Aurora Leigh

Original Text: 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Aurora Leigh. 1859. 19th-cent. STC: 5.1.316. mfe DA 533 N55
Book I
198                                                       I am like,
199They tell me, my dear father. Broader brows
200Howbeit, upon a slenderer undergrowth
201Of delicate features, -- paler, near as grave ;
202But then my mother's smile breaks up the whole,
203And makes it better sometimes than itself.
204So, nine full years, our days were hid with God
205Among his mountains : I was just thirteen,
206Still growing like the plants from unseen roots
207In tongue-tied Springs, -- and suddenly awoke
208To full life and life 's needs and agonies,
209With an intense, strong, struggling heart beside
210A stone-dead father. Life, struck sharp on death,
211Makes awful lightning. His last word was, `Love --'
212`Love, my child, love, love !' -- (then he had done with grief)
213`Love, my child.' Ere I answered he was gone,
214And none was left to love in all the world.
215There, ended childhood. What succeeded next
216I recollect as, after fevers, men
217Thread back the passage of delirium,
218Missing the turn still, baffled by the door ;
219Smooth endless days, notched here and there with knives ;
220A weary, wormy darkness, spurr'd i' the flank
221With flame, that it should eat and end itself
222Like some tormented scorpion. Then at last
223I do remember clearly, how there came
224A stranger with authority, not right,
225(I thought not) who commanded, caught me up
226From old Assunta's neck ; how, with a shriek,
227She let me go, -- while I, with ears too full
228Of my father's silence, to shriek back a word,
229In all a child's astonishment at grief
230Stared at the wharf-edge where she stood and moaned,
231My poor Assunta, where she stood and moaned !
232The white walls, the blue hills, my Italy,
233Drawn backward from the shuddering steamer-deck,
234Like one in anger drawing back her skirts
235Which supplicants catch at. Then the bitter sea
236Inexorably pushed between us both,
237And sweeping up the ship with my despair
238Threw us out as a pasture to the stars.
239Ten nights and days we voyaged on the deep ;
240Ten nights and days, without the common face
241Of any day or night ; the moon and sun
242Cut off from the green reconciling earth,
243To starve into a blind ferocity
244And glare unnatural ; the very sky
245(Dropping its bell-net down upon the sea
246As if no human heart should 'scape alive,)
247Bedraggled with the desolating salt,
248Until it seemed no more that holy heaven
249To which my father went. All new and strange
250The universe turned stranger, for a child.
251Then, land ! -- then, England ! oh, the frosty cliffs
252Looked cold upon me. Could I find a home
253Among those mean red houses through the fog ?
254And when I heard my father's language first
255From alien lips which had no kiss for mine
256I wept aloud, then laughed, then wept, then wept,
257And some one near me said the child was mad
258Through much sea-sickness. The train swept us on.
259Was this my father's England ? the great isle ?
260The ground seemed cut up from the fellowship
261Of verdure, field from field, as man from man ;
262The skies themselves looked low and positive,
263As almost you could touch them with a hand,
264And dared to do it they were so far off
265From God's celestial crystals ; all things blurred
266And dull and vague. Did Shakspeare and his mates
267Absorb the light here ? -- not a hill or stone
268With heart to strike a radiant colour up
269Or active outline on the indifferent air.
270I think I see my father's sister stand
271Upon the hall-step of her country-house
272To give me welcome. She stood straight and calm,
273Her somewhat narrow forehead braided tight
274As if for taming accidental thoughts
275From possible pulses ; brown hair pricked with grey
276By frigid use of life, (she was not old
277Although my father's elder by a year)
278A nose drawn sharply yet in delicate lines ;
279A close mild mouth, a little soured about
280The ends, through speaking unrequited loves
281Or peradventure niggardly half-truths ;
282Eyes of no colour, -- once they might have smiled,
283But never, never have forgot themselves
284In smiling ; cheeks, in which was yet a rose
285Of perished summers, like a rose in a book,
286Kept more for ruth than pleasure, -- if past bloom,
287Past fading also.
288                                       She had lived, we'll say,
289A harmless life, she called a virtuous life,
290A quiet life, which was not life at all,
291(But that, she had not lived enough to know)
292Between the vicar and the country squires,
293The lord-lieutenant looking down sometimes
294From the empyrean to assure their souls
295Against chance-vulgarisms, and, in the abyss
296The apothecary, looked on once a year
297To prove their soundness of humility.
298The poor-club exercised her Christian gifts
299Of knitting stockings, stitching petticoats,
300Because we are of one flesh after all
301And need one flannel (with a proper sense
302Of difference in the quality) -- and still
303The book-club, guarded from your modern trick
304Of shaking dangerous questions from the crease,
305Preserved her intellectual. She had lived
306A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage,
307Accounting that to leap from perch to perch
308Was act and joy enough for any bird.
309Dear heaven, how silly are the things that live
310In thickets, and eat berries !
311                                              I, alas,
312A wild bird scarcely fledged, was brought to her cage,
313And she was there to meet me. Very kind.
314Bring the clean water, give out the fresh seed.
315She stood upon the steps to welcome me,
316Calm, in black garb. I clung about her neck, --
317Young babes, who catch at every shred of wool
318To draw the new light closer, catch and cling
319Less blindly. In my ears, my father's word
320Hummed ignorantly, as the sea in shells,
321`Love, love, my child.' She, black there with my grief,
322Might feel my love -- she was his sister once,
323I clung to her. A moment, she seemed moved,
324Kissed me with cold lips, suffered me to cling,
325And drew me feebly through the hall into
326The room she sate in.
327                                        There, with some strange spasm
328Of pain and passion, she wrung loose my hands
329Imperiously, and held me at arm's length,
330And with two grey-steel naked-bladed eyes
331Searched through my face, -- ay, stabbed it through and through,
332Through brows and cheeks and chin, as if to find
333A wicked murderer in my innocent face,
334If not here, there perhaps. Then, drawing breath,
335She struggled for her ordinary calm
336And missed it rather, -- told me not to shrink,
337As if she had told me not to lie or swear, --
338`She loved my father, and would love me too
339As long as I deserved it.' Very kind.
Book II
1AURORA LEIGH, be humble. Shall I hope
2To speak my poems in mysterious tune
3With man and nature ? -- with the lava-lymph
4That trickles from successive galaxies
5Still drop by drop adown the finger of God
6In still new worlds ? -- with summer-days in this ?
7That scarce dare breathe they are so beautiful ?--
8With spring's delicious trouble in the ground,
9Tormented by the quickened blood of roots,
10And softly pricked by golden crocus-sheaves
11In token of the harvest-time of flowers ?--
12With winters and with autumns, -- and beyond,
13With the human heart's large seasons, when it hopes
14And fears, joys, grieves, and loves ? -- with all that strain
15Of sexual passion, which devours the flesh
16In a sacrament of souls ? with mother's breasts
17Which, round the new-made creatures hanging there,
18Throb luminous and harmonious like pure spheres ? --
19With multitudinous life, and finally
20With the great escapings of ecstatic souls,
21Who, in a rush of too long prisoned flame,
22Their radiant faces upward, burn away
23This dark of the body, issuing on a world,
24Beyond our mortal ? -- can I speak my verse
25So plainly in tune to these things and the rest,
26That men shall feel it catch them on the quick,
27As having the same warrant over them
28To hold and move them if they will or no,
29Alike imperious as the primal rhythm
30Of that theurgic nature ? I must fail,
31Who fail at the beginning to hold and move
32One man, -- and he my cousin, and he my friend,
33And he born tender, made intelligent,
34Inclined to ponder the precipitous sides
35Of difficult questions ; yet, obtuse to me,
36Of me, incurious ! likes me very well,
37And wishes me a paradise of good,
38Good looks, good means, and good digestion, -- ay,
39But otherwise evades me, puts me off
40With kindness, with a tolerant gentleness, --
41Too light a book for a grave man's reading ! Go,
42Aurora Leigh : be humble.
43                                                There it is,
44We women are too apt to look to One,
45Which proves a certain impotence in art.
46We strain our natures at doing something great,
47Far less because it 's something great to do,
48Than haply that we, so, commend ourselves
49As being not small, and more appreciable
50To some one friend. We must have mediators
51Betwixt our highest conscience and the judge ;
52Some sweet saint's blood must quicken in our palms
53Or all the life in heaven seems slow and cold :
54Good only being perceived as the end of good,
55And God alone pleased, -- that's too poor, we think,
56And not enough for us by any means.
57Ay, Romney, I remember, told me once
58We miss the abstract when we comprehend.
59We miss it most when we aspire, -- and fail.
60Yet, so, I will not. -- This vile woman's way
61Of trailing garments, shall not trip me up :
62I 'll have no traffic with the personal thought
63In art's pure temple. Must I work in vain,
64Without the approbation of a man ?
65It cannot be ; it shall not. Fame itself,
66That approbation of the general race,
67Presents a poor end, (though the arrow speed,
68Shot straight with vigorous finger to the white,)
69And the highest fame was never reached except
70By what was aimed above it. Art for art,
71And good for God Himself, the essential Good !
72We 'll keep our aims sublime, our eyes erect,
73Although our woman-hands should shake and fail ;
74And if we fail .. But must we ? --
75                                                  Shall I fail ?
76The Greeks said grandly in their tragic phrase,
77`Let no one be called happy till his death.'
78To which I add, -- Let no one till his death
79Be called unhappy. Measure not the work
80Until the day 's out and the labour done,
81Then bring your gauges. If the day's work 's scant,
82Why, call it scant ; affect no compromise ;
83And, in that we have nobly striven at least,
84Deal with us nobly, women though we be.
85And honour us with truth if not with praise.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire