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Friday, May 20, 2011

Aurora's Light

Sunday Morning (1871) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema
In the final book of Aurora Leigh, Browning establishes a seemingly contradictory contrast between light and dark to characterize the changing relationship between the titular heroine and her cousin Romney.  As in Book I, the two cousins meet and discuss their philosophical approaches to life.  However, their views have changed significantly since that meeting years ago.  Aurora recalls that their first meeting occurred during the morning while they now meet at night:

I said,–'I'm thinking of a far-off June,
When you and I, upon my birthday once,
Discoursed of life and art, with both untried.
I'm thinking, Romney, how 'twas morning then,
And now 'tis night' (VIII, 301-5).

Despite the apparent lack of light, Romney can "see" better now, particularly with respect to Aurora's ability as a poet, than he could before:

'Can I understand?'
I broke in. 'You speak wildly, Romney Leigh,
Or I hear wildly. In that morning-time
We recollect, the roses were too red,
The trees too green, reproach too natural
If one should see not what the other saw:
And now, it's night, remember; we have shades
In place of colours; we are now grown cold,
And old, my cousin Romney. Pardon me,–
I'm very happy that you like my book (VIII, 337-46).

Aurora points out the natural contradiction in such an epiphanic occurrence.  Although surrounded by brightness, Romney remained in the dark.  He contributed the inability to see to geographical location:  "This night is softer than an English day" (VIII, 355).  Romney believes that Italy is more conducive to true vision than England, an idea with which Aurora may agree, considering her writings improved upon her return.  Furthermore, Romney praises the night during which the revelation has come:

"But oh, the night! oh, bitter-sweet! oh, sweet!
O dark, O moon and stars, O ecstasy
Of darkness! O great mystery of love,–
In which absorbed, loss, anguish, treason's self
Enlarges rapture" (IX, 814-8).

Romney connects the night with love and declares his love for Aurora.  He wants the symbolically-named heroine to be his light, calling her "dearest light of souls/Which rul'st for evermore both day and night" (831-2).  The ironic part of this eye opening experience is that Romney has been blinded by a falling beam that struck him when his home was set afire.  Though he cannot distinguish light from dark, he wishes to have Aurora as the most valuable light in his life.  In the earlier meeting, they could not see eye-to-eye on the role of women and poets, and now, though they have come to an agreement on that issue, they literally cannot see eye-to-eye due to Romney's blindness.  Considering such, Romney wants Aurora to be his physical as well as philosophical guide in life.

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