by iampunha | 6/29/2008 03:50:00 PM
It is massively unfair to today's honoree that we spend as much time speculating about her life and health as we do discussing her poetry.

But this is nonetheless the dialog. Any discussion of this poet inevitably falls to the question, unanswerable when last I checked, of just what was physically wrong with her.

How is this unfair? Let me count the ways.

First, it robs us of time we might spend discussing her poetry.

Second, it robs us of time we might spend discussing her poetry.

Third, it robs us of time we might spend discussing her poetry.

Instead of talking about the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who died on June 29, 1861, we talk about her health and death.

No more.

For Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, born on June 29, 1900, whose little prince informs and accompanies children more than 50 years after the fact.

When I started writing this entry, I intended to tell you about a relative who reminds me of Browning.

But that, also, would be to forget the poetry and focus on the health of the poet. So I'll none of that. Look on this, instead, and for a moment forget all health or ill health, all peace or struggle for the same, all famine, fear and failing, and just feel:

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
I love her for her smile--her look--her way
Of speaking gently,--for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of ease on such a day--

For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee,--and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheek dry,--
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.

That one of the 19th century's greatest poets is accessible to 5-year-olds is a testament to Browning.

We love because we can. We do not reasons — how sad, that we might need reasons? — but the ability to love, itself. The tangible reasons change, whatever they may be. Flesh sinks, traits lose themselves, wit fades and shelter crumbles.

I could sit here and type volumes on why I love my wife.

Those volumes would introduce you to her. They would give you snapshots of her.

I could tell you about how she comforted me last night as I watched M*A*S*H. Some scenes get me every time, and several were run in the retrospective we watched.

Comes to it, the reasons I have for loving her introduce you to her as they introduced her to me. But they do not tell you why I love her. They tell you why anyone should.

The ability to love, before anything else, and the ability to love, after everything else, is ultimately all the explanation I can provide for how I feel.

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem "a cuckoo-song," as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed,
Belovèd, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt's pain
Cry, Speak once more--thou lovest! Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me--toll
The silver iterance!--only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

-Selected poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Oh, to bake Browning's words in a pie, to transform word to scent and saturate a room with it, and just ... exist, infused with such beauty and unbridled zest for life and love. That the aromatic world of Browning's words might for some immortal instant reinvent perfection, let alone also permeate beings, as from flowers undiscovered, landscapes abloom with health and energy, sights so unsurpassable as to defy not just faulty words but sight itself.

This is that love sung of, and played in, Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. This is that siren song Odysseus heard, albeit without the power to ensnare a man to his demise. This, the love that binds lives for the better, the love that speaks it name in the heart of every human, the love we have because we can.

There is, reading this, someone who feels unworthy of love or someone with such a friend.

May you accept within yourself the faults you feel doom you, and may another see in you that which is to be praised.

And therefore if to love can be desert,
I am not all unworthy. Cheeks as pale
As these you see, and trembling knees that fail
To bear the burden of a heavy heart,--
This weary minstrel-life that once was girt
To climb Aornus, and can scarce avail
To pipe now 'gainst the valley nightingale
A melancholy music,--why advert
To these things? O Belovèd, it is plain
I am not of thy worth nor for thy place!
And yet, because I love thee, I obtain
From that same love this vindicating grace,
To live on still in love, and yet in vain,--
To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face.