"Some Lost Lady Of Old Years"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Alfred Domett (1811–1887) was a remarkable man, with diverse talents and a many-faceted personality. His father had been a sailor under Nelson, but Domett did not follow the sea. He attended Cambridge three years and left without graduating; already interested in literature, he was publishing verse and receiving some notice as a rising poet. He was called to the bar in 1841 and went to New Zealand in 1842, where he settled and became a magistrate. In succeeding years he held numerous government posts of importance, becoming Prime Minister of the colony in 1862. He and Browning had always been friends; on his return to England in 1871, they saw much of each other, and Domett published a few more volumes of poetry. Browning's poem "Waring," written upon the occasion of Domett's departure in 1842, is one of his customary studies of character; but it is clear that Domett's is a character which baffles Browning, and his mixed emotions are evident. This is a poem of warmth and good humor, and it bespeaks affectionate exasperation. He cannot quite understand why Domett (Waring) should break all ties and charge off into the wilderness; the act is harebrained but somehow admirable. There is something of the cavalier in Domett, a lusty enjoyment of life; he is a man of action and adventure. Browning has none of these qualities, but as he describes them there is a hint of envy in his words. He covers his sense of loss with the conviction that no matter what his friend does, it will be something unusual and perhaps remarkable. The exasperation, affectionate though it may be, is nonetheless genuine: Browning wants the fellow to settle down and put his talents to work, and so far there has been little more than an indication of promise. Throughout the poem there shines Domett's warm and magnetic personality:

Meantime, how much I loved him,
I find out now I've lost him.
I who cared not if I moved him,
Who could so carelessly accost him,
Henceforth never shall get free
Of his ghostly company.
His eyes that just a little wink
As deep I go into the merit
Of this and that distinguished spirit–
His cheeks' raised color, soon to sink,
As long I dwell on some stupendous
And tremendous (Heaven defend us!)
Penman's latest piece of graphic.
Nay, my very wrist grows warm
With his dragging weight of arm.
E'en so, swimmingly appears,
Through one's after-supper musings,
Some lost lady of old years
With her beauteous vain endeavor
And goodness unrepaid as ever. . . .
. . .