Thursday, May 19, 2005

Sonnets from the Portuguese, VI

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forebore---
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

* * *

I guess it's apparent by now that I'm fond of Browning (this Browning. The other's good too, though).

A summary might be useful; she can be a little difficult. She clusters metaphors together to say one thing: that when the man leaves her, she still feels that she is bound to him. No matter what she does, he is a part of her. My favorite phrase is, "without the sense of that which I forebore-- / Thy touch upon the palm." She didn't let him touch her hand when he said goodbye, but she still feels the touch, because she longed for it and imagines it. The touch that wasn't given is felt even more than any actual touch could be.

Browning has a peculiar feminine touch in her poetry. I doubt whether men feel this way, taking leave of their wives and sweethearts. They love them, certainly, but they don't have the lady on their mind so constantly as women would. Men think of what they're doing; women think of what they're doing, what they have done, what they will do, what they'd like to do, and what the people they love are doing.

Of course, I'm making sweeping generalizations based on very little evidence. I wouldn't mind if a man came on here and told me I was wrong. I would rather like to be wrong.


Eamonn said...

Actually, you're quite right. We men tend as a general, but not invariable, rule to compartmentalise. We do one thing at a time and usually do it pretty well if it involves solving problems or fighting battles or ruling countries. We put our hearts on hold until later, and let our heads rule. It works up to a point; you can run a system that way but not a marriage or a family or a friendship. That's why we need women, I guess...

Sheila said...

It actually works out pretty well. Men have two lives: work life and home life, and they can switch from mode to mode along with their commute. Women have one life, and it's pretty all-encompassing. We have to handle kids, and cooking, and housework, all at once.

Chesterton summed it up when he said that a woman has to teach children a little of everything, and be a little of everything. The home life keeps her from falling prey to the modern trend of increasing specialization. She is like a hearth-fire, Chesterton says: not as bright as a light bulb, nor as warm as a radiator, nor as good at cooking as a stove, but able to do all these things at once, as the other things can't.

And there are some distinct disadvantages of not being able to get one's mind off anything, because it's always on everything.