Women Poets

Elizabeth Barrett Browning – Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) , the other poetess Amy Lowell refers to in Sisters was already famous when she met Robert Browning and, against her father’s will, eloped with him and married him (1846). The Seraphim, and other Poems(1838) gained her critical and public attention and so did The Cry of the Children (1844) about the exploitation of child labour in factories. Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850) are the expression of Elizabeth Barrett’s passionate love for her husband; they were followed by Casa Guidi Windows (1851) on the theme of Italian liberation and by Aurora Leigh (1857), a novel in verse telling the life of a woman writer conscious of her social responsibilities. She lived all her married life in Florence, where her only child was born. In her poems, Elizabeth Barrett Browning depicts the depth and universality of her feelings for her husband

How do I love thee? (from : Sonnets from the Portuguese ,1850)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height (profondità, larghezza e altezza)

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight (lontano)

For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace. (scopo di Dio)

I love thee to the level of everyday’s (thee = you)

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.(luce di candela)

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; (lotta)

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. (lode)

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. (dolori)

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose (perdere)

With my lost saints,- I love thee with the breath, (gente a cui voglio bene)

Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose, (lacrime)

I shall but love you better after death.

Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) wrote in the same period of Walt Whitman, but her poems were totally different . She lived all her whole life in Amherst, Massachusetts, and composed nearly 2,000 short, untitled poems. Despite her productivity, only few of Dickinson’s poems were published before her death in 1886. Dickinson used images and experienced different variations within (all’interno) her simple form. She used imperfect rhymes, subtle breaks (interruzioni) of rhythm (ritmo), and personal syntax and punctuation to create fascinating word puzzles, which are still producing contradictory interpretations. She was fascinated by a variety of subjects and emotions: death, and afterlife (vita dopo la morte) , faith (fede) in God and disillusionment (delusione). Many of her poems record moments of bitter (amara) paralysis that could be death, pain (dolore), doubt, fear, or love. She remains one of the most private and cryptic voices in American literature. Here is an example of her way of writing. Her poems have usually no titles, but are numbered. This is about life and it is number XXVII


I ’M nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there ’s a pair (siamo in due) of us—don’t tell!

They ’d banish us (allontanerebbe), you know.

How dreary (noioso) to be somebody!

How public, like a frog (rana )

To tell your name the livelong day (tutto il giorno)

To an admiring bog! (palude)

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886) was one of Amy Lowell’s poetical models. She was born in Amherst, a small town in Massachusetts, into an old family of New England Puritans. She did not become a professing Christian, as would have been expected of her (si aspettavano) by her teachers and her Calvinist family, and this was the beginning of her sceptical turn of mind (cambio di mentalità). When Emily Dickinson returned to Amherst after her studies, she lived more and more as a recluse: she lived in her home and garden, refused to have any contacts with visitors, dressed entirely in white, and started writing, trying to express some of her passionate feelings through letters and poetry.

Of her more than 1,700 poems only seven are known to have been published during her lifetime. After her death appeared Poems by Emily Dickinson – First Series (1890), and further (ulteriori) volumes were brought to light during the years until the Complete Edition of the Poems (1955) which marked her worldwide (mondiale) fame and reputation.

Emily Dickinson was concerned (preoccupata) with universals, thus the two great sources (fonti) of her inspiration were the Bible and the phenomena of nature. Some of her poems start from minute observations of animals, plants, light, to move on to deeper subjects, to the eternal and the divine. Others are about love, pain (dolore), God, and they reflect both a rebellion against conventional religion, morality and prudery, and the influence of her Puritan heritage (eredità), which can be felt when she turns to metaphysical questions such as renunciation, guilt (colpa) and death. Her outlook (visione) remains dualistic in the sense that it juxtaposes the abstract with the concrete, the trivial (banale) with the sublime, reverence with satire.

In her poems Dickinson employed a complex and unusual syntax, sharp (acute, veloci) images, paradoxes a different rhyming schemes (schemi di rima) which helped to create a new sense of the richness with which the language can be used.

I died for beauty

I died for beauty – but was scarce (difficile)

Adjusted in the Tomb

When One who died for Truth, was lain (sistemata)

In an adjoining Room –

He questioned softly why I failed? ( ho fallito)

For Beauty”, I replied –

And for Truth – The two are One –

We Brethren are”, He said – (brothers)

And so, as Kinsmen met a Night – (parenti)

We talked between the Rooms –

Until the Moss had reached our lips – (muschio)

And covered up – our names –

(Poems by Emily Dickinson, First Series, 1890, no. 71)

Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925) was, together with Ezra Pound , one of the founders of the Imagist movement.

Born of a prominent family and educated at home, Amy Lowell had a lively social life and travelled a lot. She went to Europe and Egypt and also started a severe diet (dura dieta) to improve her health (salute) trying to solve her increasing weight problem (problemi di peso che aumentavano).

She was fascinated by the theatre; in 1902 she met actress Ada Dwyer Russell who then became her travelling and living companion (compagna di viaggi e di vita) until Amy’s death.

In the January 1913 issue (numero) of Poetry, Amy read a poem signed by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) , Imagiste and decided that she, too, was an Imagist. She went to London to meet Ezra Pound and other Imagist poets, introduced by a letter from Poetry editor Harriet Monroe.

In 1915 Amy Lowell argued (discusse) with Ezra Pound who termed her version of Imagism “Amygism.” In 1925, she was struck with a massive cerebral haemorrhage (emorragia cerebrale) and died.

Ada Russell published three volumes of Lowell’s poems posthumously.

The Imagist movement was nearly forgotten (quasi dimenticato) till recently when Amy Lowell was seen as part of a continuing tradition of women poets like Emily Dickinson and Elisabeth Barrett Browning as suggested in Lowell’s poem Sisters.

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