The Browning Montale Transference – Tom D’Egidio
Date Wednesday, October 12, 2022
Place Westbeth Community Room
155 Bank St. NYC
The NY Browning Society will begin its 116th season with a live illustrated lecture on the relationship of Eugenio Montale to Robert Browning, to take place on Montale’s birthday, October 12th, 2022.
The lecture, titled “The Browning/Montale Transference”, will be given by poet and translator Tom d’Egidio in the Westbeth Community Room, 155 Bank St., between West St. & Washington St., in Manhattan, at 6:00pm.
The lecture will be free and open to the public.
Light refreshments will be served.
Italian poet Eugenio Montale was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature of 1975.
Despite the best efforts of his translators, including Robert Lowell, who called him
“one of the best poets alive”, he was largely unknown in the English-speaking world
at the time of that great honor.
His fellow Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky said of his “Piccolo Testamento”
that it “easily matches Yeat’s “Second Coming “; and the power of his poetry has
been compared with that of the Eliot of “The Four Quartets”, the Valery of “Cemetery
By The Sea”, and the Rilke of “The Duino Elegies”.
A poet difficult even for his fellow Italians, who may well keep a dictionary handy
while wrestling with his tricky syntax, Montale from the start did not seem to come
out of any Italian poetic tradition.
And yet, difficult and serious as Montale is, Martin Seymour-Smith singled out his
“Dora Markus” as “one of the most beautiful love poems of all time”.
Unusual for an Italian poet of his generation, Montale was an Anglophile who
read poetry in English and translated Eliot into Italian. As a young man in the
1920s, he also made visits to Ezra Pound, then living on the Italian Riviera, in order
to get Pound’s views on Browning, the views of a poet who called Browning his
“father”. It was during the period of these visits to Pound that Montale began writing
poems in the form of dramatic portraits. And it is also when Montale, a native of
Genoa, moved to Florence, declaring his intention to live there “with the detachment
of a foreigner, of a Robert Browning”.
The youthful Montale’s poetry and the poet himself struck fellow Italians as alien.
It’s easy to imagine him as the “falso inglese” he describes in a short story. Early on
Montale had discovered a way to double himself, a process that many poets have
“The Browning/Montale Transference” will examine some of Montale’s most
important poems, and attempt to trace the influence of Browning in them, while
illuminating aspects of both these poets who are notable for their fascinating
difficulty and amazing beauty.
Tom d’Egidio, poet & translator, is Director-At-Large of the NY Browning Society.
His talk on contemporary Roman poet Valerio Magrelli (described by Magrelli
himself as “bella, attenta, vivace e pepata” (“beautiful, attentive, lively & peppery”),
given in conjunction with National Translation Month on September 29, 2021, is
viewable on YouTube as part of “Four Poets And Their Translations”.
He is at work on a novel set in the downtown Manhattan bohemian scene (Jean-
Michel Basquiat et al.) of circa 1980. His chapbook “The Enigma of Arrival” is
available from UNDERGROUND BOOKS.ORG
This event is in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in New York, we hope you will join us for this presentation to open our 116th Season.
New York City High School Poetry Winners
Date Wednesday, May 11, 2022
We close out our 2022 season by celebrating our annual New York City
High School Poetry Competition. Our President, James Kepple, will give
a brief talk before inviting six student winners to read their wining
poems and receive their awards.
Please note that this meeting will be held at 1:00 pm.
A note from James Kepple:
In the final presentation of the season, I turn to Virginia Woolf’s novel Flush to look at the lives of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning through the eyes of the most famous dog of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth’s beloved Flush. Woolf’s novel recounts the lively adventures of Flush—his shocking kidnap, his resistance to Elizabeth’s budding romance, and the new life of liberation he found in Italy after the Brownings eloped. I will then introduce the winners of our annual High School Poetry Competition who will present their award-winning poems! Come join us for Robert Browning’s 220th birthday to see for yourselves the future world where we are still talking about the bard and discussing how his work is influencing further generations and beyond!
We want to especially thank all of our amazing speakers this season. We look forward to reading more of Dr. Dino Franco Felluga’s work on Robert Browning in his forthcoming book on the nineteenth-century verse novel, as well as Dr. Jerome Wynter’s article on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s abolitionist poetics, which will be published in the journal Victorian Poetry. Next season, we are looking forward to hearing more presentations from a range of impressive scholars and writers who are working on the lives and works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Dr. Jerome Wynter Presents
“The Cosmopolitan EBB”
Date Wednesday, April 13, 2022
by Laura Clarke
We hope that you will be able to join us for Dr. Jerome Wynter’s talk “The Cosmopolitan EBB” on
April 13 at 6:00pm.
About Dr. Wynter:
Bio: Jerome Wynter is working on a book project on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s political poetics, based on his PhD dissertation. Dr Wynter was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Armstrong Browning Library in the summer of 2019. His article on EBB’s early antislavery verse is forthcoming in the Fall 2022 edition of Victorian Poetry. He teaches as an adjunct at Queens College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY.
Abstract for Dr. Wynter’s talk:
In 1907, George Bernard Shaw inveighed against the “hypocrites, humbugs, Germans, Jews, Yankees, foreigners, Park Laners” in London, whom he termed as “cosmopolitan riffraff” (sic.). Shaw’s disparagement of people from different parts of the world, and those he deemed objectionable, runs counter to the spirit of cosmopolitanism that Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) espoused half a century earlier. In fact, EBB considered herself to be “very cosmopolitan.” That she embraced transnationalism and transatlanticism both in her life and poetic compositions is well documented. This paper argues for seeing EBB’s cosmopolitanism as a metaphor for poetic echoing, as well as the interconnection and magnetization of her political poems about oppression across different situations and circumstances. Hers is a poetic linguistic cosmopolitanism. Speaking of and for the universally underrepresented, the
“socially and politically disadvantaged,” EBB denounced injustice, urged resistance against oppression and advocated for individual as well as national liberty in her poetry. From the historical events in her privately printed book The Battle of Marathon (1820) about Greek Independence to the contemporary political events in the posthumously published poem “Summing Up Italy” (1862), EBB’s idealist view “for the world and humanity” is to end oppression wherever it occurs and realize universal peace and harmony. Ironically, this state of bliss is to be achieved not through “peace diplomacy” or “non-interventionist policies,” as EBB suggests in Casa Guidi Windows (1851), but war and resistance. As this paper demonstrates, EBB’s metaphorical cosmopolitanism embodies her poetry on Greek independence, British and American antislavery and the Italian Risorgimento, all of which are combined into a single discourse of her political canon. To our day, EBB’s body of work continues to echo, enlisting the readers in the process to be cosmopolitan.
With Dr. Wynter’s topic in mind, I have been thinking about the many ways in which Elizabeth and Robert were cosmopolitan. Both poets were cosmopolitan in the sense that they lived abroad and had a wide range of friends, but also in the sense that they an expansive rather than a limited scope. The double significance of this term leads me to think of Robert’s friendship with Joseph Milsand, a French literary critic who wrote an enthusiastic review of Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850). Interestingly, in this review, Milsand uses the term “cosmopolitan” to describe Browning’s view of religion. Comparing Browning with Tennyson, Milsand observes that it is Browning’s poetic gift to see the universal ideas of religion that are embodied in different creeds. Milsand notes that: “If Mr. Browning had finally arrived at this cosmopolitan spiritualism which opens its arms to all possible forms of religion, his travels would be only those of an ordinary mind.” For someone with lower faculties, this recognition, Milsand warns, could become a kind of relativism. Milsand remarks that: “What is difficult
is to be able to distinguish at once the intention and the means, the spirit and the form; it is to be able to love in all religions what they propose, and yet still to prefer one.” In other words, the imagination recognizes the one religion of ideas, but the person of vision must choose for himself the material expression, the creed that best expresses his or her inward perception of truth.
It was this shared cosmopolitan view of religion that led Browning to include Milsand in his long narrative poem Red Cotton Night-Cap Country. The plot of this poem is based on a real-life story of the Paris jeweler, Antoine Mellerio, who killed himself in 1870, leaving his property to the Church but stipulating that his mistress, Anna de Beaupré, could remain in their home. In Browning’s poem, Miranda (based on Mellerio), a Catholic, struggles with his love for Clara (based on Anna) because she cannot divorce her husband. Browning’s notion of love and religion entailed the complete freedom of each individual, a view which among other things meant that he did not think of unlawful love, if it was a genuinely spiritual feeling, as blasphemous. Thus, Browning makes it clear that although Miranda’s love for Clara is illicit in terms of Catholic law, it is true in terms of the spirit: “Truth I say, truth I mean: this love was true.” However, without poetic imagination, Miranda relies on the external law dictated by
the Church and renounces his relationship with Clara. This is a crucial turning point for Miranda, and the narrator suggests that he should seek out a guide. Miranda stands at a crossroads: one route leads to the Church while the other leads to Browning’s close friend, Joseph Milsand, a choice that has crucial symbolic ramifications for Miranda.
For Browning, Milsand represents a French-Anglo cosmopolitanism, but, more importantly, he is also cosmopolitan in a spiritual sense because, like Browning, he has the poetic imagination to see how the one universal religion takes different forms of expression. Thus, in a striking metafictional moment in the poem, the narrator of Browning’s poem advises Miranda to confide in Milsand: “So would he soon supply your crippled soul / With crutches from his own intelligence.” Miranda’s crucial mistake is to turn away from Milsand toward the Ravissante, “Mere human law and custom,” the forms that for Browning stymie and imprison the individual perception of religious ideas. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Milsand should refer to the Joseph Milsand Archive at the Armstrong Browning Library, which provides an incredible social record of 19th-century France.
Philip Kelley, who secured the collection for the Armstrong Browning Library, details the highlights of the collection below:
The Joseph Milsand Archive, now owned by the ABL&M, contains over 4,000 autograph letters as well as numerous rare books, pamphlets, journals, photographs, drawings, newspapers, and albums. It includes original manuscripts of nearly all of Milsand’s known writings, together with a large number of annotated proofs and most of his printed works, documenting his career from the age of 20 until his death. Over 62,000 manuscript pages of Milsand’s articles, essays, study notes, and personal journals (mostly handwritten in French) record his thoughts and observations.
We are also excited that April is Poetry Month and time for our annual New York City High School Poetry Competition. We will conclude our season next month by inviting six student winners to read their wining poems and receive their awards.
We look forward to seeing you at our next meeting!
James Browning Kepple, President
Robert Kramer, Vice President
Laura Clarke, Corresponding Secretary
Nancy McGraw, Recording Secretary
Gene Bierhorst, Director-at-Large
KT Sullivan, Director-at-Large
Tom D’Egidio, Director-at-Large