Thursday, March 07, 2013

Happy Birthday Elizabeth Barrett Browning!

I'm a few hours late to the game on this, since Elizabeth Barret Browning's birthday occurred yesterday. Yet after a reminder from Oxford World's Classics, I would feel quite remiss not giving her a little shout out:

Happy 207th Birthday, Elizabeth!

The Birthplace: Coxhoe Hall, Durham

One of my dissertation chapters focused on EBB, as I fondly refer to her in my notes. In studying the relationship with her spaniel, Flush, I felt I got to know her a little bit as well -- particularly through the perusal of her letters. Her passion and zeal immiediately won me over. Reading details about her secret courtship with Robert Browning and their plans to run away together felt both like reading a sensational novel and like I was intruding upon the privacy of a lovely couple (and actually, I suppose I was).

With spring break happily dawning before my eyes, I'm hoping to read her long poem Aurora Leigh. Though with my holiday reading list growing like a proverbial weed, I must concede this ambition may never materialize. In the meantime, I shall leave you with one of her poems about Flush, one that's not as widely read. A wonderful canine companion, he comforted her, just as her words provide solace and inspiration to readers two centuries later.

Flush or Faunus

YOU see this dog. It was but yesterday
I mused, forgetful of his presence here, 
Till thoughts on thoughts drew downward tear on tear;
When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay,
A head, as hairy as Faunus, thrust his way
Right sudden against my face; two golden-clear
Large eyes astonished mine; a drooping ear
Did flap me on either cheek, to dry the spray!
I started first, as some Arcadian,
Amazed by goatly god in twilight grove.
But as my bearded vision closelier ran
My tears off, I knew Flush, and rose above
Surprise and sadness; thanking the true Pan,
Who, by low creatures, leads to heights of love.

The last line is my favourite! I'm tempted to make some saccharine analogies about how we are all low creatures and love and art lift us to the great heights Barrett Browning describes...but I'll spare you. Have a happy Thursday!

P.S. This intriguing article discusses the various words attributed to EBB in the OED, abandonment and goatly among them. I guess only a few of them stuck? :)

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