Robert Browning, Jocoseria, London, 1883

The physical volume frames the poems in such a way as to dictate the reader's attitude and approach to them, as well as the place which such a subject matter aught to occupy in the reader's life. The volume's cover remains burgundy on both sides, but has faded to grey on the spine. Both sides are plain, with no inscriptions, apart from simple imprinted bar designs along their tops and bottoms. However, cover edges are tapered which gives the book a simple, classical or gem-like aura of strength, as that evoked by the Egyptian pyramids. The characters along the spine are golden, in conformity to the classical look as well as giving--through their contrast with the grey (and which would have only been emphasized by the original burgundy) against which they seem solitary and yet bold in their revealing brightness--an oriental--making it seem not only of a distant glorified time but also of place--edge to it, in confirmation of the general sentiment of distant radiance evoked by the Italian title. Jocoseria is a combination of joco (which means a joke) and seria (which mean serious) which results in a word in nature oximoronic. The cohesiveness and unity that the single word form brings onto the oximoron highlights the distinctness and natural (as in uncreated but always existing) of its meaning, which is yet unintelligible at this point to the reader, thus adding to distant place and time the evocation of a distant yet authentic understanding.

The interior presentation is equally simple with no author portrait, dedication, particular paper use (which is thick and serrated throughout) or notes to the poems. Each poem, no matter its length, is first given an entire double-sided page for its title, which is repeated at the beginning of the poem. Since the title is given such preeminence, it confers to the poem's apprehended content (since titles are made to evoke proceeding content and therefore contain it in a vague form) as devoid of artifice, but as presenting sublime truths in their authentic form. This presentation, when the poem finally appears before the reader, suggests that he is already distantly acquainted with its content (as equally suggested by book's exterior presentation), by its evocation through the title with which the reader is already acquainted, and who's individual power of evocation of the poem's content is emphasized by the first title's isolation from it. The preacquaintedness of the poem, although in the form of a resonance from the reader's past, portrays that past personal experience of the poem's content as noble and universal, but also as distant from the present reader, suggesting his disconnectedness with it.

Above the title-page appears a name inscribed in ink. This personal act in which the owner of the book identifies it as his, since the exterior of the book works in collaboration with the content in prescribing how the poems aught to be read in the context of the reader's own life, the act of ownership is that of an acknowledgement on the part of the reader of the book as containing a part of his identity and of his understanding of the role that he must play in regaining it (through his particular engagement with the book), much like a contract signed in mark of comprehension of one's duty. The signature is thus a mark of reader's comprehension of the book as being a partner in collaboration with which he can reestablish contact with past intuited knowledge in the presence of which, since a presence is an act or collaboration both on the part of the beholder and beheld, he was another person, since also from the standpoint of that consciousness everything appeared ordered differently and thus was actually different for him--the person that he is on the search to rebecome and which is contained in the book. The signature is an act of acknowledgement of the book as a companion in the presence of which an agency is inevitably exerted (since the book prescribes an attitude towards it), in collaboration in who's presence the reader regains his authentic self, much like the influence exerted by a childhood friend in the presence of which one cannot help but rebecome whom he was then.

The poems are dramatic idylls like those of his two preceding volumes. Idyll refers to a story and dramatic refers to its character as being told by someone (sometimes the only character of the poem) other than the poet. Also like the preceding two volumes, Jocoseria's poems all treat, although from different perspectives, the topic of desire. The first poem of the volume, Wanting is--what?, --often thought of as a preface--demonstrates the difficulty of investigating such a subject and through its attempt, which turns away from trying to give a formal definition to it from the first line (which which is reflected by the title), attunes the reader to the real nature of the question and the form which its investigation must take. The way one must think desire, as the subject of the poem, and the final mode of thought as portrayed as fundamentally different from both the categorical and analytical modes usually employed in exploring objective subjects, point to a forgotten and yet essential manor of dwelling in the world, which are then explored (often in circumstances involving, religious, intellectual and moral norms) throughout the rest of the idylls.

Thus, despite this volume of poetry being published after three years of inaction on the part of Robert Browning, which followed his rise to fame (being considered with Tennyson the greatest poets of their age, receiving honorary degrees by both Oxford (1882) and Cambridge (1879) and Browning societies being formed around the world) in which he dressed extravagantly, attended public functions and always dined out, and Robert Browning himself dispraising it, this volume, which is of the first edition, has worth not so much in the poems individually but as them in their totality. They appear in the volume, although treating of a same subject, not in the form of a linear single poem but as complementary to each other in multidimensional ways emphasized by the space between each as well as their varying length. Furthermore, the influence of the volumes appearance dictates a particular personal relationship between him and the poems' subject matter, which then influences the actual meaning of the poem (since the state of mind in which something is approached decides in great part of the actual experience). It seems that the challenge of literature studies less resides in courses' capacities to encourage the personal relationship with texts, as achieves so well the silent eloquence of books of poetry.

PR4211 A11883