Friday, March 7, 2008

gathering of light on light

Elizabeth Barrett Barrett to Robert Browning

[Post-mark, June 17, 1845.]

Yes, I quite believe as you do that what is called the 'creative process' in works of Art, is just inspiration and no less—which made somebody say to me not long since; And so you think that Shakespeare's 'Othello' was of the effluence of the Holy Ghost?'—rather a startling deduction, ... only not quite as final as might appear to somebodies perhaps. At least it does not prevent my going on to agree with the saying of Spiridion, ... do you remember?... 'Tout ce que l'homme appelle inspiration, je l'appelle aussi revelation,' ... if there is not something too self-evident in it after all—my sole objection! And is it not true that your inability to analyse the mental process in question, is one of the proofs of the fact of inspiration?—as the gods were known of old by not being seen to move their feet,—coming and going in an equal sweep of radiance.—And still more wonderful than the first transient great light you speak of, ... and far beyond any work of reflection, except in the pure analytical sense in which you use the word, ... appears that gathering of light on light upon particular points, as you go (in composition) step by step, till you get intimately near to things, and see them in a fullness and clearness, and an intense trust in the truth of them which you have not in any sunshine of noon (called real!) but which you have then ... and struggle to communicate:—an ineffectual struggle with most writers (oh, how ineffectual!) and when effectual, issuing in the 'Pippa Passes,' and other master-pieces of the world.

You will tell me what you mean exactly by being jealous of your own music? You said once that you had had a false notion of music, or had practised it according to the false notions of other people: but did you mean besides that you ever had meant to despise music altogether—because that, it is hard to set about trying to believe of you indeed. And then, you can praise my verses for music?—Why, are you aware that people blame me constantly for wanting harmony—from Mr. Boyd who moans aloud over the indisposition of my 'trochees' ... and no less a person than Mr. Tennyson, who said to somebody who repeated it, that in the want of harmony lay the chief defect of the poems, 'although it might verily be retrieved, as he could fancy that I had an ear by nature.' Well—but I am pleased that you should praise me—right or wrong—I mean, whether I am right or wrong in being pleased! and I say so to you openly, although my belief is that you are under a vow to our Lady of Loretto to make giddy with all manner of high vanities, some head, ... not too strong for such things, but too low for them, ... before you see again the embroidery on her divine petticoat. Only there's a flattery so far beyond praise ... even your praise—as where you talk of your verses being liked &c., and of your being happy to bring them here, ... that is scarcely a lawful weapon; and see if the Madonna may not signify so much to you!—Seriously, you will not hurry too uncomfortably, or uncomfortably at all, about the transcribing? Another day, you know, will do as well—and patience is possible to me, if not 'native to the soil.'

Also I am behaving very well in going out into the noise; not quite out of doors yet, on account of the heat—and I am better as you say, without any doubt at all, and stronger—only my looks are a little deceitful; and people are apt to be heated and flushed in this weather, one hour, to look a little more ghastly an hour or two after. Not that it is not true of me that I am better, mind! Because I am.

The 'flower in the letter' was from one of my sisters—from Arabel (though many of these poems are ideal ... will you understand?) and your rose came quite alive and fresh, though in act of dropping its beautiful leaves, because of having to come to me instead of living on in your garden, as it intended. But I thank you—for this, and all, 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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