Friday, 13 August 2010

Lady Alice Elgar's poems

We are planning to visit Edward Elgar's house, "Plas Gwyn" in Hampton Park Road, Hereford next week or rather stand in the road outside any house that vaguely looks like it. For it was there that Elgar wrote some of his greatest music, under the influence of his wife.

I think it is no accident that Edward Elgar, like Shakespeare, was the son of a farmer's daughter, with a deep love of the English countryside. I have been touched by reading about the love of his upper class wife for the lowly, unknown and despised piano teacher and local composer who taught her accompaniment .

Caroline Alice Roberts (Lady Elgar, 1848-1920) was the daughter of a leading Army General cut off by her family for marrying beneath her to the young, heavily moustacheod but very handsome Elgar, aged 29, long before he was famous. She gave up her ambitions as a writer to devote her life to nurturing and encouraging his genius. In 1904, she reaped the fruits of her loving labours, when he was feted, following the premiere of the "Enigma Variations" and knighted, as the greatest of English composers.

Caroline Alice Elgar (nee Roberts) was nothing to look at when she was young. It was a loving heart, that made her desirable to the younger man. For she was already 37 and on shelf when she married modest, tall Elgar, 8 years her junior. In old age, she blossomed into an elderly lady with a very lovely, comforting profile. It seems to me that hers was a true love story: love as it should be, with more than a touch of "divine love" in it.
Alice was also a poet, to whose poetry Elgar set some of his music.

I really like this poem of hers about romantic love, as an expression of divine love which endures. I think it probably sums up her beliefs about love:

Love Alone will Stay

Closely cling, for winds drive fast,
Blossoms perish in the blast,
Love alone will last.

Closely let me hold thy hand,
Storms are sweeping sea and land,
Love alone will stand.

Kiss my lips, and softly say,
Joy may go and sunlit day,
Love alone will stay."
After Alice died in Elgar's arms in 1920, he wrote to a friend:

"Bless her! You, who like some of my work, must thank her for all of it, not me. I should have destroyed it all and joined Job's wife in the congenial task of cursing God".

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