Friday, August 29, 2008

We Loved Her Once

Robert Browning was a great poet, but the genius of his wife so far outshone his that he should have become Robert Browning Barrett rather than her Elizabeth Barrett Browning. At the time of their famous courtship and marriage, she was the far more admired poet, but he has since taken precidence in the public mind. Oh well.

Here, as promised, E. B. Browning gives us a different perspective on love than Housman did.

This version of the poem is from the 1853 edition of her collected poems, presumably revised from the 1844 edition. Whether she made further revisions to it in the eight years she lived afterward I do not know and the library is closed so I can't go look. I have seen it in somewhat varying versions but I do not know if they preceed or follow this version, nor if they indicate printers' follies. However I like this version better.


I classed, appraising once,
Earth's lamentable sounds, - the welladay,
The jarring yea and nay,
The fall of kisses on unanswering clay,
The sobbed farewell, the welcome mournfuller;
But all did leaven the air
With a less bitter leaven of sure despair
Than these words, 'I loved once.'

And who saith 'I loved once'?
Not angels, whose clear eyes, love, love, forsee,
Love through eternity,
Who, by To Love, do apprehend To Be.
Not God, called Love, his noble crown-name casting
A light too broad for blasting:
The great God changing not from everlasting,
Saith never, 'I loved once.'

Nor ever the 'Loved once'?
Dost THOU say Victim-Christ, misprized friend!
The cross and curse may rend;
But, having loved, thou lovest to the end!
It is man's saying, - man's. Too weak to move
One sphered star above,
Man desecrates the eternal God-word Love
With his No More and Once.

How say ye, 'We loved once,'
Blasphemers? Is your earth not cold enow,
Mourners, without that snow?
Ah, friends, and would ye wrong each other so?
And could ye say of some, whose love is known,
Whose prayers have met your own,
Whose tears have fallen for you, whose smiles have shone,
Such words, 'We loved them once'?

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'
Say calm of me, sweet friends, when out of sight?
When hearts of better right
Stand in between me and your happy light?
And when, as flowers kept too long in the shade,
Ye find my colors fade,
And all that is not love in me decayed?
Such words, - ye loved me once!

Could ye, 'We loved her once,'
Say cold of me, when further put away
In earth's sepulchral clay?
When mute the lips which depricate to-day?
Not so! Not then--least then! When Life is shriven,
And death's full joy is given,
Of those who sit and love you up in Heaven,
Say not 'We loved them once.'

Say never, ye loved once:
God is too near above, the grave, beneath,
And all our moments go
Too quickly past our souls, for saying so.
The mysteries of Life and Death avenge
Affections light of range.
There comes no change to justify that change,
Whatever comes, - Loved once!

And yet that word of once
Is humanly acceptive. Kings have said,
Shaking a discrowned head,
'We ruled once,' - dotards, 'We once taught and led;'
Cripples once danced i' the vines; and bards approved,
Were once by scornings, moved:
But love strikes one hour - LOVE! Those never loved
Who dream that they loved ONCE.

1 comment:

Penn Tomassetti said...

This is an interesting poem. She is right about love. My grandmother's favorite saying right now is, "Love never ends."

Thanks for the comment on my blog. If God did not reveal Himself to us wretched creatures, we would define Him in all the wrong ways.