Literatur: anonym
Literatur: The New Quarterly Review


Men and Women. By Robert Browning. London: Chapman and Hall. 1855.


[17] THIS is a profoundly-thoughtful and vigorously-written book, demanding from the critics an attention far more minute and elaborate than our present limits will permit us to devote to its consideration.

Every page of the two volumes of poetry now before us is instinct and alive with a bold and vivid beauty utterly distinctive from any thing in contemporary song. But it is not on account of the manifold beauties in their development, but because the principles applied in this work to poetry are altogether novel, and worthy of very careful remark, that we predict to the author of "Men and Women," from the publication of the present work, no inconsiderable increase to the dignity of his poetical reputation.

Independently of any opinions which may be formed as to his success or failure in the due development of the theory he originated, the estimation of Wordsworth as a poet must always, and justly, be a high one, from the simple fact of his having sought and found, in regions hitherto unexplored, and even unrecognised, the subtlest elements of poetry.

What Wordsworth originated in the treatment of nature as apprehended through contemplation, Mr. Browning has sought to achieve in that of nature revealed through passion. If to divine and disclose a presence of power among the silence and solitudes of an external creation be, for the poet, a lofty and spiritual ambition, how daringly beneficent must be that which urges him to explore, below the sound and tumult of human life, the secret and silent motions of Divinity in the heart of man!

The most remarkable characteristic of the present work is that, with an indomitable and unbaffled instinct for the spiritual beneath its manifold material disguises, it reveals to the thoughtful reader how much of the immutable, the holy, and the awful hourly escapes our common observation in the trivial emotions and passing impulses – the wandering lights and shadows of the soul – that chequer and agitate our daily life.

With an almost Protean power of reproduction, the genius of the author flings itself into innumerable conditions of human existence; from each it looks out upon us through faces always familiar. For its pathos and its power it needs but the simplest materials; no discrowned kings or classic crimes, but merely the every-day feelings of every-day persons, and such common circumstances as those under which the greatest part of us must be resigned to exist. As the widely-instructed chemist evolves from the commonest substances the self-same elements and gases which kindle the storms and sustain the spheres, till what was merely household stuff to the vulgar assumes before their eyes a supernatural potency, so does Mr. Browning, by his original and powerful treatment of humble subjects, extract from use and custom, and the commonplace, unguessed-of evidences of the beautiful and sublime.

Our narrow limits, and the space we have already devoted to their general criticism, do not suffer us to give many extracts from these two crowded volumes. The first poem, however, although by no means characteristic of those features in the book to which we have adverted, is so beautiful that we extract it at length: –

Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
             Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
             As they crop –

Was the site once of a city great and gay,
             (So they say)
Of our country's very capital, its prince
             Ages since
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
             Peace or war.

Now – the country does not even boast a tree,
             As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
             From the hills
Intersect and give a name to (else they run
             Into one)

Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
             Up like fires
O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
             Bounding all
Made of marble, men might march on, nor be pressed,
             Twelve abreast.

– And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
             Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads
             And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
             Stock or stone –

Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
             Long ago;
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
             Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
             Bought and sold.

Now – the single little turret that remains
             On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks
             Through the chinks –

Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
             Sprang sublime,
And a burning ring all round, the chariots traced
             As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
             Viewed the games.

[18] And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
             Smiles to leave
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
             In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
             Melt away—

That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
             Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
             For the goal,
When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
             Till I come.

But he looked upon the city, every side,
             Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,—and then
             All the men!

When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
             Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
             Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
             Each on each.

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
             South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
             As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
             Gold, of course.

O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
             Earth's returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
             Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
             Love is best!

Then follows a lover's quarrel, very beautifully treated. What thoughtful beauty in this next little poem!

Beautiful Evelyn Hope is dead!
   Sit and watch by her side an hour.
That is her book-shelf, this her bed;
   She plucked that piece of geranium-flower,
Beginning to die, too, in the glass;
   Little has yet been changed, I think –
The shutters are shut, no light may pass
   Save two long rays thro' the hinge's chink.

Sixteen years old, when she died!
   Perhaps she had scarcely heard my name –
It was not her time to love: beside,
   Her life had many a hope and aim,
Duties enough and little cares,
   And now was quiet, now astir –
Till God's hand beckoned unawares,
   And the sweet white brow is all of her.

Is it too late, then, Evelyn Hope?
   What, your soul was pure and true,
The good stars met in your horoscope,
   Made you of spirit, fire and dew –
And, just because I was thrice as old
   And our paths in the world diverged so wide,
Each was nought to each, must I be told?
   We were fellow-mortals, nought beside?

No, indeed! for God above
   Is great to grant, as mighty to make,
And creates the love to reward the love, –
   I claim you still, for my own love's sake!
Delayed it may be for more lives yet,
   Through worlds I shall traverse, not a few –
Much is to learn and much to forget
   Ere the time be come for taking you.

But the time will come, – at last it will,
   When, Evelyn Hope, what meant, I shall say,
In the lower earth, in the years long still,
   That body and soul so pure and gay?
Why your hair was amber, I shall divine,
   And your mouth of your own geranium's red –
And what you would do with me, in fine,
   In the new life come in the old one's stead.

I have lived, I shall say, so much since then,
   Given up myself so many times,
Gained me the gains of various men,
   Ransacked the ages, spoiled the climes;
Yet one thing, one, in my soul's full scope,
   Either I missed or itself missed me –
And I want and find you, Evelyn Hope!
   What is the issue? let us see!

I loved you, Evelyn, all the while;
   My heart seemed full as it could hold –
There was place and to spare for the frank young smile,
   And the red young mouth, and the hair's young gold.
So, hush, –I will give you this leaf to keep –
   See, I shut it inside the sweet cold hand!
There, that is our secret! go to sleep;
   You will wake, and remember, and understand.

Of the mere beauty of description contained in these volumes the reader may judge by the following extracts from one of the most charming of the poems in the first volume.

And all day long a bird sings there,
   And a stray sheep drinks at the pond at times;
The place is silent and aware;
   It has had its scenes, its joys and crimes,
But that is its own affair.

But at afternoon or almost eve
   'Tis better; then the silence grows
To that degree, you half believe
   It must get rid of what it knows,
Its bosom does so heave.

Hither we walked, then, side by side,
   Arm in arm, and cheek to cheek,
And still I questioned or replied,
   While my heart, convulsed to really speak,
Lay choking in its pride.

Silent the crumbling bridge we cross,
   And pity and praise the chapel sweet,
And care about the fresco's loss,
   And wish for our souls a like retreat,
And wonder at the moss.

Stoop and kneel on the settle under –
   Look through the window's grated square!
Nothing to see! For fear of plunder,
   The cross is down and the altar bare,
As if thieves don't fear thunder.

We stoop and look in through the grate,
   See the little porch and rustic door,
Read duly the dead builder's date;
   Then cross the bridge that we crossed before,
Take the path again – but wait!

Oh moment, one and infinite!
   The water slips o'er stock and stone;
The west is tender, hardly bright:
   How grey at once is the evening grown –
One star, its chrysolite!

We two stood there with never a third,
   But each by each, as each knew well.
The sights we saw and the sounds we heard,
   The lights and the shades made up a spell
Till the trouble grew and stirred.

[19] Oh, the little more, and how much it is!
   And the little less, and what worlds away!
How a sound shall quicken content to bliss,
   Or a breath suspend the blood's best play,
And life be a proof of this!

A moment after, and hands unseen
   Were hanging the night around us fast;
But we knew that a bar was broken between
   Life and life; we were mixed at last
In spite of the mortal screen.

The forests had done it; there they stood –
   We caught for a second the powers at play:
They had mingled us so, for once and good,
   Their work was done – we might go or stay,
They relapsed to their ancient mood.

How the world is made for each of us!
   How all we perceive and know in it
Tends to some moment's product thus,
   When a soul declares itself – to wit,
By its fruit – the thing it does!

Be Hate that fruit or Love that fruit,
   It forwards the General Deed of Man,
And each of the Many helps to recruit
   The life of the race by a general plan,
Each living his own, to boot.

One more extract for mere beauty's sake, as the name betokens: –

            A PRETTY WOMAN.

That fawn-skin-dappled hair of hers,
      And the blue eye
      Dear and dewy,
And that infantine fresh air of hers!

To think men cannot take you, Sweet,
      And enfold you,
      Ay, and hold you,
And so keep you what they make you, Sweet!

You like us for a glance, you know –
      For a word's sake
      Or a sword's sake,
All's the same, whate'er the chance, you know.

And in turn we make you ours, we say –
      You and youth too,
      Eyes and mouth too,
All the face composed of flowers, we say.

All's our own, to make the most of, Sweet –
      Sing and say for,
      Watch and pray for,
Keep a secret or go boast of, Sweet!

But for loving, why, you would not, Sweet,
      Though we prayed you,
      Paid you, brayed you
In a mortar – for you could not, Sweet!

So, we leave the sweet face fondly there –
      Be its beauty
      Its sole duty!
Let all hope of grace beyond, lie there!

And while the face lies quiet there,
      Who shall wonder
      That I ponder
A conclusion?   I will try it there.

As, – why must one, for the love foregone,
      Scout mere liking?
Earth, – the heaven, we looked above for, gone!

Why, with beauty, needs there money be –
      Love with liking?
      Crush the fly-king
In his gauze, because no honey-bee?

May not liking be so simple-sweet,
      If love grew there
      'Twould undo there
All that breaks the cheek to dimples sweet?

Is the creature too imperfect, say?
      Would you mend it
      And so end it?
Since not all addition perfects aye!

Or is it of its kind, perhaps,
      Just perfection –
      Whence, rejection
Of a grace not to its mind, perhaps?

Shall we burn up, tread that face at once
      Into tinder,
      And so hinder
Sparks from kindling all the place at once?

Or else kiss away one's soul on her?
      Your love-fancies! –
      A sick man sees
Truer, when his hot eyes roll on her!

Thus the craftsman thinks to grace the rose, –
      Plucks a mould-flower
      For his gold flower,
Uses fine things that efface the rose:

Rosy rubies make its cup more rose,
      Precious metals
      Ape the petals, –
Last, some old king locks it up, morose!

Then how grace a rose?   I know a way!
      Leave it, rather.
      Must you gather?
Smell, kiss, wear it – at last, throw away!

There are many poems in these two volumes which we cannot here speak of at length, but to which we would especially refer the attention of those whom the extracts above given may induce to thoughtfully peruse the work, and form their own judgment of its merits.

A more remarkable poem has seldom been written – one more original in conception, or subtle in execution – than the "Epistle containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician."

"Bishop Blougram's Apology" is not behind this poem in its daring originality. It overflows with vigour, humour, and what, if the phrase be not over-paradoxical, we would call a good-natured cynicism. The subject, however, is not the less thoughtfully conceived, and it is grasped and compressed with a master's hand. "Andrea del Sarto" and "Fra Lippo Lippi" are the practical results of a profound and liberal acquaintance with art; but it is as accurate and subtle representation of phases common enough to every human life that these poems are valuable. The former of these poems is a metaphysical treatment of that sore in the artist's life which Alfred de Musset has otherwise treated in his inimitable drama. Whilst speaking of men, however, we cannot but advert to certain other poems in the book which must be altogether excluded from our description of its general principles of art. We mean such poems as "Master Hughes of [20] Saxe-Gotha," which is a rhythmical description of Fugues; "A Toccata of Galuppi's;" and others of the same kind, which are, as avowed by the titles, as far removed as can be from all "human" interest, or the emotions of real life. Such poems as these must be considered as fanciful criticisms on art, addressed by a gifted and erudite man to that small circle of persons to whom such subjects will have an interest common to himself. To what is called "the general reader" they will be little more than a magical hocus-pocus and wizarding of words. It might be wished that, for the sake of this humble individual, "the general reader," their author had appended to these poems on art some sort of explanatory note, however brief; for they abound in beauty only capable of revelation to one who is well acquainted with the subject of which they treat. Mr. Browning has, however, it would seem, thought it more fitting to warn the thoughtless off the premises at once; and quicks and broken glass, sprynges and scarecrows, are discernible all round these domains.

Whatever be the faults or merits of this work, they will be best determined by a future age. To us, so dazzling appear the beauty and power with which it is replete, that we have ittle eyesight left to look for faults. Meanwhile, the publication of such a book is an era in English poetry; and by its reception we may fairly judge of the maturity of the poetical public in England.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The New Quarterly Review,
and Digest of Current Literature, British, American, French, and German.
Bd. 5, 1856, Nr. 17, Januar, S. 17-20.


Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The New Quarterly review   online
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Literatur: anonym

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DOI: 10.14361/9783839451137-018



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer