a person in New Orleans, claiming her as his slave, and

Browning's idea of Conversion is, perhaps, most distinctly expressed in a passage in the Monologue of the Canon Caponsacchi, in `The Ring and the Book', wherein he sets forth the circumstances under which his soul was wheeled into a new centre, after a life of dalliance and elegant folly, and made aware of "the marvellous dower of the life it was gifted and filled with". He has been telling the judges, before whom he has been summoned, the story of the letters forged by Guido to entrap him and Pompilia, and of his having seen "right through the thing that tried to pass for truth and solid, not an empty lie". The conclusion and the resolve he comes to, are expressed in the soliloquy which he repeats to the judges, as having uttered at the time: "So, he not only forged the words for her but words for me, made letters he called mine: what I sent, he retained, gave these in place, all by the mistress messenger! As I recognized her, at potency of truth, so she, by the crystalline soul, knew me, never mistook the signs. Enough of this -- let the wraith go to nothingness again, here is the orb, have only thought for her!" What follows admits us to the very HEART of Browning's poetry -- admits us to the great Idea which is almost, in these days, strange to say, peculiarly his -- which no other poet, certainly, of this intellectual, analytic, scientific age, with its "patent, truth-extracting processes", has brought out with the same degree of distinctness -- the great Idea which may be variously characterized as that of soul-kindling, soul-quickening, adjustment of soul-attitude, regeneration, conversion, through PERSONALITY -- a kindling, quickening, adjustment, regeneration, conversion in which THOUGHT is not even a coefficient. As expressed in Sordello, "Divest mind of e'en thought, and lo, God's unexpressed will dawns above us!" "Thought?" the Canon goes on to say, "Thought? nay, Sirs, what shall follow was not thought: I have thought sometimes, and thought long and hard. I have stood before, gone round a serious thing, tasked my whole mind to touch it and clasp it close, . . . God and man, and what duty I owe both, -- I dare say I have confronted these in thought: but no such faculty helped here. I put forth no thought, -- powerless, all that night I paced the city: it was the first Spring. By the INVASION I LAY PASSIVE TO, in rushed new things, the old were rapt away; alike abolished -- the imprisonment of the outside air, the inside weight o' the world that pulled me down. Death meant, to spurn the ground, soar to the sky, -- die well and you do that. The very immolation made the bliss; death was the heart of life, and all the harm my folly had crouched to avoid, now proved a veil hiding all gain my wisdom strove to grasp. . . . Into another state, under new rule I knew myself was passing swift and sure; whereof the initiatory pang approached, felicitous annoy, as bitter-sweet as when the virgin band, the victors chaste, feel at the end the earthy garments drop, and rise with something of a rosy shame into immortal nakedness: so I lay, and let come the proper throe would thrill into the ecstasy and out-throb pain. I' the gray of the dawn it was I found myself facing the pillared front o' the Pieve -- mine, my church: it seemed to say for the first time, `But am not I the Bride, the mystic love o' the Lamb, who took thy plighted troth, my priest, to fold thy warm heart on my heart of stone and freeze thee nor unfasten any more? This is a fleshly woman, -- let the free bestow their life blood, thou art pulseless now!' . . . Now, when I found out first that life and death are means to an end, that passion uses both, indisputably mistress of the man whose form of worship is self-sacrifice -- now, from the stone lungs sighed the scrannel voice, `Leave that live passion, come be dead with me!' As if, i' the fabled garden, I had gone on great adventure, plucked in ignorance hedge-fruit, and feasted to satiety, laughing at such high fame for hips and haws, and scorned the achievement: then come all at once o' the prize o' the place, the thing of perfect gold, the apple's self: and, scarce my eye on that, was 'ware as well of the sevenfold dragon's watch. Sirs, I obeyed. Obedience was too strange, -- this new thing that had been STRUCK INTO ME BY THE LOOK OF THE LADY, to dare disobey the first authoritative word. 'Twas God's. I had been LIFTED TO THE LEVEL OF HER, could take such sounds into my sense. I said, `We two are cognizant o' the Master now; it is she bids me bow the head: how true, I am a priest! I see the function here; I thought the other way self-sacrifice: this is the true, seals up the perfect sum. I pay it, sit down, silently obey.'"

a person in New Orleans, claiming her as his slave, and

Numerous and varied expressions of the idea of conversion set forth in this passage, occur in Browning's poetry, evidencing his deep sense of this great and indispensable condition of soul-life, of being born anew (or from above, as it should be rendered in the Gospel, a'/nwqen, that is, through the agency of a higher personality), in order to see the kingdom of God -- evidencing his conviction that "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation: for lo! the kingdom of God is within you." In the poem entitled `Cristina', the speaker is made to say, -- "Oh, we're sunk enough here, God knows! but not quite so sunk that moments, Sure tho' seldom, are denied us, when the spirit's true endowments Stand out plainly from its false ones, and apprise it if pursuing Or the right way or the wrong way, to its triumph or undoing. There are flashes struck from midnights, there are fire-flames noon-days kindle, Whereby piled-up honors perish, whereby swollen ambitions dwindle, While just this or that poor impulse, which for once had play unstifled, Seems the sole work of a life-time that away the rest have trifled."

a person in New Orleans, claiming her as his slave, and

And again, when the Pope in `The Ring and the Book' has come to the decision to sign the death-warrant of Guido and his accomplices, he says: "For the main criminal I have no hope except in such a SUDDENNESS OF FATE. I stood at Naples once, a night so dark I could have scarce conjectured there was earth anywhere, sky or sea or world at all: but the night's black was burst through by a blaze -- thunder struck blow on blow, earth groaned and bore, through her whole length of mountain visible: there lay the city thick and plain with spires, and, like a ghost disshrouded, white the sea. SO MAY THE TRUTH BE FLASHED OUT BY ONE BLOW, AND GUIDO SEE, ONE INSTANT, AND BE SAVED. Else I avert my face, nor follow him into that sad obscure sequestered state where God UNMAKES BUT TO REMAKE the soul he else made first in vain; which must not be. Enough, for I may die this very night: and how should I dare die, this man let live? Carry this forthwith to the Governor!"

a person in New Orleans, claiming her as his slave, and

Browning is the most essentially Christian of living poets. Though he rarely speaks `in propria persona' in his poetry, any one who has gone over it all, can have no doubt as to his own most vital beliefs. What the Beauty-loving Soul in Tennyson's `Palace of Art' say of herself, cannot be suspected even, of Browning: -- "I take possession of man's mind and deed. I care not what the sects may brawl. I sit as God holding no form of creed, But contemplating all." Religion with him is, indeed, the all-in-all; but not any particular form of it as a finality. This is not a world for finalities of any kind, as he constantly teaches us: it is a world of broken arcs, not of perfect rounds. Formulations of some kind he would, no doubt, admit there must be, as in everything else; but with him all formulations and tabulations of beliefs, especially such as "make square to a finite eye the circle of infinity", *1* are, at the best, only PROVISIONAL, and, at the worst, lead to spiritual standstill, spiritual torpor, "a ghastly smooth life, dead at heart." *2* The essential nature of Christianity is contrary to special prescription, do this or do that, believe this or believe that. Christ gave no recipes. Christianity is with Browning, and this he sets forth again and again, a LIFE, quickened and motived and nourished by the Personality of Christ. And all that he says of this Personality can be accepted by every Christian, whatever theological view he may entertain of Christ. Christ's teachings he regards but as INCIDENTS of that Personality, and the records we have of his sayings and doings, but a fragment, a somewhat distorted one, it may be, out of which we must, by a mystic and plastic sympathy, { *} aided by the Christ spirit which is immanent in the Christian world, mould the Personality, and do fealty to it. The Christian must endeavor to be able to say, with the dying John, in Browning's `Death in the Desert', "To me that story, -- ay, that Life and Death of which I wrote `it was' -- to me, it is."

-- *1* `Christmas Eve'. *2* `Easter Day'. { *} `plastic' in the 1800's sense of `pliable', not `fake'. -- A.L. --

The poem entitled `Christmas Eve' contains the fullest and most explicit expression, in Browning, of his idea of the personality of Christ, as being the all-in-all of Christianity.

"The truth in God's breast Lies trace for trace upon ours impressed: Though He is so bright and we so dim, We are made in His image to witness Him: And were no eye in us to tell, Instructed by no inner sense, The light of Heaven from the dark of Hell, That light would want its evidence, -- Though Justice, Good, and Truth, were still Divine, if, by some demon's will, Hatred and wrong had been proclaimed Law through the worlds, and Right misnamed, No mere exposition of morality Made or in part or in totality, Should win you to give it worship, therefore: And if no better proof you will care for, -- Whom do you count the worst man upon earth? Be sure, he knows, in his conscience, more Of what Right is, than arrives at birth In the best man's acts that we bow before: And thence I conclude that the real God-function Is to furnish a motive and injunction For practising what we know already. And such an injunction and such a motive As the God in Christ, do you waive, and `heady, High-minded', hang your tablet votive Outside the fane on a finger-post? Morality to the uttermost, Supreme in Christ as we all confess, Why need WE prove would avail no jot To make Him God, if God he were not? Where is the point where Himself lays stress? Does the precept run `Believe in Good, In Justice, Truth, now understood For the first time'? -- or `Believe in ME, Who lived and died, yet essentially Am Lord of Life'?* Whoever can take The same to his heart and for mere love's sake Conceive of the love, -- that man obtains A new truth; no conviction gains Of an old one only, made intense By a fresh appeal to his faded sense."

-- * "Subsists no law of life outside of life." * * * * * "The Christ himself had been no Lawgiver, Unless he had given the LIFE, too, with the law." Mrs. Browning's `Aurora Leigh'. --

Original article by {website name}. If reprinted, please indicate the source: http://dmnlo.wxxcjsyl.com/html/080b099031.html

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