February 1901: Queens Funeral and Mrs Browning

This week I was thinking of giving you a little taste of Mrs. Browning’s poetry. Some lines, which I ascribed to her, had often of late been running through my mind; and to-day when I took up the newspapers to read some parts of the account of the Queen’s funeral, these very lines caught my eye. Have not you often experienced curious coincidences of that kind? Here is the verse:

“O earth, so full of dreary noises!
O men, with wailing in your voices!
O delved gold, the wailer’s heap!
O strife, O curse, that o’er it fall!
God strikes a silence through you all
And giveth His beloved sleep!”

Could any words be more appropriate to our times? They were sung as an anthem by the choir of Westminster Abbey on Saturday afternoon. I took down a volume of Mrs Browning’s and turned up her sonnets. I thought I knew the very page and position on the page where I should find those words. But to my intense astonishment, they were not to be found at all in the book. They are so like her style of thought. What other poet could have written them?

After some searching of brain, I decided it must be Whittier, the American poet. I have a vague recollection that this is the first verse of a poem of perhaps a dozen verses. When I come to scan it, it is not a sonnet at all. It is too rhythmical for that. I have not a full edition of Whittier’s poems, and my small volume I cannot lay my hands upon, much to my vexation.

If any of you can assure me that it is really Whittier who wrote those lines, I shall be grateful. Meanwhile, we who get the words off by heart, to ponder over them, will not be the least wise of the subjects of His Most Gracious Majesty, King Edward VII.

(Margaret was correct a quick Google confirms her first suspicions the quote is by Browning’s The Sleep“. I wonder what she would have made of the the internet and the ease she would have been able to search for information? The information I have doesn’t say whether she was ever corrected by her later guess of Whittier)

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