorable:-