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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

Balaustion means wild pomegranate flower


Apollo

smiles sadly at the ingenuousness of mortals, who thus imagine that the chain of eternal circumstance could snap in one human life; at their blindness to those seeds of pity and tenderness which the crushed promise of human happiness sets free. Yet he seems to think they lose nothing by either. "They do well to value their little hour. They do well to treasure the warm heart's blood, of which no outpouring could tinge the paleness or fill the blank of eternity, the power of love which transforms their earthly homes, their

... hopes and fears, so blind and yet so sweet With death about them." (p. 115.)

"Balaustion" means wild pomegranate flower; and the girl has been so called on account of her lyric gifts. She recalls the pomegranate tree, because its leaves are cooling to the brow, its seed and blossom grateful to the sense, and because the nightingale is never distant from it. She will keep the name for life--so she tells her friends--and with it a better thing which her songs have gained her. One youth came daily to the temple-steps at Syracuse to hear her. He was at her side at Athens when she landed. They will be married at this next full moon.

"Alkestis" failed "to get the prize" when its author was competing with Sophocles. "But Euripides has had his reward: in the sympathies which he has stirred; in the genius which he has inspired. His crown

came direct from Zeus."

We need not name the poetess whom Mr. Browning quotes at the close of this poem. The painter so generously eulogized is F. Leighton.

When we meet Balaustion again, in "Aristophanes' Apology," many things have happened. She has seen her poet in his retirement (this was mentioned in her "adventure"), kissed his hand, and received from it, together with other gifts, his tragedy of Herakles. Euripides has died; Athens has fallen; and Balaustion, with her memories in her heart, and her husband, Euthykles, by her side, is speeding back towards Rhodes. She is deeply shocked by the fate of her adoptive city, to which her fancy pays a tribute of impassioned reverence, too poetic to be given in any but Mr. Browning's words. Yet she has a growing belief that that fate was just. Sea and air and the blue expanse of heaven are full of suggestion of that spirit-life, with its larger struggles or its universal peace, which is above the world's crowd and noise. And she determines that sorrow for what is fleeting shall not gnaw at her heart.

But in order to overcome the sorrow, she must loosen it from her. The tragedy she has witnessed must enact itself once more for Euthykles and her, he writing as she dictates. It will have for prologue a second adventure of her own, which he also has witnessed; and this adventure will constitute the book. It is prefaced in its turn by a backward glance at the circumstances, (so different from the present) in which she related the first.

It was the night on which Athens received the news that Euripides was dead: Euthykles had brought this home to her from the theatre. They were pondering it gravely, but not sadly, for their poet was now at rest, in the companionship of AEschylus, safe from the petty spites which had frothed and fretted about his life. He had lived and worked, to the end, true to his own standard of right, heedless of the reproach that he was a man-hater and a recluse, without regard for civic duty, and with no object but his art. He had left it to Sophocles to play poet and commander at the same time, and be laughed at for the result. He had first taken the prize of "Contemplation" in his all but a hundred plays; then, grasping the one hand offered him which held a heart, had shown at the court of Archelaus of Macedon whether or not the power of active usefulness was in him. His last notes of music had also been struck for that one friend.


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