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Memorabilia -- Robert Browning

Many thanks to Divya Sampath for suggesting this poem:
(Poem #425) Memorabilia
 Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,
 And did he stop and speak to you?
 And did you speak to him again?
 How strange it seems, and new!

 But you were living before that,
 And you are living after,
 And the memory I started at--
 My starting moves your laughter!

 I crossed a moor, with a name of its own
 And a certain use in the world no doubt,
 Yet a hand's-breadth of it shines alone
 'Mid the blank miles round about:

 For there I picked up on the heather
 And there I put inside my breast
 A moulted feather, an eagle-feather--
 Well, I forget the rest.
-- Robert Browning
Percy Shelley's been getting a fair bit of coverage on the Minstrels lately [1],
so it comes as a bit of a relief to know that I'm not alone in disliking his
verse [2].

Actually, I can't name too many parodies written by well-known poets [3] - this
is a pretty rare example of one. Maybe the originality that is the mark of any
great poet prevents him (or her) from ever writing a true parody... I don't

Be that as it may, I think Browning does an excellent job of capturing the exact
tone of voice and style of imagery used by the Romantics... indeed, I must
confess that this poem (especially the last stanza) had me laughing out loud.

(still grinning)

[1] see poem #22 for a rave, and poem #399 for a hatchet job.
[2] Not that he's a bad poet, mind you. It's just that _I_ don't like his
work. Your mileage may vary.
[3] Lewis Carroll, of course, is the exception that proves the rule.

26 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Sunil Iyengar said...

Are we sure this is intended primarily as parody? Despite the undercutting
effect of the last line, I always thought it aptly expresses the
selectiveness of memory: how the speaker should find his audience's
acquaintance with Shelley to be more important than any trait in his
audience itself. What do you think?

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This is one of my favorite poems written by Browning.

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