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Now – by Robert Browning

There are some interesting differences of punctuation between the version printed in the OCR anthology and other texts.

For instance, the title is elsewhere followed by an exclamation mark. Also, ‘Me’ in line 9 is followed by a comma, not a dash. Small things, perhaps.  The thing is , though, that this might not matter over much in some poems but this is such a strangely punctuated one that it’s worth considering how a change might affect meaning.

Consider where full stops come – or their equivalent, for this must be one of the few poems of the period without a single full stop. Three exclamation marks and a question mark – unusual, or what? Secondly, the majority of the poem comprises one breathless outburst. Here is Browning with a stream of consciousness outpouring long before Joyce, Woolf and Co.   If you substitute frenzy for rage and sake for endowment and then read the poem as an explosion of emotion, it begins to make sense. 

These are not the words of the older eminence grise whose picture often appears alongside his poems but the words of someone in love – head over heels in love, it seems – wanting the moment to last forever. 

Yet the poem is actually a sonnet with a regular rhyme, albeit with a lot of variation in the line length and rhythm.  So then, is this not Browning, but the poet taking on the persona of person madly in love? After all, we know how skilled he is in creating dramatic monologues. Perhaps there is material here for a little debate…

This is Browning speaking from the heart

This is Browning writing in the role of a lover

The words tumble over themselves in a way which suggests real emotion

The careful structure of the poem indicates someone who is in control

Browning was very much in love with Elizabeth

Browning was skilled in putting himself in others’ shoes

He wrote a number of love poems which are clearly heart-felt

Being in love he could well imagine how others might feel

 

 

 

Now!

Out of your whole life give but a moment!

All of your life that has gone before, all to come after it, – so you ignore so you make perfect the present, – condense, in a rapture of rage frenzy, for perfection’s endowment sake, thought and feeling and soul and sense – merged in a moment which gives me at last you around me for once, you beneath me, above me – me, sure that despite of time future, time past, – this tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!

How long such suspension may linger?  Ah, sweet – the moment eternal – just that and no more – when ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core while cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!

Out of your whole life give but a moment!

 

Now (as printed in the OCR Anthology)

All of your life that has gone before,

All to come after it, – so you ignore

So you make perfect the present, – condense,

In a rapture of rage, for perfection’s endowment,

Thought and feeling and soul and sense –

Merged in a moment which gives me at last

You around me for once, you beneath me, above me –

Me – sure that despite of time future, time past, –

This tick of our life-time’s one moment you love me!

How long such suspension may linger? Ah, Sweet –

The moment eternal – just that and no more –

When ecstasy’s utmost we clutch at the core

While cheeks burn, arms open, eyes shut and lips meet!

 

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