Aurora Leigh: Book 7


    "The woman's motive? shall we daub ourselves
    With finding roots for nettles? 'tis soft clay
    And easily explored. She had the means,
    The moneys, by the lady's liberal grace,
    In trust for that Australian scheme and me,
    Which so, that she might clutch with both her hands
    And chink to her naughty uses undisturbed,
    She served me (after all it was not strange,
    'Twas only what my mother would have done)
    A motherly, right damnable good turn.

    "Well, after. There are nettles everywhere,
    But smooth green grasses are more common still;
    The blue of heaven is larger than the cloud;
    A miller's wife at Clichy took me in
    And spent her pity on me, made me calm
    And merely very reasonably sad.
    She found me a servant's place in Paris, where
    I tried to take the cast-off life again,
    And stood as quiet as a beaten ass
    Who, having fallen through overloads, stands up
    To let them charge him with another pack.

    "A few months, so. My mistress, young and light,
    Was easy with me, less for kindness than
    Because she led, herself, an easy time
    Betwixt her lover and her looking-glass,
    Scarce knowing which way she was praised the most.
    She felt so pretty and so pleased all day
    She could not take the trouble to be cross,
    But sometimes, as I stooped to tie her shoe,
    Would tap me softly with her slender foot
    Still restless with the last night's dancing in't,
    And say 'Fie, pale-face! are you English girls
    'All grave and silent? mass-book still, and Lent?
    'And first-communion pallor on your cheeks,
    'Worn past the time for't? little fool, be gay!'
    At which she vanished like a fairy, through
    A gap of silver laughter.

    "Came an hour
    When all went otherwise. She did not speak,
    But clenched her brows, and clipped me with her eyes
    As if a viper with a pair of tongs,
    Too far for any touch, yet near enough
    To view the writhing creature, then at last,
    'Stand still there, in the holy Virgin's name,
    'Thou Marian; thou'rt no reputable girl,
    'Although sufficient dull for twenty saints!
    'I think thou mock'st me and my house,' she said;
    'Confess thou'lt be a mother in a month,
    'Thou mask of saintship.'

    "Could I answer her?
    The light broke in so. It meant that then, that?
    I had not thought of that, in all my thoughts,
    Through all the cold, numb aching of my brow,
    Through all the heaving of impatient life
    Which threw me on death at intervals, through all
    The upbreak of the fountains of my heart
    The rains had swelled too large: it could mean that?
    Did God make mothers out of victims, then,
    And set such pure amens to hideous deeds?
    Why not? He overblows an ugly grave
    With violets which blossom in the spring.
    And I could be a mother in a month?
    I hope it was not wicked to be glad.
    I lifted up my voice and wept, and laughed,
    To heaven, not her, until it tore my throat.
    'Confess, confess!' what was there to confess,
    Except man's cruelty, except my wrong?
    Except this anguish, or this ecstasy?
    This shame or glory? The light woman there
    Was small to take it in: an acorn-cup
    Would take the sea in sooner.

    "'Good,' she cried;
    'Unmarried and a mother, and she laughs!
    'These unchaste girls are always impudent.
    'Get out, intriguer! leave my house and trot.
    'I wonder you should look me in the face,
    'With such a filthy secret.'

    "Then I rolled
    My scanty bundle up and went my way,
    Washed white with weeping, shuddering head and foot
    With blind hysteric passion, staggering forth
    Beyond those doors. 'Twas natural of course
    She should not ask me where I meant to sleep;
    I might sleep well beneath the heavy Seine,
    Like others of my sort; the bed was laid
    For us. But any woman, womanly,
    Had thought of him who should be in a month,
    The sinless babe that should be in a month,
    And if by chance he might be warmer housed
    Than underneath such dreary dripping eaves."

    I broke on Marian there. "Yet she herself,
    A wife, I think, had scandals of her own,
    A lover not her husband."

    "Ay," she said,
    "But gold and meal are measured otherwise;
    I learnt so much at school," said Marian Erle.

    "O crooked world," I cried, "ridiculous
    If not so lamentable! 'Tis the way
    With these light women of a thrifty vice,
    My Marian, always hard upon the rent
    In any sister's virtue! while they keep
    Their own so darned and patched with perfidy,
    That, though a rag itself, it looks as well
    Across a street, in balcony or coach,
    As any perfect stuff might. For my part,
    I'd rather take the wind-side of the stews
    Than touch such women with my finger-end!
    They top the poor street-walker by their lie
    And look the better for being so much worse:
    The devil's most devilish when respectable.
    But you, dear, and your story."

    "All the rest
    Is here," she said, and signed upon the child.
    "I found a mistress-sempstress who was kind
    And let me sew in peace among her girls.
    And what was better than to draw the threads
    All day and half the night for him and him?
    And so I lived for him, and so he lives,
    And so I know, by this time, God lives too."

    She smiled beyond the sun and ended so,
    And all my soul rose up to take her part
    Against the world's successes, virtues, fames.
    "Come with me, sweetest sister," I returned,
    "And sit within my house and do me good
    From henceforth, thou and thine! ye are my own
    From henceforth. I am lonely in the world,
    And thou art lonely, and the child is half
    An orphan. Come, and henceforth thou and I
    Being still together will not miss a friend,
    Nor he a father, since two mothers shall
    Make that up to him. I am journeying south,
    And in my Tuscan home I'll find a niche
    And set thee there, my saint, the child and thee,
    And burn the lights of love before thy face,
    And ever at thy sweet look cross myself
    From mixing with the world's prosperities;
    That so, in gravity and holy calm,
    We two may live on toward the truer life."

    She looked me in the face and answered not,
    Nor signed she was unworthy, nor gave thanks,
    But took the sleeping child and held it out
    To meet my kiss, as if requiting me
    And trusting me at once. And thus, at once,
    I carried him and her to where I live;
    She's there now, in the little room, asleep,
    I hear the soft child-breathing through the door,
    And all three of us, at to-morrow's break,
    Pass onward, homeward, to our Italy.
    Oh, Romney Leigh, I have your debts to pay,
    And I'll be just and pay them.

    But yourself!
    To pay your debts is scarcely difficult,
    To buy your life is nearly impossible,
    Being sold away to Lamia. My head aches,
    I cannot see my road along this dark;
    Nor can I creep and grope, as fits the dark,
    For these foot-catching robes of womanhood:
    A man might walk a little . . . but I! He loves
    The Lamia-woman, and I, write to him
    What stops his marriage, and destroys his peace,
    Or what perhaps shall simply trouble him,
    Until she only need to touch his sleeve
    With just a finger's tremulous white flame,
    Saying "Ah, Aurora Leigh! a pretty tale,
    "A very pretty poet! I can guess
    "The motive" then, to catch his eye in hers
    And vow she does not wonder, and they two
    To break in laughter as the sea along
    A melancholy coast, and float up higher,
    In such a laugh, their fatal weeds of love!
    Ay, fatal, ay. And who shall answer me
    Fate has not hurried tides, and if to-night
    My letter would not be a night too late,
    An arrow shot into a man that's dead,
    To prove a vain intention? Would I show
    The new wife vile, to make the husband mad?
    No, Lamia! shut the shutters, bar the doors
    From every glimmer on thy serpent-skin!
    I will not let thy hideous secret out
    To agonise the man I love I mean
    The friend I love . . . as friends love.

                 It is strange,
    To-day while Marian told her story like
    To absorb most listeners, how I listened chief
    To a voice not hers, nor yet that enemy's,
    Nor God's in wrath, . . . but one that mixed with mine
    Long years ago among the garden-trees,
    And said to me, to me too, "Be my wife,
    Aurora." It is strange with what a swell
    Of yearning passion, as a snow of ghosts
    Might beat against the impervious door of heaven,
    I thought, "Now, if I had been a woman, such
    As God made women, to save men by love,
    By just my love I might have saved this man,
    And made a nobler poem for the world
    Than all I have failed in." But I failed besides
    In this; and now he's lost! through me alone!
    And, by my only fault, his empty house
    Sucks in, at this same hour, a wind from hell
    To keep his hearth cold, make his casements creak
    For ever to the tune of plague and sin
    O Romney, O my Romney, O my friend,
    My cousin and friend! my helper, when I would,
    My love, that might be! mine!

    Why, how one weeps
    When one's too weary! Were a witness by,
    He'd say some folly . . . that I loved the man,
    Who knows? . . . and make me laugh again for scorn.
    At strongest, women are as weak in flesh,
    As men, at weakest, vilest, are in soul:
    So, hard for women to keep pace with men!
    As well give up at once, sit down at once,
    And weep as I do. Tears, tears! why we weep?
    'Tis worth inquiry? that we've shamed a life,
    Or lost a love, or missed a world, perhaps?
    By no means. Simply, that we've walked too far,
    Or talked too much, or felt the wind i' the east,
    And so we weep, as if both body and soul
    Broke up in water this way.

    Poor mixed rags
    Forsooth we're made of, like those other dolls
    That lean with pretty faces into fairs.
    It seems as if I had a man in me,
    Despising such a woman.

    Yet indeed,
    To see a wrong or suffering moves us all
    To undo it though we should undo ourselves,
    Ay, all the more, that we undo ourselves;
    That's womanly, past doubt, and not ill-moved.
    A natural movement therefore, on my part,
    To fill the chair up of my cousin's wife,
    And save him from a devil's company!
    We're all so, made so 'tis our woman's trade
    To suffer torment for another's ease.
    The world's male chivalry has perished out,
    But women are knights-errant to the last;
    And if Cervantes had been Shakespeare too,
    He had made his Don a Donna.

    So it clears,
    And so we rain our skies blue.

    Put away
    This weakness. If, as I have just now said,
    A man's within me, let him act himself,
    Ignoring the poor conscious trouble of blood
    That's called the woman merely. I will write
    Plain words to England, if too late, too late,
    If ill-accounted, then accounted ill;
    We'll trust the heavens with something.

                "Dear Lord Howe,
    You'll find a story on another leaf
    Of Marian Erle, what noble friend of yours
    She trusted once, through what flagitious means,
    To what disastrous ends; the story's true.
    I found her wandering on the Paris quays,
    A babe upon her breast, unnatural,
    Unseasonable outcast on such snow
    Unthawed to this time. I will tax in this
    Your friendship, friend, if that convicted She
    Be not his wife yet, to denounce the facts
    To himself, but, otherwise, to let them pass
    On tip-toe like escaping murderers,
    And tell my cousin merely Marian lives,
    Is found, and finds her home with such a friend,
    Myself, Aurora. Which good news, 'She's found,'
    Will help to make him merry in his love:
    I send it, tell him, for my marriage-gift,
    As good as orange-water for the nerves,
    Or perfumed gloves for headache, though aware
    That he, except of love, is scarcely sick:
    I mean the new love this time, . . . since last year.
    Such quick forgetting on the part of men!
    Is any shrewder trick upon the cards
    To enrich them? pray instruct me how 'tis done:
    First, clubs, and while you look at clubs, 'tis spades;
    That's prodigy. The lightning strikes a man,
    And when we think to find him dead and charred . . .
    Why, there he is on a sudden, playing pipes
    Beneath the splintered elm-tree! Crime and shame
    And all their hoggery trample your smooth world,
    Nor leave more foot-marks than Apollo's kine
    Whose hoofs were muffled by the thieving god
    In tamarisk-leaves and myrtle. I'm so sad,
    So weary and sad to-night, I'm somewhat sour,
    Forgive me. To be blue and shrew at once
    Exceeds all toleration except yours,
    But yours, I know, is infinite. Farewell.
    To-morrow we take train for Italy.
    Speak gently of me to your gracious wife,
    As one, however far, shall yet be near
    In loving wishes to your house."

    I sign.
    And now I loose my heart upon a page,

    "Lady Waldemar, I'm very glad
    I never liked you; which you knew so well
    You spared me, in your turn, to like me much:
    Your liking surely had done worse for me
    Than has your loathing, though the last appears
    Sufficiently unscrupulous to hurt,
    And not afraid of judgment. Now, there's space
    Between our faces, I stand off, as if
    I judged a stranger's portrait and pronounced
    Indifferently the type was good or bad.
    What matter to me that the lines are false,
    I ask you? did I ever ink my lips
    By drawing your name through them as a friend's,
    Or touch your hands as lovers do? Thank God
    I never did: and since you're proved so vile,
    Ay, vile, I say, we'll show it presently,
    I'm not obliged to nurse my friend in you,
    Or wash out my own blots, in counting yours,
    Or even excuse myself to honest souls
    Who seek to press my lip or clasp my palm,
    'Alas, but Lady Waldemar came first!'

    "'Tis true, by this time you may near me so
    That you're my cousin's wife. You've gambled deep
    As Lucifer, and won the morning-star
    In that case, and the noble house of Leigh
    Must henceforth with its good roof shelter you:
    I cannot speak and burn you up between
    Those rafters, I who am born a Leigh, nor speak
    And pierce your breast through Romney's, I who live,
    His friend and cousin, so, you're safe. You two
    Mus grow together like the tares and wheat
    Till God's great fire. But make the best of time.

    "And hide this letter: let it speak no more
    Than I shall, how you tricked poor Marian Erle,
    And set her own love digging its own grave
    Within her green hope's pretty garden-ground,
    Ay, sent her forth with some one of your sort
    To a wicked house in France, from which she fled
    With curses in her eyes and ears and throat,
    Her whole soul choked with curses, mad in short,
    And madly scouring up and down for weeks
    The foreign hedgeless country, lone and lost,
    So innocent, male-fiends might slink within
    Remote hell-corners, seeing her so defiled.

    "But you, you are a woman and more bold.
    To do you justice, you'd not shrink to face . . .
    We'll say, the unfledged life in the other room,
    Which, treading down God's corn, you trod in sight
    Of all the dogs, in reach of all the guns,
    Ay, Marian's babe, her poor unfathered child,
    Her yearling babe! you'd face him when he wakes
    And opens up his wonderful blue eyes:
    You'd meet them and not wink perhaps, nor fear
    God's triumph in them and supreme revenge
    When righting His creation's balance-scale
    (You pulled as low as Tophet) to the top
    Of most celestial innocence. For me,
    Who am not as bold, I own those infant eyes
    Have set me praying.

    "While they look at heaven,
    No need of protestation in my words
    Against the place you've made them! let them look.
    They'll do your business with the heavens, be sure:
    I spare you common curses.

    "Ponder this;
    If haply you're the wife of Romney Leigh
    (For which inheritance beyond your birth
    You sold that poisonous porridge called your soul),
    I charge you, be his faithful and true wife!
    Keep warm his hearth and clean his board, and, when
    He speaks, be quick with your obedience;
    Still grind your paltry wants and low desires
    To dust beneath his heel; though, even thus,
    The ground must hurt him, it was writ of old,
    'Ye shall not yoke together ox and ass,'
    The nobler and ignobler. Ay, but you
    Shall do your part as well as such ill things
    Can do aught good. You shall not vex him, mark,
    You shall not vex him, jar him when he's sad,
    Or cross him when he's eager. Understand
    To trick him with apparent sympathies,
    Nor let him see thee in the face too near
    And unlearn thy sweet seeming. Pay the price
    Of lies, by being constrained to lie on still:
    'Tis easy for thy sort: a million more
    Will scarcely damn thee deeper.

    "Doing which
    You are very safe from Marian and myself;
    We'll breathe as softly as the infant here,
    And stir no dangerous embers. Fail a point,
    And show our Romney wounded, ill-content,
    Tormented in his home, we open mouth,
    And such a noise will follow, the last trump's
    Will scarcely seem more dreadful, even to you;
    You'll have no pipers after: Romney will
    (I know him) push you forth as none of his,
    All other men declaring it well done,
    While women, even the worst, your like, will draw
    Their skirts back, not to brush you in the street,
    And so I warn you. I'm . . . Aurora Leigh."

    The letter written, I felt satisfied.
    The ashes, smouldering in me, were thrown out
    By handfuls from me: I had writ my heart
    And wept my tears, and now was cool and calm;
    And, going straightway to the neighbouring room,
    I lifted up the curtains of the bed
    Where Marian Erle, the babe upon her arm,
    Both faces leaned together like a pair
    Of folded innocences self-complete,
    Each smiling from the other, smiled and slept.
    There seemed no sin, no shame, no wrath, no grief.
    I felt she too had spoken words that night,
    But softer certainly, and said to God,
    Who laughs in heaven perhaps that such as I
    Should make ado for such as she. "Defiled"
    I wrote? "defiled" I thought her? Stoop,
    Stoop lower, Aurora! get the angel's leave
    To creep in somewhere, humbly, on your knees,
    Within this round of sequestration white
    In which they have wrapped earth's foundlings, heaven's elect.

    The next day we took train to Italy
    And fled on southward in the roar of steam.
    The marriage-bells of Romney must be loud,
    To sound so clear through all: I was not well,
    And truly, though the truth is like a jest,
    I could not choose but fancy, half the way,
    I stood alone i' the belfry, fifty bells
    Of naked iron, mad with merriment
    (As one who laughs and cannot stop himself),
    All clanking at me, in me, over me,
    Until I shrieked a shriek I could not hear,
    And swooned with noise, but still, along my swoon,
    Was 'ware the baffled changes backward rang,
    Prepared, at each emerging sense, to beat
    And crash it out with clangour. I was weak;
    I struggled for the posture of my soul
    In upright consciousness of place and time,
    But evermore, 'twixt waking and asleep,
    Slipped somehow, staggered, caught at Marian's eyes
    A moment (it is very good for strength
    To know that some one needs you to be strong),
    And so recovered what I called myself,
    For that time.

    I just knew it when we swept
    Above the old roofs of Dijon: Lyons dropped
    A spark into the night, half trodden out
    Unseen. But presently the winding Rhone
    Washed out the moonlight large along his banks
    Which strained their yielding curves out clear and clean
    To hold it, shadow of town and castle blurred
    Upon the hurrying river. Such an air
    Blew thence upon the forehead half an air
    And half a water that I leaned and looked,
    Then, turning back on Marian, smiled to mark
    That she looked only on her child, who slept,
    His face toward the moon too.

    So we passed
    The liberal open country and the close,
    And shot through tunnels, like a lightning-wedge
    By great Thor-hammers driven through the rock,
    Which, quivering through the intestine blackness, splits,
    And lets it in at once: the train swept in
    Athrob with effort, trembling with resolve,
    The fierce denouncing whistle wailing on
    And dying off smothered in the shuddering dark,
    While we, self-awed, drew troubled breath, oppressed
    As other Titans underneath the pile
    And nightmare of the mountains. Out, at last,
    To catch the dawn afloat upon the land!
    Hills, slung forth broadly and gauntly everywhere,
    Not cramped in their foundations, pushing wide
    Rich outspreads of the vineyards and the corn
    (As if they entertained i' the name of France),
    While down their straining sides streamed manifest
    A soil as red as Charlemagne's knightly blood,
    To consecrate the verdure. Some one said
    "Marseilles!" And lo, the city of Marseilles,
    With all her ships behind her, and beyond,
    The scimitar of ever-shining sea
    For right-hand use, bared blue against the sky!

    That night we spent between the purple heaven
    And purple water: I think Marian slept;
    But I, as a dog a-watch for his master's foot,
    Who cannot sleep or eat before he hears,
    I sat upon the deck and watched the night
    And listened through the stars for Italy.
    Those marriage-bells I spoke of sounded far,
    As some child's go-cart in the street beneath
    To a dying man who will not pass the day,
    And knows it, holding by a hand he loves.
    I too sat quiet, satisfied with death,
    Sat silent: I could hear my own soul speak,
    And had my friend, for Nature comes sometimes
    And says, "I am ambassador for God."
    I felt the wind soft from the land of souls;
    The old miraculous mountains heaved in sight,
    One straining past another along the shore,
    The way of grand dull Odyssean ghosts,
    Athirst to drink the cool blue wine of seas
    And stare on voyagers. Peak pushing peak
    They stood: I watched, beyond that Tyrian belt
    Of intense sea betwixt them and the ship,
    Down all their sides the misty olive-woods
    Dissolving in the weak, congenial moon
    And still disclosing some brown convent tower
    That seems as if it grew from some brown rock,
    Or many a little lighted village, dropped
    Like a fallen star upon so high a point,
    You wonder what can keep it in its place
    From sliding headlong with the waterfalls
    Which powder all the myrtle and orange groves
    With spray of silver. Thus my Italy
    Was stealing on us. Genoa broke with day,
    The Doria's long pale palace striking out,
    From green hills in advance of the white town,
    A marble finger dominant to ships,
    Seen glimmering through the uncertain grey of dawn.

    And then I did not think, "My Italy,"
    I thought "My father!" O my father's house,
    Without his presence! Places are too much,
    Or else too little, for immortal man
    Too little, when love's May o'ergrows the ground;
    Too much, when that luxuriant robe of green
    Is rustling to our ankles in dead leaves.
    'Tis only good to be or here or there,
    Because we had a dream on such a stone,
    Or this or that, but, once being wholly waked
    And come back to the stone without the dream,
    We trip upon't, alas, and hurt ourselves;
    Or else it falls on us and grinds us flat,
    The heaviest gravestone on this burying earth.
    But while I stood and mused, a quiet touch
    Fell light upon my arm, and, turning round,
    A pair of moistened eyes convicted mine.
    "What, Marian! is the babe astir so soon?"
    "He sleeps," she answered; "I have crept up thrice,
    And seen you sitting, standing, still at watch.
    I thought it did you good till now, but now" . . .
    "But now," I said, "you leave the child alone."
    "And you're alone," she answered, and she looked
    As if I too were something. Sweet the help
    Of one we have helped! Thanks, Marian, for such help.

    I found a house at Florence on the hill
    Of Bellosguardo. 'Tis a tower which keeps
    A post of double observation o'er
    That valley of Arno (holding as a hand
    The outspread city) straight toward Fiesole
    And Mount Morello and the setting sun,
    The Vallombrosan mountains opposite,
    Which sunrise fills as full as crystal cups
    Turned red to the brim because their wine is red.
    No sun could die nor yet be born unseen
    By dwellers at my villa: morn and eve
    Were magnified before us in the pure
    Illimitable space and pause of sky,
    Intense as angels' garments blanched with God,
    Less blue than radiant. From the outer wall
    Of the garden, drops the mystic floating grey
    Of olive-trees (with interruptions green
    From maize and vine), until 'tis caught and torn
    Upon the abrupt black line of cypresses
    Which signs the way to Florence. Beautiful
    The city lies along the ample vale,
    Cathedral, tower and palace, piazza and street,
    The river trailing like a silver cord
    Through all, and curling loosely, both before
    And after, over the whole stretch of land
    Sown whitely up and down its opposite slopes
    With farms and villas.

    Many weeks had passed,
    No word was granted. Last, a letter came
    From Vincent Carrington: "My dear Miss Leigh,
    You've been as silent as a poet should,
    When any other man is sure to speak.
    If sick, if vexed, if dumb, a silver piece
    Will split a man's tongue, straight he speaks and says
    'Received that cheque.' But you! . . . I send you funds
    To Paris, and you make no sign at all.
    Remember, I'm responsible and wait
    A sign of you, Miss Leigh.

    "Meantime your book
    Is eloquent as if you were not dumb;
    And common critics, ordinarily deaf
    To such fine meanings, and, like deaf men, loth
    To seem deaf, answering chance-wise, yes or no,
    'It must be' or 'it must not' (most pronounced
    When least convinced), pronounce for once aright:
    You'd think they really heard, and so they do . . .
    The burr of three or four who really hear
    And praise your book aright: Fame's smallest trump
    Is a great ear-trumpet for the deaf as posts,
    No other being effective. Fear not, friend;
    We think here you have written a good book,
    And you, a woman! It was in you yes,
    I felt 'twas in you: yet I doubted half
    If that od-force of German Reichenbach,
    Which still from female finger-tips burns blue,
    Could strike out as our masculine white heats
    To quicken a man. Forgive me. All my heart
    Is quick with yours since, just a fortnight since,
    I read your book and loved it.

    "Will you love
    My wife, too? Here's my secret I might keep
    A month more from you! but I yield it up
    Because I know you'll write the sooner for't,
    Most women (of your height even) counting love
    Life's only serious business. Who's my wife
    That shall be in a month? you ask, nor guess?
    Remember what a pair of topaz eyes
    You once detected, turned against the wall,
    That morning in my London painting-room;
    The face half-sketched, and slurred; the eyes alone!
    But you . . . you caught them up with yours, and said
    'Kate Ward's eyes, surely.' Now I own the truth:
    I had thrown them there to keep them safe from Jove,
    They would so naughtily find out their way
    To both the heads of both my Danaës
    Where just it made me mad to look at them.
    Such eyes! I could not paint or think of eyes
    But those, and so I flung them into paint
    And turned them to the wall's care. Ay, but now
    I've let them out, my Kate's: I've painted her
    (I change my style and leave mythologies),
    The whole sweet face; it looks upon my soul
    Like a face on water, to beget itself.
    A half-length portrait, in a hanging cloak
    Like one you wore once; 'tis a little frayed,
    I pressed too for the nude harmonious arm;
    But she, she'd have her way, and have her cloak
    She said she could be like you only so,
    And would not miss the fortune. Ah, my friend,
    You'll write and say she shall not miss your love
    Through meeting mine? in faith, she would not change.
    She has your books by heart more than my words,
    And quotes you up against me till I'm pushed
    Where, three months since, her eyes were: nay, in fact,
    Nought satisfied her but to make me paint
    Your last book folded in her dimpled hands
    Instead of my brown palette as I wished,
    And, grant me, the presentment had been newer;
    She'd grant me nothing: I compounded for
    The naming of the wedding-day next month,
    And gladly too. 'Tis pretty to remark
    How women can love women of your sort,
    And tie their hearts with love-knots to your feet,
    Grow insolent about you against men,
    And put us down by putting up the lip,
    As if a man there are such, let us own,
    Who write not ill remains a man, poor wretch,
    While you ! Write weaker than Aurora Leigh,
    And there'll be women who believe of you
    (Besides my Kate) that if you walked on sand
    You would not leave a foot-print.

    "Are you put
    To wonder by my marriage, like poor Leigh?
    'Kate Ward!' he said. 'Kate Ward!' he said anew.
    'I thought . . .' he said, and stopped 'I did not think . . .'
    And then he dropped to silence.

    "Ah, he's changed.
    I had not seen him, you're aware, for long,
    But went of course. I have not touched on this
    Through all this letter conscious of your heart,
    And writing lightlier for the heavy fact,
    As clocks are voluble with lead.

    "How poor,
    To say I'm sorry! dear Leigh, dearest Leigh.
    In those old days of Shropshire pardon me
    When he and you fought many a field of gold
    On what you should do, or you should not do,
    Make bread or verses (it just came to that),
    I thought you'd one day draw a silken peace
    Through a golden ring. I thought so: foolishly,
    The event proved; for you went more opposite
    To each other, month by month, and year by year,
    Until this happened. God knows best, we say,
    But hoarsely. When the fever took him first,
    Just after I had writ to you in France,
    They tell me, Lady Waldemar mixed drinks
    And counted grains, like any salaried nurse,
    Excepting that she wept too. Then Lord Howe,
    You're right about Lord Howe, Lord Howe's a trump,
    And yet, with such in his hand, a man like Leigh
    May lose as he does. There's an end to all,
    Yes, even this letter, though this second sheet
    May find you doubtful. Write a word for Kate:
    She reads my letters always, like a wife,
    And if she sees her name I'll see her smile
    And share the luck. So, bless you, friend of two!
    I will not ask you what your feeling is
    At Florence with my pictures; I can hear
    Your heart a-flutter over the snow-hills:
    And, just to pace the Pitti with you once,
    I'd give a half-hour of to-morrow's walk
    With Kate . . . I think so. Vincent Carrington."

    The noon was hot; the air scorched like the sun,
    And was shut out. The closed persiani threw
    Their long-scored shadows on my villa-floor,
    And interlined the golden atmosphere
    Straight, still, across the pictures on the wall,
    The statuette on the console (of young Love
    And Psyche made one marble by a kiss),
    The low couch where I leaned, the table near,
    The vase of lilies Marian pulled last night
    (Each green leaf and each white leaf ruled in black
    As if for writing some new text of fate),
    And the open letter, rested on my knee,
    But there the lines swerved, trembled, though I sat
    Untroubled, plainly, reading it again,
    And three times. Well, he's married; that is clear.
    No wonder that he's married, nor much more
    That Vincent's therefore "sorry." Why, of course
    The lady nursed him when he was not well,
    Mixed drinks, unless nepenthe was the drink
    'Twas scarce worth telling. But a man in love
    Will see the whole sex in his mistress' hood,
    The prettier for its lining of fair rose,
    Although he catches back and says at last,
    "I'm sorry." Sorry. Lady Waldemar
    At prettiest, under the said hood, preserved
    From such a light as I could hold to her face
    To flare its ugly wrinkles out to shame,
    Is scarce a wife for Romney, as friends judge,
    Aurora Leigh or Vincent Carrington,
    That's plain. And if he's "conscious of my heart" . . .
    It may be natural, though the phrase is strong
    (One's apt to use strong phrases, being in love);
    And even that stuff of "fields of gold," "gold rings,"
    And what he "thought," poor Vincent, what he "thought,"
    May never mean enough to ruffle me.
    Why, this room stifles. Better burn than choke;
    Best have air, air, although it comes with fire,
    Throw open blinds and windows to the noon,
    And take a blister on my brow instead
    Of this dead weight! best, perfectly be stunned
    By those insufferable cicale, sick
    And hoarse with rapture of the summer-heat,
    That sing, like poets, till their hearts break, sing
    Till men say "It's too tedious."

    Books succeed,
    And lives fail. Do I feel it so, at last?
    Kate loves a worn-out cloak for being like mine,
    While I live self-despised for being myself,
    And yearn toward some one else, who yearns away
    From what he is, in his turn. Strain a step
    For ever, yet gain no step? Are we such,
    We cannot, with our admirations even,
    Our tip-toe aspirations, touch a thing
    That's higher than we? is all a dismal flat,
    And God alone above each, as the sun
    O'er level lagunes, to make them shine and stink
    Laying stress upon us with immediate flame,
    While we respond with our miasmal fog,
    And call it mounting higher because we grow
    More highly fatal?

    Tush, Aurora Leigh!
    You wear your sackcloth looped in Cæsar's way,
    And brag your failings as mankind's. Be still.
    There is what's higher, in this very world,
    Than you can live, or catch at. Stand aside
    And look at others instance little Kate!
    She'll make a perfect wife for Carrington.
    She always has been looking round the earth
    For something good and green to alight upon
    And nestle into, with those soft-winged eyes,
    Subsiding now beneath his manly hand
    'Twixt trembling lids of inexpressive joy.
    I will not scorn her, after all, too much,
    That so much she should love me: a wise man
    Can pluck a leaf, and find a lecture in't;
    And I, too, . . . God has made me, I've a heart
    That's capable of worship, love, and loss;
    We say the same of Shakespeare's. I'll be meek
    And learn to reverence, even this poor myself.

    The book, too pass it. "A good book," says he,
    "And you a woman." I had laughed at that,
    But long since. I'm a woman, it is true;
    Alas, and woe to us, when we feel it most!
    Then, least care have we for the crowns and goals
    And compliments on writing our good books.
    The book has some truth in it, I believe,
    And truth outlives pain, as the soul does life.
    I know we talk our Phædons to the end,
    Through all the dismal faces that we make,
    O'erwrinkled with dishonouring agony
    From decomposing drugs. I have written truth,
    And I a woman, feebly, partially,
    Inaptly in presentation, Romney'll add,
    Because a woman. For the truth itself,
    That's neither man's nor woman's, but just God's,
    None else has reason to be proud of truth:
    Himself will see it sifted, disenthralled,
    And kept upon the height and in the light,
    As far as and no farther than 'tis truth;
    For, now He has left off calling firmaments
    And strata, flowers and creatures, very good,
    He says it still of truth, which is His own.

    Truth, so far, in my book; the truth which draws
    Through all things upwards that a twofold world
    Must go to a perfect cosmos. Natural things
    And spiritual, who separates those two
    In art, in morals, or the social drift,
    Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
    Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
    Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
    Is wrong, in short, at all points. We divide
    This apple of life, and cut it through the pips:
    The perfect round which fitted Venus' hand
    Has perished as utterly as if we ate
    Both halves. Without the spiritual, observe,
    The natural's impossible no form,
    No motion: without sensuous, spiritual
    Is inappreciable, no beauty or power:
    And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
    (For still the artist is intensely a man)
    Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
    The spiritual beyond it, fixes still
    The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
    With eyes immortal, to the antitype
    Some call the ideal, better called the real,
    And certain to be called so presently
    When things shall have their names. Look long enough
    On any peasant's face here, coarse and lined,
    You'll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
    As perfect featured as he yearns at Rome
    From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
    And, if your apprehension's competent,
    You'll find some fairer angel at his back,
    As much exceeding him as he the boor,
    And pushing him with empyreal disdain
    For ever out of sight. Ay, Carrington
    Is glad of such a creed: an artist must,
    Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone,
    With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
    A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
    Why else do these things move him, leaf or stone?
    The bird's not moved that pecks at a springshoot;
    Nor yet the horse, before a quarry a-graze:
    But man, the twofold creature, apprehends
    The twofold manner, in and outwardly,
    And nothing in the world comes single to him,
    A mere itself, cup, column, or candlestick,
    All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
    The whole temporal show related royally,
    And built up to eterne significance
    Through the open arms of God. "There's nothing great
    Nor small," has said a poet of our day,
    Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
    And not be thrown out by the matin's bell:
    And truly, I reiterate, nothing's small!
    No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
    But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
    No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
    No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim;
    And (glancing on my own thin, veinèd wrist)
    In such a little tremor of the blood
    The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
    Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God;
    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
    The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
    And daub their natural faces unaware
    More and more from the first similitude.

    Truth, so far, in my book! a truth which draws
    From all things upward. I, Aurora, still
    Have felt it hound me through the wastes of life
    As Jove did Io; and, until that Hand
    Shall overtake me wholly and on my head
    Lay down its large unfluctuating peace,
    The feverish gad-fly pricks me up and down.
    It must be. Art's the witness of what Is
    Behind this show. If this world's show were all,
    Then imitation would be all in Art;
    There, Jove's hand gripes us! For we stand here, we,
    If genuine artists, witnessing for God's
    Complete, consummate, undivided work;
    That every natural flower which grows on earth
    Implies a flower upon the spiritual side,
    Substantial, archetypal, all aglow
    With blossoming causes, not so far away,
    But we, whose spirit-sense is somewhat cleared,
    May catch at something of the bloom and breath,
    Too vaguely apprehended, though indeed
    Still apprehended, consciously or not,
    And still transferred to picture, music, verse,
    For thrilling audient and beholding souls
    By signs and touches which are known to souls.
    How known, they know not, why, they cannot find,
    So straight call out on genius, say "A man
    Produced this," when much rather they should say
    "'Tis insight and he saw this."

    Thus is Art
    Self-magnified in magnifying a truth
    Which, fully recognised, would change the world
    And shift its morals. If a man could feel,
    Not one day, in the artist's ecstasy,
    But every day, feast, fast, or working-day,
    The spiritual significance burn through
    The hieroglyphic of material shows,
    Henceforward he would paint the globe with wings,
    And reverence fish and fowl, the bull, the tree,
    And even his very body as a man
    Which now he counts so vile, that all the towns
    Make offal of their daughters for its use,
    On summer-nights, when God is sad in heaven
    To think what goes on in His recreant world
    He made quite other; while that moon He made
    To shine there, at the first love's covenant,
    Shines still, convictive as a marriage-ring
    Before adulterous eyes.

    How sure it is,
    That, if we say a true word, instantly
    We feel 'tis God's, not ours, and pass it on
    Like bread at sacrament we taste and pass
    Nor handle for a moment, as indeed
    We dared to set up any claim to such!
    And I my poem, let my readers talk.
    I'm closer to it I can speak as well:
    I'll say with Romney, that the book is weak,
    The range uneven, the points of sight obscure,
    The music interrupted.

    Let us go.
    The end of woman (or of man, I think)
    Is not a book. Alas, the best of books
    Is but a word in Art, which soon grows cramped,
    Stiff, dubious-statured with the weight of years,
    And drops an accent or digamma down
    Some cranny of unfathomable time,
    Beyond the critic's reaching. Art itself,
    We've called the larger life, must feel the soul
    Live past it. For more's felt than is perceived,
    And more's perceived than can be interpreted,
    And Love strikes higher with his lambent flame
    Than Art can pile the faggots.

    Is it so?
    When Jove's hand meets us with composing touch,
    And when at last we are hushed and satisfied,
    Then Io does not call it truth, but love?
    Well, well! my father was an Englishman:
    My mother's blood in me is not so strong
    That I should bear this stress of Tuscan noon
    And keep my wits. The town, there, seems to seethe
    In this Medæan boil-pot of the sun,
    And all the patient hills are bubbling round
    As if a prick would leave them flat. Does heaven
    Keep far off, not to set us in a blaze?
    Not so, let drag your fiery fringes, heaven,
    And burn us up to quiet. Ah, we know
    Too much here, not to know what's best for peace;
    We have too much light here, not to want more fire
    To purify and end us. We talk, talk,
    Conclude upon divine philosophies,
    And get the thanks of men for hopeful books,
    Whereat we take our own life up, and . . . pshaw!
    Unless we piece it with another's life
    (A yard of silk to carry out our lawn)
    As well suppose my little handkerchief
    Would cover Samminiato, church and all,
    If out I threw it past the cypresses,
    As, in this ragged, narrow life of mine,
    Contain my own conclusions.

    But at least
    We'll shut up the persiani and sit down,
    And when my head's done aching, in the cool,
    Write just a word to Kate and Carrington.
    May joy be with them! she has chosen well,
    And he not ill.

    I should be glad, I think,
    Except for Romney. Had he married Kate,
    I surely, surely, should be very glad.
    This Florence sits upon me easily,
    With native air and tongue. My graves are calm,
    And do not too much hurt me. Marian's good,
    Gentle and loving, lets me hold the child,
    Or drags him up the hills to find me flowers
    And fill these vases ere I'm quite awake,
    My grandiose red tulips, which grow wild,
    Or Dante's purple lilies, which he blew
    To a larger bubble with his prophet breath,
    Or one of those tall flowering reeds that stand
    In Arno, like a sheaf of sceptres left
    By some remote dynasty of dead gods
    To suck the stream for ages and get green,
    And blossom wheresoe'er a hand divine
    Had warmed the place with ichor. Such I find
    At early morning laid across my bed,
    And wake up pelted with a childish laugh
    Which even Marian's low precipitous "hush"
    Has vainly interposed to put away,
    While I, with shut eyes, smile and motion for
    The dewy kiss that's very sure to come
    From mouth and cheeks, the whole child's face at once
    Dissolved on mine, as if a nosegay burst
    Its string with the weight of roses overblown,
    And dropped upon me. Surely I should be glad.
    The little creature almost loves me now,
    And calls my name, "Alola," stripping off
    The r's like thorns, to make it smooth enough
    To take between his dainty, milk-fed lips,
    God love him! I should certainly be glad,
    Except, God help me, that I'm sorrowful
    Because of Romney.

    Romney, Romney! Well,
    This grows absurd! too like a tune that runs
    I' the head, and forces all things in the world,
    Wind, rain, the creaking gnat, or stuttering fly,
    To sing itself and vex you, yet perhaps
    A paltry tune you never fairly liked,
    Some "I'd be a butterfly," or "C'est l'amour:"
    We're made so, not such tyrants to ourselves
    But still we are slaves to nature. Some of us
    Are turned, too, overmuch like some poor verse
    With a trick of ritournelle: the same thing goes
    And comes back ever.

    Vincent Carrington
    Is "sorry," and I'm sorry; but he's strong
    To mount from sorrow to his heaven of love,
    And when he says at moments, "Poor, poor Leigh,
    Who'll never call his own so true a heart,
    So fair a face even," he must quickly lose
    The pain of pity, in the blush he makes
    By his very pitying eyes. The snow, for him,
    Has fallen in May and finds the whole earth warm,
    And melts at the first touch of the green grass.
    But Romney, he has chosen, after all.
    I think he had as excellent a sun
    To see by, as most others, and perhaps
    Has scarce seen really worse than some of us
    When all's said. Let him pass. I'm not too much
    A woman, not to be a man for once
    And bury all my Dead like Alaric,
    Depositing the treasures of my soul
    In this drained watercourse, then letting flow
    The river of life again with commerce-ships
    And pleasure-barges full of silks and songs.
    Blow, winds, and help us.

    Ah, we mock ourselves
    With talking of the winds; perhaps as much
    With other resolutions. How it weighs,
    This hot, sick air! and how I covet here
    The Dead's provision on the river-couch,
    With silver curtains drawn on tinkling rings!
    Or else their rest in quiet crypts, laid by
    From heat and noise; from those cicale, say,
    And this more vexing heart-beat.

    So it is:
    We covet for the soul, the body's part,
    To die and rot. Even so, Aurora, ends
    Our aspiration who bespoke our place
    So far in the east. The occidental flats
    Had fed us fatter, therefore? we have climbed
    Where herbage ends? we want the beast's part now
    And tire of the angel's? Men define a man,
    The creature who stands frontward to the stars,
    The creature who looks inward to himself,
    The tool-wright, laughing creature. 'Tis enough:
    We'll say instead, the inconsequent creature, man,
    For that's his specialty. What creature else
    Conceives the circle, and then walks the square?
    Loves things proved bad, and leaves a thing proved good?
    You think the bee makes honey half a year,
    To loathe the comb in winter and desire
    The little ant's food rather? But a man
    Note men! they are but women after all,
    As women are but Auroras! there are men
    Born tender, apt to pale at a trodden worm,
    Who paint for pastime, in their favourite dream,
    Spruce auto-vestments flowered with crocus-flames.
    There are, too, who believe in hell, and lie;
    There are, too, who believe in heaven, and fear:
    There are, who waste their souls in working out
    Life's problem on these sands betwixt two tides,
    Concluding, "Give us the oyster's part, in death."

    Alas, long-suffering and most patient God,
    Thou needst be surelier God to bear with us
    Than even to have made us! thou aspire, aspire
    From henceforth for me! thou who hast thyself
    Endured this fleshhood, knowing how as a soaked
    And sucking vesture it can drag us down
    And choke us in the melancholy Deep,
    Sustain me, that with thee I walk these waves,
    Resisting! breathe me upward, thou in me
    Aspiring who art the way, the truth, the life,
    That no truth henceforth seem indifferent,
    No way to truth laborious, and no life,
    Not even this life I live, intolerable!

    The days went by. I took up the old days,
    With all their Tuscan pleasures worn and spoiled,
    Like some lost book we dropped in the long grass
    On such a happy summer-afternoon
    When last we read it with a loving friend,
    And find in autumn when the friend is gone,
    The grass cut short, the weather changed, too late,
    And stare at, as at something wonderful
    For sorrow, thinking how two hands before
    Had held up what is left to only one,
    And how we smiled when such a vehement nail
    Impressed the tiny dint here which presents
    This verse in fire for ever. Tenderly
    And mournfully I lived. I knew the birds
    And insects, which looked fathered by the flowers
    And emulous of their hues: I recognised
    The moths, with that great overpoise of wings
    Which make a mystery of them how at all
    They can stop flying: butterflies, that bear
    Upon their blue wings such red embers round,
    They seem to scorch the blue air into holes
    Each flight they take: and fire-flies, that suspire
    In short soft lapses of transported flame
    Across the tingling Dark, while overhead
    The constant and inviolable stars
    Outburn those light-of-love: melodious owls
    (If music had but one note and was sad,
    'Twould sound just so), and all the silent swirl
    Of bats that seem to follow in the air
    Some grand circumference of a shadowy dome
    To which we are blind: and then the nightingales,
    Which pluck our heart across a garden-wall
    (When walking in the town) and carry it
    So high into the bowery almond trees
    We tremble and are afraid, and feel as if
    The golden flood of moonlight unaware
    Dissolved the pillars of the steady earth
    And made it less substantial. And I knew
    The harmless opal snakes, the large-mouthed frogs
    (Those noisy vaunters of their shallow streams);
    And lizards, the green lightnings of the wall,
    Which, if you sit down quiet, nor sigh loud,
    Will flatter you and take you for a stone,
    And flash familiarly about your feet
    With such prodigious eyes in such small heads!
    I knew them (though they had somewhat dwindled from
    My childish imagery), and kept in mind
    How last I sat among them equally,
    In fellowship and mateship, as a child
    Feels equall still toward insect, beast, and bird,
    Before the Adam in him has forgone
    All privilege of Eden, making friends
    And talk with such a bird or such a goat,
    And buying many a two-inch-wide rush-cage
    To let out the caged cricket on a tree,
    Saying "Oh, my dear grillino, were you cramped?
    And are you happy with the ilex-leaves?
    And do you love me who have let you go?
    Say yes in singing, and I'll understand."

    But now the creatures all seemed farther off,
    No longer mine, nor like me, only there,
    A gulf between us. I could yearn indeed,
    Like other rich men, for a drop of dew
    To cool this heat, a drop of the early dew,
    The irrecoverable child-innocence
    (Before the heart took fire and withered life)
    When childhood might pair equally with birds;
    But now . . . the birds were grown too proud for us,
    Alas, the very sun forbids the dew.
    And I, I had come back to an empty nest,
    Which every bird's too wise for. How I heard
    My father's step on that deserted ground,
    His voice along that silence, as he told
    The names of bird and insect, tree and flower,
    And all the presentations of the stars
    Across Valdarno, interposing still
    "My child," "my child." When fathers say "my child,"
    'Tis easier to conceive the universe,
    And life's transitions down the steps of law.

    I rode once to the little mountain-house
    As fast as if to find my father there,
    But, when in sight of't, within fifty yards,
    I dropped my horse's bridle on his neck
    And paused upon his flank. The house's front
    Was cased with lingots of ripe Indian corn
    In tessellated order and device
    Of golden patterns, not a stone of wall
    Uncovered, not an inch of room to grow
    A vine-leaf. The old porch had disappeared;
    And right in the open doorway sat a girl
    At plaiting straws, her black hair strained away
    To a scarlet kerchief caught beneath her chin
    In Tuscan fashion, her full ebon eyes,
    Which looked too heavy to be lifted so,
    Still dropped and lifted toward the mulberry-tree
    On which the lads were busy with their staves
    In shout and laughter, stripping every bough
    As bare as winter, of those summer leaves
    My father had not changed for all the silk
    In which the ugly silkworms hide themselves.
    Enough. My horse recoiled before my heart;
    I turned the rein abruptly. Back we went
    As fast, to Florence.

    That was trial enough
    Of graves. I would not visit, if I could,
    My father's, or my mother's any more,
    To see if stone cutter or lichen beat
    So early in the race, or throw my flowers,
    Which could not out-smell heaven or sweeten earth.
    They live too far above, that I should look
    So far below to find them: let me think
    That rather they are visiting my grave,
    Called life here (undeveloped yet to life),
    And that they drop upon me, now and then,
    For token or for solace, some small weed
    Least odorous of the growths of paradise,
    To spare such pungent scents as kill with joy.

    My old Assunta, too, was dead, was dead
    O land of all men's past! for me alone,
    It would not mix its tenses. I was past,
    It seemed, like others, only not in heaven.
    And many a Tuscan eve I wandered down
    The cypress alley like a restless ghost
    That tries its feeble ineffectual breath
    Upon its own charred funeral-brands put out
    Too soon, where black and stiff stood up the trees
    Against the broad vermilion of the skies.
    Such skies! all clouds abolished in a sweep
    Of God's skirt, with a dazzle to ghosts and men,
    As down I went, saluting on the bridge
    The hem of such before't was caught away
    Beyond the peaks of Lucca. Underneath,
    The river, just escaping from the weight
    Of that intolerable glory, ran
    In acquiescent shadow murmurously;
    While, up beside it, streamed the festa-folk
    With fellow-murmurs from their feet and fans,
    And issimo and ino and sweet poise
    Of vowels in their pleasant scandalous talk;
    Returning from the grand-duke's dairy-farm
    Before the trees grew dangerous at eight
    (For "trust no tree by moonlight," Tuscans say),
    To eat their ice at Donay's tenderly,
    Each lovely lady close to a cavalier
    Who holds her dear fan while she feeds her smile
    On meditative spoonfuls of vanille
    And listens to his hot-breathed vows of love
    Enough to thaw her cream and scorch his beard.

    'Twas little matter. I could pass them by
    Indifferently, not fearing to be known.
    No danger of being wrecked upon a friend,
    And forced to take an iceberg for an isle!
    The very English, here, must wait and learn
    To hang the cobweb of their gossip out
    To catch a fly. I'm happy. It's sublime,
    This perfect solitude of foreign lands!
    To be, as if you had not been till then,
    And were then, simply that you chose to be:
    To spring up, not be brought forth from the ground,
    Like grasshoppers at Athens, and skip thrice
    Before a woman makes a pounce on you
    And plants you in her hair! possess, yourself,
    A new world all alive with creatures new,
    New sun, new moon, new flowers, new people ah,
    And be possessed by none of them! no right
    In one, to call your name, inquire your where,
    Or what you think of Mister Someone's book,
    Or Mister Other's marriage or decease,
    Or how's the headache which you had last week,
    Or why you look so pale still, since it's gone?
    Such most surprising riddance of one's life
    Comes next one's death; 'tis disembodiment
    Without the pang. I marvel, people choose
    To stand stock-still like fakirs, till the moss
    Grows on them and they cry out, self-admired,
    "How verdant and how virtuous!" Well, I'm glad;
    Or should be, if grown foreign to myself
    As surely as to others.

    Musing so,
    I walked the narrow unrecognising streets,
    Where many a palace-front peers gloomily
    Through stony vizors iron-barred (prepared
    Alike, should foe or lover pass that way,
    For guest or victim), and came wandering out
    Upon the churches with mild open doors
    And plaintive wail of vespers, where a few,
    Those chiefly women, sprinkled round in blots
    Upon the dusky pavement, knelt and prayed
    Toward the altar's silver glory. Oft a ray
    (I liked to sit and watch) would tremble out,
    Just touch some face more lifted, more in need
    (Of course a woman's), while I dreamed a tale
    To fit its fortunes. There was one who looked
    As if the earth had suddenly grown too large
    For such a little humpbacked thing as she;
    The pitiful black kerchief round her neck
    Sole proof she had had a mother. One, again,
    Looked sick for love, seemed praying some soft saint
    To put more virtue in the new fine scarf
    She spent a fortnight's meals on, yesterday,
    That cruel Gigi might return his eyes
    From Giuliana. There was one, so old,
    So old, to kneel grew easier than to stand,
    So solitary, she accepts at last
    Our Lady for her gossip, and frets on
    Against the sinful world which goes its rounds
    In marrying and being married, just the same
    As when 'twas almost good and had the right
    (Her Gian alive, and she herself eighteen).
    "And yet, now even, if Madonna willed,
    She'd win a tern in Thursday's lottery
    And better all things. Did she dream for nought,
    That, boiling cabbage for the fast-day's soup,
    It smelt like blessèd entrails? such a dream
    For nought? would sweetest Mary cheat her so,
    And lose that certain candle, straight and white
    As any fair grand-duchess in her teens,
    Which otherwise should flare here in a week?
    Benigna sis, thou beauteous Queen of Heaven!"

    I sat there musing, and imagining
    Such utterance from such faces: poor blind souls
    That writhe toward heaven along the devil's trail,
    Who knows, I thought, but He may stretch His hand
    And pick them up? 'tis written in the Book
    He heareth the young ravens when they cry,
    And yet they cry for carrion. O my God,
    And we, who make excuses for the rest,
    We do it in our measure. Then I knelt,
    And dropped my head upon the pavement too,
    And prayed, since I was foolish in desire
    Like other creatures, craving offal-food,
    That He would stop His ears to what I said,
    And only listen to the run and beat
    Of this poor, passionate, helpless blood

                     And then
    I lay, and spoke not: but He heard in heaven.

    So many Tuscan evenings passed the same.
    I could not lose a sunset on the bridge,
    And would not miss a vigil in the church,
    And liked to mingle with the outdoor crowd
    So strange and gay and ignorant of my face,
    For men you know not are as good as trees.
    And only once, at the Santissima,
    I almost chanced upon a man I knew,
    Sir Blaise Delorme. He saw me certainly,
    And somewhat hurried, as he crossed himself,
    The smoothness of the action, then half bowed,
    But only half, and merely to my shade,
    I slipped so quick behind the porphyry plinth
    And left him dubious if 'twas really I
    Or peradventure Satan's usual trick
    To keep a mounting saint uncanonised.
    But he was safe for that time, and I too;
    The argent angels in the altar-flare
    Absorbed his soul next moment. The good man!
    In England we were scarce acquaintances,
    That here in Florence he should keep my thought
    Beyond the image on his eye, which came
    And went: and yet his thought disturbed my life:
    For, after that, I oftener sat at home
    On evenings, watching how they fined themselves
    With gradual conscience to a perfect night,
    Until the moon, diminished to a curve,
    Lay out there like a sickle for His hand
    Who cometh down at last to reap the earth.
    At such times, ended seemed my trade of verse;
    I feared to jingle bells upon my robe
    Before the four-faced silent cherubim
    With God so near me, could I sing of God?
    I did not write, nor read, nor even think,
    But sat absorbed amid the quickening glooms,
    Most like some passive broken lump of salt
    Dropped in by chance to a bowl of oenomel,
    To spoil the drink a little and lose itself,
    Dissolving slowly, slowly, until lost.


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