Wednesday, 9 November 2016

They Matter to Me - Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Robert Browning 1812 - 1889 and Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806-1861

I am, at present, suffering from a form of writer's block. I know what I want to say to my wife, but when I try to put pen to paper it becomes; at best cumbersome, at worst cliche and one dimensional. How can this be when I love her so much that I'm quite sure that she doesn't exist?
The premise of what I'm trying to write is that I don't love her because she is so beautiful, frightfully intelligent, hysterically funny, kind, etc etc she is all of those things and much more... but I love her because I love her - even if she was none of those things..... I know what you are thinking, 'Peter it's time to give up poetry!' And you may be right!

I am,obviously, embarrassed that I can't find the perfect words to tell Becky what I feel. And I make terrible excuses to myself like 'this is the plight of the poet though Peter. Poets are searching for the perfect way to say something and are never satisfied.' Bollocks! Can you imagine being Shakespeare and not being satisfied with Sonnet 18? I bet the moment he finished it, he couldn't wait for Anne to read it - knowing full well it was perfection, knowing that every single letter was exactly what he wanted to say.

This leads me to my favourite couple of all time.... and a lesson in how to put your feelings on paper.

For those who don't know, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were both successful poets in their own right before they met. The year 1845 had barely begun when Robert first seen Elizabeth's poems and without ever having met he knew that he loved her completely, In fact on 10th January 1845 he wrote the worlds greatest love letter...
January 10th, 1845
New Cross, Hatcham, Surrey

I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,--and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,--whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me--for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration--perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter!--but nothing comes of it all--so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew.........
I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart-- and I love you too: do you know I was once seeing you? Mr. Kenyon said to me one morning "would you like to see Miss Barrett?"--then he went to announce me,--then he returned... you were too unwell -- and now it is years ago--and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels--as if I had been close, so close, to some world's-wonder in chapel on crypt,... only a screen to push and I might have entered -- but there was some slight... so it now seems... slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be!

Well, these Poems were to be--and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself. Yours ever faithfully Robert Browning

Yes, they lived happily ever after - of course they did! They are the royal couple of poetry because, through their continued writing, they were the closest we've got to documenting true love!
As an aside - after the initial letter Robert struggled with the same message as me. He would tell Elizabeth that he loved her from his core, not for her attributes or genius etc... Elizabeth said it herself;

If thou must love me, let it be for nought 
Except for love's sake only. Do not say 
I love her for her smile ... her look ... her way 
Of speaking gently, ... for a trick of thought 
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought 
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'— 
For these things in themselves, Belov├Ęd, may 
Be changed, or change for thee,—and love, so wrought, 
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for 
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,— 
A creature might forget to weep, who bore 
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby! 
But love me for love's sake, that evermore 
Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.

Robert got it right in the end.... maybe there is hope for me yet.
They matter to me because they matter to all of us. They say what we haven't the talent to say, but have the depth of emotion to feel.