Robert Bridges: Wikis


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Robert Seymour Bridges, OM, (23 October 1844 – 21 April 1930) was an English poet, and poet laureate from 1913 to 1930.



Bridges was born in Walmer, Kent, and educated at Eton College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford.[1] He went on to study medicine in London at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and intended to practice until the age of forty and then retire to write poetry. He was afterwards assistant physician at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and physician at the Great Northern Hospital. Lung disease forced him to retire in 1882, and from that point on he devoted himself to writing and literary research.[2]

Bridges' literary work started long before his retirement, his first collection of poems having been published in 1873. In 1884 he married Monica Waterhouse, daughter of Alfred Waterhouse R.A., and spent the rest of his life in rural seclusion, first at Yattendon, Berkshire, then at Boars Hill, Oxford, where he died. The poet Elizabeth Daryush was his daughter.


Literary work

As a poet Bridges stands rather apart from the current of modern English verse, but his work has had great influence in a select circle, by its restraint, purity, precision, and delicacy yet strength of expression. It embodies a distinct theory of prosody.

In the book Milton's Prosody, he took an empirical approach to examining Milton's use of blank verse, and developed the controversial theory that Milton's practice was essentially syllabic. He considered free verse to be too limiting, and explained his position in the essay "Humdrum and Harum-Scarum". He maintained that English prosody depended on the number of "stresses" in a line, not on the number of syllables, and that poetry should follow the rules of natural speech. His own efforts to "free" verse resulted in the poems he called "Neo-Miltonic Syllabics", which were collected in New Verse (1925). The meter of these poems was based on syllables rather than accents, and he used the principle again in the long philosophical poem The Testament of Beauty (1929), for which he received the Order of Merit. His best-known poems, however, are to be found in the two earlier volumes of Shorter Poems (1890, 1894). He also wrote verse plays, with limited success, and literary criticism, including a study of the work of John Keats.[3][4]

Despite being made poet laureate in 1913, Bridges was never a very well-known poet and only achieved his great popularity shortly before his death with The Testament of Beauty. However, his verse evoked response in many great English composers of the time. Among those to set his poems to music were Hubert Parry, Gustav Holst, and later Gerald Finzi.

At Corpus Christi College, Bridges became friends with Gerard Manley Hopkins, who is now considered a superior poet but who owes his present fame to Bridges' efforts in arranging the posthumous publication (1916) of his verse.[3]

Bridges' poetry was privately printed in the first instance, and was slow in making its way beyond a comparatively small circle of his admirers. His best work is to be found in his Shorter Poems (1890), and a complete edition of his Poetical Works (6 vols.) was published in 1898-1905. His chief volumes are Prometheus (Oxford, 1883, privately printed), a "mask in the Greek Manner"; Eros and Psyche (1885), a version of the story from Apuleius; The Growth of Love, a series of sixty-nine sonnets printed for private circulation in 1876 and 1889; Shorter Poems (1890); Nero (1885), a historical tragedy, the second part of which appeared in 1894; Achilles in Scyros (1890), a drama; Palicio (1890), a romantic drama in the Elizabethan manner; The Return of Ulysses (1890), a drama in five acts; The Christian Captives (1890), a tragedy on the same subject as Calderon's El Principe Constante; The Humours of the Court (1893), a comedy founded on the same dramatist's El secreto á voces and on Lope de Vega's El Perro del hortelano; The Feast of Bacchus (1889), partly translated from the Heauton-Timoroumenos of Terence; Hymns from the Yattendon Hymnal (Oxford, 1899); and Demeter, a Mask (Oxford, 1905).

Medical career

Robert Bridges OM is the only medical graduate (he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1900) to have held the office of Poet Laureate. Educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and St Bartholomew's Hospital, he practised as a casualty physician at his teaching hospital (where he made a series of highly critical remarks about the Victorian medical establishment) and subsequently as a full physician to the Great (later Royal) Northern Hospital. He was also a physician to the Hospital for Sick Children.[5]


Bridges made an important contribution to hymnody with the publication in 1899 of his Yattendon Hymnal, which he created specifically for musical reasons. This collection of hymns, although not a financial success, became a bridge between the Victorian hymnody of the last half of the 19th century and the modern hymnody of the early 20th century.

Bridges translated important historic hymns, and many of these were included in Songs of Syon (1904) and the later English Hymnal (1906). Several of Bridges' translations are still in use today:

  • Ah, Holy Jesus (Johann Heermann, 1630)
  • All My Hope on God Is Founded (Joachim Neander, c. 1680)
  • Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Martin Jahn, 1661)
  • O Gladsome Light (Phos Hilaron)
  • O Sacred Head, sore wounded (Paulus Gerhardt, 1656)
  • O Splendour of God's Glory Bright (Ambrose,4th cent.)
  • When morning gilds the skies (stanza 3; Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1744)[6]




The sickness of desire, that in dark days
Looks on the imagination of despair,
Forgetteth man, and stinteth God his praise;
Nor but in sleep findeth a cure for care.
Incertainty that once gave scope to dream
Of laughing enterprise and glory untold,
Is now a blackness that no stars redeem,
A wall of terror in a night of cold.

Fool! thou that hast impossibly desired

And now impatiently despairest, see
How nought is changed: Joy's wisdom is attired
Splended (sic) for others' eyes if not for thee:
Not love or beauty or youth from earth is fled:
If they delite thee not, 'tis thou art dead.


The Evening Darkens Over

The Evening Darkens Over

THE evening darkens over
After a day so bright,
The windcapt waves discover
That wild will be the night.
There's sound of distant thunder.

The latest sea-birds hover
Along the cliff's sheer height;
As in the memory wander
Last flutterings of delight,
White wings lost on the white.

There's not a ship in sight;
And as the sun goes under,
Thick clouds conspire to cover
The moon that should rise yonder.
Thou art alone, fond lover.


Major works


  • The Growth of Love (1876;1889)
  • Prometheus the Firegiver: A Mask in the Greek Manner (1884)
  • Nero (1885)
  • Eros and Psyche: A Narrative Poem in Twelve Measures (1885;1894), a story from the Latin of Apuleius
  • Return of Ulysses (1890)
  • Shorter Poems, Books I - IV (1890)
  • Shorter Poems, Books I - V (1894)
  • Ibant Obscuri: An Experiment in the Classical Hexameter
  • The Necessity of Poetry (1918)
  • October and Other Poems (1920)
  • New Verse (1925)
  • The Tapestry: Poems (1925)
  • The Testament of Beauty (1929;1930)[9]

Criticism and essays

  • Milton's Prosody, With a Chapter on Accentual Verse (1893).
  • Keats (1895)
  • The Spirit of Man (1916)
  • Collected Essays, Papers, Etc. (1927-36)


  1. ^ Bridges, Robert
  2. ^ Hymnody, Robert Bridges
  3. ^ a b Robert Seymour Bridges
  4. ^ OM
  5. ^ Medical career
  6. ^ Hymnody
  7. ^ Melancholia
  8. ^ The Evening Darkens Over
  9. ^ Major Works


  • Bridges, Robert: The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges, Oxford Editions of Standard Authors, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1936.
  • Phillips, Catherine: Robert Bridges: A Biography, Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-212251-7
  • Stanford, Donald E.: In the Classic Mode: The Achievement of Robert Bridges, Associated University Presses, 1978. ISBN 0-87413-118-9

External links

Preceded by
Alfred Austin
British Poet Laureate
Succeeded by
John Masefield


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Robert Seymour Bridges, OM (October 23, 1844April 21, 1930) was an English poet. He was poet laureate from 1913 to 1930.



  • Beneath the crisp and wintry carpet hid
    A million buds but stay their blossoming
    And trustful birds have built their nests amid
    The shuddering boughs, and only wait to sing
    Till one soft shower from the south shall bid
    And hither tempt the pilgrim steps of Spring.
  • For beauty being the best of all we know
    Sums up the unsearchable and secret aims
    Of nature.
    • The Growth of Love, Sonnet 8
  • When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
    In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
    Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
    Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town.
  • They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
    Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
    Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees.
    • London Snow, l. 20-22
  • Perfect little body, without fault or stain on thee,
    With promise of strength and manhood full and fair!
  • To-morrow it seem
    Like the empty words of a dream
    Remembered on waking.
    • I Love all Beauteous Things, st. 2
  • My delight and thy delight
    Walking, like two angels white,
    In the gardens of the night.
  • Why hast thou nothing in thy face?
    Thou idol of the human race,
    Thou tyrant of the human heart,
    The flower of lovely youth that art.
    • Eros, st. 1 (1899)
  • Surely thy body is thy mind,
    For in thy face is nought to find,
    Only thy soft unchristened smile,
    That shadows neither love nor guile.
    • Eros, st. 2
  • Angels’ song, comforting
    as the comfort of Christ
    When he spake tenderly
    to his sorrowful flock.
    • Noel Christmas Eve 1913
  • The constellated sounds
    ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
    As the dark vault above
    with stars was spangled o’er.
    • Noel Christmas Eve 1913
  • On such a night, when Air has loosed
    Its guardian grasp on blood and brain,
    Old terrors then of god or ghost
    Creep from their caves to life again.
  • And Reason kens he herits in
    A haunted house. Tenants unknown
    Assert their squalid lease of sin
    With earlier title than his own.
    • Low Barometer, st. 3
  • When first we met we did not guess
    That Love would prove so hard a master.
    • Triolet
  • Awake, my heart, to be loved, awake, awake!
    The darkness silvers away, the morn doth break,
    It leaps in the sky.
  • Awake! the land is scattered with light, and see,
    Uncanopied sleep is flying from field and tree.
    • Awake, My Heart, to Be Loved, l. 13-14
  • The storm is over, the land hushes to rest:
    The tyrannous wind, its strength fordone,
    Is fallen back in the west.
    • The Storm is Over, The Land Hushes to Rest, l. 1-3
  • The broad cloud-driving moon in the clear sky
    Lifts o’er the firs her shining shield,
    And in her tranquil light
    Sleep falls on forest and field.
    See! sleep hath fallen: the trees are asleep:
    The night is come. The land is wrapt in sleep.
    • The Storm is Over, The Land Hushes to Rest, l. 38-43
  • As night is withdrawn
    From these sweet-springing meads and bursting boughs of May,
    Dream, while the innumerable choir of day
    Welcome the dawn.
  • I will not let thee go.
    I hold thee by too many bands:
    Thou sayest farewell, and lo!
    I have thee by the hands,
    And will not let thee go.
  • Behind the western bars
    The shrouded day retreats,
    And unperceived the stars
    Steal to their sovran seats.

    And whiter grows the foam,
    The small moon lightens more;
    And as I turn me home,
    My shadow walks before.
  • Scatter the clouds that hide
    The face of heaven, and show
    Where sweet peace doth abide,
    Where Truth and Beauty grow.
    • Morning Hymn
  • I live on hope and that I think do all
    Who come into this world.
    • Sonnet LXXIII
  • The evening darkens over
    After a day so bright,
    The windcapt waves discover
    That wild will be the night.
  • And now impatiently despairest, see
    How nought is changed: Joy's wisdom is attired
    Splended for others' eyes if not for thee:
    Not love or beauty or youth from earth is fled:
    If they delite thee not, 'tis thou art dead.

Shorter Poems (1879-1893)

  • Were I a cloud I'd gather
    My skirts up in the air,
    And fly I well know whither,
    And rest I well know where.
    • Book I, No. 4, The Cliff-Top
  • Whither, O splendid ship, thy white sails crowding,
    Leaning across the bosom of the urgent West,
    That fearest nor sea rising, nor sky clouding,
    Whither away, fair rover, and what thy quest?
  • I have loved flowers that fade,
    Within whose magic tents
    Rich hues have marriage made
    With sweet unmemoried scents:
    A honeymoon delight,
    A joy of love at sight,
    That ages in an hour
    My song be like a flower!
  • So sweet love seemed that April morn,
    When first we kissed beside the thorn,
    So strangely sweet, it was not strange
    We thought that love could never change.
  • But I can tell — let truth be told —
    That love will change in growing old;
    Though day by day is nought to see,
    So delicate his motions be.
    • So Sweet Love Seemed, st. 2 (1893)

The Testament of Beauty (1929-1930)

[Note: the spelling and punctuation of this poem, as seen in the excerpts linked here, are Bridges' own. In his later years Bridges was interested in spelling and typography reform which would be based more closely on the actual pronunciation of words.]

  • Man's Reason is in such deep insolvency to sense,
    that tho' she guide his highest flight heav'nward, and teach him
    dignity morals manners and human comfort,
    she can delicatly and dangerously bedizen
    the rioting joys that fringe the sad pathways of Hell.
    • Book I, lines 57-61
  • Nature hav no music; nor would ther be for thee
    any better melody in the April woods at dawn
    than what an old stone-deaf labourer, lying awake
    o'night in his comfortless attic, might perchance
    be aware of, when the rats run amok in his thatch?
    • Book I, lines 83-87
  • Beauty is the highest of all these occult influences,
    the quality of appearances that thru' the sense
    wakeneth spiritual emotion in the mind of man.
    • Book II, lines 842-844
  • Beauty, the eternal Spouse of the Wisdom of God
    and Angel of his Presence thru' all creation.
    • Book IV, lines 1-2
  • Repudiation of pleasur is a reason'd folly
    of imperfection. Ther is no motiv can rebate
    or decompose the intrinsic joy of activ life,
    whereon all function whatsoever in man is based.
    • Book IV, lines 459-462
  • I know
    that if odour were visible as colour is, I'd see
    the summer garden aureoled in rainbow clouds.
    • Book IV, lines 492-492
  • The name of happiness is but a wider term
    for the unalloy'd conditions of the Pleasur of Life,
    attendant on all function, and not to be deny'd
    to th' soul, unless forsooth in our thought of nature
    spiritual is by definition unnatural.
    • Book IV, lines 533-537
  • Seeking unceasingly for the First Cause of All,
    in question for what special purpose he was made,
    Man, in the unsearchable darkness, knoweth one thing:
    that as he is, so was he made; and if the Essence
    and characteristic faculty of humanity
    is our conscient Reason and our desire of knowledge,
    that was Nature's Purpose in the making of man.


  • Simple and brave, his faith awoke
    Ploughmen to struggle with their fate;
    Armies won battles when he spoke,
    And out of Chaos sprang the state.
    • Washington by Robert Bridges (1858 - 1941), American journalist and poet, who wrote under the pen name "Droch"

External links

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