‘All poetry being a putting the infinite within the finite’: Men and Women

  • Robert Browning


I cannot begin writing poetry till my imaginary reader has conceded licences to me which you demur at altogether. I know that I don’t make out my conception by my language; all poetry being a putting the infinite within the finite. You would have me paint it all plain out, which can’t be; but by various artifices I try to make shift with touches and bits of outlines which succeed if they bear the conception from me to you. You ought, I think, to keep pace with the thought tripping from ledge to ledge of my ‘glaciers’, as you call them; not stand poking your alpen-stock into the holes, and demonstrating that no foot could have stood there; — suppose it sprang over there? In prose you may criticise so — because that is the absolute representation of portions of truth, what chronicling is to history — but in asking for more ultimates you must accept less mediates, nor expect that a Druid stone-circle will be traced for you with as few breaks to the eye as the North Crescent and South Crescent that go together so cleverly in many a suburb.


  1. Browning is replying to a letter of 2 December in which Ruskin acknowledges the power of Men and Women but finds some of the poems ‘the most amazing Conundrums that ever were proposed to me’ (R. J. DeLaura, ‘Ruskin and the Brownings’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 54 (1971–2), p. 324). Ruskin (1819–1900) first met the Brownings in London in 1852. In Modern Painters, iv (London, 1856), p. 379, he praised and extensively quoted ‘The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St Praxed’s Church’. On the whole, however, he found Barrett Browning’s work more congenial; he was particularly enthusiastic about Aurora Leigh.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Robert Browning

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