#30 “Memorabilia” (Robert Browning)

“Ah, did you once see Shelley plain,” begins Robert Browning’s short poem “Memorabilia.” Percy Shelley was a Romantic poet, a close friend of John Keats. Shelley was a generation older than Browning, and died when Browning was 10 years old; plus they moved in different social realms. If Browning ever saw Shelley, it wasn’t very plain or for very long.

When I was a child, I met a man who had known Gandhi – not that that’s very interesting in itself, but that it’s an example of the experience described in the poem. That someone from a history book had basically hung out with the person who was standing in front of me, beaming at my childish ways, was slightly incredible.

The only thing that holds together our “six-degrees” chain links to the past is memory. Those memories die with us, to be sustained (if at all) by a more tenuous set of hearsay memories in the next generation. After a while, what we know of history is a tiny thread of links that ignore the wide range of ephemeral experiences that pass into oblivion.

That’s the connection between the first and second halves of this poem. It’s not so much a metaphor, even, as an association between two experiences: the link to the past with the person who’d talked with Shelley, and the link to the moor in the form of a feather. Sometimes a huge happening in our lives survives only as – well, as a feather, as a ticket stub, as a bottle cap, as a postcard.

Once again, poetry works to capture something we probably didn’t know we needed a name for.

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11 responses to “#30 “Memorabilia” (Robert Browning)

  1. I think of my brother who lives in Los Angeles and was with a friend who happened to be catering the flower arrangements for Jennifer Anniston on her birthday. I remember him calling me up and telling me how he had met her and told me all about her and her house, etc.. I thought it was so awesome! He will have hid memories there. “And did you speak to him again? How strange it seems, and new!” reminded me of this instance. In the second half of the poem I thought of my grandmother(yes, again). “For there I picked up on the heather And there I put inside my breast” made me think of how many personal items that belonged to her that I show to my children. When I tell them stories about her and they see what I have that belonged to her, I can in their eyes the wonder and I can actually sometimes see tears because of the great person that she was. They think it is amazing that I had her as my grandmother. They tell me they wish they had known her. As far as “put inside my breast” is concerned..I have put things in my pocket and I have put them in my heart. They are definitely in my memory.

  2. I honestly have not ever known anyone who personally knew someone who was famous. I think my mom said that one time when she worked at a hospital in Fort Worth, John Travolta was in the emergency room for something, but she only got a quick glance. I really liked the discussion in class with the different ideas on how the two parts of the poem are tied together. As mentioned, the idea that stuck out the most to me was everything being condensed into one moment, and that being connected to some sort of memorabilia; the author in the poem crosses a moor, picks up a feather and that is all he remembers about the entire journey. We as humans have a tendency to take a special moment, and attach something we can psychically hold in our hands to it; whether it is a picture, stuffed animal, or numerous other things, it’s as though without that memorabilia we might forget that special instance.
    It was also mentioned that the person the author is talking to thinks that it is hilarious that he is so amazed by the occurrence of him meeting Shelley. I think that this is also true in our lives; people are all very different so what is important and really spectacular to one person, may not mean anything to another.

  3. Robert Browning’s poem, “Memorabilia,” reminded me of the first and only time I saw Michael Jackson in person. In the year 1969, Ed Sullivan introduced this new singing sensation called the Jackson Five. The group took the nation by storm, but Michael immediately stood out from his brothers because he had an extra dose of charisma which is now known as the “It” factor. From the first time I laid eyes on him, I was determined to meet him in person or at least see him from a distance. Through much effort and prayer, I was able to secure tickets to his concert. That was forty years ago and I still have the ticket stub. When Michael died this summer, I retrieved the ticket from my memorabilia collection and replayed every moment of that special event in my mind like I was watching a video. Although I am an avid scrap booker and memorabilia collector, I discovered that as we journey through life “moor” we can’t keep memorabilia of every event and experience in our lives or else it becomes clutter instead of keepsakes. Browning said, “For there I picked up on the heather and there I put inside my breast a moulted feather, an eagle-feather-well, I forget the rest.” I think that is one of the messages of this poem. Some experiences and events you keep, but there are many that you must release and let them “pass into oblivion.” In my constant search for new scrapbooking ideas, I ran across a book titled “The Gift of the Sea.” The book was written by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In the book she compares our lives to walking along a beach and collecting seashells. Each time we discover a new shell we carefully consider its beauty and uniqueness, then we have to decide whether or not it is worth keeping. By carefully choosing which shells to keep, we end up with a small collection of beautiful shells that bring us joy. If we insist on keeping every shell, then our beautiful shells would be lost in the mass of other shells and the whole lot becomes clutter instead of memorabilia. Because when everything is said and done, we come to realize it was the small memorabilia in life ( the feather ) and not the big ones ( meeting Shelley ) that means the most.

  4. firewaterboi321

    This poem presents in a unique challenge to articulate. The point of “memorabilia” is to possess an object that triggers the memory of a particularly profound moment in one’s life. However, Browning’s poignant memory concerns an encounter with a man who knew a very famous poet. A sort of ‘degree of separation’ applies in this case. I, unfortunately, cannot recall ever having the same kind of experience. I don’t think anyone I’ve met in my life has ever been close to (or had an encounter with) a celebrity. At least this is as far as I know. However, I do have memorabilia in my life. I keep a small, smooth, dark round stone on my nightstand. It’s been there for over ten years now. There’s nothing particularly impressive or special about it. It’s a very common rock anyone could find on the street or at a park. Its significance to me, however, stems from the memory I have of receiving it from my father, after he had finished a night shift. He gave it to me simply because he found it and thought it looked a little odd and unique. He was the kind of personality that appreciated things for their odd, eccentric or idiosyncratic natures. He told me when he gave me the stone that it reminded him of me. It’s been over a decade since he’s been gone, and I still keep that silly little rock. Anytime it’s in my hand, I remember to the exact detail the day it was given to me. It’s a good memory.

  5. When i read this poem it brought memories of good times and bad. I didn’t focus much on if i had knew a person who had met another. I see is as life being like a photo albulm. Memories in still frames or pictures. Picutres that say a thousand words. Important days, occasions, family and friends. A frozen piece of our lives cought in a picture. We share our memories with others. We pass them on. Certain objects trigger memories and thus we hold on to them. Everything comes to an end. When we die we can’t take anything with us only the joy, memories and experiences that we encounterd in our lives…

  6. The poems this time I can say that I did not care for, they just seemed to me not to be what I would like to listen to read again. I remember when I was young I saw the actor Barry Corbin, I was so excited to see him he was very nice. Then you do but that away in a place that you never forget. It’s funny the things that we seem to remember when we start thinking about times or even when you are just looking around. I think the best memories are the ones that mean the most to you like special moments with family or friends.

  7. This poem reminds of several occasions when I met celebrities. I can remember times when I met famous people. My uncle played professional football for the Buffalo Bills and this gave me the opportunity to meet many celebrities and football players. I also met many famous people when I won a trip to Orlando, FL. Even though I met these people a long time ago I can still remember vividly the day I met them. This poem also reminds me of memories with family and friends. When I am at a special occasion I take many pictures so that I will always have those memories to cherish and look back on. I love to sit and talk to my family and friends and reminisce on old times growing up. This poem is very unique and I think everyone can relate to this poem because it speaks on memories.

  8. It’s amazing how we hold on to memories. We also hold on to things that remind us of those memorable moments. Many of us can reflect on knowing someone that knew someone that is friends with someone famous. Although we are not directly connected to the famous person, the desire to know a famous person tends to intrigue us. I often tell the story of meeting one of the actors that played on the sitcom “Martin” (meaning Martin Lawrence). I actually shook his hand and although this was done through a mutual friend, I felt as though I knew this individual personally and could simply pick up the phone and call him. Obviously that wasn’t true, but it felt that way.
    Similarly, my wife holds on to her old cheerleading outfit that she obviously will never get into again (please don’t tell her I said that). But the suit holds such fond memories that she will never throw it away. It is meaningless to me but to her, it has many many memories of her high school years. And so it is with the poem Memorabilia, we hold on to our memories either in our thoughts or through objects that exist in our lives. Something as simple as a feather can stir thoughts of times gone by. Memories are Many times simply reading a poem brings back memories as I’m sure it will do for me sometime in the future.

  9. I personally collect items that are important to me that will trigger that moment again somewhere in the future. I have a Sombrero that I still have that my mom hates that I keep but it reminds me of our first trip as a family to Mexico. Just seeing it brings back those feelings I felt . This poem also reminds me of a encounter my mom told me about meeting Smokey Robinson. She was so excited and remembered every little detail that led up to the meeting. I know who He is though I’m not wild about him as she is it brought me joy and excitement just hearing it. I know one day I will be sitting with my kids and Smokey Robinson greatest hits will be on t.v and I will share my mom’s story with them. Even my Sombrero (which I plan on keeping despite my mom) will be a conversation stater to whom ever will listen. Or my McDonald bag that portrays Destiny’s Child (my favorite girl group who I w as obsessed with) on the front bag. Memories aren’t great if you don’t share them with someone. Someone has to carry that memory after you or It will die with you.

  10. kursteilnehmur

    Certain smells, sounds, voices, tastes, and textures bring out our memories of places and people long long forgotten in this world. This poem reminds me of when oneself walks out of a room and into the next for a specific purpose, and forgets what that purpose was until they go back into the first room and remember their task because some item in the room jogs one’s memory. I hold onto memories like most every human does; I am not much for keeping mementos though. I went through my keepsakes a while ago and threw out all the unnecessary stuff that I have accumulated over the years. I have less of an attachment to material items than most people have. This is probably more out of necessity than choice though. The different houses I grew up in always were somewhat lacking in trinkets and bobbles that you would see in an older person’s house. We moved seven or eight times while I was growing up and I can’t remember a time that I didn’t lose something in one of those moves. I can’t say I have ever met anyone famous before, and if I have met someone who has then I guess we have never spoken about such things. Being famous is an oddity that oddly most people believe they envy. How can you know you want something like that when you don’t know how it feels to have that lifestyle? Memory is a curious thing, one minute you have everything you have to know about an instant, and in a moment that memory is stored within the unfathomable depths of your neural network and lost until something brings it soaring back to the forefront of your mind’s eye. Almost like a zip file on a computer…

  11. spontaneous12

    Memorabilia

    “Ah, did you once see Shelley plain, and did he stop and speak to you? And did you speak to him again?” Percy Shelley became an idol for the next two and three and fourth generation poets. He was admired for his nonviolent and influence in politics. The two comparisons from the first and last stanza with meeting Percy Shelley and finding an eagle feather is ironic because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was only a small time frame in which anyone could get to know and meet Percy Shelley and it’s not likely that you will ever find an eagle feather as well. These types of memories are important to the speaker because he’s almost in awe of having the chance to cross paths with Percy Shelley. It is something strange and new to someone who has looked up to him and realizes that it is very unlikely to do so. The second stanza compares the memory of those who knew Percy Shelley personally and those who knew of him only because of his work. He died at age twenty nine though, so he influenced many people very quickly even those from the 20th and 21st century. “And the memory I started at-My starting moves your laughter!” Browning was only ten years old when Percy Shelley died in 1822. So it seems as if people would find it funny that Browning didn’t know Percy Shelley. Sort of like the humor someone quite a bit older would get by asking Browning you don’t know Percy Shelley? And then questioning Browning you’ve never met him? Also close to asking you don’t remember your grandfather? Come here boy and let me tell you about him. “The speaker crosses a moor, with a name of its own” in the third stanza. The significance is remembering the Berber prophetess Kahina who helps resist Arab armies for over fifty years. The moors were several populations of Muslim and similar to Percy Shelley because he was in a league of his own when it came to popularity and doing a wide range of importance in the world.

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