Aurora Leigh: Book 5


    Aurora Leigh, be humble. Shall I hope
    To speak my poems in mysterious tune
    With man and nature? with the lava-lymph
    That trickles from successive galaxies
    Still drop by drop adown the finger of God
    In still new worlds? with summer-days in this
    That scarce dare breathe they are so beautiful?
    With spring's delicious trouble in the ground,
    Tormented by the quickened blood of roots,
    And softly pricked by golden crocus-sheaves
    In token of the harvest-time of flowers?
    With winters and with autumns, and beyond
    With the human heart's large seasons, when it hopes
    And fears, joys, grieves, and loves? with all that strain
    Of sexual passion, which devours the flesh
    In a sacrament of souls? with mother's breasts
    Which, round the new-made creatures hanging there,
    Throb luminous and harmonious like pure spheres?
    With multitudinous life, and finally
    With the great escapings of ecstatic souls,
    Who, in a rush of too long prisoned flame,
    Their radiant faces upward, burn away
    This dark of the body, issuing on a world
    Beyond our mortal? can I speak my verse
    So plainly in tune to these things and the rest
    That men shall feel it catch them on the quick
    As having the same warrant over them
    To hold and move them if they will or no,
    Alike imperious as the primal rhythm
    Of that theurgic nature? I must fail,
    Who fail at the beginning to hold and move
    One man, and he my cousin, and he my friend,
    And he born tender, made intelligent,
    Inclined to ponder the precipitous sides
    Of difficult questions; yet, obtuse to me,
    Of me, incurious! likes me very well,
    And wishes me a paradise of good,
    Good looks, good means, and good digestion, ay,
    But otherwise evades me, puts me off
    With kindness, with a tolerant gentleness,
    Too light a book for a grave man's reading! Go,
    Aurora Leigh: be humble.

    There it is,
    We women are too apt to look to one,
    Which proves a certain impotence in art.
    We strain our natures at doing something great,
    Far less because it's something great to do,
    Than haply that we, so, commend ourselves
    As being not small, and more appreciable
    To some one friend. We must have mediators
    Betwixt our highest conscience and the judge;
    Some sweet saint's blood must quicken in our palms,
    Or all the life in heaven seems slow and cold:
    Good only being perceived as the end of good,
    And God alone pleased, that's too poor, we think,
    And not enough for us by any means.
    Ay Romney, I remember, told me once
    We miss the abstract when we comprehend.
    We miss it most when we aspire, and fail.

    Yet, so, I will not. This vile woman's way
    Of trailing garments shall not trip me up:
    I'll have no traffic with the personal thought
    In Art's pure temple. Must I work in vain,
    Without the approbation of a man?
    It cannot be; it shall not. Fame itself,
    That approbation of the general race,
    Presents a poor end (though the arrow speed
    Shot straight with vigorous finger to the white),
    And the highest fame was never reached except
    By what was aimed above it. Art for art,
    And good for God Himself, the essential Good!
    We'll keep our aims sublime, our eyes erect,
    Although our woman-hands should shake and fail;
    And if we fail . . . But must we?

    Shall I fail?
    The Greeks said grandly in their tragic phrase,
    "Let no one be called happy till his death."
    To which I add, Let no one till his death
    Be called unhappy. Measure not the work
    Until the day's out and the labour done,
    Then bring your gauges. If the day's work's scant,
    Why, call it scant; affect no compromise;
    And, in that we have nobly striven at least,
    Deal with us nobly, women though we be,
    And honour us with truth if not with praise.

    My ballads prospered; but the ballad's race
    Is rapid for a poet who bears weights
    Of thought and golden image. He can stand
    Like Atlas, in the sonnet, and support
    His own heavens pregnant with dynastic stars;
    But then he must stand still, nor take a step.

    In that descriptive poem called "The Hills,"
    The prospects were too far and indistinct.
    'Tis true my critics said "A fine view, that!"
    The public scarcely cared to climb my book
    For even the finest, and the public's right;
    A tree's mere firewood, unless humanised,
    Which well the Greeks knew when they stirred its bark
    With close-pressed bosoms of subsiding nymphs,
    And made the forest-rivers garrulous
    With babble of gods. For us, we are called to mark
    A still more intimate humanity
    In this inferior nature, or ourselves
    Must fall like dead leaves trodden underfoot
    By veritable artists. Earth (shut up
    By Adam, like a fakir in a box
    Left too long buried) remained stiff and dry,
    A mere dumb corpse, till Christ the Lord came down,
    Unlocked the doors, forced open the blank eyes,
    And used His kingly chrism to straighten out
    The leathery tongue turned back into the throat;
    Since when, she lives, remembers, palpitates
    In every limb, aspires in every breath,
    Embraces infinite relations. Now
    We want no half-gods, Panomphæan Joves,
    Fauns, Naiads, Tritons, Oreads and the rest,
    To take possession of a senseless world
    To unnatural vampire-uses. See the earth,
    The body of our body, the green earth,
    Indubitably human like this flesh
    And these articulated veins through which
    Our heart drives blood. There's not a flower of spring
    That dies ere June but vaunts itself allied
    By issue and symbol, by significance
    And correspondence, to that spirit-world
    Outside the limits of our space and time,
    Whereto we are bound. Let poets give it voice
    With human meanings, else they miss the thought,
    And henceforth step down lower, stand confessed
    Instructed poorly for interpreters,
    Thrown out by an easy cowslip in the text.
    Even so my pastoral failed: it was a book
    Of surface-pictures pretty, cold, and false
    With literal transcript, the worse done, I think,
    For being not ill-done: let me set my mark
    Against such doings, and do otherwise.
    This strikes me. If the public whom we know
    Could catch me at such admissions, I should pass
    For being right modest. Yet how proud we are,
    In daring to look down upon ourselves!

    The critics say that epics have died out
    With Agamemnon and the goat-nursed gods;
    I'll not believe it. I could never deem,
    As Payne Knight did (the mythic mountaineer
    Who travelled higher than he was born to live,
    And showed sometimes the goitre in his throat
    Discoursing of an image seen through fog),
    That Homer's heroes measured twelve feet high.
    They were but men: his Helen's hair turned grey
    Like any plain Miss Smith's who wears a front;
    And Hector's infant whimpered at a plume
    As yours last Friday at a turkey-cock.
    All actual heroes are essential men,
    And all men possible heroes: every age,
    Heroic in proportions, double-faced,
    Looks backward and before, expects a morn
    And claims an epos.

    Ay, but every age
    Appears to souls who live in't (ask Carlyle)
    Most unheroic. Ours, for instance, ours:
    The thinkers scout it, and the poets abound
    Who scorn to touch it with a finger-tip:
    A pewter age, mixed metal, silver-washed;
    An age of scum, spooned off the richer past,
    An age of patches for old gaberdines,
    An age of mere transition, meaning nought
    Except that what succeeds must shame it quite
    If God please. That's wrong thinking, to my mind,
    And wrong thoughts make poor poems.

    Every age,
    Through being beheld too close, is ill-discerned
    By those who have not lived past it. We'll suppose
    Mount Athos carved, as Alexander schemed,
    To some colossal statue of a man.
    The peasants, gathering brushwood in his ear,
    Had guessed as little as the browsing goats
    Of form or feature of humanity
    Up there, in fact, had travelled five miles off
    Or ere the giant image broke on them,
    Full human profile, nose and chin distinct,
    Mouth, muttering rhythms of silence up the sky
    And fed at evening with the blood of suns;
    Grand torso, hand, that flung perpetually
    The largesse of a silver river down
    To all the country pastures. 'Tis even thus
    With times we live in, evermore too great
    To be apprehended near.

    But poets should
    Exert a double vision; should have eyes
    To see near things as comprehensively
    As if afar they took their point of sight,
    And distant things as intimately deep
    As if they touched them. Let us strive for this.
    I do distrust the poet who discerns
    No character or glory in his times,
    And trundles back his soul five hundred years,
    Past moat and drawbridge, into a castle-court,
    To sing oh, not of lizard or of toad
    Alive i' the ditch there, 'twere excusable,
    But of some black chief, half knight, half sheep-lifter,
    Some beauteous dame, half chattel and half queen,
    As dead as must be, for the greater part,
    The poems made on their chivalric bones;
    And that's no wonder: death inherits death.

    Nay, if there's room for poets in this world
    A little overgrown (I think there is),
    Their sole work is to represent the age,
    Their age, not Charlemagne's, this live, throbbing age,
    That brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires,
    And spends more passion, more heroic heat,
    Betwixt the mirrors of its drawing-rooms,
    Than Roland with his knights at Roncesvalles.
    To flinch from modern varnish, coat or flounce,
    Cry out for togas and the picturesque,
    Is fatal, foolish too. King Arthur's self
    Was commonplace to Lady Guenever;
    And Camelot to minstrels seemed as flat
    As Fleet Street to our poets.

    Never flinch,
    But still, unscrupulously epic, catch
    Upon the burning lava of a song
    The full-veined, heaving, double-breasted Age:
    That, when the next shall come, the men of that
    May touch the impress with reverent hand, and say
    "Behold, behold the paps we all have sucked!
    This bosom seems to beat still, or at least
    It sets ours beating: this is living art,
    Which thus presents and thus records true life."

    What form is best for poems? Let me think
    Of forms less, and the external. Trust the spirit,
    As sovran nature does, to make the form;
    For otherwise we only imprison spirit
    And not embody. Inward evermore
    To outward, so in life, and so in art
    Which still is life.

     Five acts to make a play.
    And why not fifteen? why not ten? or seven?
    What matter for the number of the leaves,
    Supposing the tree lives and grows? exact
    The literal unities of time and place,
    When 'tis the essence of passion to ignore
    Both time and place? Absurd. Keep up the fire,
    And leave the generous flames to shape themselves.

    'Tis true the stage requires obsequiousness
    To this or that convention; "exit" here
    And "enter" there; the points for clapping, fixed,
    Like Jacob's white-peeled rods before the rams,
    And all the close-curled imagery clipped
    In manner of their fleece at shearing-time.
    Forget to prick the galleries to the heart
    Precisely at the fourth act, culminate
    Our five pyramidal acts with one act more,
    We're lost so: Shakespeare's ghost could scarcely plead
    Against our just damnation. Stand aside;
    We'll muse for comfort that, last century,
    On this same tragic stage on which we have failed,
    A wigless Hamlet would have failed the same.

    And whosoever writes good poetry,
    Looks just to art. He does not write for you
    Or me, for London or for Edinburgh;
    He will not suffer the best critic known
    To step into his sunshine of free thought
    And self-absorbed conception and exact
    An inch-long swerving of the holy lines.
    If virtue done for popularity
    Defiles like vice, can art, for praise or hire,
    Still keep its splendour and remain pure art?
    Eschew such serfdom. What the poet writes,
    He writes: mankind accepts it if it suits,
    And that's success: if not, the poem's passed
    From hand to hand, and yet from hand to hand
    Until the unborn snatch it, crying out
    In pity on their fathers' being so dull,
    And that's success too.

    I will write no plays;
    Because the drama, less sublime in this,
    Makes lower appeals, submits more menially,
    Adopts the standard of the public taste
    To chalk its height on, wears a dog-chain round
    Its regal neck, and learns to carry and fetch
    The fashions of the day to please the day,
    Fawns close on pit and boxes, who clap hands
    Commending chiefly its docility
    And humour in stage-tricks, or else indeed
    Gets hissed at, howled at, stamped at like a dog,
    Or worse, we'll say. For dogs, unjustly kicked,
    Yell, bite at need; but if your dramatist
    (Being wronged by some five hundred nobodies
    Because their grosser brains most naturally
    Misjudge the fineness of his subtle wit)
    Shows teeth an almond's breadth, protests the length
    Of a modest phrase, "My gentle countrymen,
    "There's something in it haply of your fault,"
    Why then, besides five hundred nobodies,
    He'll have five thousand and five thousand more
    Against him, the whole public, all the hoofs
    Of King Saul's father's asses, in full drove,
    And obviously deserve it. He appealed
    To these, and why say more if they condemn,
    Than if they praise him? Weep, my Æschylus,
    But low and far, upon Sicilian shores!
    For since 'twas Athens (so I read the myth)
    Who gave commission to that fatal weight
    The tortoise, cold and hard, to drop on thee
    And crush thee, better cover thy bald head;
    She'll hear the softest hum of Hyblan bee
    Before thy loudest protestation!

    The risk's still worse upon the modern stage.
    I could not, for so little, accept success,
    Nor would I risk so much, in ease and calm,
    For manifester gains: let those who prize,
    Pursue them: I stand off. And yet, forbid
    That any irreverent fancy or conceit
    Should litter in the Drama's throne-room where
    The rulers of our art, in whose full veins
    Dynastic glories mingle, sit in strength
    And do their kingly work, conceive, command,
    And, from the imagination's crucial heat,
    Catch up their men and women all a-flame
    For action, all alive and forced to prove
    Their life by living out heart, brain, and nerve,
    Until mankind makes witness, "These be men
    As we are," and vouchsafes the greeting due
    To Imogen and Juliet sweetest kin
    On art's side.

    'Tis that, honouring to its worth
    The drama, I would fear to keep it down
    To the level of the footlights. Dies no more
    The sacrificial goat, for Bacchus slain,
    His filmed eyes fluttered by the whirling white
    Of choral vestures, troubled in his blood,
    While tragic voices that clanged keen as swords,
    Leapt high together with the altar-flame
    And made the blue air wink. The waxen mask,
    Which set the grand still front of Themis' son
    Upon the puckered visage of a player,
    The buskin, which he rose upon and moved,
    As some tall ship first conscious of the wind
    Sweeps slowly past the piers, the mouthpiece, where
    The mere man's voice with all its breaths and breaks
    Went sheathed in brass, and clashed on even heights
    Its phrasèd thunders, these things are no more,
    Which once were. And concluding, which is clear,
    The growing drama has outgrown such toys
    Of simulated stature, face, and speech,
    It also peradventure may outgrow
    The simulation of the painted scene,
    Boards, actors, prompters, gaslight, and costume,
    And take for a worthier stage the soul itself,
    Its shifting fancies and celestial lights,
    With all its grand orchestral silences
    To keep the pauses of its rhythmic sounds.

    Alas, I still see something to be done,
    And what I do falls short of what I see,
    Though I waste myself on doing. Long green days,
    Worn bare of grass and sunshine, long calm nights
    From which the silken sleeps were fretted out,
    Be witness for me, with no amateur's
    Irreverent haste and busy idleness
    I set myself to art! What then? what's done?
    What's done, at last?

    Behold, at last, a book.
    If life-blood's necessary, which it is,
    (By that blue vein athrob on Mahomet's brow,
    Each prophet-poet's book must show man's blood!)
    If life-blood's fertilising, I wrung mine
    On every leaf of this, unless the drops
    Slid heavily on one side and left it dry.
    That chances often: many a fervid man
    Writes books as cold and flat as graveyard stones
    From which the lichen's scraped; and if Saint Preux
    Had written his own letters, as he might,
    We had never wept to think of the little mole
    'Neath Julie's drooping eyelid. Passion is
    But something suffered, after all.

    While Art
    Sets action on the top of suffering:
    The artist's part is both to be and do,
    Transfixing with a special, central power
    The flat experience of the common man,
    And turning outward, with a sudden wrench,
    Half agony, half ecstasy, the thing
    He feels the inmost, never felt the less
    Because he sings it. Does a torch less burn
    For burning next reflectors of blue steel,
    That he should be the colder for his place
    'Twixt two incessant fires, his personal life's
    And that intense refraction which burns back
    Perpetually against him from the round
    Of crystal conscience he was born into
    If artist-born? O sorrowful great gift
    Conferred on poets, of a twofold life,
    When one life has been found enough for pain!
    We, staggering 'neath our burden as mere men,
    Being called to stand up straight as demigods,
    Support the intolerable strain and stress
    Of the universal, and send clearly up,
    With voices broken by the human sob,
    Our poems to find rhymes among the stars!
    But soft, a "poet" is a word soon said,
    A book's a thing soon written. Nay, indeed,
    The more the poet shall be questionable,
    The more unquestionably comes his book.
    And this of mine well, granting to myself
    Some passion in it, furrowing up the flats,
    Mere passion will not prove a volume worth
    Its gall and rags even. Bubbles round a keel
    Mean nought, excepting that the vessel moves.
    There's more than passion goes to make a man
    Or book, which is a man too.

    I am sad.
    I wonder if Pygmalion had these doubts
    And, feeling the hard marble first relent,
    Grow supple to the straining of his arms,
    And tingle through its cold to his burning lip,
    Supposed his senses mocked, supposed the toil
    Of stretching past the known and seen to reach
    The archetypal Beauty out of sight,
    Had made his heart beat fast enough for two,
    And with his own life dazed and blinded him!
    Not so; Pygmalion loved, and whoso loves
    Believes the impossible.

    But I am sad:
    I cannot thoroughly love a work of mine,
    Since none seems worthy of my thought and hope
    More highly mated. He has shot them down,
    My Phoebus Apollo, soul within my soul,
    Who judges, by the attempted, what's attained,
    And with the silver arrow from his height
    Has struck down all my works before my face
    While I said nothing. Is there aught to say?
    I called the artist but a greatened man.
    He may be childless also, like a man.

    I laboured on alone. The wind and dust
    And sun of the world beat blistering in my face;
    And hope, now for me, now against me, dragged
    My spirits onward, as some fallen balloon,
    Which, whether caught by blossoming tree or bare,
    Is torn alike. I sometimes touched my aim,
    Or seemed, and generous souls cried out "Be strong,
    Take courage; now you're on our level, now!
    The next step saves you!" I was flushed with praise,
    But, pausing just a moment to draw breath,
    I could not choose but murmur to myself
    "Is this all? all that's done? and all that's gained?
    If this then be success, 'tis dismaller
    Than any failure."

    O my God, my God,
    O supreme Artist, who as sole return
    For all the cosmic wonder of Thy work,
    Demandest of us just a word . . . a name,
    "My Father!" thou hast knowledge, only thou,
    How dreary 'tis for women to sit still,
    On winter nights by solitary fires,
    And hear the nations praising them far off,
    Too far! ay, praising our quick sense of love,
    Our very heart of passionate womanhood,
    Which could not beat so in the verse without
    Being present also in the unkissed lips
    And eyes undried because there's none to ask
    The reason they grew moist.

    To sit alone
    And think for comfort how, that very night,
    Affianced lovers, leaning face to face
    With sweet half-listenings for each other's breath,
    Are reading haply from a page of ours,
    To pause with a thrill (as if their cheeks had touched)
    When such a stanza, level to their mood,
    Seems floating their own thought out "So I feel
    For thee," "And I, for thee: this poet knows
    What everlasting love is!" how, that night,
    Some father, issuing from the misty roads
    Upon the luminous round of lamp and hearth
    And happy children, having caught up first
    The youngest there until it shrink and shriek
    To feel the cold chin prick its dimples through
    With winter from the hills, may throw i' the lap
    Of the eldest (who has learnt to drop her lids
    To hide some sweetness newer than last year's)
    Our book and cry, . . . "Ah you, you care for rhymes;
    So here be rhymes to pore on under trees,
    When April comes to let you! I've been told
    They are not idle as so many are,
    But set hearts beating pure as well as fast.
    'Tis yours, the book; I'll write your name in it,
    That so you may not lose, however lost
    In poet's lore and charming reverie,
    The thought of how your father thought of you
    In riding from the town."

    To have our books
    Appraised by love, associated with love,
    While we sit loveless! is it hard, you think?
    At least 'tis mournful. Fame, indeed, 'twas said,
    Means simply love. It was a man said that:
    And then, there's love and love: the love of all
    (To risk in turn a woman's paradox)
    Is but a small thing to the love of one.
    You bid a hungry child be satisfied
    With a heritage of many corn-fields: nay,
    He says he's hungry, he would rather have
    That little barley-cake you keep from him
    While reckoning up his harvests. So with us
    (Here, Romney, too, we fail to generalise):
    We're hungry.

    Hungry! but it's pitiful
    To wail like unweaned babes and suck our thumbs
    Because we're hungry. Who, in all this world
    (Wherein we are haply set to pray and fast
    And learn what good is by its opposite),
    Has never hungered? Woe to him who has found
    The meal enough! if Ugolino's full,
    His teeth have crunched some foul unnatural thing,
    For here satiety proves penury
    More utterly irremediable. And since
    We needs must hunger, better, for man's love,
    Than God's truth! better, for companions sweet,
    Than great convictions! let us bear our weights,
    Preferring dreary hearths to desert souls.
    Well, well! they say we're envious, we who rhyme;
    But I, because I am a woman perhaps
    And so rhyme ill, am ill at envying.
    I never envied Graham his breadth of style,
    Which gives you, with a random smutch or two
    (Near-sighted critics analyse to smutch),
    Such delicate perspectives of full life:
    Nor Belmore, for the unity of aim
    To which he cuts his cedarn poems, fine
    As sketchers do their pencils: nor Mark Gage,
    For that caressing colour and trancing tone
    Whereby you're swept away and melted in
    The sensual element, which with a back wave
    Restores you to the level of pure souls
    And leaves you with Plotinus. None of these,
    For native gifts or popular applause,
    I've envied; but for this, that when by chance
    Says some one, "There goes Belmore, a great man!
    He leaves clean work behind him, and requires
    No sweeper up of the chips," . . . a girl I know,
    Who answers nothing, save with her brown eyes,
    Smiles unaware as if a guardian saint
    Smiled in her: for this, too, that Gage comes home
    And lays his last book's prodigal review
    Upon his mother's knee, where, years ago,
    He laid his childish spelling-book and learned
    To chirp and peck the letters from her mouth,
    As young birds must. "Well done," she murmured then;
    She will not say it now more wonderingly:
    And yet the last "Well done" will touch him more,
    As catching up to-day and yesterday
    In a perfect chord of love: and so, Mark Gage,
    I envy you your mother! and you, Graham,
    Because you have a wife who loves you so,
    She half forgets, at moments, to be proud
    Of being Graham's wife, until a friend observes,
    "The boy here has his father's massive brow
    Done small in wax . . . if we push back the curls."
    Who loves me? Dearest father, mother sweet,
    I speak the names out sometimes by myself,
    And make the silence shiver. They sound strange,
    As Hindostanee to an Ind-born man
    Accustomed many years to English speech;
    Or lovely poet-words grown obsolete,
    Which will not leave off singing. Up in heaven
    I have my father, with my mother's face
    Beside him in a blotch of heavenly light;
    No more for earth's familiar, household use,
    No more. The best verse written by this hand
    Can never reach them where they sit, to seem
    Well done to them. Death quite unfellows us,
    Sets dreadful odds betwixt the live and dead,
    And makes us part as those at Babel did
    Through sudden ignorance of a common tongue.
    A living Cæsar would not dare to play
    At bowls with such as my dead father is.

    And yet this may be less so than appears,
    This change and separation. Sparrows five
    For just two farthings, and God cares for each.
    If God is not too great for little cares,
    Is any creature, because gone to God?
    I've seen some men, veracious, nowise mad,
    Who have thought or dreamed, declared and testified
    They heard the Dead a-ticking like a clock
    Which strikes the hours of the eternities,
    Beside them, with their natural ears, and known
    That human spirits feel the human way
    And hate the unreasoning awe which waves them off
    From possible communion. It may be.
    At least, earth separates as well as heaven.
    For instance, I have not seen Romney Leigh
    Full eighteen months . . . add six, you get two years.
    They say he's very busy with good works,
    Has parted Leigh Hall into almshouses.
    He made one day an almshouse of his heart,
    Which ever since is loose upon the latch
    For those who pull the string. I never did.

    It always makes me sad to go abroad,
    And now I'm sadder that I went to-night
    Among the lights and talkers at Lord Howe's.
    His wife is gracious, with her glossy braids,
    And even voice, and gorgeous eyeballs, calm
    As her other jewels. If she's somewhat cold,
    Who wonders, when her blood has stood so long
    In the ducal reservoir she calls her line
    By no means arrogantly? she's not proud;
    Not prouder than the swan is of the lake
    He has always swum in; 'tis her element;
    And so she takes it with a natural grace,
    Ignoring tadpoles. She just knows perhaps
    There are who travel without outriders,
    Which isn't her fault. Ah, to watch her face,
    When good Lord Howe expounds his theories
    Of social justice and equality!
    'Tis curious, what a tender, tolerant bend
    Her neck takes: for she loves him, likes his talk,
    "Such clever talk that dear, odd Algernon!"
    She listens on, exactly as if he talked
    Some Scandinavian myth of Lemures,
    Too pretty to dispute, and too absurd.
    She's gracious to me as her husband's friend,
    And would be gracious were I not a Leigh,
    Being used to smile just so, without her eyes,
    On Joseph Strangways the Leeds mesmerist,
    And Delia Dobbs the lecturer from "the States"
    Upon the "Woman's question." Then, for him,
    I like him; he's my friend. And all the rooms
    Were full of crinkling silks that swept about
    The fine dust of most subtle courtesies.
    What then? why then, we come home to be sad.

    How lovely, One I love not looked to-night!
    She's very pretty, Lady Waldemar.
    Her maid must use both hands to twist that coil
    Of tresses, then be careful lest the rich
    Bronze rounds should slip: she missed, though, a grey hair,
    A single one, I saw it; otherwise
    The woman looked immortal. How they told,
    Those alabaster shoulders and bare breasts,
    On which the pearls, drowned out of sight in milk,
    Were lost, excepting for the ruby-clasp!
    They split the amaranth velvet-bodice down
    To the waist or nearly, with the audacious press
    Of full-breathed beauty. If the heart within
    Were half as white! but, if it were, perhaps
    The breast were closer covered and the sight
    Less aspectable by half, too.

    I heard
    The young man with the German student's look
    A sharp face, like a knife in a cleft stick,
    Which shot up straight against the parting line
    So equally dividing the long hair,
    Say softly to his neighbour (thirty-five
    And mediæval), "Look that way, Sir Blaise.
    She's Lady Waldemar to the left in red
    Whom Romney Leigh, our ablest man just now,
    Is soon about to marry."

    Then replied
    Sir Blaise Delorme, with quiet, priestlike voice,
    Too used to syllable damnations round
    To make a natural emphasis worth while:
    "Is Leigh your ablest man? the same, I think,
    Once jilted by a recreant pretty maid
    Adopted from the people? Now, in change,
    He seems to have plucked a flower from the other side
    Of the social hedge."

    "A flower, a flower," exclaimed
    My German student, his own eyes full-blown
    Bent on her. He was twenty, certainly.

    Sir Blaise resumed with gentle arrogance,
    As if he had dropped his alms into a hat
    And gained the right to counsel, "My young friend,
    I doubt your ablest man's ability
    To get the least good or help meet for him,
    For pagan phalanstery or Christian home,
    From such a flowery creature."

    My student murmured rapt, "Mark how she stirs!
    Just waves her head, as if a flower indeed,
    Touched far off by the vain breath of our talk."

    At which that bilious Grimwald (he who writes
    For the Renovator), who had seemed absorbed
    Upon the table-book of autographs
    (I dare say mentally he crunched the bones
    Of all those writers, wishing them alive
    To feel his tooth in earnest), turned short round
    With low carnivorous laugh, "A flower, of course!
    She neither sews nor spins, and takes no thought
    Of her garments . . . falling off."

    The student flinched;
    Sir Blaise, the same; then both, drawing back their chairs
    As if they spied black-beetles on the floor,
    Pursued their talk, without a word being thrown
    To the critic.

    Good Sir Blaise's brow is high
    And noticeably narrow: a strong wind,
    You fancy, might unroof him suddenly,
    And blow that great top attic off his head
    So piled with feudal relics. You admire
    His nose in profile, though you miss his chin;
    But, though you miss his chin, you seldom miss
    His ebon cross worn innermostly (carved
    For penance by a saintly Styrian monk
    Whose flesh was too much with him), slipping through
    Some unaware unbuttoned casualty
    Of the under-waistcoat. With an absent air
    Sir Blaise sat fingering it and speaking low,
    While I, upon the sofa, heard it all.

    "My dear young friend, if we could bear our eyes,
    Like blessedest Saint Lucy, on a plate,
    They would not trick us into choosing wives,
    As doublets, by the colour. Otherwise
    Our fathers chose, and therefore, when they had hung
    Their household keys about a lady's waist,
    The sense of duty gave her dignity;
    She kept her bosom holy to her babes,
    And, if a moralist reproved her dress,
    'Twas 'Too much starch!' and not 'Too little lawn!'"

    "Now, pshaw!" returned the other in a heat,
    A little fretted by being called "young friend,"
    Or so I took it, "for Saint Lucy's sake,
    If she's the saint to swear by, let us leave
    Our fathers, plagued enough about our sons!"
    (He stroked his beardless chin) "yes, plagued, sir, plagued:
    The future generations lie on us
    As heavy as the nightmare of a seer;
    Our meat and drink grow painful prophecy:
    I ask you, have we leisure, if we liked,
    To hollow out our weary hands to keep
    Your intermittent rushlight of the past
    From draughts in lobbies? Prejudice of sex
    And marriage-law . . . the socket drops them through
    While we two speak, however may protest
    Some over-delicate nostrils like your own,
    'Gainst odours thence arising."

    "You are young,"
    Sir Blaise objected.

     "If I am," he said
    With fire, "though somewhat less so than I seem,
    The young run on before, and see the thing
    That's coming. Reverence for the young, I cry.
    In that new church for which the world's near ripe,
    You'll have the younger in the Elder's chair,
    Presiding with his ivory front of hope
    O'er foreheads clawed by cruel carrion-birds
    Of life's experience."

    "Pray your blessing, sir,"
    Sir Blaise replied good-humouredly, "I plucked
    A silver hair this morning from my beard,
    Which left me your inferior. Would I were
    Eighteen and worthy to admonish you!
    If young men of your order run before
    To see such sights as sexual prejudice
    And marriage-law dissolved, in plainer words,
    A general concubinage expressed
    In a universal pruriency, the thing
    Is scarce worth running fast for, and you'd gain
    By loitering with your elders."

    "Ah," he said,
    "Who, getting to the top of Pisgah-hill,
    Can talk with one at bottom of the view,
    To make it comprehensible? Why, Leigh
    Himself, although our ablest man, I said,
    Is scarce advanced to see as far as this,
    Which some are: he takes up imperfectly
    The social question by one handle leaves
    The rest to trail. A Christian socialist
    Is Romney Leigh, you understand."

    "Not I.
    I disbelieve in Christian-pagans, much
    As you in women-fishes. If we mix
    Two colours, we lose both, and make a third
    Distinct from either. Mark you! to mistake
    A colour is the sign of a sick brain,
    And mine, I thank the saints, is clear and cool:
    A neutral tint is here impossible.
    The church, and by the church I mean, of course,
    The catholic, apostolic, mother-church,
    Draws lines as plain and straight as her own walls,
    Inside of which are Christians, obviously.
    And outside . . . dogs."

    "We thank you. Well I know
    The ancient mother-church would fain still bite,
    For all her toothless gums, as Leigh himself
    Would fain be a Christian still, for all his wit.
    Pass that; you two may settle it, for me.
    You're slow in England. In a month I learnt
    At Göttingen enough philosophy
    To stock your English schools for fifty years;
    Pass that, too. Here alone, I stop you short,
    Supposing a true man like Leigh could stand
    Unequal in the stature of his life
    To the height of his opinions. Choose a wife
    Because of a smooth skin? not he, not he!
    He'd rail at Venus' self for creaking shoes,
    Unless she walked his way of righteousness:
    And if he takes a Venus Meretrix
    (No imputation on the lady there),
    Be sure that, by some sleight of Christian art,
    He has metamorphosed and converted her
    To a Blessed Virgin."

    "Soft!" Sir Blaise drew breath
    As if it hurt him, "Soft! no blasphemy,
    I pray you!"

    "The first Christians did the thing:
    Why not the last?" asked he of Göttingen,
    With just that shade of sneering on the lip
    Compensates for the lagging of the beard,
    "And so the case is. If that fairest fair
    Is talked of as the future wife of Leigh,
    She's talked of too, at least as certainly,
    As Leigh's disciple. You may find her name
    On all his missions and commissions, schools,
    Asylums, hospitals, he had her down,
    With other ladies whom her starry lead
    Persuaded from their spheres, to his country-place
    In Shropshire, to the famed phalanstery
    At Leigh Hall, christianised from Fourier's own
    (In which he has planted out his sapling stocks
    Of knowledge into social nurseries),
    And there, they say, she has tarried half a week,
    And milked the cows, and churned, and pressed the curd,
    And said 'my sister' to the lowest drab
    Of all the assembled castaways; such girls!
    Ay, sided with them at the washing-tub
    Conceive, Sir Blaise, those naked perfect arms,
    Round glittering arms, plunged elbow-deep in suds,
    Like wild swans hid in lilies all a-shake."

    Lord Howe came up. "What, talking poetry
    So near the image of the unfavouring Muse?
    That's you, Miss Leigh: I've watched you half an hour
    Precisely as I watched the statue called
    A Pallas in the Vatican; you mind
    The face, Sir Blaise? intensely calm and sad,
    As wisdom cut it off from fellowship,
    But that spoke louder. Not a word from you!
    And these two gentlemen were bold, I marked,
    And unabashed by even your silence."

    Said I, "my dear Lord Howe, you shall not speak
    To a printing woman who has lost her place
    (The sweet safe corner of the household fire
    Behind the heads of children), compliments,
    As if she were a woman. We who have clipt
    The curls before our eyes may see at least
    As plain as men do. Speak out, man to man;
    No compliments, beseech you."

    "Friend to friend,
    Let that be. We are sad to-night, I saw
    ( Good night, Sir Blaise! ah, Smith he has slipped away),
    I saw you across the room, and stayed, Miss Leigh,
    To keep a crowd of lion-hunters off,
    With faces toward your jungle. There were three;
    A spacious lady, five feet ten and fat,
    Who has the devil in her (and there's room)
    For walking to and fro upon the earth,
    From Chipewa to China; she requires
    Your autograph upon a tinted leaf
    'Twixt Queen Pomare's and Emperor Soulouque's.
    Pray give it; she has energies, though fat:
    For me, I'd rather see a rick on fire
    Than such a woman angry. Then a youth
    Fresh from the backwoods, green as the underboughs,
    Asks modestly, Miss Leigh, to kiss your shoe,
    And adds, he has an epic in twelve parts,
    Which when you've read, you'll do it for his boot:
    All which I saved you, and absorb next week
    Both manuscript and man, because a lord
    Is still more potent than a poetess
    With any extreme republican. Ah, ah,
    You smile, at last, then."

    "Thank you."

    "Leave the smile.
    I'll lose the thanks for't, ay, and throw you in
    My transatlantic girl, with golden eyes,
    That draw you to her splendid whiteness as
    The pistil of a water-lily draws,
    Adust with gold. Those girls across the sea
    Are tyrannously pretty, and I swore
    (She seemed to me an innocent, frank girl)
    To bring her to you for a woman's kiss,
    Not now, but on some other day or week:
    We'll call it perjury; I give her up."

    "No, bring her."

    "Now," said he, "you make it hard
    To touch such goodness with a grimy palm.
    I thought to tease you well, and fret you cross,
    And steel myself, when rightly vexed with you,
    For telling you a thing to tease you more."

    "Of Romney?"

    "No, no; nothing worse," he cried,
    "Of Romney Leigh than what is buzzed about,
    That he is taken in an eye-trap too,
    Like many half as wise. The thing I mean
    Refers to you, not him."

    "Refers to me."
    He echoed, "Me! You sound it like a stone
    Dropped down a dry well very listlessly
    By one who never thinks about the toad
    Alive at the bottom. Presently perhaps
    You'll sound your 'me' more proudly till I shrink."

    "Lord Howe's the toad, then, in this question?"

    We'll take it graver. Give me sofa-room,
    And quiet hearing. You know Eglinton,
    John Eglinton, of Eglinton in Kent?"

    "Is he the toad? he's rather like the snail,
    Known chiefly for the house upon his back:
    Divide the man and house you kill the man;
    That's Eglinton of Eglinton, Lord Howe."

    He answered grave. "A reputable man,
    An excellent landlord of the olden stamp,
    If somewhat slack in new philanthropies,
    Who keeps his birthdays with a tenants' dance,
    Is hard upon them when they miss the church
    Or hold their children back from catechism,
    But not ungentle when the agèd poor
    Pick sticks at hedge-sides: nay, I've heard him say
    'The old dame has a twinge because she stoops;
    That's punishment enough for felony.'"

    "O tender-hearted landlord! may I take
    My long lease with him, when the time arrives
    For gathering winter-faggots!"

    "He likes art,
    Buys books and pictures . . . of a certain kind;
    Neglects no patent duty; a good son" . . .

    "To a most obedient mother. Born to wear
    His father's shoes, he wears her husband's too:
    Indeed I've heard it's touching. Dear Lord Howe,
    You shall not praise me so against your heart,
    When I'm at worst for praise and faggots."

    Less bitter with me, for . . . in short," he said,
    "I have a letter, which he urged me so
    To bring you . . . I could scarcely choose but yield;
    Insisting that a new love, passing through
    The hand of an old friendship, caught from it
    Some reconciling odour."

    "Love, you say?
    My lord, I cannot love: I only find
    The rhyme for love, and that's not love, my lord.
    Take back your letter."

    "Pause: you'll read it first?"

    "I will not read it: it is stereotyped;
    The same he wrote to, anybody's name,
    Anne Blythe the actress, when she died so true,
    A duchess fainted in a private box:
    Pauline the dancer, after the great pas
    In which her little feet winked overhead
    Like other fire-flies, and amazed the pit:
    Or Baldinacci, when her F in alt
    Had touched the silver tops of heaven itself
    With such a pungent spirit-dart, the Queen
    Laid softly, each to each, her white-gloved palms,
    And sighed for joy: or else (I thank your friend)
    Aurora Leigh, when some indifferent rhymes,
    Like those the boys sang round the holy ox
    On Memphis-highway, chance perhaps to set
    Our Apis-public lowing. Oh, he wants,
    Instead of any worthy wife at home,
    A star upon his stage of Eglinton?
    Advise him that he is not overshrewd
    In being so little modest: a dropped star
    Makes bitter waters, says a Book I've read,
    And there's his unread letter."

    "My dear friend,"
    Lord Howe began . . .

     In haste I tore the phrase.
    "You mean your friend of Eglinton, or me?"

    "I mean you, you," he answered with some fire.
    "A happy life means prudent compromise;
    The tare runs through the farmer's garnered sheaves,
    And though the gleaner's apron holds pure wheat
    We count her poorer. Tare with wheat, we cry,
    And good with drawbacks. You, you love your art,
    And, certain of vocation, set your soul
    On utterance. Only, in this world we have made
    (They say God made it first, but if He did
    'Twas so long since, and, since, we have spoiled it so,
    He scarce would know it, if He looked this way,
    From hells we preach of, with the flames blown out),
    In this bad, twisted, topsy-turvy world
    Where all the heaviest wrongs get uppermost,
    In this uneven, unfostering England here,
    Where ledger-strokes and sword-strokes count indeed,
    But soul-strokes merely tell upon the flesh
    They strike from, it is hard to stand for art,
    Unless some golden tripod from the sea
    Be fished up, by Apollo's divine chance,
    To throne such feet as yours, my prophetess,
    At Delphi. Think, the god comes down as fierce
    As twenty bloodhounds, shakes you, strangles you,
    Until the oracular shriek shall ooze in froth!
    At best 'tis not all ease, at worst too hard:
    A place to stand on is a 'vantage gained,
    And here's your tripod. To be plain, dear friend,
    You're poor, except in what you richly give;
    You labour for your own bread painfully
    Or ere you pour our wine. For art's sake, pause."

    I answered slow, as some wayfaring man,
    Who feels himself at night too far from home,
    Makes steadfast face against the bitter wind.
    "Is art so less a thing than virtue is,
    That artists first must cater for their ease
    Or ever they make issue past themselves
    To generous use? Alas, and is it so
    That we, who would be somewhat clean, must sweep
    Our ways as well as walk them, and no friend
    Confirm us nobly, 'Leave results to God,
    But you, be clean?' What! 'prudent compromise
    Makes acceptable life,' you say instead,
    You, you, Lord Howe? in things indifferent, well.
    For instance, compromise the wheaten bread
    For rye, the meat for lentils, silk for serge,
    And sleep on down, if needs, for sleep on straw;
    But there, end compromise. I will not bate
    One artist-dream on straw or down, my lord,
    Nor pinch my liberal soul, though I be poor,
    Nor cease to love high, though I live thus low."

    So speaking, with less anger in my voice
    Than sorrow, I rose quickly to depart;
    While he, thrown back upon the noble shame
    Of such high-stumbling natures, murmured words,
    The right words after wrong ones. Ah, the man
    Is worthy, but so given to entertain
    Impossible plans of superhuman life,
    He sets his virtues on so raised a shelf,
    To keep them at the grand millennial height,
    He has to mount a stool to get at them;
    And, meantime, lives on quite the common way,
    With everybody's morals.

    As we passed,
    Lord Howe insisting that his friendly arm
    Should oar me across the sparkling brawling stream
    Which swept from room to room, we fell at once
    On Lady Waldemar. "Miss Leigh," she said,
    And gave me such a smile, so cold and bright,
    As if she tried it in a 'tiring glass
    And liked it, "all to-night I've strained at you
    As babes at baubles held up out of reach
    By spiteful nurses ('Never snatch,' they say),
    And there you sat, most perfectly shut in
    By good Sir Blaise and clever Mister Smith
    And then our dear Lord Howe! at last indeed
    I almost snatched. I have a world to speak
    About your cousin's place in Shropshire, where
    I've been to see his work . . . our work, you heard
    I went? . . . and of a letter yesterday,
    In which if I should read a page or two
    You might feel interest, though you're locked of course
    In literary toil. You'll like to hear
    Your last book lies at the phalanstery,
    As judged innocuous for the elder girls
    And younger women who still care for books.
    We all must read, you see, before we live,
    Till slowly the ineffable light comes up
    And, as it deepens, drowns the written word,
    So said your cousin, while we stood and felt
    A sunset from his favourite beech-tree seat.
    He might have been a poet if he would,
    But then he saw the higher thing at once
    And climbed to it. I think he looks well now,
    Has quite got over that unfortunate . . .
    Ah, ah . . . I know it moved you. Tender-heart!
    You took a liking to the wretched girl.
    Perhaps you thought the marriage suitable,
    Who knows? a poet hankers for romance,
    And so on. As for Romney Leigh, 'tis sure
    He never loved her, never. By the way,
    You have not heard of her . . .? quite out of sight,
    And out of saving? lost in every sense?"

    She might have gone on talking half an hour
    And I stood still, and cold, and pale, I think,
    As a garden-statue a child pelts with snow
    For pretty pastime. Every now and then
    I put in "yes" or "no," I scarce knew why;
    The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls,
    And so I answered. Till Lord Howe broke in:
    "What penance takes the wretch who interrupts
    The talk of charming women? I, at last,
    Must brave it. Pardon, Lady Waldemar,
    The lady on my arm is tired, unwell,
    And loyally I've promised she shall say
    No harder word this evening than . . .good-night;
    The rest her face speaks for her." Then we went.

    And I breathe large at home. I drop my cloak,
    Unclasp my girdle, loose the band that ties
    My hair . . . now could I but unloose my soul!
    We are sepulchred alive in this close world,
    And want more room.

    The charming woman there
    This reckoning up and writing down her talk
    Affects me singularly. How she talked
    To pain me! woman's spite. You wear steel-mail:
    A woman takes a housewife from her breast
    And plucks the delicatest needle out
    As 'twere a rose, and pricks you carefully
    'Neath nails, 'neath eyelids, in your nostrils, say,
    A beast would roar so tortured, but a man,
    A human creature, must not, shall not flinch,
    No, not for shame.

    What vexes, after all,
    Is just that such as she, with such as I,
    Knows how to vex. Sweet heaven, she takes me up
    As if she had fingered me and dog-eared me
    And spelled me by the fireside half a life!
    She knows my turns, my feeble points. What then?
    The knowledge of a thing implies the thing;
    Of course, she found that in me, she saw that,
    Her pencil underscored this for a fault,
    And I, still ignorant. Shut the book up, close!
    And crush that beetle in the leaves.

    O heart,
    At last we shall grow hard too, like the rest,
    And call it self-defence because we are soft.

    And after all, now . . . why should I be pained
    That Romney Leigh, my cousin, should espouse
    This Lady Waldemar? And, say, she held
    Her newly-blossomed gladness in my face, . . .
    'Twas natural surely, if not generous,
    Considering how, when winter held her fast,
    I helped the frost with mine, and pained her more
    Than she pains me. Pains me! but wherefore pained?
    'Tis clear my cousin Romney wants a wife,
    So, good! The man's need of the woman, here,
    Is greater than the woman's of the man,
    And easier served; for where the man discerns
    A sex (ah, ah, the man can generalise,
    Said he), we see but one, ideally
    And really: where we yearn to lose ourselves
    And melt like white pearls in another's wine,
    He seeks to double himself by what he loves,
    And make his drink more costly by our pearls.
    At board, at bed, at work and holiday,
    It is not good for man to be alone,
    And that's his way of thinking, first and last,
    And thus my cousin Romney wants a wife.
    But then my cousin sets his dignity
    On personal virtue. If he understands
    By love, like others, self-aggrandisement,
    It is that he may verily be great
    By doing rightly and kindly. Once he thought,
    For charitable ends set duly forth
    In Heaven's white judgment-book, to marry . . . ah,
    We'll call her name Aurora Leigh, although
    She's changed since then! and once, for social ends,
    Poor Marian Erle, my sister Marian Erle,
    My woodland sister, sweet maid Marian,
    Whose memory moans on in me like the wind
    Through ill-shut casements, making me more sad
    Than ever I find reasons for. Alas,
    Poor pretty plaintive face, embodied ghost!
    He finds it easy then, to clap thee off
    From pulling at his sleeve and book and pen,
    He locks thee out at night into the cold
    Away from butting with thy horny eyes
    Against his crystal dreams, that now he's strong
    To love anew? that Lady Waldemar
    Succeeds my Marian?

    After all, why not?
    He loved not Marian, more than once he loved
    Aurora. If he loves at last that Third,
    Albeit she prove as slippery as spilt oil
    On marble floors, I will not augur him
    Ill-luck for that. Good love, howe'er ill-placed,
    Is better for a man's soul in the end,
    That if he loved ill what deserves love well.
    A pagan, kissing for a step of Pan
    The wild-goat's hoof-print on the loamy down,
    Exceeds our modern thinker who turns back
    The strata . . . granite, limestone, coal, and clay,
    Concluding coldly with "Here's law! where's God?"

    And then at worst, if Romney loves her not,
    At worst if he's incapable of love,
    Which may be then indeed, for such a man
    Incapable of love, she's good enough;
    For she, at worst too, is a woman still
    And loves him . . . as the sort of woman can.

    My loose long hair began to burn and creep,
    Alive to the very ends, about my knees:
    I swept it backward as the wind sweeps flame,
    With the passion of my hands. Ah, Romney laughed
    One day . . . (how full the memories come up!)
    " Your Florence fire-flies live on in your hair,"
    He said, "it gleams so." Well, I wrung them out,
    My fire-flies; made a knot as hard as life
    Of those loose, soft, impracticable curls,
    And then sat down and thought . . . "She shall not think
    Her thought of me," and drew my desk and wrote.

    "Dear Lady Waldemar, I could not speak
    With people round me, nor can sleep to-night
    And not speak, after the great news I heard
    Of you and of my cousin. May you be
    Most happy; and the good he meant the world
    Replenish his own life. Say what I say,
    And let my word be sweeter for your mouth,
    As you are you . . . I only Aurora Leigh."
    That's quiet, guarded: though she hold it up
    Against the light, she'll not see through it more
    Than lies there to be seen. So much for pride;
    And now for peace, a little. Let me stop
    All writing back . . . "Sweet thanks, my sweetest friend,
    You've made more joyful my great joy itself."
    No, that's too simple! she would twist it thus,
    "My joy would still be as sweet as thyme in drawers,
    However shut up in the dark and dry;
    But violets, aired and dewed by love like yours,
    Out-smell all thyme: we keep that in our clothes,
    But drop the other down our bosoms till
    They smell like " . . . ah, I see her writing back
    Just so. She'll make a nosegay of her words,
    And tie it with blue ribbons at the end
    To suit a poet; pshaw!

    And then we'll have
    The call to church, the broken, sad, bad dream
    Dreamed out at last, the marriage-vow complete
    With the marriage breakfast; praying in white gloves,
    Drawn off in haste for drinking pagan toasts
    In somewhat stronger wine than any sipped
    By gods since Bacchus had his way with grapes.

    A postscript stops all that and rescues me.
    "You need not write. I have been overworked,
    And think of leaving London, England even,
    And hastening to get nearer to the sun
    Where men sleep better. So, adieu." I fold
    And seal, and now I'm out of all the coil;
    I breathe now, I spring upward like a branch
    The ten-years school-boy with a crooked stick
    May pull down to his level in search of nuts,
    But cannot hold a moment. How we twang
    Back on the blue sky, and assert our height,
    While he stares after! Now, the wonder seems
    That I could wrong myself by such a doubt.
    We poets always have uneasy hearts,
    Because our hearts, large-rounded as the globe,
    Can turn but one side to the sun at once.
    We are used to dip our artist-hands in gall
    And potash, trying potentialities
    Of alternated colour, till at last
    We get confused, and wonder for our skin
    How nature tinged it first. Well here's the true
    Good flesh-colour; I recognise my hand,
    Which Romney Leigh may clasp as just a friend's,
    And keep his clean.

    And now, my Italy.
    Alas, if we could ride with naked souls
    And make no noise and pay no price at all,
    I would have seen thee sooner, Italy,
    For still I have heard thee crying through my life,
    Thou piercing silence of ecstatic graves,
    Men call that name!

    But even a witch to-day
    Must melt down golden pieces in the nard
    Wherewith to anoint her broomstick ere she rides;
    And poets evermore are scant of gold,
    And if they find a piece behind the door
    It turns by sunset to a withered leaf.
    The Devil himself scarce trusts his patented
    Gold-making art to any who make rhymes,
    But culls his Faustus from philosophers
    And not from poets. "Leave my Job," said God;
    And so the Devil leaves him without pence,
    And poverty proves plainly special grace.
    In these new, just, administrative times
    Men clamour for an order of merit: why?
    Here's black bread on the table and no wine!

    At least I am a poet in being poor,
    Thank God. I wonder if the manuscript
    Of my long poem, if 'twere sold outright,
    Would fetch enough to buy me shoes to go
    Afoot (thrown in, the necessary patch
    For the other side the Alps)? It cannot be.
    I fear that I must sell this residue
    Of my father's books, although the Elzevirs
    Have fly-leaves overwritten by his hand
    In faded notes as thick and fine and brown
    As cobwebs on a tawny monument
    Of the old Greeks conferenda hæc cum his
    Corruptè citat lege potiùs,
    And so on, in the scholar's regal way
    Of giving judgment on the parts of speech,
    As if he sat on all twelve thrones up-piled,
    Arraigning Israel. Ay, but books and notes
    Must go together. And this Proclus too,
    In these dear quaint contracted Grecian types,
    Fantastically crumpled like his thoughts
    Which would not seem too plain; you go round twice
    For one step forward, then you take it back
    Because you're somewhat giddy; there's the rule
    For Proclus. Ah, I stained this middle leaf
    With pressing in't my Florence iris-bell,
    Long stalk and all: my father chided me
    For that stain of blue blood, I recollect
    The peevish turn his voice took, "Silly girls,
    Who plant their flowers in our philosophy
    To make it fine, and only spoil the book!
    No more of it, Aurora." Yes no more!
    Ah, blame of love, that's sweeter than all praise
    Of those who love not! 'tis so lost to me,
    I cannot, in such beggared life, afford
    To lose my Proclus, not for Florence even.

    The kissing Judas, Wolff, shall go instead,
    Who builds us such a royal book as this
    To honour a chief-poet, folio-built,
    And writes above "The house of Nobody!"
    Who floats in cream, as rich as any sucked
    From Juno's breasts, the broad Homeric lines,
    And, while with their spondaic prodigious mouths
    They lap the lucent margins as babe-gods,
    Proclaims them bastards. Wolff's an atheist:
    And if the Iliad fell out, as he says,
    By mere fortuitous concourse of old songs,
    Conclude as much too for the universe.

    That Wolff, those Platos: sweep the upper shelves
    As clean as this, and so I am almost rich,
    Which means, not forced to think of being poor
    In sight of ends. To-morrow: no delay.
    I'll wait in Paris till good Carrington
    Dispose of such and, having chaffered for
    My book's price with the publisher, direct
    All proceeds to me. Just a line to ask
    His help.

    And now I come, my Italy,
    My own hills! Are you 'ware of me, my hills,
    How I burn toward you? do you feel to-night
    The urgency and yearning of my soul,
    As sleeping mothers feel the sucking babe
    And smile? Nay, not so much as when in heat
    Vain lightnings catch at your inviolate tops
    And tremble while ye are steadfast. Still ye go
    Your own determined, calm, indifferent way
    Toward sunrise, shade by shade, and light by light,
    Of all the grand progression nought left out,
    As if God verily made you for yourselves
    And would not interrupt your life with ours.


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Add Aurora Leigh: Book 5 to your library.

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