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‘Fra Lippo Lippi’: A Poem by Robert Browning

‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ sees the titular friar being accosted by some guards one night, and ending up drunkenly telling them – and us – about his whole life. In a poem like ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ one can clearly see why Ezra Pound was influenced by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, with their plainness of speech and the bluff, no-nonsense manner of Browning’s characters.

Fra Lippo Lippi

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what’s to blame? you think you see a monk!
What, ’tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,
And here you catch me at an alley’s end
Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

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‘On the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway’: A Poem by William Wordsworth

The Kendal and Windermere Railway was first proposed in 1844, and opened in 1847. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) opposed the building of the railway, believing it would destroy the beauty of the Lake District, and in addition to various letters to the Morning Post, he penned this sonnet, using poetry to put across the nature of his objections. In doing so, he became one of the first high-profile poets to write about the arrival of the railways – though admittedly, he is writing about the land before the railway was built. Nonetheless, Wordsworth’s impassioned plea shows poetry and the railways beginning an uneasy coexistence.

On the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway

Is then no nook of English ground secure
From rash assault? Schemes of retirement sown
In youth, and ’mid the busy world kept pure
As when their earliest flowers of hope were blown,
Must perish; – how can they this blight endure? Read the rest of this entry

Crusoe in Concrete: J. G. Ballard’s Concrete Island

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reappraises J. G. Ballard’s 1970s masterpiece

‘Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.’ This remark by J. G. Ballard, who has a claim to being one of the most important English writers of the second half of the twentieth century, strikes at the heart of what drives his fiction. And although it’s not his most famous book, for me the remarkable tour de force that is Ballard’s 1974 novel Concrete Island best demonstrates this.

Ballard has always struck me as a curious mixture of H. G. Wells and William Burroughs, in so far as he can be likened to anybody. Certainly, his novels and stories frequently have the clarity and simplicity of concept that we see in Wells’s fiction, just as the narratives driven by these concepts proceed to undo that simplicity by showing the complications that inevitably ensue. Read the rest of this entry