I was watching The Barretts of Wimpole Street the other day, starring Norma Shearer, Frederick March and Charles Laughton. What a great movie. I've spent the last week or so marveling over the story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. They were two poets who began their relationship through correspondence and a love of their art: poetry. She had been raised in an abusive household but was already a famous poet by the time she met Robert, a more obscure and loudly passionate poet himself. He fell in love with her after reading her work for the first time. He understood her. He knew who and what she was inside, by the beauty of her words.
How cool is that? I don't feel any jealousy toward this most famous couple; I am always grateful when proof of love is shown in history, and reverent when it's displayed in art. Robert rescued Elizabeth from her father in what is commonly thought to be an incestuous household. It is known to have been physically and emotionally destructive to Elizabeth and her many siblings. She wrote one of the most beautiful love poems ever written as a tribute to her feelings for her beloved husband, Robert Browning. I've included it here, the lovely Sonnet 43, more commonly known as "How Do I Love Thee?"
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
It's an amazing thing to read the soul of an artist. I'm so grateful to have been able to experience these words, this graceful weaving of love, friendship, gratitude and appreciation that these two remarkable human beings felt for one another. They began with an unlikely friendship and it blossomed into a seemingly impossible but unavoidable love. I think Fate brought them together and the whole world benefited from it.
I have a special place in my heart for Elizabeth; she too is a sister of circumstance, a victim and a brave survivor of an unspeakable childhood. She channeled that pain into creation, spinning lyrical comfort and a sacred balm of poetry to untold millions throughout the years. That's the ticket out of hell for people like us: the damaged, broken wrecks of humanity who flounder in deep water and so often sink without a trace. Creation and generosity, self-forgiveness and determination to not repeat the past, even if we've done it all our lives. A treasure hunt with our own souls as the prize, clearing away the debris of our past so we can show the world the golden beauty of us. Show ourselves. Even without a handsome savior, we can find that treasure inside. We can be our own Robert Browning and rescue ourselves...maybe even others who are floundering still. Everyone has, somewhere inside them, the soul of an artist. Tap into it and create something beautiful. If we're capable of creating ugliness, and I know I certainly am, then we are equally capable of creating beauty. And beauty can heal the world. Just ask Elizabeth Barrett Browning.