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Robert Bridges

1844–1930

Robert Seymour Bridges was born on October 23, 1844, in Walmer, Kent, England. He enrolled in Eton College in 1854 and started writing poetry. In 1863, he enrolled at Corpus Christi College at Oxford University, where he met Gerard Manley Hopkins, who he would remain friends with until Hopkins’s death in 1889. Bridges would also become Hopkins’s literary executor, collecting and editing his friend’s poems for publication after his death.

In 1869, Bridges registered as a student at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. After he initially failed his medical exams in 1873, Bridges spent part of his summer studying medicine in Dublin. That same year, he published his first book of poems, Poems (Pickering, 1873), and he received his MB the following year. Bridges continued working at St. Bartholomew’s and other hospitals until 1881, when he retired after contracting a case of pneumonia. He spent the rest of his life in nearly unbroken domestic seclusion, devoting himself to the writing and studying of poetry.

During his prolific period of domestic seclusion, Bridges published several long poems, dramas, and poetry collections, some of which contained his experiments using a meter based on syllables rather than accents. Many of his most popular verses are collected in The Shorter Poems of Robert Bridges (George Bell & Sons, 1890).

In 1913, Bridges was named poet laureate of England, a position he held until his death. He also helped found the Society for Pure English, an organization of literary figures and linguistic scholars who sought to preserve the “purity” of the English language. Bridges remained a bestselling poet throughout the 1920s.

Bridges died in his home in Boars Hill, England, on April 21, 1930.


Selected Bibliography

The Testament of Beauty (Oxford University Press/Clarendon Press, 1929)
The Tapestry (F . W. & S. M., 1925)
New Verse (Clarendon Press, 1925)
October and Other Poems, with Occasional Verses on the War (William Heinemann/Alfred A. Knopf, 1920)
Britannia Victrix (Oxford University Press, 1919)
Poetical Works (Smith, Elder & Co., 1898)
The Shorter Poems of Robert Bridges (George Bell & Sons, 1890)
Eros & Psyche: A Poem in Twelve Measures (George Bell & Sons, 1885)
Poems (Henry Daniel Press, 1884)
Poems (Edward Bumpus, 1880)
Poems (Edward Bumpus, 1879)
The Growth of Love: A Poem in Twenty-four Sonnets (Edward Bumpus, 1876)
Poems (Pickering, 1873)

Robert Bridges

By This Poet

3

London Snow

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
      Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:
      Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
      All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
      And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled—marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
      The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
      Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
      Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
"O look at the trees!" they cried, "O look at the trees!"
      With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
      When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
      For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
      But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labor and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

Low Barometer

The south-wind strengthens to a gale, 
Across the moon the clouds fly fast, 
The house is smitten as with a flail, 
The chimney shudders to the blast. 

On such a night, when Air has loosed 
Its guardian grasp on blood and brain, 
Old terrors then of god or ghost 
Creep from their caves to life again; 

And Reason kens he herits in 
A haunted house. Tenants unknown 
Assert their squalid lease of sin 
With earlier title than his own. 

Unbodied presences, the pack'd 
Pollution and remorse of Time, 
Slipp'd from oblivion reënact 
The horrors of unhouseld crime. 

Some men would quell the thing with prayer 
Whose sightless footsteps pad the floor, 
Whose fearful trespass mounts the stair 
Or burts the lock'd forbidden door. 

Some have seen corpses long interr'd 
Escape from hallowing control, 
Pale charnel forms—nay ev'n have heard 
The shrilling of a troubled soul, 

That wanders till the dawn hath cross'd 
The dolorous dark, or Earth hath wound 
Closer her storm-spredd cloke, and thrust 
The baleful phantoms underground.

Noel: Christmas Eve 1913

Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis

A frosty Christmas Eve 
   when the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone 
   where westward falls the hill,
And from many a village 
   in the water'd valley
Distant music reach'd me 
   peals of bells aringing:
The constellated sounds 
   ran sprinkling on earth's floor
As the dark vault above 
   with stars was spangled o'er.
Then sped my thoughts to keep 
   that first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching 
   by their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields 
   and marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels 
   or the bright stars singing.

Now blessed be the tow'rs 
   that crown England so fair
That stand up strong in prayer 
   unto God for our souls
Blessed be their founders 
   (said I) an' our country folk
Who are ringing for Christ 
   in the belfries to-night
With arms lifted to clutch 
   the rattling ropes that race
Into the dark above 
   and the mad romping din.

But to me heard afar 
   it was starry music
Angels' song, comforting 
   as the comfort of Christ
When he spake tenderly 
   to his sorrowful flock:
The old words came to me 
   by the riches of time
Mellow'd and transfigured 
   as I stood on the hill
Heark'ning in the aspect 
   of th' eternal silence.

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