National Poetry Month Spotlight – Elizabeth Barrett-Browning
The celebrated Romantic poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most influential figures within English poetry during the Victorian age. She was born in 1806, in County Durham, as the first of twelve children. She died in Italy, in 1861, following a prolonged illness.
“The Deserted Garden”
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;
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.
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,
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.
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,
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,
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,
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!
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,
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:
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
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.
Nor he nor I did e’er incline
To peck or pluck the blossoms white:
How should I know but that they might
Lead lives as glad as mine?
To make my hermit-home complete,
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)
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,
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.
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
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,
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
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!
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,
When wiser, meeker thoughts are given,
And I have learnt to lift my face,
Reminded how earth’s greenest place
The colour draws from heaven,
It something saith for earthly pain,
But more for heavenly promise free,
That I who was, would shrink to be
That happy child again.
“My Heart and I”
ENOUGH ! we’re tired, my heart and I.
We sit beside the headstone thus,
And wish that name were carved for us.
The moss reprints more tenderly
The hard types of the mason’s knife,
As heaven’s sweet life renews earth’s life
With which we’re tired, my heart and I.
You see we’re tired, my heart and I.
We dealt with books, we trusted men,
And in our own blood drenched the pen,
As if such colours could not fly.
We walked too straight for fortune’s end,
We loved too true to keep a friend ;
At last we’re tired, my heart and I.
How tired we feel, my heart and I !
We seem of no use in the world ;
Our fancies hang grey and uncurled
About men’s eyes indifferently ;
Our voice which thrilled you so, will let
You sleep; our tears are only wet :
What do we here, my heart and I ?
So tired, so tired, my heart and I !
It was not thus in that old time
When Ralph sat with me ‘neath the lime
To watch the sunset from the sky.
`Dear love, you’re looking tired,’ he said;
I, smiling at him, shook my head :
‘Tis now we’re tired, my heart and I.
So tired, so tired, my heart and I !
Though now none takes me on his arm
To fold me close and kiss me warm
Till each quick breath end in a sigh
Of happy languor.
We lean upon this graveyard stone,
Uncheered, unkissed, my heart and I.
Tired out we are, my heart and I.
Suppose the world brought diadems
To tempt us, crusted with loose gems
Of powers and pleasures ? Let it try.
We scarcely care to look at even
A pretty child, or God’s blue heaven,
We feel so tired, my heart and I.
Yet who complains ? My heart and I ?
In this abundant earth no doubt
Is little room for things worn out :
Disdain them, break them, throw them by
And if before the days grew rough
We once were loved, used, — well enough,
I think, we’ve fared, my heart and I.
“A Sea-Side Walk”
(image by francesco-paolo michetti)
We walked beside the sea,
After a day which perished silently
Of its own glory—like the Princess weird
Who, combating the Genius, scorched and seared,
Uttered with burning breath, ‘Ho! victory!’
And sank adown, an heap of ashes pale;
So runs the Arab tale.
The sky above us showed
An universal and unmoving cloud,
On which, the cliffs permitted us to see
Only the outline of their majesty,
As master-minds, when gazed at by the crowd!
And, shining with a gloom, the water grey
Swang in its moon-taught way.
Nor moon nor stars were out.
They did not dare to tread so soon about,
Though trembling, in the footsteps of the sun.
The light was neither night’s nor day’s, but one
Which, life-like, had a beauty in its doubt;
And Silence’s impassioned breathings round
Seemed wandering into sound.
O solemn-beating heart
Of nature! I have knowledge that thou art
Bound unto man’s by cords he cannot sever—
And, what time they are slackened by him ever,
So to attest his own supernal part,
Still runneth thy vibration fast and strong,
The slackened cord along.
For though we never spoke
Of the grey water anal the shaded rock,—
Dark wave and stone, unconsciously, were fused
Into the plaintive speaking that we used,
Of absent friends and memories unforsook;
And, had we seen each other’s face, we had
Seen haply, each was sad.
And, how could I not to include “How Do I Love Thee”….
Have a magnificent Monday!