Pippa’s Song

The year’s at the spring
       And day’s at the morn;
       Morning’s at seven;
       The hillside’s dew-pearled;
       The lark’s on the wing;
       The snail’s on the thorn:
       God’s in His heaven—
       All’s right with the world!
—Robert Browning, “Pippa’s Song” from his verse play “Pippa Passes”

Robert Browning‘s long poem, “Pippa Passes,” published in 1841, is a verse drama, which means it was not written with the intention of any person staging a performance of it, and life ever since has fulfilled that lack of intention. The poem-as-play has not been performed by any notable theater company in more than a century. “Pippa Passes” is remembered for two things. Well, three things.

For one, it is remembered for not being remembered, for not living on in culture’s memory at all, even though at the time critics were quick to count it among Browning’s masterworks. Also, it is remembered because Browning accidentally used a vulgarity in it because he thought the slang word he used referred to a part of a nun’s habit. This was pointed out to him in his lifetime, and even though he made emendations in 1849 and 1863, he chose not to correct the one glaring one, and insisted that if he did not know it was a vulgarity, how was it a vulgarity?

Last, one line from it, a single line, lives on to this day as an expression we might hear more than once every day: “God’s in His heaven/All’s right with the world.” Young Pippa sings it.

(Shall I discuss the vulgarity below the fold?)
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