Saturday, 23 October 2010

A Saturday Celebration: Robert Bridges

A One Stop Celebration Of Poet Laureate Robert Bridges

Today One Stop Poetry, hosted by Pete Marshall, celebrates the birth of English Poet Laureate Robert Bridges. 

Born Robert Seymour Bridges in the village of Walmer, Kent, on 23rd October 1844, Bridges had an illustrious education, attending both Eton College and Corpus Christie College, Oxford. He went on to study medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London becoming a successful physician.

In 1882, at the age of 38, lung disease  forced Bridges into early retirement. Marrying Mary Monica Whitehouse in 1884, Bridges spent the rest of his life in virtual seclusion. He devoted himself to his poetic work and the study of prosody, culminating with becoming Poet Laureate in 1913, a post that he held until his death in 1930. 

To celebrate his birthday, I have chosen two poems. The first, Melancholia, purely because it is a favourite of mine. The second, I share with you, is verse from his last work, The Testament of Beauty; for which he received the Order of Merit. Written at the age of 85, this was to contain over 4,000 lines and was sub divided into four books. The complete works having been critically acclaimed as a masterpiece.

One Stop Poetry celebrates the work of Robert Bridges:


The sickness of desire, that in dark days
Looks on the imagination of despair,
Forgetteth man, and stinteth God his praise;
Nor but in sleep findeth a cure for care.
Incertainty that once gave scope to dream
Of laughing enterprise and glory untold,
Is now a blackness that no stars redeem,
A wall of terror in a night of cold.
Fool! thou that hast impossibly desired
And now impatiently despairest, see
How nought is changed: Joy's wisdom is attired
Splendid for others' eyes if not for thee:
Not love or beauty or youth from earth is fled:
If they delite thee not, 'tis thou art dead.


From "The Testament of Beauty"

Twas at that hour of beauty when the setting sun
squandereth his cloudy bed with rosy hues, to flood
his lov'd works as in turn he biddeth them Good-night;
and all the towers and temples and mansions of men
face him in bright farewell, ere they creep from their pomp
naked beneath the darkness;- while to mortal eyes
'tis given, ifso they close not of fatigue, nor strain
at lamplit tasks-'tis given, as for a royal boon
to beggarly outcasts in homeless vigil, to watch
where uncurtain's behind the great windows of space
Heav'n's jewel'd company circleth unapproachably-
'Twas at sunset that I, fleeing to hide my soul
in refuge of beauty from a mortal distress,
walk'd alone with the Muse in her garden of thought,
discoursing at liberty with the mazy dreams
that came wavering pertinaciously about me; as when
the small bats, issued from their hangings, flitter o'erhead
thru' the summer twilight, with thin cries to and fro
hunting in muffled flight atween the stars and flowers.
Then fell I in strange delusion, illusion strange to tell;
for as a man who lyeth fast asleep in his bed
may dream he waketh, and that he walketh upright
pursuing some endeavour in full conscience-so 'twas
with me; but contrawise; for being in truth awake
methought I slept and dreamt; and in thatt dream methought
I was telling a dream; nor telling was I as one
who, truly awaked from a true sleep, thinketh to tell
his dream to a friend, but for his scant remembrances
findeth no token of speech-it was not so with me;
for my tale was my dream and my dream the telling,
and I remember wondring the while I told it
how I told it so tellingly. And yet now 'twould seem
that Reason inveighed me with her old orderings;
as once when she took thought to adjust theology,
peopling the inane that vex'd her between God and man
with a hierarchy of angels; like those asteroids
wherewith she later fill'd the gap 'twixt Jove and Mars.
Verily by Beauty it is that we come as WISDOM,
yet not by Reason at Beauty; and now with many words
pleasing myself betimes I am fearing lest in the end
I play the tedious orator who maundereth on
for lack of heart to make an end of his nothings.
Wherefor as when a runner who hath run his round
handeth his staff away, and is glad of his rest,
here break I off, knowing the goal was not for me
the while I ran on telling of what cannot be told.

For not the Muse herself can tell of Goddes love;
which cometh to the child from the Mother's embrace,
an Idea spacious as the starry firmament's
inescapable infinity of radiant gaze,
that fadeth only as it outpasseth mortal sight:
and this direct contact is 't with eternities,
this springtide miracle of the soul's nativity
that oft hath set philosophers adrift in dream;
which thing Christ taught, when he set up a little child
to teach his first Apostles and to accuse their pride,
saying, 'Unless ye shall receive it as a child,
ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.'
So thru'out all his young mental apprenticehood
the child of very simplicity, and in the grace
and beauteous attitude of infantine wonder,
is apt to absorb Ideas in primal purity,
and by the assimilation of thatt immortal food
may build immortal life; but ever with the growth
of understanding, as the sensible images
are more and more corrupt, troubled by questioning thought,
or with vainglory alloy'd, 'tis like enought the boy
in prospect of his manhood wil hav cast to th' winds
his Baptism with his Babyhood; nor might he escape
the fall of Ev'ryman, did not a second call
of nature's Love await him to confirm his Faith
or to revoke him if he is whollylapsed therefrom.
And so mighty is this second vision, which cometh
in puberty of body and adolescence of mind
that, forgetting his Mother, he calleth it 'first Love';
for it mocketh at suasion or stubbornness of heart,
as the oceantide of the omnipotent Pleasur of God,
flushing all avenues of life, and unawares
by thousandfold approach forestalling its full flood
with divination of the secret contacts of Love,--
of faintest ecstasies aslumber in Nature's calm,
like thought in a closed book, where some poet long since
sang his throbbing passion to immortal sleep-with coy
tenderness delicat as the shifting hues
that sanctify the silent dawn with wonder-gleams,
whose evanescence is the seal of their glory,
consumed in self-becoming of eternity;
til every moment as it flyeth, cryeth 'Seize!
Seize me ere I die! I am the Life of Life.'
'Tis thus by near approach to an eternal presence
man's heart with divine furor kindled and possess'd
falleth in blind surrender; and finding therewithal
in fullest devotion the full reconcilement
betwixt his animal and spiritual desires,
such welcome hour of bliss standeth for certain pledge
of happiness perdurable: and coud he sustain
this great enthusiasm, then the unbounded promise
would keep fulfilment; since the marriage of true minds
is thatt once fabled garden, amidst of which was set
the single Tree that bore such med'cinable fruit
that if man ate thereof he should liv for ever.
Friendship is in loving rather than in being lov'd,
which is its mutual benediction and recompense;
and tho' this be, and tho' love is from lovers learn'd,
it springeth none the less from the old essence of self.
No friendless man ('twas well said) can be truly himself;
what a man looketh for in his friend and findeth,
and loving self best, loveth better than himself,
is his own better self, his live lovable idea,
flowering by expansion in the loves of his life.
And in the nobility of our earthly friendships
we hav al grades of attainment, and the best may claim
perfection of kind; and so, since ther be many bonds
other than breed (friendships of lesser motiv, found
even in the brutes) and since our politick is based
on actual association of living men, 'twil come
that the spiritual idea of Friendship, the huge
vastidity of its essence, is fritter'd away
in observation of the usual habits of men;
as happ'd with the great moralist, where his book saith
that ther can be no friendship betwixt God and man
because of their unlimited disparity.
From this dilemma of pagan thought, this poison of faith,
Man-soul made glad escape in the worship of Christ;
for his humanity is God's Personality,
and communion with him is the life of the soul.
Of which living ideas (when in the struggle of thought
harden'd by language they became symbols of faith)
Reason builded her maze, wherefrom none should escape,
wandering intent to map and learn her tortuous clews,
chanting their clerkly creed to the high-echoing stones
of their hand-fashion'd temple: but the Wind of heav'n
bloweth where it listeth, and Christ yet walketh the earth,
and talketh still as with those two disciples once
on the road to Emmaus-where they walk and are sad;
whose vision of him then was his victory over death,
thatt resurrection which all his lovers should share,
who in loving him had learn'd the Ethick of happiness;
whereby they too should come where he was ascended
to reign over men's hearts in the Kingdom of God.
Our happiest earthly comradeships hold a foretaste
of the feast of salvation and by thatt virtue in them
provoke desire beyond them to out-reach and surmount
their humanity in some superhumanity
and ultimat perfection: which, howe'ever 'tis found
or strangeley imagin'd, answereth to the need of each
and pulleth him instinctivly as to a final cause.
Thus unto all who hav found their high ideal in Christ,
Christ is to them the essence discern'd or undeiscern'd
of all their human friendships; and each lover of him
and of his beauty must be as a bud on the Vine
and hav participation in him; for Goddes love
is unescapable as nature's environment,
which if a man ignore or think to thrust it off
he is the ill-natured fool that runneth blindly on death.
This Individualism is man's true Socialism.
This is the rife Idea whose spiritual beauty
multiplieth in communion to transcendant might.
This is thatt excelent way whereon if we wil walk
all things shall be added unto us-thatt Love which inspired
the wayward Visionary in his doctrinal ode
to the three christian Graces, the Church's first hymn
and only deathless athanasian creed,--the which
'except a man believe he cannot be saved.'
This is the endearing bond whereby Christ's company
yet holdeth together on the truth of his promise
that he spake of his grat pity and trust in man's love,
'Lo, I am with you always ev'n to the end of the world.'
Truly the Soul returneth the body's loving
where it hath won it...and God so loveth the world...
and in the fellowship of the friendship of Christ
God is seen as the very self-essence of love,
Creator and mover of all as activ Lover of all,
self-express'd in not-self, mind and body, mother and child,
'twixt lover and loved, God and man: but ONE ETERNAL
in the love of Beauty and in the selfhood of Love.


Brian Miller said...

nice. really enjoyed the first poem...for me, and this is taste, the second was too hard to read to enjoy...kinda reminded me of the king james bible...

Myrna R. said...

I really like the first poem. The second had some gems in it, but it was difficult to stay with it. Nevertheless, the man was truly a great poet. I will look up and read some of his other poetry.

dustus said...

Pete, feel like I always learn a great deal about key poetic figures when you shine the spotlight on them. Found both poems enjoyable and intense, though agree with Myrna about the second offering—difficult to stay with yet definitely has some gems ...seems he turned to poetry to express deep pain. Thanks for celebrating his legacy.

David Waters said...

wonderful poems...learned a bunch too...thanx for the post;)

Claudia said...

it's always nice to get some background about a poet because i think sickness, what kind of work you do influences your poetry
thanks pete for this interesting spotlight....the old english was not easy to read though..

moondustwriter said...

I like the second poem. I always think old English and poetry somehow have a waltz-like character. I do like short poems but I ma taking it in pieces so I can get the full effect

Thanks Pete for the feature of a thoughtful poet

signed...bkm said...

thank you Peter....I did not know of him and his work is beautiful ....I love that era of poets...especially the English ones...ah you have such great shoes to stand in ....blessings... I will look for more of his writings...bkm

Pete Marshall said...

as i said i love the first..the second is very much a taste thing...but i wanted to show the diversity of his talent...cheers pete

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

This was exactly what I was trying to find! Thanks a lot!