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The Lost Mistress -- Robert Browning

Guest poem submitted by Aseem Kaul :
(Poem #1721) The Lost Mistress
 All's over, then: does truth sound bitter
 As one at first believes?
 Hark, 'tis the sparrows' good-night twitter
 About your cottage eaves!

 And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,
 I noticed that today;
 One day more bursts them open fully
 -You know the red turns grey.

 Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?
 May I take your hand in mine?
 Mere friends are we,-well, friends the merest
 Keep much that I resign:

 For each glance of that eye so bright and black,
 Though I keep with heart's endeavour,-
 Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,
 Though it stay in my soul for ever!-

 -Yet I will but say what mere friends say,
 Or only a thought stronger;
 I will hold your hand but as long as all may,
 Or so very little longer!
-- Robert Browning
For sheer dramatic brilliance, there are few poets to match Browning. He has
an unparalleled ability to create an image, a scene, which is not simply
vivid and moving, but also somehow psychologically accurate. At their best,
his poems have this lived-in quality, so that they feel not like visions
from some higher plane but rather like things that could happen to you;
that, in fact, may already have happened.

Today's poem is an excellent example. There are no high thoughts here, no
particularly startling word play, no evocation of wondrous images. It's a
simple enough poem, the language plain, the tone conversational. And yet it
manages to capture and convey such a range of emotions.

To begin with, there's the sheer breadth of action and information that
these simple lines convey. Browning gives us only a few scattered musings,
yet (as in all his greatest poems, see My Last Duchess, Poem #104 or
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, Poem #635) these are enough to lay before
us the entire history of the romance and its possible future.

What makes this poem truly brilliant, though is the way in which Browning's
simple lines manage to convey a number of different emotional states. That
abrupt first line conveys the sense of shock, the feeling of having come
upon the end of the relationship so abruptly, and what follows is the numbed
aftermath of that explosion, in which the lover re-adjusts his shattered
senses to the smallness and the silence of the world around him and is
amazed to find that, despite everything, the world goes on. This knowledge
is what gives him the courage to broach (in the third stanza) the
possibility of continued interaction, yet no sooner has he brought this up
than the heart within him rebels at the notion of love being so easily
changed to friendship, so that the next stanza gives us an unforgettable
struggle between longing and restraint, between timidity and scorn, between
the desire to survive and the desire to be annhilated. Finally, in the last
stanza, the lover comes to terms with this contradiction between the
ephemeral and the eternal, arriving at an almost pitiful compromise,
ensuring that he will be forever both included and excluded.

Overall, then, this is a simple, beautiful poem about coming to terms with
the transitory nature of relationships on the one hand and the longevity of
the feelings that go with them on the other.

Aseem.

39 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

viagra online said...

Hi, nice poem thanks, but what does mean "You know the red turns grey." I don't get how the phrase get into the poem ?
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

the red leaves will turn gray and fall, also metaphorically it means every thing decays and dies when its prime comes to an aend.

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ralph said...

What do you think of the idea that the references to 'goodnight chatter' and red turning to grey, being spiteful references to his ex-lover's age, so that if she has really ended the relationship she might not get anyone else. I know this is not consistent with the rest of the poem, but that makes sense too, given the range of feelings and emotions that can wash over you when someone ends a relationship.

ralph said...

What do you think of the idea that the references to 'goodnight chatter' and red turning to grey, being spiteful references to his ex-lover's age, so that if she has really ended the relationship she might not get anyone else. I know this is not consistent with the rest of the poem, but that makes sense too, given the range of feelings and emotions that can wash over you when someone ends a relationship.

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