December 9, 2017

Youth - Hope's Beautful, Reckless Muse

"Youth and passionate love -- these are the breath and the spirit of her poetry."
Harold Williams, 1920, Outlines of Modern English Literature1890-1914, "Laurence Hope"

"In all her poems the subjects are three -- Youth, Beauty and Love....Beauty is the gift of God, and youth is the season of beauty, (and) surely not otherwise did the Moslem poet think..."
Otto Rothfeld, 1908, Indian Dust,  "Laurence Hope", pg 211

Raphael, 1509, School of Athens

I am not sure if I knew the truth 
What his case or crime might be, 
I only know that he pleaded Youth, 
A beautiful, golden plea!

Youth, with its sunlit, passionate eyes, 

Its roseate velvet skin— 
A plea to cancel a thousand lies, 
Or a thousand nights of sin.

The men who judged him were old and grey 

Their eyes and their senses dim, 
He brought the light of a warm Spring day 
To the Court-house bare and grim.

Could he plead guilty in a lovelier way? 

His judges acquitted him.

With this ray of sunshine captured in words, Laurence Hope muses on a timeless theme and one of her foundational philosophies - not only is Youth the season of Beauty and Abandonment to Desire, but it is usually and should be forgiven it's mistakes, especially those made in the name of  Passion or Love.   The poet winks in this lighthearted courtroom tableau, and we nod along in appreciation of the lucky decision handed down by the panel of graybeards, who seem to remember with indulgence their portion of the magical hour called Youth.   
Edouard Manet, 1863 The Little Lunch On The Grass -
Caused a "youthquake" when exhibited

The elders possess real power, but the young seem to come into possession of a terrifying and premature power for a time as well; a formula that could be written like this --

Love may conquer All, 
But Beauty conquers Love,
And Youth conquers Beauty!

The springtime of life is the time for the inexperienced to take risks, when bodies, minds and hearts heal more swiftly.  In poem after poem of the Love Lyrics, Hope urges the individual reader to break from the studied behavior and careful protocol of her Raj era British countrymen  - follow your impulses!  You are only alive once, and you are young even less than that!  And if youth has already flown, at least you may enjoy it as a state of mind  - an appetite for adventure, for desire, pleasure in new forms and for a sense of optimism and possibility - these are the virtues of a youthful spirit.

Renoir, 1881, Boating Party Picnic
Unlike most poets, Violet Nicolson did not publish her first work until she was approaching middle age.  Most of India's Love Lyrics were written throughout her 20s and early 30s during the fin de si├Ęcle "gay nineties" with the full understanding that youth was even more fleeting for a woman than for a man.  "The problem with beauty is that it is like being born rich, and always getting poorer," was the way Joan Collins put it in another era.  In British India and elsewhere, an unmarried woman of 25 years was already verging on being deemed an "old maid". 

Maxfield Parish, Reaching For The Moon
Throughout the Love Lyrics, Hope's mentions "youth" over 40 times;  In the phrases surrounding this word, she paints within the cycle of life a smaller cycle of Youth that is like a "roseate haze," with the "beautiful, golden" "sunlit, passionate"   "awake" "quick pulses" "at play" in "abandoned grace""from the Lion's den."   To give one's youth to another is costly, as it can only be given during one period and is usually freely offered.  "Transient beauty comes once, but not again" and "Passion's reckless pain" becomes "vanished" as those "passionate pulses fade" and in the "first fervour chilled." Love too easily becomes "squandered" having "meant so much, too much, in my Youth."   She speaks of youth as strong yet delicate, impatient and careless, but the Rapture of Youth is enough to forgive the gods for their curse of life - forever green is the colour of Youth and Hope.

"Alas! alas! poor passionate Youth!"  mourns Zahir-uh-Din.   Now, looking back at her own adolescence, the poet Laurence Hope understands that it all fades in a flash.  How much of beauty or passion fades with it is a matter of fortune and fate.   Hope's poetry conveys her humanitarian sympathy for the tragedy inherent in every life, especially any life that endures long enough to face the perilous passage into full maturity, with its vain regrets, dimming of the senses and the decay of what seemed to be part of one's essential nature since birth - vitality, joy and optimism.    

It is those who give into and enjoy their youthful birthright the most -- those with easy looks, passionate impulsive natures, quick to laughter and with a talent for pleasure -- they have the most to lose if they manage to survive the crushing battles of life.  These comrades of the youthful spirit are both adored and mourned by the poet, as the closest in kinship to her own bright, comet-like nature.    

The Queen:
Ah romance, folly, poetry, youth!  I think you would make a fine poet Orlando.
                                                                             - Viginia Woolf, Orlando

"Youth" is recorded in the third section of India's Love Lyrics and may be listened to here.  This is a sneak preview, and will not be available  on Librivox until the entire book has been recorded.


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