For some reason this morning I thought of this stirring poem by Robert Browning: How They Brought the Good News From Ghent to Aix. It’s an old favorite. I read a lot of Robert Browning in high school, and if that surprises you, it is because you aren’t familiar with Robert Browning, who is way different from his wife. Both are great poets, but Elizabeth Barrett wrote sentimental sonnets (e.g., “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”) and Robert wrote tough-nosed narratives poems, stories that were often thrilling and as often grotesque. Poetry for teenaged boys, you might say.
This is one of his most famous poems, and is simply about three men on a furious horseback ride. We never know what the good news is, or why it is so urgent. It doesn’t really matter. There is no historical incident that inspired it, Browning said. It’s just a poem that occurred to him. It’s not about the men and their good news. It’s about the ride, and the heroes are the horses.
The poem is incredible for the way it maintains the same urgent, desperate pace as the horses. It’s a master class on poetics. Enjoy the ride.