Wednesday 21 February 2018

The Sunday Poem: Anthony Cronin’s Personal Anthology

From Modern Love 1

Anthony Cronin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Anthony Cronin. Photo: Tony Gavin

MODERN Love was George Meredith's fourth book and it established his reputation as a poet, soon to be overshadowed by the esteem in which his novels were held.

It is a sequence of 50 poems of 16 lines each and it describes the break-up of a marriage. It is not strictly autobiographical — if we are to take the facts as the test, they don't seem to fit. Five years before its publication, his first wife, already a widow, had deserted him (for the pre-Raphaelite painter Henry Wallis) and not the other way round, the husband being what we would now call the guilty party, as he is in the poem.

It certainly still lives up to its title for it has in its realism and psychological probing a very modern quality. Meredith earned most of his living as a publisher's reader, discovering and encouraging both Thomas Hardy and George Gissing.

The word modern fits here also because he was one of the first readers of the modern kind, making editorial suggestions and taking a hand in the construction and narration of the books Chapman and Hall published.

From Modern Love 1 by George Meredith

By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:

That, at his hand's light quiver by her head,

The strange low sobs that shook their common bed

Were called into her with a sharp surprise,

And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes,

Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay

Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away

With muffled pulses. Then, as midnight makes

Her giant heart of Memory and Tears

Drink the pale heart of silence and so beat

Sleep's heavy measure, they from head to feet

Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,

By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.

Like sculptured effigies they might be seen

Upon their marriage bed, the sword between;

Each wishing for the sword that severs all.

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