Brother and Sister

Original Text: 
George Eliot, The Legend of Jubal and Other Poems (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1874): 183-91.
1I cannot choose but think upon the time
2When our two lives grew like two buds that kiss
3At lightest thrill from the bee's swinging chime,
4Because the one so near the other is.
5He was the elder and a little man
6Of forty inches, bound to show no dread,
7And I the girl that puppy-like now ran,
8Now lagged behind my brother's larger tread.
9I held him wise, and when he talked to me
10Of snakes and birds, and which God loved the best,
11I thought his knowledge marked the boundary
12Where men grew blind, though angels knew the rest.
13    If he said "Hush!" I tried to hold my breath;
14    Wherever he said "Come!" I stepped in faith.
15Long years have left their writing on my brow,
16But yet the freshness and the dew-fed beam
17Of those young mornings are about me now,
18When we two wandered toward the far-off stream
19With rod and line. Our basket held a store
20Baked for us only, and I thought with joy
21That I should have my share, though he had more,
22Because he was the elder and a boy.
23The firmaments of daisies since to me
24Have had those mornings in their opening eyes,
25The bunchèd cowslip's pale transparency
26Carries that sunshine of sweet memories,
27    And wild-rose branches take their finest scent
28    From those blest hours of infantine content.
29Our mother bade us keep the trodden ways,
30Stroked down my tippet, set my brother's frill,
31Then with the benediction of her gaze
32Clung to us lessening, and pursued us still
33Across the homestead to the rookery elms,
34Whose tall old trunks had each a grassy mound,
35So rich for us, we counted them as realms
36With varied products: here were earth-nuts found,
37And here the Lady-fingers in deep shade;
38Here sloping toward the Moat the rushes grew,
39The large to split for pith, the small to braid;
40While over all the dark rooks cawing flew,
41    And made a happy strange solemnity,
42    A deep-toned chant from life unknown to me.
43Our meadow-path had memorable spots:
44One where it bridged a tiny rivulet,
45Deep hid by tangled blue Forget-me-nots;
46And all along the waving grasses met
47My little palm, or nodded to my cheek,
48When flowers with upturned faces gazing drew
49My wonder downward, seeming all to speak
50With eyes of souls that dumbly heard and knew.
51Then came the copse, where wild things rushed unseen,
52And black-scathed grass betrayed the past abode
53Of mystic gypsies, who still lurked between
54Me and each hidden distance of the road.
55    A gypsy once had startled me at play,
56    Blotting with her dark smile my sunny day.
57Thus rambling we were schooled in deepest lore,
58And learned the meanings that give words a soul,
59The fear, the love, the primal passionate store,
60Whose shaping impulses make manhood whole.
61Those hours were seed to all my after good;
62My infant gladness, through eye, ear, and touch,
63Took easily as warmth a various food
64To nourish the sweet skill of loving much.
65For who in age shall roam the earth and find
66Reasons for loving that will strike out love
67With sudden rod from the hard year-pressed mind?
68Were reasons sown as thick as stars above,
69    'Tis love must see them, as the eye sees light:
70    Day is but Number to the darkened sight.
71Our brown canal was endless to my thought;
72And on its banks I sat in dreamy peace,
73Unknowing how the good I loved was wrought,
74Untroubled by the fear that it would cease.
75Slowly the barges floated into view
76Rounding a grassy hill to me sublime
77With some Unknown beyond it, whither flew
78The parting cuckoo toward a fresh spring time.
79The wide-arched bridge, the scented elder-flowers,
80The wondrous watery rings that died too soon,
81The echoes of the quarry, the still hours
82With white robe sweeping-on the shadeless noon,
83    Were but my growing self, are part of me,
84    My present Past, my root of piety.
85Those long days measured by my little feet
86Had chronicles which yield me many a text;
87Where irony still finds an image meet
88Of full-grown judgments in this world perplext.
89One day my brother left me in high charge,
90To mind the rod, while he went seeking bait,
91And bade me, when I saw a nearing barge,
92Snatch out the line lest he should come too late.
93Proud of the task, I watched with all my might
94For one whole minute, till my eyes grew wide,
95Till sky and earth took on a strange new light
96And seemed a dream-world floating on some tide --
97    A fair pavilioned boat for me alone
98    Bearing me onward through the vast unknown.
99But sudden came the barge's pitch-black prow,
100Nearer and angrier came my brother's cry,
101And all my soul was quivering fear, when lo!
102Upon the imperilled line, suspended high,
103A silver perch! My guilt that won the prey,
104Now turned to merit, had a guerdon rich
105Of songs and praises, and made merry play,
106Until my triumph reached its highest pitch
107When all at home were told the wondrous feat,
108And how the little sister had fished well.
109In secret, though my fortune tasted sweet,
110I wondered why this happiness befell.
111    "The little lass had luck," the gardener said:
112    And so I learned, luck was with glory wed.
113We had the self-same world enlarged for each
114By loving difference of girl and boy:
115The fruit that hung on high beyond my reach
116He plucked for me, and oft he must employ
117A measuring glance to guide my tiny shoe
118Where lay firm stepping-stones, or call to mind
119"This thing I like my sister may not do,
120For she is little, and I must be kind."
121Thus boyish Will the nobler mastery learned
122Where inward vision over impulse reigns,
123Widening its life with separate life discerned,
124A Like unlike, a Self that self restrains.
125    His years with others must the sweeter be
126    For those brief days he spent in loving me.
127His sorrow was my sorrow, and his joy
128Sent little leaps and laughs through all my frame;
129My doll seemed lifeless and no girlish toy
130Had any reason when my brother came.
131I knelt with him at marbles, marked his fling
132Cut the ringed stem and make the apple drop,
133Or watched him winding close the spiral string
134That looped the orbits of the humming top.
135Grasped by such fellowship my vagrant thought
136Ceased with dream-fruit dream-wishes to fulfil;
137My aëry-picturing fantasy was taught
138Subjection to the harder, truer skill
139    That seeks with deeds to grave a thought-tracked line,
140    And by "What is," "What will be" to define.
141School parted us; we never found again
142That childish world where our two spirits mingled
143Like scents from varying roses that remain
144One sweetness, nor can evermore be singled.
145Yet the twin habit of that early time
146Lingered for long about the heart and tongue:
147We had been natives of one happy clime
148And its dear accent to our utterance clung.
149Till the dire years whose awful name is Change
150Had grasped our souls still yearning in divorce,
151And pitiless shaped them in two forms that range
152Two elements which sever their life's course.
153    But were another childhood-world my share,
154    I would be born a little sister there.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: