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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Agnes Mary Frances Robinson (1857–1944)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE POETRY of culture—the poetry which smells of the lamp and implies commerce with books—can be as genuine and enjoyable as any other. All that is necessary is the authentic impulse, and sufficient individuality to assimilate the many influences to which the sensitive mind and soul of this order of singer are subjected. It is a mistake to sneer at culture-verse as derived and uninspired. As with any other kind of work, so in this, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  1
  The writer known as A. Mary F. Robinson is of this school of poets. Her polished and lovely verse indicates reading, and the absorption of the riches of the literary past of her own and other tongues—especially that of the Romance peoples. But her talent is independent; her note is distinct enough to justify all her contact with the great spirits of literature; and the chastened classic quality of some of her song in no wise detracts from the modernness of her mind. For a certain refined melancholy and pure lyric musicalness she is thoroughly a modern, the child of Pre-Raphaelite models,—feeling some of the time’s realistic tendencies, and yet showing too a close affiliation with the Elizabethan song-makers.  2
  Agnes Mary Frances Robinson was born at Leamington in Warwickshire, February 27th, 1857. Her father was an architect in connection with the ecclesiastical buildings in the neighboring town of Coventry. She was educated at Brussels, in Italy, and at University College, London, giving special attention to Greek. Her taste for poetry showed itself very early: at thirteen she was writing on history. Her first volume of verse, ‘A Handful of Honeysuckle,’ appeared in 1878, when she was twenty-one. Following this came ‘The Crowned Hippolytus’ (1880), containing a translation from Euripides and pieces of her own; ‘The New Arcadia and Other Poems’ (1884); ‘An Italian Garden: A Book of Songs’ (1886); ‘Songs, Ballads, and A Garden Play’ (1888); and ‘Retrospect’ (1895).  3
  Besides verse, she has published a novel, ‘Arden’ (1883); a biography of Emily Brontë in the Eminent Women Series (1883); ‘Margaret of Angoulême, Queen of Navarre’ (1889); a book of historical essays, ‘The End of the Middle Ages’ (1888); ‘Renan’ (1897); ‘The French Ideal’ (1911); ‘Twentieth Century French Writers’ (1914).  4
  Her response to the realistic demand of the day is felt in ‘The New Arcadia,’ which contains a number of narrative poems dealing with the English peasant life, and sternly tragic in subject. The work, though not without strength and skill, and commendable for its yearning sympathy with the wrongs and sorrows of the working folk, is not in the poet’s most successful vein. A trip to Italy in 1880 revealed her truest source of inspiration. She sings most sweetly when seized with the gentle spirit of sadness which wafts from some old exotic garden where lovers, soon to be separated by chance or change or death, wander with clasped hands and dimly foreboding hearts. In ‘An Italian Garden’ are songs and lyrics of great beauty, whose art is hidden by the simplicity and fervor of the utterance. Here the lyric poet gives unaffected expression to her thoughts and imaginings on the grave things and the glad things of life; and the delicacy of the music, the tender mournfulness of the verse, together with its felicitous descriptive touches, make a very lovely impression. The sequence of love lyrics which imitate in form the Italian Rispetti are fairly Heinesque in their passionate feeling and charm of phrase. Of all the chords in the diapason of song, that most native to this poet is a tender dreamy minor that lingers long on the ear. She is neither robust nor optimistic; but the mysterious sweet sadness of life is of the very essence of poetry, and few of the recent English singers have given it voice with more attraction.  5
  In 1882 the poetess married James Darmesteter, a well-known French orientalist, and took up her residence in Paris, becoming exceedingly well known in literary circles on the continent. She wrote in French a sketch of Froissart, which was afterwards translated into English (1895) and an introduction to Darmesteter’s ‘New English Studies’ (1896). Darmesteter had died in 1894, and in 1901 she married Professor Duclaux, director of the Pasteur Institute. Her ‘Collected Poems’ were published in 1901, but this by no means marked the end of her poetic activity. Her keen interest in the Great War gave her expressions of sympathy for the Allies a note of power which had hitherto been lacking in her poetic work.  6
 
 
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