Elizabeth Barrett Browning |
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.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning |
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.
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.
William Cullen Bryant |
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.
William Cullen Bryant |
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.
Maya Angelou |
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.'
Emily Dickinson |
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.
Emily Dickinson |
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—
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!
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.
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.
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?
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—
Wild Nights—Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
To a heart in port—
Done with the Compass—
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden—
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor—Tonight—
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—
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—
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"!
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—
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
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!
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—
Then—close the Valves of her attention—
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—
That scalps your naked Soul—
When Winds take Forests in their Paws—
The Universe—is still—
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.
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
Nor any Placard boast me—
It's full as Opera—
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
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—
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.
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—
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—
'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—
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—
Each other's Face—was all the Disc
Each other's setting—saw—
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.
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—
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—
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 lips that never lie—
Whose hissing Corals part—and shut—
And Cities—ooze away—
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—
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—
Each Life Converges to some Centre—
Exists in every Human Nature
Embodied scarcely to itself—it may be—
For Credibility's presumption
Adored with caution—as a Brittle Heaven—
Were hopeless, as the Rainbow's Raiment
Yet persevered toward—sure—for the Distance—
Unto the Saints' slow diligence—
Ungained—it may be—by a Life's low Venture—
Eternity enable the endeavoring
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—
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—
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—
A narrow Fellow in the Grass
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
But never met this Fellow
Attended, or alone
Without a tighter breathing
And Zero at the Bone—
My Heart upon a little Plate
Her Palate to delight
A Berry or a Bun, would be,
Might it an Apricot!
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—
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.
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.
Robert Browning |
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!
Elizabeth Barrett Browning |
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 !
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.
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.