||[Jun. 21st, 2007|10:06 am]
So I found the quote I wanted from the Lost Leader and I was flipping through the pages of my chunky complete Browning and I started reading at random- pretty much- a poem I'd never come across before called Too Late and I got hooked. Difficult. Browning is always difficult and I'm still not entirely sure what's happening; is the guy committing suicide or what? But it's just so intelligent, so fiercely intelligent. No-one since Shakespeare had even tried to write like this- in broken up English that mimics the speaking or the inner voice. All English poetry of significance since the metaphysicals had aimed to be smooth. Browning says bollocks to that. I guess the Byron of Don Juan is a fore-runner, but Browning goes way beyond Byron.
Over there in the boskage Tennyson and Rossetti and Swinburne are mooning over their floaty-haired damozels and here's Browning talking psychopathology. The bloke in Too Late has just heard of the death of the woman he's been stalking. He's full of himself and full of self-deception (the special thing with Browning is there's always another, truer story hiding under the bombast of his freaky speakers) and he's taking poison (I think) so he can go stalk her in the other world. This is as screwed up as Dostoevsky. And as shocking. The Victorian novelists self-censored, but the Victorian poets could get away with almost anything- and Browning got away with more than most. Here's the last three and a half lines. Our man imagines he can see the dead woman in front of him and...
There you stand,
Warm too, and white too: would this wine
Had washed all over that body of yours,
Ere I drank it, and you down with it, thus!
See what I mean? Why isn't this in all the anthologies?
Browning is huge and we step round him. He breaks the romantic flow. He's an anomaly. Everyone round him was trying to be the Shakespeare of Romeo and Juliet and he was trying to be the Shakespeare of the knottier parts of The Winter's Tale.
He's the first modern. But he comes so early we can't quite believe it. Everything that's great in Hardy derives from Browning- and a great deal of what is great in Pound and Eliot. He's protean- and maybe that undoes his reputation because there's just too much of him and the later stuff is so mannered and difficult we can't be bothered. Has anyone in living memory read Red Cotton Nightcap Country? What a title. It borders on punk. It's just a hair's breadth away from Fuck You, Victorian Reading Public. Well, perhaps we should swallow our prejudice and get stuck in.
Mind you, I don't think I'm ready for that particular alp- not yet- not quite yet. But I'm in training. I'm in the middle of Bishop Blougram's Apology (brilliant poem) working up a sweat.