Sunday Poetry – Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Sometimes a mention of an unfamiliar poet can uncover a tragic history. Thomas Lovell Beddoes (picture from here) was unknown to me before I came across this pretty poem in my anthology. Looking for some more information on his life led me to the Thomas Lovell Beddoes Society website where I discovered a little more about his unfulfilled life & tragic end. He was a nephew of the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth & seems to have spent much of his short life wandering through Europe. He studied medicine & also wrote poetry & plays. His themes are love, death & the macabre. His death was shocking. He fell ill, supposedly from an infection caught from a cadaver he was dissecting. He tried to commit suicide as his health declined by severing an artery in his leg. The wound developed gangrene & the leg was amputated. Eventually he poisoned himself & died in 1849 at the age of 45.

His poetry was praised by many, including Lytton Strachey who called him “the last Elizabethan” as he was part of a movement to bring back Elizabethan drama. This poem, with its gentle tone & imagery from nature, seems far removed from the more macabre aspects of Beddoes’s life & work.

How many times do I love thee, dear?
Tell me how many thoughts there be
In the atmosphere
Of a new-fallen year,
Whose white and sable hours appear
The latest flake of Eternity:
So many times do I love thee, dear.

How many times do I love again?
Tell me how many beads there are
In a silver chain
Of evening rain,
Unravelled from the tumbling main,
And threading the eye of a yellow star:
So many times do I love again.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – Thomas Lovell Beddoes

  1. very interesting – and well loved by Browning who if he had attained the poetry chair in the 1870's at Oxford was going to champion Beddoes…but he didn't. And the lyric above was written before Elizabeth Barratt Browning's How do I love thee? let me count the ways…possibly a coincidence as Beddoes poems were not published until 1850/1 after his death which was the same year as the Portuguese sonnets – but I ramble – good to see the post!


  2. What a dreadful story, Lyn. But the words left behind are really quite beautiful. I'd never heard of this poet, but I think I'm going to check my Oxford's anthology and see if I can find more of his work.

    I've been meaning to let you know that on your recommendation (I hope I'm remembering it correctly.) I recently got my hands on a copy of FAIR STOOD THE WIND FOR FRANCE by H.E. Bates. A nice used hardcover with the dust jacket in tact. A library copy, but that's fine.

    Haven't read it yet, but it's on the tottering pile of books I have earmarked for the summer months.


  3. Thanks CFB. I read about the Browning connection in the article I found on Beddoes. He would surely have been better known if Browning had been able to carry through his plans.


  4. Yvette, I hope you enjoy FSTWFF when you get to it. I have a few other anthologies of Victorian poetry so I must see if TLB is in any of those. I'd like to see what else he wrote.


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