Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Casa Guidi Windows, A Poem in Two Parts. By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. ISBN: 9781517563943
https://www.abebooks.co.uk/products/isbn/9781517563943

We may now, and at long last, be arriving at the time for the proper appraisal and appreciation of the works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

She was a phenomenal writer, astute, very knowledgable, and very much her own person. The writing is consummate. At one point she was under consideration as the new Poet Laureate, upon the death of William Wordsworth.

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The Casa Guidi Windows is a long two-part poem, set in Florence in 1848/9 to 50, at the time of the Risorgimento.
The work begins with hearing a child’s voice singing outside her window.
What does he sing, because it would have to be a he?
He sings O bella liberta. O bella!
And instantly the writer is caught up in the tumulus moment of the outpouring of hope and enthusiasm for the future that spread through Florence and parts of Italy at the time.
The writer is transported by the reunification spirit, and takes the reader on a reeling ride through the passionate cause and its expressions, the carnival atmosphere.

It continues ‘...on notes he went in search
So high for, you concluded the upspringing
Of such a nimble bird...’
Firstly we have here the little child fore-fronting the work, figuring the innocent rightness of the cause. There is also the deeper image of a that of a choir boy here, innocent and yet fervent.

I wrote above, it would have to be a he. But not necessarily. Conventions of the time would make the figure male – and so when Robert Browning published Pippa Passes (1841) he was indeed breaking the mould. Here was another child, singing beneath windows. And this child’s innocence revealed the iniquities of time and place as she passed from dwelling to dwelling on New Year’s Day.
(What also is interesting here is that this poem was set in Asolo, Veneta. This is where their son Edward. ‘Pen’, later retired to, and was buried.)

There is also in this child under the windows the Rousseau-esque child of nature.
And also the traditional image of the skylark rising into the sky, its passion and song transporting it into higher realms. Is this Shelley’s Blithe Spirit?

It is as though this great movement of the people was ‘ordained’, or if not that, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning had far too much respect for intelligence to fall for that, it was that a spirit was moving the people beyond and out i.e. they are transported, of their ordinary lives.
The abstractions of ‘liberty,’ ‘freedom’, though, how realisable in human terms were they then?
Are they now?

Then comes the writer’s martialling of Florence’s luminaries, from Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli, to Renaissance painters, sculptors, thinkers, writers, the Medici down to Savonarola, to Galileo and on.

If you search out her apartment at the time: Casa Guide, in Florence – and I urge that you do so –
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Casa+Guidi+Firenze/@43.7649241,11.2456479,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x132a51546a37a4eb:0x300cb57880079df2!8m2!3d43.7649241!4d11.2478366

you will see her first floor apartment is at a meeting of ways: Piazza de’ Pitti, Via Maggio, Via Mazzetta, Via Romana. And how very narrow all those roads and streets are!
She writes of both herself and Robert Browning watching the marches from their window, the banners, the ordered processions.
If you do use the map, the Casa Guidi is not as shown, but in the Piazza S Felice, next door to Mesticheria Ferramenta Casalinghi: the domed doorway with their names over the top.

So let’s look at that term Risorgimento. The whole work is suffused with references, both old and contemporary. And very few of them are now part of our general knowledge. At her time, how informed her readership was!
No internet, no social media, TV, radio, records… just journals and news paper reports. And schooling.
And here is one area of interest with both Robert and Elizabeth Moulton-Barret (her full unmarried name): both were tutor-taught. That, and with their own voracious reading. That reading could be wayward at times, but it was wide, and deep into character and subject.
We read here, in mid 1800s, a revealed thirst for psychological knowledge, for the conditions and means of what it is and demands, being human in their time.

There is a huge area of knowledge she references here that few readers of our time could possibly access. We are in need of a good research, and notes to the poems. We, with Google at our finger-tips.
What? You mean it is not infallible?
The earlier Wordsworth edition (1994) of the Collected Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning does seem a fuller, more complete collection, and includes the Casa Guidi Windows. The latter, 2015 edition, with introduction by Dr Sally Minogue, does not; though it does does carry notes to the poems, and has a good and useful Introduction.

So, where were we with the poem? Part One is full of the enthusiasm of the events, refracted through meditations on happenings, characters, and assessments of their qualities.
Historically it was the period that Pope Pius’ constitution for the Papal States added to the weakened position of the French King Louis Phillipe. In the poem we see and hear the great crowds, orders of society, pass the windows to cheer his eminence, Pope Pius.

In Part Two she deals with the failure of the movement, for an Italy still only part free of Austrian claim. In Part Two we come to her contemporary Duke of Tuscany, Grand Duke Leopold: the buck stopped there, and with King Louis Phillipe. Even Pope Pius is under scrutiny; he was no longer the reformer, and his concerns for his flock found wanting.

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The great strength in the piece, I find, is her ability to express that hope and enthusiasm as fully as her position allowed: invalid, foreigner, comparatively affluent, educated, but also a mother, with newborn baby.
And also to be able to examine and also express the feelings of loss in its failure.
To explore that hope and the ramifications of the hope for Italy of the time, and then also to take on the failure of the venture, the failure of those hopes. To express that, also – the passion and the sorrow.
Do not get me wrong, this is not a heart-wrench work, it is considered, factual at times, meditative, enthusiastic… it ranges over so many emotions and states of mind.

It is also a very literary piece.
Many contemporaries will find this not to their taste. It is not written for the voice, but for the silent reading. This allows its language greater scope.
The whole poem is structured carefully in iambic pentameter, with all the iambic licences of catalepsis etc. The poem is rigorously rhymed, but this does not read as external ornament because she positions her end rhymes just so that the rhymes express the salient terms used to rhyme.
Writing this way entails occasional juggling of line structure; and the period’s writing mores allow the ‘thee’s’ and ‘thou’s’, archaisms we now draw a breath at. The writing structure entails concentrated expression; at times it requires re-reading to get the meaning.
For myself, I love the slight changing of writing positions this produces. It gives a greater richness to the writing. It appears many-facetted.

It is end-rhymed throughout, ABABACDCDCD etc. Writing for rhyme like this allows the writer to tweak a line, a thought, and so we find that instead of following through descriptions we explore qualities.

She writes of,
… all images
Men set between themselves and the actual wrong,
To catch the weight of pity, meet the stress
Of conscience, – since ‘t is easier to gaze long
On sad masks and mournful effigies
Than on real, live, weak creatures crushed by strong.

In a TV interview Seamus Heaney commented on his own rhyme-use, saying that writing to rhyme ‘develops the thought‘.

So, what really went wrong with the great surge of the Risorgimento? She writes:


Record that gain, Mazzini – Yes, but first
Set down thy people’s faults; set down the want
Of soul-conviction; set down aims dispersed.
And incoherent means, and valour scant
Because of scanty faith, and schisms accursed
That wrench the brother-hearts from covenant
With freedom and each other.

This might just as well be every political cause.
The People.
Yes, but the Leaders never really know what The People want, because what they want is so diverse (witness the reasoning of the gilet jaunes, for one), and what the Leaders want so narrow that none can live there.
Some have called this a Political Poem, with all the dubious connotations of that description. But it is more than that, and she aimed for more than that.
She aimed for a poem about humanity.

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In her Advertisement To The First Edition, she wrote that she, the writer, takes shame upon herself for having believed, like a woman, some royal oaths, and lost sight of the probable consequences of some obvious popular defects.
To be fallible, get things wrong sometimes, to not be afraid to show one’s vulnerabilities, is to be human, complex, inconsistent-but-hoping-for-consistency, is to aspire to wholeness.

The like a woman is there to disarm, and as such is a considered proto-marketing device. She was wholly aware of her readership.

Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning) writes:

In the correspondence Barrett Browning kept with the Reverend William Merry from 1843 to 1844 on predestination and salvation by works, she identifies herself as a Congregationalist: “I am not a Baptist — but a Congregational Christian, — in the holding of my private opinions.” 

The Congretationalists of her time held very interesting views on self improvement:

the picture of the philistine Dissenters drawn by the poet and critic Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy (1869) contains a measure of truth, it underestimates the zeal for self-improvement and the desire for a richer life that existed in Victorian Congregationalism.
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Congregationalism

That ‘richer life‘ is written out here in Casa Guidi Windows, in the developments of her thoughts and ideas.

In her publication history the Casa Guidi Windows follows her Sonnets From The Portuguese, and is followed by the masterpiece, monumental, Aurora Leigh.

And yet, reading the Sonnets From The Portuguese, now, we get a sense, especially in those early sonnets, that she had come to some kind of dark place with no way out: leaning on her gravestone, waiting; could see no future.
The meeting with Robert Browning stirred her, helped break the dead-lock.
She was a woman of great integrity.

Read generously, I say; read to appreciate, explore, understand.
Read slowly; savour her language, her sensibility.
Read to tune-in to the writing, to her concerns, the emotional and intellectual landscapes she opens to us.
Meet with her here, in her work.

That is really the best gift she has for us, and we, in our turn and time, for her.

You may also like:
Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, by Fiona Sampson. Publisher : Profile Books; Main edition.
ISBN-10 : 1788162072

Press Return

Posted: May 11, 2020 in Chat
Tags: , ,

and does everything return to ‘normal’ again, the factory setting of our pre-Covid-19 lives?

Here’s a first hand account from Italy, of partial-lift freedom. This is the real:

https://etinkerbell.wordpress.com/2020/05/09/en-plein-air/

 

In 2005 English writer Tim Parks, long resident in Italy, published MEDICI MONEY (Profile Books, 2005).

download

It is another take on Renaissance Italy, Florence, the Medicis, and the complexities of the period. It was also very prescient – in three years’ time major Western banks would go bust, much as the Medici, and before them the Bardi and Peruzzi banks had gone bust.

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The Medicis’ added little if anything to the practice of banking. All innovations had already occurred by their time: double-entry book-keeping, bill of exchange (cheque), letter of credit, deposit account. In the Medici long-game of power-acquisition, marriage was arranged between Cosimo and the available daughter of the long-established Bardi banking family. Nothing, it would seem, was beyond them in the build-up and establishment of the family name, wealth and prestige.

But banking was always a risk business; the bank cannot predict how their customers will behave in uncertain situations. Means can be developed to ensure that customers/clients are only of repute, and liquidity. But neither kings nor cardinals were beyond unscrupulous, unwise acts and projects.

Tim Parks traces the English contribution to the cause of an earlier bank collapse. He writes: The Bardi and Peruzzi banks (… ) both collapsed in the 1340s, when Edward III of England reneged on huge debts.

In the 1470s we find the Medici bank in the same straits, through a similar source, this time King Edward IV of England. At this point in time it seems the London branch of the Medici bank was already owing huge amounts to the Rome branch. Agnolo Tani, ex-banker was brought in to clear up the mess. As he made his way from the London branch to Rome, the War of the Roses broke out in its second phase. Of course, Edward was financed by the Medici banks, and when he lost the throne, the chances of repayment also fell. He re-grouped, fought back and regained the throne.

There was also the little matter of who financed his opponents – the Medici bank, of course. They were, after all, nobles, titled men from established families.

A no-win situation, because whoever won power was at the expense of their opponents; the bank lost either way. To regroup and regain Edward needed money – once more he borrowed heavily from the bank.

images

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The English main produce was finished wool cloth. There was a hair-raising interlude when Florence branch general director Francesco Sassetti refused to advance monies for cloth, until, he asserted, the cloth had been sold. Merchants and bankers could not be relied on to be in synch; the whole history of banking relates the discordant harmonies of these two.

Previous to finished wool cloth the main English export had been bulk wool. The key to wool use is in the treating. This is a science in itself – how to get the course, wiry, lanolin-rich wool into usable state. The Scots Gaelic Waulking Songs all came out of this home industry. They used the livers of dogfish.

Working in bulk, though – the importers had to discover the best and easiest means of treatment. It was found to be alum.

As much as there was a fortune to be made from wool, the ownership of the source of alum became a key factor. And this is what we find in the book. At a later stage in the Medici bank history we see Lorenzo currying favour with a Cardinal by granting him an alum mine.

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One of the main sticking points in early banking was how to make a profit on what was entrusted to them.

Clearly, charging interest was out – Jesus expelling the money-lenders from the temple ruined that one. St Luke wrote: Give, without hope for gain. The Lateran Church Council of 1179 denied Christian burial to usurers; the General Church Council of Lyon, 1274, confirmed the ruling.

The way round this was intriguing. And Cardinals, even a Pope, benefitted from it. It was to use the exchange rates of different  States, countries. This meant that quantities of money in various forms, that is, acceptable to the source banks, had to be conveyed around Europe, from banking centre to banking centre. Each destination was chosen for its productive rate of exchange. This proved a workable system.

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Another interesting insight to come out of this is how unsteady the economy proves to be.
In diaries from the last thirty to forty years I notice approximately ten-yearly cycles of recession. How easily we forget once employment is the norm once again.images (1)

Consider:

Most people imagine that if they borrow from a bank, they are borrowing other people’s money.  In fact, when banks and building societies make any loan, they create new money.  Money loaned by a bank is not a loan of pre-existent money; money loaned by a bank is additional money created.” Michael Rowbotham, Grip of Death (1998)

“Where did the money come from? It came – and this is the most important single thing to know about modern banking – it came out of thin air.  Commercial banks – that is, fractional reserve banks – create money out of thin air.” Murray Rothbard, The Mystery of Banking (2008)

“… by far the largest role in creating money is played by the banking sector… When banks make loans they create additional deposits for those that have borrowed the money.” Paul Tucker

And the payoff to this, to use a phrase that shows how of deeply ingrained financial methods have become to us, consider the following:

 With respect that the above implications have with respect to our national debt, it should now be obvious that any attempt to pay off our national debt will ultimately be deleterious, as paying of debt is tantamount to extinguishing it from circulation which will  collapse the supply of money available.  This is how depressions arise due to there being a shrinkage of the money supply due to banks failing to lend.

What is the likelihood of anyone now paying off their National Debt? Western nations in their most positive and humane incarnations cancelled 3rd World Debts. That is possibly the only way the situation can be dealt with.

Do we now have to consider a life flipped where red is black, in accounting terms?
Have we perhaps been living there for longer than we imagine, going off the above quotes?