once by every one who reads the book. I may never have

It seems to be admitted, even by many of the poet's most devoted students, that his verse is, in its general character, harsh and rugged. To judge it fairly, one must free his mind of many merely conventional canons in regard to verse. Pure music is absolute. The music of verse moves, or should move, under the conditions of the thought which articulates it. It should serve as a chorus to the thought, expressing a mystic sympathy with it. Verse may be very musical, and yet more or less mechanical; that is, it may CLOTHE thought and sentiment, but not be a part of it, not EMBODY it. Unrippled verse, which many readers demand, MUST be more or less mechanical. Such verse flows according to its own sweet will, independently of the thought-articulation. But the thought-articulation may be so flimsy that it's well enough for the verse so to flow.

once by every one who reads the book. I may never have

The careful student of Browning's language-shaping must discover -- the requisite susceptibility to vitality of form being supposed -- that his verse is remarkably organic: often, indeed, more organic, even when it appears to be clumsy, than the "faultily faultless" verse of Tennyson. The poet who has written `In a Gondola', `By the Fireside', `Meeting at Night', `Parting at Morning', `Gold Hair', `May and Death', `Love among the Ruins', `Home Thoughts from Abroad', `Home Thoughts from the Sea', the Incantation in `The Flight of the Duchess' (some of which are both song and picture), and many, many more that might be named, certainly has the very highest faculty of word and verse music, of music, too, that is entirely new in English Poetry; and it can be shown that he always exercises that faculty WHENEVER THERE'S A REAL ARTISTIC OCCASION FOR IT, not otherwise. Verse-music is never with him a mere literary indulgence. The grotesquerie of rhythm and rhyme which some of his poems exhibit, is as organic as any other feature of his language-shaping, and shows the rarest command of language. He has been charged with having "failed to reach continuous levels of musical phrasing". It's a charge which every one who appreciates Browning's verse in its higher forms (and its higher forms are not those which are addressed especially to the physical ear) will be very ready to admit. In the general tenor of his poetry, he is ABOVE the Singer, -- he is the Seer and Revealer, who sees great truths beyond the bounds of the territory of general knowledge, instead of working over truths within that territory; and no seer of modern times has had his eyes more clearly purged with euphrasy and rue. Poetry is with him, in the language of Mr. E. Paxton Hood (`Eclectic and Congregational Rev.', Dec., 1868), "no jingle of words, or pretty amusement for harpsichord or piano, but rather a divine trigonometry, a process of celestial triangulation, a taking observations of celestial places and spheres, an attempt to estimate our world, its place, its life amidst the boundless immeasurable sweeps of space and time; or if describing, then describing the animating stories of the giants, how they fought and fell, or conquered. . .a great all-inclusive strength of song, which is as a battle march to warriors, or as the refreshment of brooks and dates to the spent and toiling soldiers on their way, is more than the pretty idyll, whose sweet and plaintive story pleases the idle hour or idle ear."

once by every one who reads the book. I may never have

The Rev. Prof. E. Johnson, in the section entitled `Poets of the Ear and of the Eye', of his valuable paper on `Conscience and Art in Browning' (`Browning Soc. Papers', Part III., pp. 345-380), has ably shown that "the economy of music is a necessity of Browning's Art" -- that music, instead of ever being an end to itself, is with him a means to a much higher end. He says: --

once by every one who reads the book. I may never have

"All poetry may be classified according to its form or its contents. Formal classification is easy, but of little use. When we have distinguished compositions as dramatic, lyrical, or characterized a poet in like manner, we have done little. What we want to ascertain is the peculiar quality of the imaginative stuff with which he plastically works, and to appreciate its worth. This is always a great task, but one particularly necessary in the case of Browning, because the stuff in which he has wrought is so novel in the poet's hands. Psychology itself is comparatively a new and modern study, as a distinct science; but a psychological poet, who has made it his business to clothe psychic abstractions `in sights and sounds', is entirely a novel appearance in literature.

"Now that phrase `clothing in sights and sounds' may yield us the clue to the classification we are seeking. The function of artists, that is, musicians, poets in the narrower sense, and painters, is to clothe Truth in sights and sounds for the hearing and seeing of us all. Their call to do this lies in their finer and fuller aesthetic faculty. The sense of hearing and that of seeing stand in polar opposition, and thus a natural scale offers itself by which we may rank and arrange our artists. At the one end of the scale is the acoustic artist, i.e., the musician. At the other end of the scale is the optic artist, the painter and sculptor. Between these, and comprising both these activities in his own, is the poet, who is both acoustic and optic artist. He translates the sounds of the world, both external and internal, -- the tumult of storms, the murmurs of waves, the SUSURRUS of the woodland, the tinkling of brooks, the throbbing of human hearts, the cries of all living creatures; all those groans of pain, stammers of desire, shrieks of despair, yawns even of languor, which are ever breaking out of the heart of things; and beside all this, the hearsay, commonplace, proverbial lore of the world. He turns these into melodies which shall be caught up by those who listen. In short, he converts by his alchemy the common stuff of pain and of joy into music. But he is optic as well as acoustic; that is, he calls up at the same time by his art a procession of images which march or dance across the theatre of the listener's fancy. Now the question of classification on this scheme comes to this, Does the particular poet who invites our attention deal more with the aesthesis of the ear or with that of the eye? Does he more fill our ear with sweet tunes or our fancy with shapes and colours? Does he compel us to listen and shut our eyes, or to open our eyes wide and dispense with all but the faintest musical accompaniment? What sense, in short, does he mainly address himself to? Goethe said that he was a `seeing' man; W. von Humboldt, the great linguist, that he was a `listening' man. The influence of Milton's blindness on his poetry was noticed by Lessing. The short-sightedness of Wieland has also been detected in his poetry.

"If we apply these tests to Browning, there can be, I think, no doubt as to the answer. He is, in common with all poets, both musician and painter, but much more the latter than the former. He is never for a moment the slave of his ear, if I may so express it. We know that he has, on the contrary, the mastery of music. But music helps and supports his imagination, never controls it. Music is to Browning an inarticulate revelation of the truth of the supersensual world, the `earnest of a heaven'. He is no voluptuary in music. Music is simply the means by which the soul wings its way into the azure of spiritual theory and contemplation. Take only `Saul' and `Abt Vogler' in illustration. `Saul' is a magnificent interpretation of the old theme, a favorite with the mystics, that evil spirits are driven out by music. But in this interpretation it is not the mere tones, the thrumming on the harp, it is the religious movement of the intelligence, it is the truth of Divine love throbbing in every chord, which constitutes the spell. And so in `Abt Vogler'; the abbot's instrument is only the means whereby he strikes out the light of faith and hope within him. Not to dwell upon this point, I would only say that it seems clear that Browning has the finest acoustic gifts, and could, if he had chosen, have scattered musical bons-bons through every page. But he has printed no `versus inopes rerum, nugaeque canorae' (Hor. ad Pis.). He has had higher objects in view, and has dispensed better stuff than that which lingers in the ear, and tends to suppress rather than support the higher activity of thought.

"When for a moment he shuts his eyes, and falls purely into the listening or `musing' mood, he becomes the instrument of a rich deep music, breaking out of the heart of the unseen world, as in the Dirge of unfaithful Poets in `Paracelsus', or the Gypsy's Incantation in the `Flight of the Duchess', or the Meditation at the crisis of Sordello's temptation.

"When the keen inquisitive intelligence is in its full waking activity there grows `more of the words' and thought, and `less of the music', to invert a phrase of the poet's. The melody ceases, the rhythm is broken, as in all intense, earnest conversation. At times only the tinkle of the pairing rhymes, of which Browning has made a most witty use, reminds that we are called to partake a mood in which commonplace associations are melting into the ideal. I believe the economy of music is a necessity of Browning's art; and it would be only fair, if those who attack him on this ground would consider how far thought of such quality as his admits of being chanted, or otherwise musically accompanied. In plain words the problem is, how far the pleasures of sound and of sense can be united in poetry; and it will be found in every case that a poet sacrifices something either to the one or to the other. Browning has said something in his arch way on this point. In effect, he remarks, Italian prose can render a simple thought more sweetly to the ear than either Greek or English verse. It seems clear from many other of his critical remarks that he considers the demand for music in preference to thought in poetry, as the symptom of a false taste.

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