A Thought for A Lonely Death-Bed

Virginia Woolf’s Bed. Photograph by Patti Smith, 2003

 

If God compel thee to this destiny,

To die alone, with none beside thy bed

To ruffle round with sobs thy last word said

And mark with tears the pulses ebb from thee,–

Pray then alone, ‘ O Christ, come tenderly !

By thy forsaken Sonship in the red

Drear wine-press,–by the wilderness out-spread,–

And the lone garden where thine agony

Fell bloody from thy brow,–by all of those

Permitted desolations, comfort mine !

No earthly friend being near me, interpose

No deathly angel ‘twixt my face aud thine,

But stoop Thyself to gather my life’s rose,

And smile away my mortal to Divine ! ‘

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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Flush or A Faunus

In 1930, after Virginia Woolf attended Rudolf Besier’s play, The Barretts of Wimpole Street, she began to reread Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry and letters. Woolf’s fanciful biography of the Brownings, seen through the lens of their cocker spaniel, was published in 1933, with four drawings by Vanessa Bell.Pinka, the cocker spaniel that Vita Sackville-West gave Virginia Woolf in 1926, was photographed for the dust jacket and frontispiece of the first edition.

 

Virginia and Vita at Monk’s House in 1933 (as photographed by Leonard Woolf)

 

Virginia Woolf with Pinka

 

The original sketch of The Back Bedroom, on display, shows Elizabeth Barrett languishing in the back bedroom of her father’s house.

 

The Back Bedroom,Vanessa Bell, c. 1932. Graphite drawing for Flush

 

FLUSH OR A FAUNUS

 

“You see this dog. It was but yesterday
I mused, forgetful of his presence here,
Till thought on thought drew downward tear on tear;
When from the pillow, where wet-cheeked I lay,
A head as hairy as Faunus, thrust its 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.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Myself Afar

Afar, Fred Holland Day, 1907

 

THE DESERTED GARDEN

(Excerpt)

“…My childhood from my life is parted,
My footstep from the moss which drew
Its fairy circle round: anew
The garden is deserted.

Another thrush may there rehearse
The madrigals which sweetest are;
No more for me! myself afar
Do sing a sadder verse.

Ah me, ah me! when erst I lay
In that child’s-nest so greenly wrought,
I laughed unto myself and thought
‘The time will pass away.’

And still I laughed, and did not fear
But that, whene’er was past away
The childish time, some happier play…

I knew the time would pass away,
And yet, beside the rose-tree wall,
Dear God, how seldom, if at all,
Did I look up to pray!

The time is past; and now that grows
The cypress high among the trees,
And I behold white sepulchres
As well as the white rose, —

When graver, meeker thoughts are given,
And I have learnt to lift my face,
Reminded how earth’s greenest place
The color draws from heaven, —

It something saith for earthly pain,
But more for Heavenly promise free,
That I who was, would shrink to be
That happy child again.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The Great God Pan

The Great God Pan, Frederic Leighton, 1860

 

The Great God Pan is a novella written by Arthur Machen. A version of the story was published in the magazine The Whirlwind in 1890, and Machen revised and extended it for its book publication (together with another story, The Inmost Light) in 1894. On publication it was widely denounced by the press as degenerate and horrific because of its decadent style and sexual content, although it has since garnered a reputation as a classic of horror. Machen’s story was only one of many at the time to focus on the Greek God Pan as a useful symbol for the power of nature and paganism. The title was possibly inspired by the poem A Musical Instrument published in 1862 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in which the first line of every stanza ends “… the great god Pan.”

 

 

Literary critics such as Wesley D. Sweetser and S. T. Joshi see Machen’s works as a significant part of the late Victorian revival of the gothic novel and the decadent movement of the 1890s, bearing direct comparison to the themes found in contemporary works like Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, and Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray. At the time authors like Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and Arthur Conan Doyle were all admirers of Machen’s works.

An Unlimited Duality

Pan from Behind, James Bidgood, 1965

 

A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT

I.

WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,

Down in the reeds by the river ?

Spreading ruin and scattering ban,

Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,

And breaking the golden lilies afloat

With the dragon-fly on the river.

II.

He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,

From the deep cool bed of the river :

The limpid water turbidly ran,

And the broken lilies a-dying lay,

And the dragon-fly had fled away,

Ere he brought it out of the river.

III.

High on the shore sate the great god Pan,

While turbidly flowed the river ;

And hacked and hewed as a great god can,

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,

Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed

To prove it fresh from the river.

IV.

He cut it short, did the great god Pan,

(How tall it stood in the river !)

Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,

Steadily from the outside ring,

And notched the poor dry empty thing

In holes, as he sate by the river.

V.

This is the way,’ laughed the great god Pan,

Laughed while he sate by the river,)

The only way, since gods began

To make sweet music, they could succeed.’

Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,

He blew in power by the river.

VI.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !

Piercing sweet by the river !

Blinding sweet, O great god Pan !

The sun on the hill forgot to die,

And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly

Came back to dream on the river.

VII.

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,

To laugh as he sits by the river,

Making a poet out of a man :

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, —

For the reed which grows nevermore again

As a reed with the reeds in the river.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

A Musical Instrument was published in 1860 with a collection of works called Poems Before Congress. This is among some of her last published works because she died in 1861. This poem uses the story of Pan, god of shepherds, hunting and rustic music, to emphasize the duality of art. While art is beautiful there can also be destruction as a result of that art. The use of Pan is significant because he is commonly depicted as being a man with horns, legs, a beard, pointed ears and the tail of a goat. He is most commonly associated with other rustic gods and the origins of his name come from an old Arkadian word for “rustic”. In this poem, Pan symbolizes the dual nature of the arts. He is beauty and destruction combined. The fact that he is part god, part human and part animal shows that this duality of art is not limited to anyone or anything.

Pan is Dead

Self-portrait , Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985. In several of his self-portraits Robert referenced himself as faun, satyr, Pan

 
 

GODS of Hellas, gods of Hellas,
Can ye listen in your silence?
Can your mystic voices tell us
Where ye hide? In floating islands,
With a wind that evermore
Keeps you out of sight of shore?
Pan, Pan is dead.

In what revels are ye sunken
In old Æthiopia?
Have the Pygmies made you drunken,
Bathing in mandragora
Your divine pale lips that shiver
Like the lotus in the river?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Do ye sit there still in slumber,
In gigantic Alpine rows?
The black poppies out of number
Nodding, dripping from your brows
To the red lees of your wine,—
And so kept alive and fine?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Or lie crushed your stagnant corses
Where the silver spheres roll on,
Stung to life by centric forces
Thrown like rays out from the sun?
While the smoke of your old altars
Is the shroud that round you welters?
Great Pan is dead.

“Gods of Hellas, gods of Hellas,”
Said the old Hellenic tongue!
Said the hero-oaths, as well as
Poets’ songs the sweetest sung!
Have ye grown deaf in a day?
Can ye speak not yea or nay—
Since Pan is dead?

Do ye leave your rivers flowing
All alone, O Naiades,
While your drenchéd locks dry slow in
This cold feeble sun and breeze?—
Not a word the Naiads say,
Though the rivers run for aye.
For Pan is dead.

From the gloaming of the oak-wood,
O ye Dryads, could ye flee?
At the rushing thunderstroke would
No sob tremble through the tree?—
Not a word the Dryads say,
Though the forests wave for aye.
For Pan is dead.

Have ye left the mountain places,
Oreads wild, for other tryst?
Shall we see no sudden faces
Strike a glory through the mist?
Not a sound the silence thrills
Of the everlasting hills.
Pan, Pan is dead.

O twelve gods of Plato’s vision,
Crowned to starry wanderings,—
With your chariots in procession,
And your silver clash of wings!
Very pale ye seem to rise,
Ghosts of Grecian deities,—
Now Pan is dead!

Jove! that right hand is unloaded,
Whence the thunder did prevail,
While in idiocy of godhead
Thou art staring the stars pale!
And thine eagle, blind and old,
Roughs his feathers in the cold.
Pan, Pan is dead.

Where, O Juno, is the glory
Of thy regal look and tread?
Will they lay, for evermore, thee,
On thy dim, straight, golden bed?
Will thy queendom all lie hid
Meekly under either lid?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Ha, Apollo! Floats his golden
Hair all mist-like where he stands,
While the Muses hang enfolding
Knee and foot with faint wild hands?
’Neath the clanging of thy bow,
Niobe looked lost as thou!
Pan, Pan is dead.

Shall the casque with its brown iron
Pallas’ broad blue eyes eclipse,
And no hero take inspiring
From the God-Greek of her lips?
’Neath her olive dost thou sit,
Mars the mighty, cursing it?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Bacchus, Bacchus! on the panther
He swoons,—bound with his own vines!
And his Mænads slowly saunter,
Head aside, among the pines,
While they murmur dreamingly,—
“Evohe—ah—evohe—!
Ah, Pan is dead.

Neptune lies beside the trident,
Dull and senseless as a stone;
And old Pluto deaf and silent
Is cast out into the sun:
Ceres smileth stern thereat,—
“We all now are desolate—
Now Pan is dead.”

Aphrodite! dead and driven
As thy native foam, thou art;
With the cestus long done heaving
On the white calm of thy heart!
Ai Adonis! At that shriek,
Not a tear runs down her cheek—
Pan, Pan is dead.

And the Loves, we used to know from
One another,—huddled lie,
Frore as taken in a snow-storm,
Close beside her tenderly,—
As if each had weakly tried
Once to kiss her as he died.
Pan, Pan is dead.

What, and Hermes? Time enthralleth
All thy cunning, Hermes, thus,—
And the ivy blindly crawleth
Round thy brave caduceus?
Hast thou no new message for us,
Full of thunder and Jove-glories?
Nay! Pan is dead.

Crownéd Cybele’s great turret
Rocks and crumbles on her head:
Roar the lions of her chariot
Toward the wilderness, unfed;
Scornful children are not mute,—
“Mother, mother, walk afoot—
Since Pan is dead.”

In the fiery-hearted centre
Of the solemn universe,
Ancient Vesta,—who could enter
To consume thee with this curse?
Drop thy gray chin on thy knee,
O thou palsied Mystery!
For Pan is dead.

Gods! we vainly do adjure you,—
Ye return nor voice nor sign!
Not a votary could secure you
Even a grave for your Divine!
Not a grave, to show thereby,
Here these gray old gods do lie.
Pan, Pan is dead.

Even that Greece who took your wages,
Calls the obolus outworn;
And the hoarse deep-throated ages
Laugh your godships unto scorn—
And the poets do disclaim you,
Or grow colder if they name you—
And Pan is dead.

Gods bereavéd, gods belated,
With your purples rent asunder!
Gods discrowned and desecrated,
Disinherited of thunder!
Now, the goats may climb and crop
The soft grass on Ida’s top—
Now, Pan is dead.

Calm, of old, the bark went onward,
When a cry more loud than wind,
Rose up, deepened, and swept sunward,
From the piléd Dark behind; 165
And the sun shrank and grew pale,
Breathed against by the great wail,—
“Pan, Pan is dead.”

And the rowers from the benches
Fell,—each shuddering on his face,—
While departing influences
Struck a cold back through the place;
And the shadow of the ship
Reeled along the passive deep—
“Pan, Pan is dead.”

And that dismal cry rose slowly,
And sank slowly through the air,
Full of spirit’s melancholy
And eternity’s despair!
And they heard the words it said,—
“Pan is dead,—Great Pan is dead,—
Pan, Pan is dead.”

’T was the hour when One in Sion
Hung for love’s sake on a cross,—
When his brow was chill with dying,
And his soul was faint with loss;
When his priestly blood dropped downward,
And his kingly eyes looked throneward,—
Then, Pan was dead.

By the love he stood alone in,
His sole Godhead stood complete;
And the false gods fell down moaning,
Each from off his golden seat,—
All the false gods with a cry
Rendered up their deity,—
Pan, Pan was dead.

Wailing wide across the islands,
They rent, vest-like, their divine!
And a darkness and a silence
Quenched the light of every shrine;
And Dodona’s oak swang lonely
Henceforth, to the tempest only.
Pan, Pan was dead.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Introductory to Greece

 

Excited by Friedrich Schiller’s Götter Griechenlands, and partly founded on a well-known tradition mentioned in a treatise of Plutarch (De Oraculorum Defectu), according to which, at the hour of the Saviour’s agony, a cry of “Great Pan is dead!” swept across the waves in the hearing of certain mariners, and the oracles ceased.—Mrs. Browning’s Poems.

According to the Greek historian Plutarch The Obsolescence of Oracles, Pan is the only Greek god (other than Asclepius) who actually dies. During the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14–37), the news of Pan’s death came to one Thamus, a sailor on his way to Italy by way of the island of Paxi. A divine voice hailed him across the salt water, “Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead.” Which Thamus did, and the news was greeted from shore with groans and laments.

How Do I Love Thee?

Idyll, Frederic Leighton, c. 1880-81

 
 

NUMBER 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnets from the Portuguese

 
 

Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and first published in 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poems largely chronicle the period leading up to her 1846 marriage to Robert Browning. The collection was acclaimed and popular in the poet’s lifetime and it remains so today.

Barrett Browning was initially hesitant to publish the poems, feeling that they were too personal. However, her husband insisted that they were the best sequence of English-language sonnets since William Shakespeare‘s time and urged her to publish them. To offer the couple some privacy, she decided that she might publish them as translations of foreign sonnets. Therefore, the collection was first to be known as Sonnets from the Bosnian, until Robert suggested that she change their imaginary original language to Portuguese, probably after her admiration for Luís Vaz de Camões and his nickname for her: “my little Portuguese.” The title is also a reference to Les Lettres portugaises. By far the most famous poems from this collection, with one of the most famous opening lines in the English language, are numbers 33 and 43.