Only a Curl

Original Text: 
Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Last Poems. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. 19th-cent. STC: 5.1.510. mfe DA 533 N55.
1FRIENDS of faces unknown and a land
2   Unvisited over the sea,
3Who tell me how lonely you stand
4With a single gold curl in the hand
5   Held up to be looked at by me, --
6While you ask me to ponder and say
7   What a father and mother can do,
8With the bright fellow-locks put away
9Out of reach, beyond kiss, in the clay
10   Where the violets press nearer than you.
11Shall I speak like a poet, or run
12   Into weak woman's tears for relief ?
13Oh, children ! -- I never lost one, --
14Yet my arm 's round my own little son,
15   And Love knows the secret of Grief.
16And I feel what it must be and is,
17   When God draws a new angel so
18Through the house of a man up to His,
19With a murmur of music, you miss,
20   And a rapture of light, you forgo.
21How you think, staring on at the door,
22   Where the face of your angel flashed in,
23That its brightness, familiar before,
24Burns off from you ever the more
25   For the dark of your sorrow and sin.
26`God lent him and takes him,' you sigh ;
27   -- Nay, there let me break with your pain :
28God 's generous in giving, say I, --
29And the thing which He gives, I deny
30   That He ever can take back again.
31He gives what He gives. I appeal
32   To all who bear babes -- in the hour
33When the veil of the body we feel
34Rent round us, -- while torments reveal
35   The motherhood's advent in power,
36And the babe cries ! -- has each of us known
37   By apocalypse (God being there
38Full in nature) the child is our own,
39Life of life, love of love, moan of moan,
40   Through all changes, all times, everywhere.
41He 's ours and for ever. Believe,
42   O father ! -- O mother, look back
43To the first love's assurance. To give
44Means with God not to tempt or deceive
45   With a cup thrust in Benjamin's sack.
46He gives what He gives. Be content !
47   He resumes nothing given, -- be sure !
48God lend ? Where the usurers lent
49In His temple, indignant He went
50   And scourged away all those impure.
51He lends not ; but gives to the end,
52   As He loves to the end. If it seem
53That He draws back a gift, comprehend
54'Tis to add to it rather, -- amend,
55   And finish it up to your dream, --
56Or keep, -- as a mother will toys
57   Too costly, though given by herself,
58Till the room shall be stiller from noise,
59And the children more fit for such joys,
60   Kept over their heads on the shelf.
61So look up, friends ! you, who indeed
62   Have possessed in your house a sweet piece
63Of the Heaven which men strive for, must need
64Be more earnest than others are,--speed
65   Where they loiter, persist where they cease.
66You know how one angel smiles there.
67   Then weep not. 'Tis easy for you
68To be drawn by a single gold hair
69Of that curl, from earth's storm and despair,
70   To the safe place above us. Adieu.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
Not in printed RP.