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Best Famous Childhood Poems

Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Childhood poems. This is a select list of the best famous Childhood poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Childhood poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of childhood poems.

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by Elizabeth Barrett Browning |

How Do I Love Thee?

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning |

The Deserted Garden

I MIND me in the days departed, 
How often underneath the sun 
With childish bounds I used to run 
To a garden long deserted.
The beds and walks were vanish'd quite; 5 And wheresoe'er had struck the spade, The greenest grasses Nature laid, To sanctify her right.
I call'd the place my wilderness, For no one enter'd there but I.
10 The sheep look'd in, the grass to espy, And pass'd it ne'ertheless.
The trees were interwoven wild, And spread their boughs enough about To keep both sheep and shepherd out, 15 But not a happy child.
Adventurous joy it was for me! I crept beneath the boughs, and found A circle smooth of mossy ground Beneath a poplar-tree.
20 Old garden rose-trees hedged it in, Bedropt with roses waxen-white, Well satisfied with dew and light, And careless to be seen.
Long years ago, it might befall, 25 When all the garden flowers were trim, The grave old gardener prided him On these the most of all.
Some Lady, stately overmuch, Here moving with a silken noise, 30 Has blush'd beside them at the voice That liken'd her to such.
Or these, to make a diadem, She often may have pluck'd and twined; Half-smiling as it came to mind, 35 That few would look at them.
O, little thought that Lady proud, A child would watch her fair white rose, When buried lay her whiter brows, And silk was changed for shroud!¡ª 40 Nor thought that gardener (full of scorns For men unlearn'd and simple phrase) A child would bring it all its praise, By creeping through the thorns! To me upon my low moss seat, 45 Though never a dream the roses sent Of science or love's compliment, I ween they smelt as sweet.
It did not move my grief to see The trace of human step departed: 50 Because the garden was deserted, The blither place for me! Friends, blame me not! a narrow ken Hath childhood 'twixt the sun and sward: We draw the moral afterward¡ª 55 We feel the gladness then.
And gladdest hours for me did glide In silence at the rose-tree wall: A thrush made gladness musical Upon the other side.
60 Nor he nor I did e'er incline To peck or pluck the blossoms white:¡ª How should I know but that they might Lead lives as glad as mine? To make my hermit-home complete, 65 I brought clear water from the spring Praised in its own low murmuring, And cresses glossy wet.
And so, I thought, my likeness grew (Without the melancholy tale) 70 To 'gentle hermit of the dale,' And Angelina too.
For oft I read within my nook Such minstrel stories; till the breeze Made sounds poetic in the trees, 75 And then I shut the book.
If I shut this wherein I write, I hear no more the wind athwart Those trees, nor feel that childish heart Delighting in delight.
80 My childhood from my life is parted, My footstep from the moss which drew Its fairy circle round: anew The garden is deserted.
Another thrush may there rehearse 85 The madrigals which sweetest are; No more for me!¡ªmyself afar Do sing a sadder verse.
Ah me! ah me! when erst I lay In that child's-nest so greenly wrought, 90 I laugh'd unto myself and thought, 'The time will pass away.
' And still I laugh'd, and did not fear But that, whene'er was pass'd away The childish time, some happier play 95 My womanhood would cheer.
I knew the time would pass away; And yet, beside the rose-tree wall, Dear God, how seldom, if at all, Did I look up to pray! 100 The time is past: and now that grows The cypress high among the trees, And I behold white sepulchres As well as the white rose,¡ª When wiser, meeker thoughts are given, 105 And I have learnt to lift my face, Reminded how earth's greenest place The colour draws from heaven,¡ª It something saith for earthly pain, But more for heavenly promise free, 110 That I who was, would shrink to be That happy child again.

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow |


MAIDEN! with the meek brown eyes  
In whose orbs a shadow lies 
Like the dusk in evening skies! 

Thou whose locks outshine the sun  
Golden tresses wreathed in one 5 
As the braided streamlets run! 

Standing with reluctant feet  
Where the brook and river meet  
Womanhood and childhood fleet! 

Gazing with a timid glance 10 
On the brooklet's swift advance  
On the river's broad expanse! 

Deep and still that gliding stream 
Beautiful to thee must seem  
As the river of a dream.
15 Then why pause with indecision When bright angels in thy vision Beckon thee to fields Elysian? Seest thou shadows sailing by As the dove with startled eye 20 Sees the falcon's shadow fly? Hearest thou voices on the shore That our ears perceive no more Deafened by the cataract's roar? Oh thou child of many prayers! 25 Life hath quicksands Life hath snares! Care and age come unawares! Like the swell of some sweet tune Morning rises into noon May glides onward into June.
30 Childhood is the bough where slumbered Birds and blossoms many numbered;¡ª Age that bough with snows encumbered.
Gather then each flower that grows When the young heart overflows 35 To embalm that tent of snows.
Bear a lily in thy hand; Gates of brass cannot withstand One touch of that magic wand.
Bear through sorrow wrong and ruth 40 In thy heart the dew of youth On thy lips the smile of truth.
O that dew like balm shall steal Into wounds that cannot heal Even as sleep our eyes doth seal; 45 And that smile like sunshine dart Into many a sunless heart For a smile of God thou art.

by William Cullen Bryant |

The Past

THOU unrelenting Past! 
Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain  
And fetters sure and fast  
Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign.
Far in thy realm withdrawn 5 Old empires sit in sullenness and gloom And glorious ages gone Lie deep within the shadow of thy womb.
Childhood with all its mirth Youth Manhood Age that draws us to the ground 10 And last Man's Life on earth Glide to thy dim dominions and are bound.
Thou hast my better years; Thou hast my earlier friends the good the kind Yielded to thee with tears¡ª 15 The venerable form the exalted mind.
My spirit yearns to bring The lost ones back¡ªyearns with desire intense And struggles hard to wring Thy bolts apart and pluck thy captives thence.
20 In vain; thy gates deny All passage save to those who hence depart; Nor to the streaming eye Thou giv'st them back¡ªnor to the broken heart.
In thy abysses hide 25 Beauty and excellence unknown; to thee Earth's wonder and her pride Are gathered as the waters to the sea; Labors of good to man Unpublished charity unbroken faith 30 Love that midst grief began And grew with years and faltered not in death.
Full many a mighty name Lurks in thy depths unuttered unrevered; With thee are silent fame 35 Forgotten arts and wisdom disappeared.
Thine for a space are they¡ª Yet shalt thou yield thy treasures up at last: Thy gates shall yet give way Thy bolts shall fall inexorable Past! 40 All that of good and fair Has gone into thy womb from earliest time Shall then come forth to wear The glory and the beauty of its prime.
They have not perished¡ªno! 45 Kind words remembered voices once so sweet Smiles radiant long ago And features the great soul's apparent seat.
All shall come back; each tie Of pure affection shall be knit again; 50 Alone shall Evil die And Sorrow dwell a prisoner in thy reign.
And then shall I behold Him by whose kind paternal side I sprung And her who still and cold 55 Fills the next grave¡ªthe beautiful and young.

by William Cullen Bryant |

The Planting of the Apple-Tree

COME let us plant the apple-tree.
Cleave the tough greensward with the spade; Wide let its hollow bed be made; There gently lay the roots and there Sift the dark mould with kindly care 5 And press it o'er them tenderly As round the sleeping infant's feet We softly fold the cradle sheet; So plant we the apple-tree.
What plant we in this apple-tree? 10 Buds which the breath of summer days Shall lengthen into leafy sprays; Boughs where the thrush with crimson breast Shall haunt and sing and hide her nest; We plant upon the sunny lea 15 A shadow for the noontide hour A shelter from the summer shower When we plant the apple-tree.
What plant we in this apple-tree? Sweets for a hundred flowery springs 20 To load the May-wind's restless wings When from the orchard row he pours Its fragrance through our open doors; A world of blossoms for the bee Flowers for the sick girl's silent room 25 For the glad infant sprigs of bloom We plant with the apple-tree.
What plant we in this apple-tree! Fruits that shall swell in sunny June And redden in the August noon 30 And drop when gentle airs come by That fan the blue September sky While children come with cries of glee And seek them where the fragrant grass Betrays their bed to those who pass 35 At the foot of the apple-tree.
And when above this apple-tree The winter stars are quivering bright And winds go howling through the night Girls whose young eyes o'erflow with mirth 40 Shall peel its fruit by cottage-hearth And guests in prouder homes shall see Heaped with the grape of Cintra's vine And golden orange of the line The fruit of the apple-tree.
45 The fruitage of this apple-tree Winds and our flag of stripe and star Shall bear to coasts that lie afar Where men shall wonder at the view And ask in what fair groves they grew; 50 And sojourners beyond the sea Shall think of childhood's careless day And long long hours of summer play In the shade of the apple-tree.
Each year shall give this apple-tree 55 A broader flush of roseate bloom A deeper maze of verdurous gloom And loosen when the frost-clouds lower The crisp brown leaves in thicker shower; The years shall come and pass but we 60 Shall hear no longer where we lie The summer's songs the autumn's sigh In the boughs of the apple-tree.
And time shall waste this apple-tree.
Oh when its aged branches throw 65 Thin shadows on the ground below Shall fraud and force and iron will Oppress the weak and helpless still? What shall the tasks of mercy be Amid the toils the strifes the tears 70 Of those who live when length of years Is wasting this little apple-tree? Who planted this old apple-tree? The children of that distant day Thus to some aged man shall say; 75 And gazing on its mossy stem The gray-haired man shall answer them: A poet of the land was he, Born in the rude but good old times; 'T is said he made some quaint old rhymes 80 On planting the apple-tree.

by Maya Angelou |

Momma Welfare Roll

 Her arms semaphore fat triangles,
Pudgy HANDS bunched on layered hips
Where bones idle under years of fatback
And lima beans.
Her jowls shiver in accusation Of crimes cliched by Repetition.
Her children, strangers To childhood's TOYS, play Best the games of darkened doorways, Rooftop tag, and know the slick feel of Other people's property.
Too fat to whore, Too mad to work, Searches her dreams for the Lucky sign and walks bare-handed Into a den of bereaucrats for her portion.
'They don't give me welfare.
I take it.

by Emily Dickinson |

Sweet is the swamp with its secrets

 Sweet is the swamp with its secrets,
Until we meet a snake;
'Tis then we sigh for houses,
And our departure take

At that enthralling gallop
That only childhood knows.
A snake is summer's treason, And guile is where it goes.

by Emily Dickinson |

Dickinson Poems by Number


One Sister have I in our house,
And one, a hedge away.
There's only one recorded, But both belong to me.
One came the road that I came— And wore my last year's gown— The other, as a bird her nest, Builded our hearts among.
She did not sing as we did— It was a different tune— Herself to her a music As Bumble bee of June.
Today is far from Childhood— But up and down the hills I held her hand the tighter— Which shortened all the miles— And still her hum The years among, Deceives the Butterfly; Still in her Eye The Violets lie Mouldered this many May.
I spilt the dew— But took the morn— I chose this single star From out the wide night's numbers— Sue—forevermore! 67 Success is counted sweetest By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar Requires sorest need.
Not one of all the purple Host Who took the Flag today Can tell the definition So clear of Victory As he defeated—dying— On whose forbidden ear The distant strains of triumph Burst agonized and clear! 84 Her breast is fit for pearls, But I was not a "Diver"— Her brow is fit for thrones But I have not a crest.
Her heart is fit for home— I—a Sparrow—build there Sweet of twigs and twine My perennial nest.
211 Come slowly—Eden! Lips unused to Thee— Bashful—sip thy Jessamines— As the fainting Bee— Reaching late his flower, Round her chamber hums— Counts his nectars— Enters—and is lost in Balms.
213 Did the Harebell loose her girdle To the lover Bee Would the Bee the Harebell hallow Much as formerly? Did the "Paradise"—persuaded— Yield her moat of pearl— Would the Eden be an Eden, Or the Earl—an Earl? 214 A taste a liquor never brewed— From Tankards scooped in Pearl— Not all the Vats on the Rhine Yield such an Alcohol! Inebriate of Air—am I— And Debauchee of Dew— Reeling—thro endless summer days— From inns of Molten Blue— When "Landlords" turn the drunken Bee Out the Foxglove's door— When Butterflies—renounce their "drams"— I shall but drink the more! Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats— And Saints—to windows run— To see the little Tippler Leaning against the—Sun— 249 Wild Nights—Wild Nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our luxury! Futile—the Winds— To a heart in port— Done with the Compass— Done with the Chart! Rowing in Eden— Ah, the Sea! Might I but moor—Tonight— In Thee! 253 You see I cannot see—your lifetime— I must guess— How many times it ache for me—today—Confess— How many times for my far sake The brave eyes film— But I guess guessing hurts— Mine—get so dim! Too vague—the face— My own—so patient—covers— Too far—the strength— My timidness enfolds— Haunting the Heart— Like her translated faces— Teasing the want— It—only—can suffice! 271 A solemn thing—it was—I said— A woman—white—to be— And wear—if God should count me fit— Her blameless mystery— A hallowed thing—to drop a life Into the purple well— Too plummetless—that it return— Eternity—until— I pondered how the bliss would look— And would it feel as big— When I could take it in my hand— As hovering—seen—through fog— And then—the size of this "small" life— The Sages—call it small— Swelled—like Horizons—in my vest— And I sneered—softly—"small"! 280 I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to and fro Kept treading—treading—till it seemed That Sense was breaking through— And when they all were seated, A Service, like a Drum— Kept beating—beating—till I thought My Mind was going numb And then I heard them lift a Box And creak across my Soul With those same Boots of Lead, again, Then Space—began to toll, As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear, And I, and Silence, some strange Race Wrecked, solitary, here— And then a Plank in Reason, broke, And I dropped down, and down— And hit a World, at every plunge, And Finished knowing—then— 288 I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you—Nobody—Too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell! they'd advertise—you know! How dreary—to be—Somebody! How public—like a Frog— To tell one's name—the livelong June— To an admiring Bog! 303 The Soul selects her own Society— Then—shuts the Door— To her divine Majority— Present no more— Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing— At her low Gate— Unmoved—an Emperor be kneeling Upon her Mat— I've known her—from an ample nation— Choose One— Then—close the Valves of her attention— Like Stone— 315 He fumbles at your Soul As Players at the Keys Before they drop full Music on— He stuns you by degrees— Prepares your brittle Nature For the Ethereal Blow By fainter Hammers—further heard— Then nearer—Then so slow Your Breath has time to straighten— Your Brain—to bubble Cool— Deals—One—imperial—Thunderbolt— That scalps your naked Soul— When Winds take Forests in their Paws— The Universe—is still— 324 Some keep the Sabbath going to Church— I keep it, staying at Home— With a Bobolink for a Chorister— And an Orchard, for a Dome— Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice— I just wear my Wings— And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton—sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman— And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last— I'm going, all along.
326 I cannot dance upon my Toes— No Man instructed me— But oftentimes, among my mind, A Glee possesseth me, That had I Ballet knowledge— Would put itself abroad In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe— Or lay a Prima, mad, And though I had no Gown of Gauze— No Ringlet, to my Hair, Nor hopped to Audiences—like Birds, One Claw upon the Air, Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls, Nor rolled on wheels of snow Till I was out of sight, in sound, The House encore me so— Nor any know I know the Art I mention—easy—Here— Nor any Placard boast me— It's full as Opera— 341 After great pain, a formal feeling comes— The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs— The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore, And Yesterday, or Centuries before? The Feet, mechanical, go round— Or Ground, or Air, or Ought— A Wooden way Regardless grown, A Quartz contentment, like a stone— This is the Hour of Lead— Remembered, if outlived, As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow— First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go— 441 This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me— The simple News that Nature told— With tender Majesty Her Message is committed To Hands I cannot see— For love of Her—Sweet—countrymen— Judge tenderly—of Me.
448 This was a Poet—It is That Distills amazing sense From ordinary Meanings— And Attar so immense From the familiar species That perished by the Door— We wonder it was not Ourselves— Arrested it—before— Of Pictures, the Discloser— The Poet—it is He— Entitles Us—by Contrast— To ceaseless Poverty— Of Portion—so unconscious— The Robbing—could not harm— Himself—to Him—a Fortune— Exterior—to Time— 466 'Tis little I—could care for Pearls— Who own the ample sea— Or Brooches—when the Emperor— With Rubies—pelteth me— Or Gold—who am the Prince of Mines— Or Diamonds—when have I A Diadem to fit a Dome— Continual upon me— 474 They put Us far apart— As separate as Sea And Her unsown Peninsula— We signified "These see"— They took away our Eyes— They thwarted Us with Guns— "I see Thee" each responded straight Through Telegraphic Signs— With Dungeons—They devised— But through their thickest skill— And their opaquest Adamant— Our Souls saw—just as well— They summoned Us to die— With sweet alacrity We stood upon our stapled feet— Condemned—but just—to see— Permission to recant— Permission to forget— We turned our backs upon the Sun For perjury of that— Not Either—noticed Death— Of Paradise—aware— Each other's Face—was all the Disc Each other's setting—saw— 479 She dealt her pretty words like Blades— How glittering they shone— And every One unbared a Nerve Or wantoned with a Bone— She never deemed—she hurt— That—is not Steel's Affair— A vulgar grimace in the Flesh— How ill the Creatures bear— To Ache is human—not polite— The Film upon the eye Mortality's old Custom— Just locking up—to Die.
486 I was the slightest in the House— I took the smallest Room— At night, my little Lamp, and Book— And one Geranium— So stationed I could catch the Mint That never ceased to fall— And just my Basket— Let me think—I'm sure That this was all— I never spoke—unless addressed— And then, 'twas brief and low— I could not bear to live—aloud— The Racket shamed me so— And if it had not been so far— And any one I knew Were going—I had often thought How noteless—I could die— 536 The Heart asks Pleasure—first— And then—Excuse from Pain— And then—those little Adonynes That deaden suffering— And then—to go to sleep— And then—if it should be The will of its Inquisitor The privilege to die— 601 A still—Volcano—Life— That flickered in the night— When it was dark enough to do Without erasing sight— A quiet—Earthquake Style— Too subtle to suspect By natures this side Naples— The North cannot detect The Solemn—Torrid—Symbol— The lips that never lie— Whose hissing Corals part—and shut— And Cities—ooze away— 613 They shut me up in Prose— As when a little Girl They put me in the Closet— Because they liked me "still"— Still! Could themselves have peeped— And seen my Brain—go round— They might as wise have lodged a Bird For Treason—in the Pound— Himself has but to will And easy as a Star Abolish his Captivity— And laugh—No more have I— 652 A Prison gets to be a friend— Between its Ponderous face And Ours—a Kinsmanship express— And in its narrow Eyes— We come to look with gratitude For the appointed Beam It deal us—stated as our food— And hungered for—the same— We learn to know the Planks— That answer to Our feet— So miserable a sound—at first— Nor ever now—so sweet— As plashing in the Pools— When Memory was a Boy— But a Demurer Circuit— A Geometric Joy— The Posture of the Key That interrupt the Day To Our Endeavor—Not so real The Cheek of Liberty— As this Phantasm Steel— Whose features—Day and Night— Are present to us—as Our Own— And as escapeless—quite— The narrow Round—the Stint— The slow exchange of Hope— For something passiver—Content Too steep for looking up— The Liberty we knew Avoided—Like a Dream— Too wide for any Night but Heaven— If That—indeed—redeem— 680 Each Life Converges to some Centre— Expressed—or still— Exists in every Human Nature A Goal— Embodied scarcely to itself—it may be— Too fair For Credibility's presumption To mar— Adored with caution—as a Brittle Heaven— To reach Were hopeless, as the Rainbow's Raiment To touch— Yet persevered toward—sure—for the Distance— How high— Unto the Saints' slow diligence— The Sky— Ungained—it may be—by a Life's low Venture— But then— Eternity enable the endeavoring Again.
732 She rose to His Requirement—dropt The Playthings of Her Life To take the honorable Work Of Woman, and of Wife— If ought She missed in Her new Day, Of Amplitude, or Awe— Or first Prospective—Or the Gold In using, wear away, It lay unmentioned—as the Sea Develop Pearl, and Weed, But only to Himself—be known The Fathoms they abide— 754 My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun— In Corners—till a Day The Owner passed—identified— And carried Me away— And now We roam in Sovereign Woods— And now We hunt the Doe— And every time I speak for Him— The Mountains straight reply— And do I smile, such cordial light Upon the Valley glow— It is as a Vesuvian face Had let its pleasure through— And when at Night—Our good Day done— I guard My Master's Head— 'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's Deep Pillow—to have shared— To foe of His—I'm deadly foe— None stir the second time— On whom I lay a Yellow Eye— Or an emphatic Thumb— Though I than He—may no longer live He longer must—than I— For I have but the power to kill, Without—the power to die— 829 Ample make this Bed— Make this Bed with Awe— In it wait till Judgment break Excellent and Fair.
Be its Mattress straight— Be its Pillow round— Let no Sunrise' yellow noise Interrupt this Ground— 986 A narrow Fellow in the Grass Occasionally rides— You may have met Him—did you not His notice sudden is— The Grass divides as with a Comb— A spotted shaft is seen— And then it closes at your feet And opens further on— He likes a Boggy Acre A Floor too cool for Corn— Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot— I more than once at Noon Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash Unbraiding in the Sun When stooping to secure it It wrinkled, and was gone— Several of Nature's People I know, and they know me— I feel for them a transport Of cordiality— But never met this Fellow Attended, or alone Without a tighter breathing And Zero at the Bone— 1027 My Heart upon a little Plate Her Palate to delight A Berry or a Bun, would be, Might it an Apricot! 1129 Tell all the Truth but tell it slant— Success in Circuit lies Too bright for our infirm Delight The Truth's superb surprise As Lightning to the Children eased With explanation kind The Truth must dazzle gradually Or every man be blind— 1705 Volcanoes be in Sicily And South America I judge from my Geography— Volcanos nearer here A Lava step at any time Am I inclined to climb— A Crater I may contemplate Vesuvius at home.
1737 Rearrange a "Wife's" affection! When they dislocate my Brain! Amputate my freckled Bosom! Make me bearded like a man! Blush, my spirit, in thy Fastness— Blush, my unacknowledged clay— Seven years of troth have taught thee More than Wifehood ever may! Love that never leaped its socket— Trust entrenched in narrow pain— Constancy thro fire—awarded— Anguish—bare of anodyne! Burden—borne so far triumphant— None suspect me of the crown, For I wear the "Thorns" till Sunset— Then—my Diadem put on.
Big my Secret but it's bandaged— It will never get away Till the Day it's Weary Keeper Leads it through the Grave to thee.

by Robert Browning |

Overhead The Tree-Tops Meet

 Overhead the tree-tops meet,
Flowers and grass spring 'neath one's feet;
There was nought above me, and nought below,
My childhood had not learned to know:
For what are the voices of birds
—Ay, and of beasts,—but words—our words,
Only so much more sweet?
The knowledge of that with my life begun!
But I had so near made out the sun,
And counted your stars, the Seven and One,
Like the fingers of my hand:
Nay, I could all but understand
Wherefore through heaven the white moon ranges,
And just when out of her soft fifty changes
No unfamiliar face might overlook me— 
Suddenly God took me!

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning |

Aurora Leigh (excerpts)

 [Book 1]
I am like,
They tell me, my dear father.
Broader brows Howbeit, upon a slenderer undergrowth Of delicate features, -- paler, near as grave ; But then my mother's smile breaks up the whole, And makes it better sometimes than itself.
So, nine full years, our days were hid with God Among his mountains : I was just thirteen, Still growing like the plants from unseen roots In tongue-tied Springs, -- and suddenly awoke To full life and life 's needs and agonies, With an intense, strong, struggling heart beside A stone-dead father.
Life, struck sharp on death, Makes awful lightning.
His last word was, `Love --' `Love, my child, love, love !' -- (then he had done with grief) `Love, my child.
' Ere I answered he was gone, And none was left to love in all the world.
There, ended childhood.
What succeeded next I recollect as, after fevers, men Thread back the passage of delirium, Missing the turn still, baffled by the door ; Smooth endless days, notched here and there with knives ; A weary, wormy darkness, spurr'd i' the flank With flame, that it should eat and end itself Like some tormented scorpion.
Then at last I do remember clearly, how there came A stranger with authority, not right, (I thought not) who commanded, caught me up From old Assunta's neck ; how, with a shriek, She let me go, -- while I, with ears too full Of my father's silence, to shriek back a word, In all a child's astonishment at grief Stared at the wharf-edge where she stood and moaned, My poor Assunta, where she stood and moaned ! The white walls, the blue hills, my Italy, Drawn backward from the shuddering steamer-deck, Like one in anger drawing back her skirts Which supplicants catch at.
Then the bitter sea Inexorably pushed between us both, And sweeping up the ship with my despair Threw us out as a pasture to the stars.
Ten nights and days we voyaged on the deep ; Ten nights and days, without the common face Of any day or night ; the moon and sun Cut off from the green reconciling earth, To starve into a blind ferocity And glare unnatural ; the very sky (Dropping its bell-net down upon the sea As if no human heart should 'scape alive,) Bedraggled with the desolating salt, Until it seemed no more that holy heaven To which my father went.
All new and strange The universe turned stranger, for a child.
Then, land ! -- then, England ! oh, the frosty cliffs Looked cold upon me.
Could I find a home Among those mean red houses through the fog ? And when I heard my father's language first From alien lips which had no kiss for mine I wept aloud, then laughed, then wept, then wept, And some one near me said the child was mad Through much sea-sickness.
The train swept us on.
Was this my father's England ? the great isle ? The ground seemed cut up from the fellowship Of verdure, field from field, as man from man ; The skies themselves looked low and positive, As almost you could touch them with a hand, And dared to do it they were so far off From God's celestial crystals ; all things blurred And dull and vague.
Did Shakspeare and his mates Absorb the light here ? -- not a hill or stone With heart to strike a radiant colour up Or active outline on the indifferent air.
I think I see my father's sister stand Upon the hall-step of her country-house To give me welcome.
She stood straight and calm, Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight As if for taming accidental thoughts From possible pulses ; brown hair pricked with grey By frigid use of life, (she was not old Although my father's elder by a year) A nose drawn sharply yet in delicate lines ; A close mild mouth, a little soured about The ends, through speaking unrequited loves Or peradventure niggardly half-truths ; Eyes of no colour, -- once they might have smiled, But never, never have forgot themselves In smiling ; cheeks, in which was yet a rose Of perished summers, like a rose in a book, Kept more for ruth than pleasure, -- if past bloom, Past fading also.
She had lived, we'll say, A harmless life, she called a virtuous life, A quiet life, which was not life at all, (But that, she had not lived enough to know) Between the vicar and the country squires, The lord-lieutenant looking down sometimes From the empyrean to assure their souls Against chance-vulgarisms, and, in the abyss The apothecary, looked on once a year To prove their soundness of humility.
The poor-club exercised her Christian gifts Of knitting stockings, stitching petticoats, Because we are of one flesh after all And need one flannel (with a proper sense Of difference in the quality) -- and still The book-club, guarded from your modern trick Of shaking dangerous questions from the crease, Preserved her intellectual.
She had lived A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage, Accounting that to leap from perch to perch Was act and joy enough for any bird.
Dear heaven, how silly are the things that live In thickets, and eat berries ! I, alas, A wild bird scarcely fledged, was brought to her cage, And she was there to meet me.
Very kind.
Bring the clean water, give out the fresh seed.
She stood upon the steps to welcome me, Calm, in black garb.
I clung about her neck, -- Young babes, who catch at every shred of wool To draw the new light closer, catch and cling Less blindly.
In my ears, my father's word Hummed ignorantly, as the sea in shells, `Love, love, my child.
' She, black there with my grief, Might feel my love -- she was his sister once, I clung to her.
A moment, she seemed moved, Kissed me with cold lips, suffered me to cling, And drew me feebly through the hall into The room she sate in.
There, with some strange spasm Of pain and passion, she wrung loose my hands Imperiously, and held me at arm's length, And with two grey-steel naked-bladed eyes Searched through my face, -- ay, stabbed it through and through, Through brows and cheeks and chin, as if to find A wicked murderer in my innocent face, If not here, there perhaps.
Then, drawing breath, She struggled for her ordinary calm And missed it rather, -- told me not to shrink, As if she had told me not to lie or swear, -- `She loved my father, and would love me too As long as I deserved it.
' Very kind.
[Book 5] AURORA LEIGH, be humble.
Shall I hope To speak my poems in mysterious tune With man and nature ? -- with the lava-lymph That trickles from successive galaxies Still drop by drop adown the finger of God In still new worlds ? -- with summer-days in this ? That scarce dare breathe they are so beautiful ?-- With spring's delicious trouble in the ground, Tormented by the quickened blood of roots, And softly pricked by golden crocus-sheaves In token of the harvest-time of flowers ?-- With winters and with autumns, -- and beyond, With the human heart's large seasons, when it hopes And fears, joys, grieves, and loves ? -- with all that strain Of sexual passion, which devours the flesh In a sacrament of souls ? with mother's breasts Which, round the new-made creatures hanging there, Throb luminous and harmonious like pure spheres ? -- With multitudinous life, and finally With the great escapings of ecstatic souls, Who, in a rush of too long prisoned flame, Their radiant faces upward, burn away This dark of the body, issuing on a world, Beyond our mortal ? -- can I speak my verse Sp plainly in tune to these things and the rest, That men shall feel it catch them on the quick, As having the same warrant over them To hold and move them if they will or no, Alike imperious as the primal rhythm Of that theurgic nature ? I must fail, Who fail at the beginning to hold and move One man, -- and he my cousin, and he my friend, And he born tender, made intelligent, Inclined to ponder the precipitous sides Of difficult questions ; yet, obtuse to me, Of me, incurious ! likes me very well, And wishes me a paradise of good, Good looks, good means, and good digestion, -- ay, But otherwise evades me, puts me off With kindness, with a tolerant gentleness, -- Too light a book for a grave man's reading ! Go, Aurora Leigh : be humble.
There it is, We women are too apt to look to One, Which proves a certain impotence in art.
We strain our natures at doing something great, Far less because it 's something great to do, Than haply that we, so, commend ourselves As being not small, and more appreciable To some one friend.
We must have mediators Betwixt our highest conscience and the judge ; Some sweet saint's blood must quicken in our palms Or all the life in heaven seems slow and cold : Good only being perceived as the end of good, And God alone pleased, -- that's too poor, we think, And not enough for us by any means.
Ay, Romney, I remember, told me once We miss the abstract when we comprehend.
We miss it most when we aspire, -- and fail.
Yet, so, I will not.
-- This vile woman's way Of trailing garments, shall not trip me up : I 'll have no traffic with the personal thought In art's pure temple.
Must I work in vain, Without the approbation of a man ? It cannot be ; it shall not.
Fame itself, That approbation of the general race, Presents a poor end, (though the arrow speed, Shot straight with vigorous finger to the white,) And the highest fame was never reached except By what was aimed above it.
Art for art, And good for God Himself, the essential Good ! We 'll keep our aims sublime, our eyes erect, Although our woman-hands should shake and fail ; And if we fail .
But must we ? -- Shall I fail ? The Greeks said grandly in their tragic phrase, `Let no one be called happy till his death.
' To which I add, -- Let no one till his death Be called unhappy.
Measure not the work Until the day 's out and the labour done, Then bring your gauges.
If the day's work 's scant, Why, call it scant ; affect no compromise ; And, in that we have nobly striven at least, Deal with us nobly, women though we be.
And honour us with truth if not with praise.