BRANGWEN: The Poet and the Dancer by John Masefield

BRANGWEN: The Poet and the Dancer

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Romantic poets are required by nature to fall in love with their subjects, especially if they are dancers performing in their works. If the poet in this case is 61-year-old British Poet Laureate John Masefield (1878-1967), and the dancer a lissome slip of a girl with great grace and beauty, nature should have taken its course. Not this time, however. What this 20-year correspondence between the famous poet and ""Brangwen"" (the heroine in the medieval legend adapted by the poet and danced by the young ballerina) reveals is a chaste and affectionate connection that went no further than an exchange of a few sprigs of lavender and some first editions. Editor Gregory tries to titillate by implying a deep erotic undertow (""Was there some magnetic power. . .that ensnared his senses. . .""), but the letters themselves reveal the poet was more in love with the dancer's youthful vitality than with her as an individual. The book's value thus owes less to Masefield, whose letters are a model of the Victorian school of hearty congratulations, and more to the young girl's description of her fledgling steps in the ballet world during wartime. Her rueful account of gypsy dance companies, two full, grueling performances of dancing a night, not to mention the eccentricities in bloom of various performers and directors, including Leonide Massine, makes for fascinating reading. In the end, Brangwen, discouraged by fate, settled for marriage and babies, and the famous poet, having lived a little vicariously in the world of dance, settles for ""happy memories"" of her ""exquisite grace."" A charming memento of a bygone time--when love, innocence, and art could all exist coequally, to everyone's full satisfaction.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 1989
Publisher: Prometheus