Robert Bridges

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Robert Seymour Bridges, OM, (October 23, 1844 – April 21, 1930) was an English poet, holder of the honour of poet laureate from 1913.


  • 1 Life
    • 1.1 Literary work
    • 1.2 Medical career
    • 1.3 Hymnody
  • 2 Poems
    • 2.1 Melancholia
    • 2.2 The Evening Darkens Over
  • 3 Major works
    • 3.1 Poetry
    • 3.2 Criticism and essays
  • 4 Notes
  • 5 References
  • 6 External links


Bridges was born in Walmer, Kent, and educated at Eton College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford.[1] He went on to study medicine in London at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and intended to practice until the age of forty and then retire to write poetry. He was afterwards assistant physician at the Children's hospital, Great Ormond Street, and physician at the Great Northern hospital, lung disease forcing him to retiring in 1882; and from that point he devoted himself to writing and literary research.[2][3]

Bridges' literary work started long before his retirement, with his first collection of poems being published in 1873. In 1884 he married Monica Waterhouse, daughter of Alfred Waterhouse R.A., and spent the rest of his life in rural seclusion, first at Yattendon, Berkshire, then at Boar's Hill, Oxford, where he died. The poet Elizabeth Daryush was his daughter. [4]

Literary work

As a poet Bridges stands rather apart from the current of modern English verse, but his work has had great influence in a select circle, by its restraint, purity, precision, and delicacy yet strength of expression; and it embodies a distinct theory of prosody.

In the book Milton's Prosody, he took an empirical approach to examining Milton's use of blank verse, and developed the controversial theory that Milton's practice was essentially syllabic. He considered free verse to be too limiting, and explained his position in the essay "Humdrum and Harum-Scarum." He maintained that English prosody depended on the number of "stresses" in a line, not on the number of syllables, and that poetry should follow the rules of natural speech. His own efforts to "free" verse resulted in the poems he called 'Neo-Miltonic Syllabics' which were collected in New Verse (1925). The meter of these poems was based on syllables rather than accents, and he used it again in the long philosophical poem "The Testament of Beauty" (1929), for which he received the Order of Merit. His best-known poems, however, are to be found in the two earlier volumes of Shorter Poems (1890, 1894). He also wrote verse plays, with limited success, and literary criticism, including a study of the work of John Keats.[5][6]

Despite being made poet laureate in 1913, Bridges was never a very well-known poet and only achieved his great popularity shortly before his death with "The Testament of Beauty". However, his verse evoked response in many great English composers of the time. Among those to set his poems to music were Hubert Parry, Gustav Holst, and later Gerald Finzi.[7]

At Corpus Christi College, Bridges became friends with Gerard Manley Hopkins, who is now considered a superior poet but who owes his present fame to Bridges' efforts in arranging the posthumous publication (1916) of his verse.[8]

His poetry was privately printed in the first instance, and was slow in making its way beyond a comparatively small circle of his admirers. His best work is to be found in his Shorter Poems (1890), and a complete edition of his Poetical Works (6 vols.) was published in 1898-1905. His chief volumes are Prometheus (Oxford, 1883, privately printed), a "mask in the Greek Manner"; Eros and Psyche (1885), a version of the story from Apuleius; The Growth of Love, a series of sixty-nine sonnets printed for private circulation in 1876 and 1889; Shorter Poems (1890); Nero (1885), a historical tragedy, the second part of which appeared in 1894; Achilles in Scyros (1890), a drama; Palicio (1890), a romantic drama in the Elizabethan manner; The Return of Ulysses (1890), a drama in five acts; The Christian Captives (1890), a tragedy on the same subject as Calderon's El Principe Constante; The Humours of the Court (1893), a comedy founded on the same dramatist's El secreto á voces and on Lope de Vega's El Perro del hortelano; The Feast of Bacchus (1889), partly translated from the Heauton-Timoroumenos of Terence; Hymns from the Yattendon Hymnal (Oxford, 1899); and Demeter, a Mask (Oxford, 1905).

Medical career

Robert Bridges OM is the only medical graduate (he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1900) to have held the office of Poet Laureate. Educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and St Bartholomew's Hospital he practised as a casualty physician at his teaching hospital (where he made a series of highly critical remarks of the Victorian medical establishment) and subsequently as a full physician to the Great (later Royal) Northern Hospital. He was also a physician to the Hospital for Sick Children.[9]


Bridges made an important contribution to hymnody with the publication in 1899 of his Yattendon Hymnal, which he created specifically for musical reasons. This collection of hymns, although not a financial success, became a bridge between the Victorian hymnody of the last half of the 19th century and the modern hymnody of the early 20th century.

Bridges translated important historic hymns and many of these were included in Songs of Syon (1904) and the later English Hymnal, 1906. Several of Bridges translations are still in use today:

  • Ah, Holy Jesus (Johann Heermann, 1630)
  • All My Hope on God Is Founded (Joachim Neander, c. 1680)
  • Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Martin Jahn, 1661)
  • O Gladsome Light (Phos Hilaron)
  • O Sacred Head, sore wounded (Paulus Gerhardt, 1656)
  • O Splendour of God's Glory Bright (Ambrose,4th cent.)
  • When morning gilds the skies (stanza 3; Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1744)[10]


  • London Snow



The sickness of desire, that in dark days
Looks on the imagination of despair,
Forgetteth man, and stinteth God his praise;
Nor but in sleep findeth a cure for care.
Incertainty that once gave scope to dream
Of laughing enterprise and glory untold,
Is now a blackness that no stars redeem,
A wall of terror in a night of cold.

Fool! thou that hast impossibly desired

And now impatiently despairest, see
How nought is changed: Joy's wisdom is attired
Splended (sic) for others' eyes if not for thee:
Not love or beauty or youth from earth is fled:
If they delite thee not, 'tis thou art dead.


The Evening Darkens Over

The Evening Darkens Over

THE evening darkens over
After a day so bright,
The windcapt waves discover
That wild will be the night.
There's sound of distant thunder.

The latest sea-birds hover
Along the cliff's sheer height;
As in the memory wander
Last flutterings of delight,
White wings lost on the white.

There's not a ship in sight;
And as the sun goes under,
Thick clouds conspire to cover
The moon that should rise yonder.
Thou art alone, fond lover.


Major works


  • The Growth of Love (1876;1889)
  • Prometheus the Firegiver: A Mask in the Greek Manner (1884)
  • Nero (1885)
  • Eros and Psyche: A Narrative Poem in Twelve Measures (1885;1894). A story from the Latin of Apuleius.
  • Return of Ulysses (1890)
  • Shorter Poems, Books I - IV (1890)
  • Shorter Poems, Books I - V (1894)
  • Ibant Obscuri: An Experiment in the Classical Hexameter
  • The Necessity of Poetry (1918)
  • October and Other Poems (1920)
  • New Verse (1925)
  • The Tapestry: Poems (1925)
  • The Testament of Beauty (1929;1930)[13]

Criticism and essays

  • Milton's Prosody, With a Chapter on Accentual Verse (1893).
  • Keats (1895)
  • The Spirit of Man (1916)
  • Collected Essays, Papers, Etc. (1927-36)


  1. ^ Bridges, Robert
  2. ^ Hymnody, Robert Bridges
  3. ^ Robert Bridges
  4. ^ Robert Bridges
  5. ^ Robert Seymour Bridges
  6. ^ OM
  7. ^ Robert Bridges
  8. ^ Robert Seymour Bridges
  9. ^ Medical career
  10. ^ Hymnody
  11. ^ Melancholia
  12. ^ The Evening Darkens Over
  13. ^ Major Works
  • Bridges, Robert: The Poetical Works of Robert Bridges, Oxford Editions of Standard Authors, Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 1936.
  • Phillips, Catherine: Robert Bridges: A Biography, Oxford University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-19-212251-7
  • Stanford, Donald E.: In the Classic Mode: The Achievement of Robert Bridges, Associated University Presses, 1978. ISBN 0-87413-118-9
  • Works by Robert Bridges at Project Gutenberg
  • Preceded by
    Alfred Austin
    British Poet Laureate
    Succeeded by
    John Masefield
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