How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

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"How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix" is a poem by Robert Browning published in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, 1845.[1] The poem, one of the volume's "dramatic romances", is a first-person narrative told, in breathless galloping meter, by one of three riders; the midnight errand is urgent—"the news which alone could save Aix from her fate"—but what that good news actually is never revealed. The poem is "noted for its onomatopoetic effects. It describes a purely imaginary incident", observed William Rose Benet.[2] Browning himself remarked in a letter, "There is no historical incident whatever commemorated in the poem. . . . a merely general impression of the characteristic warfare and besieging which abound in the annals of Flanders".[3] Undaunted, an editor of Browning suggested the historical event of the Pacification of Ghent in 1576.[4]

Browning wrote the poem while at sea, sailing from London to Trieste. The sequence of towns between Ghent and Aachen, to the latter of which "Aix-la-Chapelle" is an old French reference, is a rational one. The work itself describes an imaginary historical incident before the age of telegraph, metaled turnpike (paved highways), and railways.

The towns through which the riders pass are characterized only by the associated time of night, dawn, and day, also a feature of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's later poem of urgent nightlong news-bearing, "Paul Revere's Ride".

W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman parodied Browning's poem in their book Horse Nonsense as "How I Brought the Good News from Aix to Ghent (or Vice Versa)".[5]

In 1889 Browning attempted to recite the poem into a phonograph at a public gathering, but forgot the words; this is the only record of Browning's voice.[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ James F. Loucks, and Andrew M. Satuffer, eds. Robert Browning's Poetry: Authoritative Texts. Criticism. Norton, 2nd ed. 1979.
  2. ^ Benet, The Reader's Encyclopedia, s.v. "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix".
  3. ^ The Guardian, "Notes and Queries" Browning to ——, 1883.
  4. ^ Robert Browning, John William Cunliffe, ed. Robert Browning: Shorter Poems. Selected and Ed. with Introduction and Notes. C. Scribner's Sons, 1909. Pp. 188-90.
  5. ^ Sherrin, Ned. Introduction. 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England. By W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman. 2nd ed. Avon: The Bath Press, 1940.
  6. ^ How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix—an extract at the Poetry Archive; published 2010; retrieved May 1, 2013