Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Poetry Corner: Back to Elizabeth

This week is National Resurrect Romance Week, so in honor of the celebration, I'm returning to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This time around, rather than one of the Sonnets from the Porguguese, it's a poem in the form of a ballad, a compendium of quatrains: "Amy's Cruelty."

Fair Amy of the terraced house,
Assist me to discover
Why you who would not hurt a mouse
Can torture so your lover.

You give your coffee to the cat,
You stroke the dog for coming,
And all your face grows kinder at
The little brown bee's humming.

But when he haunts your door . . . the town
Marks coming and marks going . . .
You seem to have stitched your eyelids down
To that long piece of sewing!

You never give a look, not you,
Nor drop him a "Good morning,"
To keep his long day warm and blue,
So fretted by your scorning.

She shook her head--"The mouse and bee
For crumb or flower will linger:
The dog is happy at my knee,
The cat purrs at my finger.

"But he . . . to him, the least thing given
Means great things at a distance:
He wants my world, my sun, my heaven,
Soul, body, whole existence.

"They say love gives as well as takes;
But I'm a simple maiden,--
My mother's first smile when she wakes
I still have smiled and prayed in.

"I only know my mother's love
Which gives all and asks nothing;
And this new loving sets the groove
Too much the way of loathing.

"Unless he gives me all in change,
I forfeit all things by him:
The risk is terrible and strange--
I tremble, doubt, . . . deny him.

"He's sweetest friend or hardest foe,
Best angel or worst devil;
I either hate or . . . love him so,
I can't be merely civil!

"You trust a woman who puts forth
Her blossoms thick as summer's?
You think she dreams what love is worth,
Who casts it to new-comers?

"Such love's a cowslip-ball to fling,
A moment's pretty pastime;
I give . . . all me, if anything,
The first time and the last time.

"Dear neighbor of the trellised house,
A man should murmur never,
Though treated worse than dog and mouse,
Till doated on for ever!"

This poem at first glance doesn't seem so romantic, but there is something very human in the main character's ambivalence. That gives this poem more depth than a lot of what's floating around out there.

2 Comments:

Anonymous jesse said...

This poem blends nicely with the book I am reading right now. The wife belongs to a book club, and a while back they read Reading Lolita in Tehran. Now I am reading it. It is a fascinating view of teaching western literature in a tyrannical state. The passage I am in now is of the author teaching nineteenth century romance, like Austen and James. The class is made up of veiled women who mostly "get" the books, and hardline, islamist, male students who are just clueless and spend most of their time trying to find reasons in the novels for western decadence and the demise of civilization.

Tue Aug 16, 08:14:00 AM MDT  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

I'm going to have to read that book. If I remember, I'll check it out on Amazon later.

Tue Aug 16, 11:32:00 PM MDT  

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