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The Drama of Exile, and Other Poems by…

The Drama of Exile, and Other Poems

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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"It would have been better for Miss Barrett if, throwing herself independently upon her own very extraordinary resources, and forgetting that a Greek had ever lived, she had involved her Eve in a series of adventures merely natural, or if not this, of adventures preternatural within the limits of at least a conceivable relation — a relation of matter to spirit and spirit to matter, that should have left room for something like palpable action and comprehensible emotion — that should not have utterly precluded the development of that womanly character which is admitted as the principal object of the poem. As the case actually stands, it is only in a few snatches of verbal intercommunication with Adam and Lucifer, that we behold her as a woman at all. For the rest, she is a mystical something or nothing, enwrapped in a fog of rhapsody about Transfiguration, and the Seed, and the Bruising of the Heel, and other talk of a nature that no man ever pretended to understand in plain prose, and which, when solar-microscoped into poetry “upon the model of the Greek drama,” is about as convincing as the Egyptian Lectures of Mr. Silk Buckingham — about as much to any purpose under the sun as the hi presto! conjurations of Signor Blitz."

"With this extract we make an end of our fault-finding — end now, shall we speak, equally in detail, of the beauties of this book? Alas! here, indeed, do we feel the impotence of the pen. We have already said that the supreme excellence of the poetess whose works we review, is made up of the multitudinous sums of a world of lofty merits. It is the multiplicity — it is the aggregation — which excites our most profound enthusiasm, and enforces our most earnest respect. But unless we had space to extract three fourths of the volumes, how could we convey this aggregation by specimens?...And yet Miss Barrett has narrowly missed the fulfilment of these conditions. Her poetic inspiration is the highest — we can conceive nothing more august. Her sense of Art is pure itself, but has been contaminated by pedantic study of false models — a study which has the more easily led her astray, because she placed an undue value upon it as rare — as alien to her character of woman. The accident of having been long secluded by ill health from the world has effected, moreover, in her behalf, what an innate recklessness did for Shelley — has imparted to her, if not precisely that abandon to which I have referred, at least a something that stands well in its stead — a comparative independence of men and opinions with which she did not come personally in contact — a happy audacity of thought and expression never before known in one of her sex. It is, however, this same accident of ill health, perhaps, which has invalidated her original Will — diverted her from proper individuality of purpose — and seduced her in the sin of imitation. Thus, what she might have done we cannot altogether determine. What she has actually accomplished is before us. With Tennyson’s works beside her, and a keen appreciation of them in her soul — appreciation too keen to be discriminative; — with an imagination even more vigorous than his, although somewhat less ethereally delicate; with inferior art and more feeble volition; she has written poems such as he could not write, but such as he, under her conditions of ill health and seclusion, would have written during the epoch of his pupildom in that school which arose out of Shelley, and from which, over a disgustful gulf of utter incongruity and absurdity, lit only by miasmatic flashes, into the broad open meadows of Natural Art and Divine Genius, he — Tennyson — is at once the bridge and the transition."
http://www.eapoe.org/works/criticsm/bj45be02.htm ( )
  EdgarAllanPoeLibrary | Jan 16, 2016 |
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