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Bianca Among The Nightingales Analysis



Author: poem of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Type: poem Views: 39

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The cypress stood up like a church

That night we felt our love would hold,

And saintly moonlight seemed to search

And wash the whole world clean as gold;

The olives crystallized the vales'

Broad slopes until the hills grew strong:

The fireflies and the nightingales

Throbbed each to either, flame and song.

The nightingales, the nightingales.



Upon the angle of its shade

The cypress stood, self-balanced high;

Half up, half down, as double-made,

Along the ground, against the sky.

And we, too! from such soul-height went

Such leaps of blood, so blindly driven,

We scarce knew if our nature meant

Most passionate earth or intense heaven.

The nightingales, the nightingales.



We paled with love, we shook with love,

We kissed so close we could not vow;

Till Giulio whispered, 'Sweet, above

God's Ever guarantees this Now.'

And through his words the nightingales

Drove straight and full their long clear call,

Like arrows through heroic mails,

And love was awful in it all.

The nightingales, the nightingales.



O cold white moonlight of the north,

Refresh these pulses, quench this hell!

O coverture of death drawn forth

Across this garden-chamber... well!

But what have nightingales to do

In gloomy England, called the free.

(Yes, free to die in!...) when we two

Are sundered, singing still to me?

And still they sing, the nightingales.



I think I hear him, how he cried

'My own soul's life' between their notes.

Each man has but one soul supplied,

And that's immortal. Though his throat's

On fire with passion now, to her

He can't say what to me he said!

And yet he moves her, they aver.

The nightingales sing through my head.

The nightingales, the nightingales.



He says to her what moves her most.

He would not name his soul within

Her hearing,—rather pays her cost

With praises to her lips and chin.

Man has but one soul, 'tis ordained,

And each soul but one love, I add;

Yet souls are damned and love's profaned.

These nightingales will sing me mad!

The nightingales, the nightingales.



I marvel how the birds can sing.

There's little difference, in their view,

Betwixt our Tuscan trees that spring

As vital flames into the blue,

And dull round blots of foliage meant

Like saturated sponges here

To suck the fogs up. As content

Is he too in this land, 'tis clear.

And still they sing, the nightingales.



My native Florence! dear, forgone!

I see across the Alpine ridge

How the last feast-day of Saint John

Shot rockets from Carraia bridge.

The luminous city, tall with fire,

Trod deep down in that river of ours,

While many a boat with lamp and choir

Skimmed birdlike over glittering towers.

I will not hear these nightingales.



I seem to float, we seem to float

Down Arno's stream in festive guise;

A boat strikes flame into our boat,

And up that lady seems to rise

As then she rose. The shock had flashed

A vision on us! What a head,

What leaping eyeballs!—beauty dashed

To splendour by a sudden dread.

And still they sing, the nightingales.



Too bold to sin, too weak to die;

Such women are so. As for me,

I would we had drowned there, he and I,

That moment, loving perfectly.

He had not caught her with her loosed

Gold ringlets... rarer in the south...

Nor heard the 'Grazie tanto' bruised

To sweetness by her English mouth.

And still they sing, the nightingales.



She had not reached him at my heart

With her fine tongue, as snakes indeed

Kill flies; nor had I, for my part,

Yearned after, in my desperate need,

And followed him as he did her

To coasts left bitter by the tide,

Whose very nightingales, elsewhere

Delighting, torture and deride!

For still they sing, the nightingales.



A worthless woman! mere cold clay

As all false things are! but so fair,

She takes the breath of men away

Who gaze upon her unaware.

I would not play her larcenous tricks

To have her looks! She lied and stole,

And spat into my love's pure pyx

The rank saliva of her soul.

And still they sing, the nightingales.



I would not for her white and pink,

Though such he likes—her grace of limb,

Though such he has praised—nor yet, I think,

For life itself, though spent with him,

Commit such sacrilege, affront

God's nature which is love, intrude

'Twixt two affianced souls, and hunt

Like spiders, in the altar's wood.

I cannot bear these nightingales.



If she chose sin, some gentler guise

She might have sinned in, so it seems:

She might have pricked out both my eyes,

And I still seen him in my dreams!

- Or drugged me in my soup or wine,

Nor left me angry afterward:

To die here with his hand in mine

His breath upon me, were not hard.

(Our Lady hush these nightingales!)



But set a springe for him, 'mio ben',

My only good, my first last love!—

Though Christ knows well what sin is, when

He sees some things done they must move

Himself to wonder. Let her pass.

I think of her by night and day.

Must I too join her... out, alas!...

With Giulio, in each word I say!

And evermore the nightingales!



Giulio, my Giulio!—sing they so,

And you be silent? Do I speak,

And you not hear? An arm you throw

Round some one, and I feel so weak?

- Oh, owl-like birds! They sing for spite,

They sing for hate, they sing for doom!

They'll sing through death who sing through night,

They'll sing and stun me in the tomb—

The nightingales, the nightingales!






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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

.: :.

hi. sorry but i would like to know what effect do you use for the pohots above? the effects are so nice, hope you didnt mind to share!! Thank you so much x x

| Posted on 2013-11-14 | by a guest


.: :.

Hi Ell. I use tweaked VSCO Lightroom ptreess + Alien Skin Exposure + Nik Color, all subtly, to get the finished look. It's taken me a lot of experimenting to get the look I like.

| Posted on 2013-11-13 | by a guest


.: :.

Ah the lovely Kitchen Garden Cafe, a fab inattime venue. Ria and Anthony looked like they had a wedding day to remember. And Steve I totally agree on your wedding rule No.23.

| Posted on 2013-11-12 | by a guest


.: Review / Bianca Among... :.

This is one of the most beautiful and tragic love poems ever written... Elizabeth Barrett Browning made several visits to Italy in her lifetime, and fell in love with it, especially Florence. These experience must have moved her to write this incredible poem, with its breathtaking imagery of Florence, the masquerade carnival "I seem to float, we seem to float / down Arno's stream in festive guise;" - you can instantly see Bianca and Giulio in full masked costume.<br /><br />

One of my favourite stanzas is the one where she describes Florence, so vividly, in such a wistful tone:<br /><br />

My native Florence! dear, forgone!<br />
I see across the Alpine ridge<br />
How the last feast-day of Saint John<br />
Shot rockets from Carraia bridge.<br />
The luminous city, tall with fire,<br />
Trod deep down in that river of ours,<br />
While many a boat with lamp and choir<br />
Skimmed birdlike over glittering towers.<br />
I will not hear these nightingales.<br />
<br />
This stanza reveals that Bianca no longer lives in Italy. In fact, towards the end of the poem, you realise that she has moved to England in a desperate bid to find her lost love, Giulio. I love the exquisitely-vivid imagery of the fireworks, and the way the "luminous city, tall with fire" is reflected in the river, and the lines "while many a boat with lamp and choir / skimmed birdlike over glittering towers" - put you right there with Bianca and Giulio, seeing all the festivities, the dark sky, the stars, all the reflections in the water, the lanterns, the revellers in their fine costumes - everything is magically set before you by these brilliant lines, like some startling dream from a previous life. It is one of the amazing features of this poem that makes it a favourite of mine. It shows you Elizabeth Barrett Browning's ability to draw the reader into the fantastic realm of her imagination, as only a truly great poet can.

At the first scene in which this poem is set retrospectively, in Bianca's recollection of her memories, Bianca and Giulio are engaged to be married. They are afloat in a boat on the River Arno, making passionate love. Their cries are lost in the noise of the celebrations of a masquerade festival on the river. EBH describes the scene with vivid passion:<br /><br />

"We paled with love, we shook with love, <br />
We kissed so close we could not vow;<br />
Till Giulio whispered, 'Sweet, above<br />
God's Ever guarantees this Now.'<br />
And through his words the nightingales<br />
Drove straight and full their long clear call,<br />
Like arrows through heroic mails,<br />
And love was awful in it all.<br />
The nightingales, the nightingales."<br /><br />

It is just following this very sensually-exulant, happy time of Bianca and Giulio's love, as an engaged couple, that their boat collides with another boat. It is not a serious accicent, causing only ripples and ruffled costume feathers. Yet at that moment Bianca's fiancee sees the English woman in the other boat, and falls in love with her. She is singing "La Grazie Tanto" in a sweet, soulful voice. The following two stanzas illustrate perfectly this part of the story... and notice how she repeats the reference to the nightingales singing outside her window, while she remembers the fateful chain of events:

I seem to float, we seem to float<br />
Down Arno's stream in festive guise;<br />
A boat strikes flame into our boat,<br />
And up that lady seems to rise<br />
As then she rose. The shock had flashed<br />
A vision on us! What a head,<br />
What leaping eyeballs!&mdash;beauty dashed<br />
To splendour by a sudden dread.<br />
And still they sing, the nightingales.<br />
<br />
Too bold to sin, too weak to die;<br />
Such women are so. As for me,<br />
I would we had drowned there, he and I,<br />
That moment, loving perfectly.<br />
He had not caught her with her loosed<br />
Gold ringlets... rarer in the south...<br />
Nor heard the 'Grazie tanto' bruised<br />
To sweetness by her English mouth.<br />
And still they sing, the nightingales.<br />

It is as if she feels that the nightingales are deliberately singing to remind her of her broken love affair. Bianca goes on later to speak with scornful indignation, of this beautiful lady who stole her love away: <br /><br />

"A worthless woman! Mere cold clay<br />
As all false things are! Yet so fair<br />
She takes the breath of men away<br />
Who gaze upon her unaware.<br />
I would not play her larcenous tricks<br />
To have her looks! She lied and stole<br />
And spat into my love's pure pyx<br />
The rank saliva of her soul.<br />
And still they sing, the nightingales."<br /><br />

Those last three lines of this stanza drive it home to the reader that this is a devout Catholic lady talking, with great bitterness in her voice. The pure sanctity of her love, being promised for matrimony, has been sullied forever by this other woman, whose soul is therefore rank and impure. She has overlooked her own folly in having sex with Giulio before they are properly marraied, to rage about the English woman, who did not know or care about the fact that he was engaged. This woman, in Bianca's eyes, has committed theft (of the love of Bianca's life) and filthy desecration, in the eyes of herself and of God:<br /><br/ >

I would not for her white and pink,<br />
Though such he likes&mdash;her grace of limb,<br />
Though such he has praised&mdash;nor yet, I think,<br />
For life itself, though spent with him,<br />
Commit such sacrilege, affront<br />
God's nature which is love, intrude<br />
'Twixt two affianced souls, and hunt<br />
Like spiders, in the altar's wood.<br />
I cannot bear these nightingales.<br />
<br />
Notice that reference to the nightingales has changed in tone. You can almost hear Bianca's voice in your head, beginning to waver with emotion, perhaps dropping to a whisper. She might genuflect, clutching at a crucifix around her neck, and her eyes, brimming with tears, might turn to watch the window as the birds sing on. <br /><br />

Bianca has come to hate England (where she is looking for Giulio) as much as she hates her English love rival. In this stanza (quite early in the poem) she pours her eloquent disdain on the English climate:<br /><br />
I marvel how the birds can sing.<br />
There's little difference, in their view,<br />
Betwixt our Tuscan trees that spring<br />
As vital flames into the blue,<br />
And dull round blots of foliage meant<br />
Like saturated sponges here<br />
To suck the fogs up. As content<br />
Is he too in this land, 'tis clear.<br />
And still they sing, the nightingales.<br />
<br />
It is actually quite difficult to read this poem aloud to the end without feeling the terrible sadness that descends on Bianca. The last stanza is so heavy with loss and pain, you almost get the impression that this woman has become so hurt and bitter that she is suffering a kind of nervous breakdown:<br />
<br />
Giulio, my Giulio!&mdash;sing they so,<br />
And you be silent? Do I speak,<br />
And you not hear? An arm you throw<br />
Round some one, and I feel so weak?<br />
- Oh, owl-like birds! They sing for spite,<br />
They sing for hate, they sing for doom!<br />
They'll sing through death who sing through night,<br />
They'll sing and stun me in the tomb&mdash; <br />
The nightingales, the nightingales!<br /><br />

There is not much more to say. We have all experienced heartbreak in love, at one time or another, but what an exceptional gift it is, to be able to write about it with such electrifying passion. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning was a woman ahead of her time.<br /><br />

Sara L. Russell / Founder, Poetry Life & Times.<br /><br />

| Posted on 2007-10-22 | by a guest




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