Mother and Poet

Original Text: 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Last Poems. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. 19th-cent. STC: 5.1.510. mfe DA 533 N55.
I.
1Dead ! One of them shot by the sea in the east,
2   And one of them shot in the west by the sea.
3Dead ! both my boys ! When you sit at the feast
4   And are wanting a great song for Italy free,
5      Let none look at me !
II.
6Yet I was a poetess only last year,
7   And good at my art, for a woman, men said ;
8But this woman, this, who is agonized here,
9   -- The east sea and west sea rhyme on in her head
10      For ever instead.
III.
11What art can a woman be good at ? Oh, vain !
12   What art is she good at, but hurting her breast
13With the milk-teeth of babes, and a smile at the pain ?
14   Ah boys, how you hurt ! you were strong as you pressed,
15      And I proud, by that test.
IV.
16What art's for a woman ? To hold on her knees
17   Both darlings ! to feel all their arms round her throat,
18Cling, strangle a little ! to sew by degrees
19   And 'broider the long-clothes and neat little coat ;
20      To dream and to doat.
V.
21To teach them ... It stings there ! I made them indeed
22   Speak plain the word country. I taught them, no doubt,
23That a country's a thing men should die for at need.
24   I prated of liberty, rights, and about
25      The tyrant cast out.
VI.
26And when their eyes flashed ... O my beautiful eyes ! ...
27   I exulted ; nay, let them go forth at the wheels
28Of the guns, and denied not. But then the surprise
29   When one sits quite alone ! Then one weeps, then one kneels !
30      God, how the house feels !
VII.
31At first, happy news came, in gay letters moiled
32   With my kisses, -- of camp-life and glory, and how
33They both loved me ; and, soon coming home to be spoiled
34   In return would fan off every fly from my brow
35      With their green laurel-bough.
VIII.
36Then was triumph at Turin : `Ancona was free !'
37   And some one came out of the cheers in the street,
38With a face pale as stone, to say something to me.
39   My Guido was dead ! I fell down at his feet,
40      While they cheered in the street.
IX.
41I bore it ; friends soothed me ; my grief looked sublime
42   As the ransom of Italy. One boy remained
43To be leant on and walked with, recalling the time
44   When the first grew immortal, while both of us strained
45      To the height he had gained.
X.
46And letters still came, shorter, sadder, more strong,
47   Writ now but in one hand, `I was not to faint, --
48One loved me for two -- would be with me ere long :
49   And Viva l' Italia ! -- he died for, our saint,
50      Who forbids our complaint."
XI.
51My Nanni would add, `he was safe, and aware
52   Of a presence that turned off the balls, -- was imprest
53It was Guido himself, who knew what I could bear,
54   And how 'twas impossible, quite dispossessed,
55      To live on for the rest."
XII.
56On which, without pause, up the telegraph line
57   Swept smoothly the next news from Gaeta : -- Shot.
58Tell his mother. Ah, ah, ` his, ' ` their ' mother, -- not ` mine, '
59   No voice says "My mother" again to me. What !
60      You think Guido forgot ?
XIII.
61Are souls straight so happy that, dizzy with Heaven,
62   They drop earth's affections, conceive not of woe ?
63I think not. Themselves were too lately forgiven
64   Through THAT Love and Sorrow which reconciled so
65      The Above and Below.
XIV.
66O Christ of the five wounds, who look'dst through the dark
67   To the face of Thy mother ! consider, I pray,
68How we common mothers stand desolate, mark,
69   Whose sons, not being Christs, die with eyes turned away,
70      And no last word to say !
XV.
71Both boys dead ? but that's out of nature. We all
72   Have been patriots, yet each house must always keep one.
73'Twere imbecile, hewing out roads to a wall ;
74   And, when Italy 's made, for what end is it done
75      If we have not a son ?
XVI.
76Ah, ah, ah ! when Gaeta's taken, what then ?
77   When the fair wicked queen sits no more at her sport
78Of the fire-balls of death crashing souls out of men ?
79   When the guns of Cavalli with final retort
80      Have cut the game short ?
XVII.
81When Venice and Rome keep their new jubilee,
82   When your flag takes all heaven for its white, green, and red,
83When you have your country from mountain to sea,
84   When King Victor has Italy's crown on his head,
85      (And I have my Dead) --
XVIII.
86What then ? Do not mock me. Ah, ring your bells low,
87   And burn your lights faintly ! My country is there,
88Above the star pricked by the last peak of snow :
89   My Italy 's THERE, with my brave civic Pair,
90      To disfranchise despair !
XIX.
91Forgive me. Some women bear children in strength,
92   And bite back the cry of their pain in self-scorn ;
93But the birth-pangs of nations will wring us at length
94   Into wail such as this -- and we sit on forlorn
95      When the man-child is born.
XX.
96Dead ! One of them shot by the sea in the east,
97   And one of them shot in the west by the sea.
98Both ! both my boys ! If in keeping the feast
99   You want a great song for your Italy free,
100      Let none look at me !
[This was Laura Savio, of Turin, a poetess and patriot, whose sons were killed at Ancona and Gaeta.]
Publication Start Year: 
1862
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Not in printed RP.