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How to end an extremely long poem

Posted by Richard on UTC 2015-10-11 14:00.

The readers of this poem – a small but sturdy group – have arrived at page 194, all battered, many with jaws clenched, determined to get to the end. Page 115, where they started, seems a long time ago now and it is: just over 6,000 lines ago. Lines of small type in two columns per page about the life of a Mantuan troubadour called Sordello.

Readers, the reward you deserve so much for your perseverance is here. If Thomas Gray (1716-1771) opened his Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) with one of the most evocative evening scenes in English poetry, Robert Browning (1812-1889) closes his monumental Sordello (1840) with one of the most evocative morning scenes. Savour each line.

Lo, on a heathy brown and nameless hill
By sparkling Asolo, in mist and chill,
Morning just up, higher and higher runs
A child barefoot and rosy—See! the sun's
On the square castle's inner-court's green wall
—Like the chine of some fossil animal
Half turned to earth and flowers; and thro' the haze
(Save where some slender patches of grey maize
Are to be overleaped) that boy has crost
The whole hill-side of dew and powder-frost
Matting the balm and mountain camomile:
Up and up goes he, singing all the while
Some unintelligible words to beat
The lark, God's poet, swooning at his feet
So worsted is he at the few fine locks
Stained like pale honey oozed from topmost rocks
Sunblanched the livelong summer.—All that's left
Of the Goito lay! And thus bereft,
Sleep and forget, Sordello…

Well worth the effort of 6,000 dense lines of medieval Italian history, don't you think?