Thursday, March 6, 2008

cacistography possible

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

Friday.[Post-mark, June 14, 1845.]

Yes, the poem is too good in certain respects for the prizes given in colleges, (when all the pure parsley goes naturally to the rabbits), and has a great deal of beauty here and there in image and expression. Still I do not quite agree with you that it reaches the Tennyson standard any wise; and for the blank verse, I cannot for a moment think it comparable to one of the grand passages in 'Oenone,' and 'Arthur' and the like. In fact I seem to hear more in that latter blank verse than you do, ... to hear not only a 'mighty line' as in Marlowe, but a noble full orbicular wholeness in complete passages—which always struck me as the mystery of music and great peculiarity in Tennyson's versification, inasmuch as he attains to these complete effects without that shifting of the pause practised by the masters, ... Shelley and others. A 'linked music' in which there are no links!—that, you would take to be a contradiction—and yet something like that, my ear has always seemed to perceive; and I have wondered curiously again and again how there could be so much union and no fastening. Only of course it is not model versification—and for dramatic purposes, it must be admitted to be bad.
Which reminds me to be astonished for the second time how you could think such a thing of me as that I wanted to read only your lyrics, ... or that I 'preferred the lyrics' ... or something barbarous in that way? You don't think me 'ambidexter,' or 'either-handed' ... and both hands open for what poems you will vouchsafe to me; and yet if you would let me see anything you may have in a readable state by you, ... 'The Flight of the Duchess' ... or act or scene of 'The Soul's Tragedy,' ... I shall be so glad and grateful to you! Oh—if you change your mind and choose to be bien priĆ©, I will grant it is your right, and begin my liturgy directly. But this is not teazing (in the intention of it!) and I understand all about the transcription, and the inscrutableness of rough copies,—that is, if you write as I do, so that my guardian angel or M. Champollion cannot read what is written. Only whatever they can, (remember!) I can: and you are not to mind trusting me with the cacistography possible to mortal readers.

The sun shines so that nobody dares complain of the east wind—and indeed I am better altogether. May God bless you, my dear friend.

-from The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846 (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1900) vol. 1.

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