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The irregular line of elms by the deep lane,
The lane was; sunk so deep, no foreign tramp
Nor drover of wild ponies out of Wales
Could guess if lady's hall or tenant's lodge
Dispensed such odors, though his stick well crooked
The beauty of the last extract is mostly in its suggestiveness; and the hint as to the height of the wall is very ingeniously given.
"Lady Geraldine's Courtship" abounds in exquisite sketches, both of figures and landscape. We select two of the richest color.
"Thus, her foot upon the new-mown grass, bareheaded, with the flowing
And appearing to breathe sun for air, and doubting if to float.
"With a branch of dewy maple, which her right hand held above her,
"Soh! how still the lady standeth! 't is a dream, — a dream of mercies!
Sent to sweep a patient quiet o'er the tossing of his wail.
"With a murmurous stir uncertain, in the air, the purple curtain Swelleth in and swelleth out around her motionless pale brows, While the gliding of the river sends a rippling noise forever
Through the open casement whitened by the moonlight's slant repose."
"There he lay, upon his back,
The yearling creature, warm and moist with life
Of the lovely tumbled curls about his face;
To keep him from the light glare, both his cheeks
The purple curtains, the river, and the moonlight, form a perfect background for "the vision of a Lady."
But" Marian's Babe" is Mrs. Browning's masterpiece. Raphael never painted a more exquisitely natural and tender picture. It needs a mother as well as an artist to mix such colors.
Were hot and scarlet as the first live rose
As a portrait hinting at character, the sketch of Aurora's aunt is admirable for quaint originality and fidelity.
"She stood straight and calm,
Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight
From possible pulses; brown hair pricked with grey
By frigid use of life, (she was not old,
Of perished summers, like a rose in a book,
Kept more for ruth than pleasure,—if past bloom,
Whilst Mrs. Browning's skill in detecting and describing shades of character is unquestionable, she does not possess in an equal degree the creative power which gives life and individuality to the children of the brain. Her delineations are often rather abstractions than flesh-and-blood creations, except when clothed and vitalized by her own individuality. Take the characters in "Aurora Leigh." Aurora is the reflex of Mrs. Browning, and has therefore some form and color. Still she is more interesting as a revelation of the inner life of the author, than as a purely imaginative embodiment. Romney has no exclusive personality of his own. He represents a certain class of reformers, and is both the expounder and refuter of their doctrines. Aurora describes Marian charmingly, but when she speaks for herself, she talks as pedantically as the
poet. It is true, her conversations are presumed to be always reported, but the import is her own, if not the mode of expression. A woman of no cultivation, whose life had been passed chiefly among the cruel and the coarse, might, by the force of her own sweet, intelligent nature, discourse feelingly and eloquently, but never learnedly. This specimen will explain our meaning.
"For the rest
I am not on a level with your love,
Nor ever was, you know,· but now am worse,
And so, that little stone, called Marian Erle,
We find the same inconsistency in Lady Waldemar. So long as her character is merely described, and her acts narrated by a third party, we have some conception of what she really is, though a woman of the world, as she is represented to be, would hardly make such confessions. But whenever she herself comes upon the stage, we hear the prompter's voice, and all personality vanishes. The defect we are indicating will be made evident by comparing any of Mrs. Browning's characters with Tennyson's, Marian, for example, with that of the old woman in "The Grandmother's Apology." The dif ference of the two in essential warmth and life is at once apparent. In the one case, it is the poet who speaks in the person of Marian. In the other, it is the spirit of the Grandmother which has taken possession of the soul of the poet, and guides his pen. Hence, in the latter creation there is no incongruity either of thought or expression. The author is not seen or heard. It is the garrulous old woman and her touching reminiscences we listen to,- her character that is unfolding itself. In this impersonality Tennyson is truly Shakespearian. He never intrudes himself; and is so superior to Mrs. Browning \in this respect, though she excels him in tragic power and depth of feeling. She is too thoroughly a woman to be many
sided. Her own strong and decided individuality cannot easily be thrown aside. Like Byron, she reveals herself, but not, like him, egotistically or morbidly. She felt as deeply as she thought powerfully. Thus the very harmony of her nature, whilst it undoubtedly in some degree hindered her genius, made her all the more strong and original in her own sphere of song.
It is owing also to this tendency of her mind that she fails as a dramatic poet. "A Drama of Exile," and "The Seraphim," notwithstanding great beauties, for Mrs. Browning never wrote feebly on any theme, are as a whole defective, and the least popular of her poems. But, in passing judgment upon them, it must be remembered that they were among her earliest productions, and that she herself felt and acknowledged their imperfections. To be a great dramatist, an author must put off his own personality, and live only in the creations of his imagination. This Mrs. Browning has never done, and consequently has attained little or no success in dramatic poetry. As "In Memoriam" and "Aurora Leigh" are the two great poems of the age, so "The Blot in the 'Scutcheon" is the great drama. Their authors form an illustrious trio. Tennyson is the greater artist; Browning has more dramatic power; but for nobility and strength of thought, we should award the palm to the woman poet.
We have spoken mainly of the vigor of Mrs. Browning's poems and the beauty and reality of her descriptions. These are the most striking, but by no means her only excellences. She is very successful in the portrayal of actions which reveal, by their significance, hidden emotions. She accomplishes this generally by a few terse sentences, and occasionally by a single expression. The fall of the Paynim sword in "The Romaunt of the Page," and the sensations of the victim, are both expressed by one word:
"She felt the scimitar gleam down."
Aurora Leigh, speaking of the smile she gave her aunt, says:
"Some tears fell down my cheek, and then I smiled,
As those smile who have no face in the world
To smile back to them."
VOL. LXXII.5TH S. VOL. X. NO. I.
One of the most curious effects of a new and startling sorrow, one also most difficult to put into words, being so vague and subtile a feeling, has been fully expressed in these lines from "Bertha in the Lane":
In tenderness and pathos Mrs. Browning is unsurpassed. As love-poems there is nothing finer in the language than "Sonnets from the Portuguese." They are not only of deep interest, as disclosing passages in the life of two great poets, but have rare merit in themselves. Such purity, sweet humility, lofty self-abnegation, and impassioned tenderness have never before found utterance in verse. Shakespeare's sonnets, beautiful as they are, cannot be compared with them, and Petrarch's seem commonplace beside them.
"Catarina to Camoens" is an exquisitely tender and touching poem, and glowing passages in "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" and" Aurora Leigh" express the utmost intensity of feeling.
"Bertha in the Lane," "The Poet's Vow," and "Isobel's Child," are remarkable for their sweet, sorrowful pathos. "The Lay of the Brown Rosary " is purely ideal, and of high excellence, and proves how successful its author would have been had she devoted herself more especially to this species of poetry.
The effect of some of Mrs. Browning's poems is marred and weakened by needless amplification, and the too obvious endeavor to elaborate and point the moral. A descriptive poem whose conclusion is tragical needs no epilogue. Thus the "Rhyme of the Duchess May" should have ended with the headlong leap of the horse; -"Isobel's Child" with the lines,
"The babe upon her arm was dead!
She was awed by the calm in the mother's eye";
and "The Poet's Vow" with the death of the poet,