I am at least a skilful accoucheur

Only nine of the second series of Henley’s Hospital Poems have been published. ‘Spring Sorrow’ eventually became ‘Pastoral’, in 1888.

RLS was writing an entry for the Enciclopædia Britannica about Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857), a French poet and chansonnier very popular in his lifetime.

[As usual, dots between square brackets indicate cuts made by Sidney Colvin. For full, correct and critical edition of this letter, see Mehew 2, 406].

To Sidney Colvin [Colvin 1912, pp. 113-114]

[Swanston, c. 19 July 1875.]

My dear Colvin,

Herewith you receive the rest of Henley’s hospital work. He was much pleased by what you said of him, and asked me to forward these to you for your opinion […]. One poem, the Spring Sorrow, seems to me the most beautiful […].

Sir Sidney Colvin [http://2.bp.blogspot.com/]

W.E. Henley [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

[Spring Sorrow (Pastoral), by W.E. Henley 

It’s the Spring.
Earth has conceived, and her bosom,
Teeming with summer, is glad.

Vistas of change and adventure,
Thro’ the green land
The grey roads go beckoning and winding,
Peopled with wains, and melodious
With harness-bells jangling:
Jangling and twangling rough rhythms
To the slow march of the stately, great horses
Whistled and shouted along.

White fleets of cloud,
Argosies heavy with fruitfulness,
Sail the blue peacefully. Green flame the hedgerows.
Blackbirds are bugling, and white in wet winds
Sway the tall poplars.
Pageants of colour and fragrance,
Pass the sweet meadows, and viewless
Walks the mild spirit of May,
Visibly blessing the world.

O, the brilliance of blossoming orchards!
O, the savour and thrill of the woods,
When their leafage is stirred
By the flight of the Angel of Rain!
Loud lows the steer; in the fallows
Rooks are alert; and the books
Gurgle and tinkle and trill. Thro’ the gloamings,
Under the rare, shy stars,
Boy and girl wander
Dreaming in darkness and dew.

lt’s the Spring.
A sprightliness feeble and squalid
Wakes in the ward, and I sicken,
Impotent, winter at heart.]

I thank God for this petit bout de consolation, that by Henley’s own account, this one more lovely thing in the world is not altogether without some trace of my influence: let me say that I have been something sympathetic which the mother found and contemplated while she yet carried it in her womb. This, in my profound discouragement, is a great thing for me; if I cannot do good with myself, at least, it seems, I can help others better inspired; I am at least a skilful accoucheur. My discouragement is from many causes: among others the re-reading of my Italian story. Forgive me, Colvin, but I cannot agree with you; it seems green fruit to me, if not really unwholesome; it is profoundly feeble, damn its weakness! Moreover I stick over my Fontainebleau, it presents difficulties to me that I surmount slowly.

I am very busy with Béranger for the Britannica. Shall be up in town on Friday or Saturday. – Ever yours,

R.L.S., Advocate

Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857), French poet and chansonnier [http://upload.wikimedia.org/]

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