Aurora Leigh: Book 9


    Even thus. I pause to write it out at length,
    The letter of the Lady Waldemar.

    "I prayed your cousin Leigh to take you this:
    He says he'll do it. After years of love,
    Or what is called so, when a woman frets
    And fools upon one string of a man's name,
    And fingers it for ever till it breaks,
    He may perhaps do for her such a thing,
    And she accept it without detriment
    Although she should not love him any more.
    And I, who do not love him, nor love you,
    Nor you, Aurora, choose you shall repent
    Your most ungracious letter and confess,
    Constrained by his convictions (he's convinced),
    You've wronged me foully. Are you made so ill,
    You woman, to impute such ill to me?
    We both had mothers, lay in their bosom once.
    And after all, I thank you, Aurora Leigh,
    For proving to myself that there are things
    I would not do not for my life, nor him,
    Though something I have somewhat overdone,
    For instance, when I went to see the gods
    One morning on Olympus, with a step
    That shook the thunder from a certain cloud,
    Committing myself vilely. Could I think,
    The Muse I pulled my heart out from my breast
    To soften, had herself a sort of heart,
    And loved my mortal? He at least loved her,
    I heard him say so: 'twas my recompense,
    When, watching at his bedside fourteen days,
    He broke out ever like a flame at whiles
    Between the heats of fever, 'Is it thou?
    'Breathe closer, sweetest mouth!' and when at last,
    The fever gone, the wasted face extinct,
    As if it irked him much to know me there,
    He said ''Twas kind, 'twas good, 'twas womanly,'
    (And fifty praises to excuse no love);
    'But was the picture safe he had ventured for?'
    And then, half wandering, 'I have loved her well,
    'Although she could not love me.' 'Say, instead,'
    I answered, 'she does love you.' 'Twas my turn
    To rave: I would have married him so changed,
    Although the world had jeered me properly
    For taking up with Cupid at his worst,
    The silver quiver worn off on his hair.
    'No, no,' he murmured; 'no, she loves me not;
    'Aurora Leigh does better: bring her book
    'And read it softly, Lady Waldemar,
    'Until I thank your friendship more for that
    'Than even for harder service.' So I read
    Your book, Aurora, for an hour that day:
    I kept its pauses, marked its emphasis;
    My voice, impaled upon its hooks of rhyme,
    Not once would writhe, nor quiver, nor revolt;
    I read on calmly, calmly shut it up,
    Observing, 'There's some merit in the book;
    'And yet the merit in't is thrown away,
    'As chances still with women if we write
    'Or write not: we want string to tie our flowers,
    'So drop them as we walk, which serves to show
    'The way we went. Good morning, Mister Leigh;
    'You'll find another reader the next time.
    'A woman who does better than to love,
    'I hate; she will do nothing very well:
    'Male poets are preferable, straining less
    'And teaching more.' I triumphed o'er you both,
    And left him.

    "When I saw him afterward
    I had read your shameful letter, and my heart.
    He came with health recovered, strong though pale,
    Lord Howe and he, a courteous pair of friends,
    To say what men dare say to women, when
    Their debtors. But I stopped them with a word,
    And proved I had never trodden such a road
    To carry so much dirt upon my shoe.
    Then, putting into it something of disdain,
    I asked, forsooth, his pardon, and my own,
    For having done no better than to love,
    And that not wisely, though 'twas long ago,
    And had been mended radically since.
    I told him, as I tell you now, Miss Leigh,
    And proved, I took some trouble for his sake
    (Because I knew he did not love the girl)
    To spoil my hands with working in the stream
    Of that poor bubbling nature, till she went,
    Consigned to one I trusted, my own maid
    Who once had lived full five months in my house
    (Dressed hair superbly), with a lavish purse,
    To carry to Australia, where she had left
    A husband, said she. If the creature lied,
    The mission failed: we all do fail and lie
    More or less and I'm sorry which is all
    Expected from us when we fail the most
    And go to church to own it. What I meant,
    Was just the best for him, and me, and her . . .
    Best even for Marian! I am sorry for't,
    And very sorry. Yet my creature said
    She saw her stop to speak in Oxford Street
    To one . . . no matter! I had sooner cut
    My hand off (though 'twere kissed the hour before,
    And promised a duke's troth-ring for the next)
    Than crush her silly head with so much wrong.
    Poor child! I would have mended it with gold,
    Until it gleamed like Saint Sophia's dome
    When all the faithful troop to morning prayer:
    But he, he nipped the bud of such a thought
    With that cold Leigh look which I fancied once,
    And broke in, 'Henceforth she was called his wife:
    'His wife required no succour: he was bound
    'To Florence, to resume this broken bond;
    'Enough so. Both were happy, he and Howe,
    'To acquit me of the heaviest charge of all '
    At which I shot my tongue against my fly
    And struck him: 'Would he carry he was just
    'A letter from me to Aurora Leigh,
    'And ratify from his authentic mouth
    'My answer to her accusation?' 'Yes,
    'If such a letter were prepared in time.'
    He's just, your cousin, ay, abhorrently:
    He'd wash his hands in blood, to keep them clean.
    And so, cold, courteous, a mere gentleman,
    He bowed, we parted.

    "Parted. Face no more,
    Voice no more, love no more! wiped wholly out
    Like some ill scholar's scrawl from heart and slate,
    Ay, spit on, and so wiped out utterly
    By some coarse scholar! I have been too coarse,
    Too human. Have we business, in our rank,
    With blood i' the veins? I will have henceforth none,
    Not even to keep the colour at my lip.
    A rose is pink and pretty without blood:
    Why not a woman? When we've played in vain
    The game, to adore, we have resources still,
    And can play on at leisure, being adored:
    Here's Smith already swearing at my feet
    That I'm the typic She. Away with Smith!
    Smith smacks of Leigh, and henceforth I'll admit
    No socialist within three crinolines,
    To live and have his being. But for you,
    Though insolent your letter and absurd,
    And though I hate you frankly, take my Smith!
    For when you have seen this famous marriage tied,
    A most unspotted Erle to a noble Leigh
    (His love astray on one he should not love),
    Howbeit you may not want his love, beware,
    You'll want some comfort. So I leave you Smith,
    Take Smith! he talks Leigh's subjects, somewhat worse;
    Adopts a thought of Leigh's, and dwindles it;
    Goes leagues beyond, to be no inch behind;
    Will mind you of him, as a shoe-string may
    Of a man: and women, when they are made like you,
    Grow tender to a shoe-string, footprint even,
    Adore averted shoulders in a glass,
    And memories of what, present once, was loathed.
    And yet, you loathed not Romney, though you played
    At 'fox and goose' about him with your soul;
    Pass over fox, you rub out fox, ignore
    A feeling, you eradicate it, the act's

    "I wish you joy, Miss Leigh;
    You've made a happy marriage for your friend,
    And all the honour well-assorted love
    Derives from you who love him, whom he loves!
    You need not wish me joy to think of it;
    I have so much. Observe, Aurora Leigh,
    Your droop of eyelid is the same as his,
    And, but for you, I might have won his love,
    And, to you, I have shown my naked heart;
    For which three things, I hate, hate, hate you. Hush!
    Suppose a fourth! I cannot choose but think
    That, with him, I were virtuouser than you
    Without him: so I hate you from this gulf
    And hollow of my soul, which opens out
    To what, except for you, had been my heaven,
    And is, instead, a place to curse by! Love."

    An active kind of curse. I stood there cursed,
    Confounded. I had seized and caught the sense
    Of the letter, with its twenty stinging snakes,
    In a moment's sweep of eyesight, and I stood
    Dazed. "Ah! not married."

    "You mistake," he said:
    "I'm married. Is not Marian Erle my wife?
    As God sees things, I have a wife and child;
    And I, as I'm a man who honours God,
    Am here to claim them as my child and wife."

    I felt it hard to breathe, much less to speak.
    Nor word of mine was needed. Some one else
    Was there for answering. "Romney," she began,
    "My great good angel, Romney."

    Then at first,
    I knew that Marian Erle was beautiful.
    She stood there, still and pallid as a saint,
    Dilated, like a saint in ecstasy,
    As if the floating moonshine interposed
    Betwixt her foot and the earth, and raised her up
    To float upon it. "I had left my child,
    Who sleeps," she said, "and having drawn this way,
    I heard you speaking, . . . friend! Confirm me now.
    You take this Marian, such as wicked men
    Have made her, for your honourable wife?"

    The thrilling, solemn, proud, pathetic voice.
    He stretched his arms out toward that thrilling voice,
    As if to draw it on to his embrace.
    "I take her as God made her, and as men
    Must fail to unmake her, for my honoured wife."

    She never raised her eyes, nor took a step,
    But stood there in her place, and spoke again.
    "You take this Marian's child, which is her shame
    In sight of men and women, for your child,
    Of whom you will not ever feel ashamed?"
    The thrilling, tender, proud, pathetic voice.
    He stepped on toward it, still with outstretched arms,
    As if to quench upon his breast that voice.
    "May God so father me, as I do him,
    And so forsake me, as I let him feel
    He's orphaned haply. Here I take the child
    To share my cup, to slumber on my knee,
    To play his loudest gambol at my foot,
    To hold my finger in the public ways,
    Till none shall need inquire 'Whose child is this?'
    The gesture saying so tenderly 'My own.'"

    She stood a moment silent in her place;
    Then turning toward me very slow and cold:
    'And you, what say you? will you blame me much,
    If, careful for that outcast child of mine,
    I catch this hand that's stretched to me and him,
    Nor dare to leave him friendless in the world
    Where men have stoned me? Have I not the right
    To take so mere an aftermath from life,
    Else found so wholly bare? Or is it wrong
    To let your cousin, for a generous bent,
    Put out his ungloved fingers among briars
    To set a tumbling bird's nest somewhat straight?
    You will not tell him, though we're innocent,
    We are not harmless, . . . and that both our harms
    Will stick to his good, smooth, noble life like burrs,
    Never to drop off though he shakes the cloak?
    You've been my friend: you will not now be his?
    You've known him that he's worthy of a friend,
    And you're his cousin, lady, after all,
    And therefore more than free to take his part,
    Explaining, since the nest is surely spoilt
    And Marian what you know her though a wife,
    The world would hardly understand her case
    Of being just hurt and honest; while, for him,
    'Twould ever twit him with his bastard child
    And married harlot. Speak, while yet there's time.
    You would not stand and let a good man's dog
    Turn round and rend him, because his, and reared
    Of a generous breed, and will you let his act,
    Because it's generous? Speak. I'm bound to you,
    And I'll be bound by only you, in this."

    The thrilling, solemn voice, so passionless,
    Sustained, yet low, without a rise or fall,
    As one who had authority to speak,
    And not as Marian.

    I looked up to feel
    If God stood near me, and beheld His heaven
    As blue as Aaron's priestly robe appeared
    To Aaron when he took it off to die.
    And then I spoke: "Accept the gift, I say,
    My sister Marian, and be satisfied.
    The hand that gives has still a soul behind
    Which will not let it quail for having given,
    Though foolish worldlings talk they know not what
    Of what they know not. Romney's strong enough
    For this: do you be strong to know he's strong:
    He stands on Right's side; never flinch for him,
    As if he stood on the other. You'll be bound
    By me? I am a woman of repute;
    No fly-blow gossip ever specked my life;
    My name is clean and open as this hand,
    Whose glove there's not a man dares blab about
    As if he had touched it freely. Here's my hand
    To clasp your hand, my Marian, owned as pure!
    As pure as I'm a woman and a Leigh!
    And, as I'm both, I'll witness to the world
    That Romney Leigh is honoured in his choice
    Who chooses Marian for his honoured wife."

    Her broad wild woodland eyes shot out a light,
    Her smile was wonderful for rapture. "Thanks,
    My great Aurora." Forward then she sprang,
    And dropping her impassioned spaniel head
    With all its brown abandonment of curls
    On Romney's feet, we heard the kisses drawn
    Through sobs upon the foot, upon the ground
    "O Romney! O my angel! O unchanged,
    Though since we've parted I have passed the grave!
    But Death itself could only better thee,
    Not change thee! Thee I do not thank at all:
    I but thank God who made thee what thou art,
    So wholly godlike."

    When he tried in vain
    To raise her to his embrace, escaping thence
    As any leaping fawn from a huntsman's grasp,
    She bounded off and 'lighted beyond reach,
    Before him, with a staglike majesty
    Of soft, serene defiance, as she knew
    He could not touch her, so was tolerant
    He had cared to try. She stood there with her great
    Drowned eyes, and dripping cheeks, and strange, sweet smile
    That lived through all, as if one held a light
    Across a waste of waters shook her head
    To keep some thoughts down deeper in her soul,
    Then, white and tranquil like a summer-cloud
    Which, having rained itself to a tardy peace,
    Stands still in heaven as if it ruled the day,
    Spoke out again, "Although, my generous friend,
    Since last we met and parted you're unchanged,
    And having promised faith to Marian Erle,
    Maintain it, as she were not changed at all;
    And though that's worthy, though that's full of balm
    To any conscious spirit of a girl
    Who once has loved you as I loved you once
    Yet still it will not make her . . . if she's dead,
    And gone away where none can give or take
    In marriage able to revive, return
    And wed you will it, Romney? Here's the point,
    My friend, we'll see it plainer: you and I
    Must never, never, never join hands so.
    Nay, let me say it for I said it first
    To God, and placed it, rounded to an oath,
    Far, far above the moon there, at His feet,
    As surely as I wept just now at yours
    We never, never, never join hands so.
    And now, be patient with me; do not think
    I'm speaking from a false humility.
    The truth is, I am grown so proud with grief,
    And He has said so often through His nights
    And through His mornings, 'Weep a little still,
    'Thou foolish Marian, because women must,
    'But do not blush at all except for sin'
    That I, who felt myself unworthy once
    Of virtuous Romney and his high-born race,
    Have come to learn, a woman, poor or rich,
    Despised or honoured, is a human soul,
    And what her soul is, that she is herself,
    Although she should be spit upon of men,
    As is the pavement of the churches here,
    Still good enough to pray in. And being chaste
    And honest, and inclined to do the right,
    And love the truth, and live my life out green
    And smooth beneath his steps, I should not fear
    To make him thus a less uneasy time
    Than many a happier woman. Very proud
    You see me. Pardon, that I set a trap
    To hear a confirmation in your voice,
    Both yours and yours. It is so good to know
    'Twas really God who said the same before;
    And thus it is in heaven, that first God speaks,
    And then His angels. Oh, it does me good,
    It wipes me clean and sweet from devil's dirt,
    That Romney Leigh should think me worthy still
    Of being his true and honourable wife!
    Henceforth I need not say, on leaving earth,
    I had no glory in it. For the rest,
    The reason's ready (master, angel, friend,
    Be patient with me) wherefore you and I
    Can never, never, never join hands so.
    I know you'll not be angry like a man
    (For you are none) when I shall tell the truth,
    Which is, I do not love you, Romney Leigh,
    I do not love you. Ah well! catch my hands,
    Miss Leigh, and burn into my eyes with yours
    I swear I do not love him. Did I once?
    'Tis said that women have been bruised to death
    And yet, if once they loved, that love of theirs
    Could never be drained out with all their blood:
    I've heard such things and pondered. Did I indeed
    Love once; or did I only worship? Yes,
    Perhaps, O friend, I set you up so high
    Above all actual good or hope of good
    Or fear of evil, all that could be mine,
    I haply set you above love itself,
    And out of reach of these poor woman's arms,
    Angelic Romney. What was in my thought?
    To be your slave, your help, your toy, your tool.
    To be your love . . . I never thought of that:
    To give you love . . . still less. I gave you love?
    I think I did not give you anything;
    I was but only yours upon my knees,
    All yours, in soul and body, in head and heart,
    A creature you had taken from the ground
    Still crumbling through your fingers to your feet
    To join the dust she came from. Did I love,
    Or did I worship? judge, Aurora Leigh!
    But, if indeed I loved, 'twas long ago
    So long! before the sun and moon were made,
    Before the hells were open, ah, before
    I heard my child cry in the desert night,
    And knew he had no father. It may be
    I'm not as strong as other women are,
    Who, torn and crushed, are not undone from love:
    It may be I am colder than the dead,
    Who, being dead, love always. But for me,
    Once killed, this ghost of Marian loves no more,
    No more . . . except the child! . . . no more at all.
    I told your cousin, sir, that I was dead;
    And now, she thinks I'll get up from my grave,
    And wear my chin-cloth for a wedding-veil,
    And glide along the churchyard like a bride
    While all the dead keep whispering through the withes,
    'You would be better in your place with us,
    'You pitiful corruption!' At the thought,
    The damps break out on me like leprosy
    Although I'm clean. Ay, clean as Marian Erle!
    As Marian Leigh, I know, I were not clean:
    Nor have I so much life that I should love,
    Except the child. Ah God! I could not bear
    To see my darling on a good man's knees,
    And know, by such a look, or such a sigh,
    Or such a silence, that he thought sometimes,
    'This child was fathered by some cursèd wretch' . . .
    For, Romney, angels are less tender-wise
    Than God and mothers: even you would think
    What we think never. He is ours, the child;
    And we would sooner vex a soul in heaven
    By coupling with it the dead body's thought,
    It left behind it in a last month's grave,
    Than, in my child, see other than . . . my child.
    We only never call him fatherless
    Who has God and his mother. O my babe,
    My pretty, pretty blossom, an ill wind
    Once blew upon my breast! can any think
    I'd have another one called happier,
    A fathered child, with father's love and race
    That's worn as bold and open as a smile,
    To vex my darling when he's asked his name
    And has no answer? What! a happier child
    Than mine, my best who laughed so loud to-night
    He could not sleep for pastime? Nay, I swear,
    By life and love, that, if I lived like some,
    And loved like . . . some, ay, loved you, Romney Leigh,
    As some love (eyes that have wept so much, see clear),
    I've room for no more children in my arms,
    My kisses are all melted on one mouth,
    I would not push my darling to a stool
    To dandle babies. Here's a hand shall keep
    For ever clean without a marriage-ring,
    To tend my boy until he cease to need
    One steadying finger of it, and desert
    (Not miss) his mother's lap, to sit with men.
    And when I miss him (not he me), I'll come
    And say 'Now give me some of Romney's work,
    To help your outcast orphans of the world
    And comfort grief with grief.' For you, meantime,
    Most noble Romney, wed a noble wife,
    And open on each other your great souls
    I need not farther bless you. If I dared
    But strain and touch her in her upper sphere,
    And say 'Come down to Romney pay my debt!'
    I should be joyful with the stream of joy
    Sent through me. But the moon is in my face . . .
    I dare not though I guess the name he loves;
    I'm learned with my studies of old days,
    Remembering how he crushed his under-lip
    When some one came and spoke, or did not come.
    Aurora, I could touch her with my hand,
    And fly because I dare not."

    She was gone.

    He smiled so sternly that I spoke in haste.
    "Forgive her she sees clearly for herself:
    Her instinct's holy."

    "I forgive!" he said,
    "I only marvel how she sees so sure,
    While others" . . . there he paused then hoarse, abrupt,
    "Aurora! you forgive us, her and me?
    For her, the thing she sees, poor, loyal child,
    If once corrected by the thing I know,
    Had been unspoken, since she loves you well,
    Has leave to love you: while for me, alas!
    If once or twice I let my heart escape
    This night, . . . remember, where hearts slip and fall,
    They break beside: we're parting parting ah!
    You do not love, that you should surely know
    What that word means. Forgive, be tolerant:
    It had not been, but that I felt myself
    So safe in impuissance and despair,
    I could not hurt you though I tossed my arms
    And sighed my soul out. The most utter wretch
    Will choose his postures when he comes to die,
    However in the presence of a queen;
    And you'll forgive me some unseemly spasms
    Which meant no more than dying. Do you think
    I had ever come here in my perfect mind
    Unless I had come here in my settled mind
    Bound Marian's, bound to keep the bond and give
    My name, my house, my hand, the things I could,
    To Marian? For even I could give as much:
    Even I, affronting her exalted soul
    By a supposition that she wanted these,
    Could act the husband's coat and hat set up
    To creak i' the wind and drive the world-crows off
    From pecking in her garden. Straw can fill
    A hole to keep out vermin. Now, at last,
    I own heaven's angels round her life suffice
    To fight the rats of our society
    Without this Romney: I can see it at last;
    And here is ended my pretension which
    The most pretended. Over-proud of course,
    Even so! but not so stupid . . . blind . . . that I,
    Whom thus the great Taskmaster of the world
    Has set to meditate mistaken work,
    My dreary face against a dim blank wall
    Throughout man's natural lifetime could pretend
    Or wish . . . O love, I have loved you! O my soul,
    I have lost you! but I swear by all yourself,
    And all you might have been to me these years,
    If that June morning had not failed my hope
    I'm not so bestial, to regret that day
    This night this night, which still to you is fair!
    Nay, not so blind, Aurora. I attest
    Those stars above us which I cannot see". .

    "You cannot" . . .

    "That if Heaven itself should stoop,
    Re-mix the lots, and give me another chance,
    I'd say 'No other!' I'd record my blank.
    Aurora never should be wife of mine."

    "Not see the stars?"

    "'Tis worse still, not to see,
    To find your hand, although we're parting, dear.
    A moment let me hold it ere we part;
    And understand my last words these, at last!
    I would not have you thinking when I'm gone
    That Romney dared to hanker for your love
    In thought or vision, if attainable
    (Which certainly for me it never was),
    And wished to use it for a dog to-day
    To help the blind man stumbling. God forbid!
    And now I know He held you in His palm,
    And kept you open-eyed to all my faults,
    To save you at last from such a dreary end.
    Believe me, dear, that, if I had known like Him
    What loss was coming on me, I had done
    As well in this as He has. Farewell, you
    Who are still my light, farewell! How late it is:
    I know that, now. You've been too patient, sweet.
    I will but blow my whistle toward the lane,
    And some one comes the same who brought me here.
    Get in Good-night."

    "A moment. Heavenly Christ!
    A moment. Speak once, Romney. 'Tis not true.
    I hold your hands, I look into your face
    You see me?"

    "No more than the blessèd stars.
    Be blessèd too, Aurora. Nay, my sweet,
    You tremble. Tender-hearted! Do you mind
    Of yore, dear, how you used to cheat old John,
    And let the mice out slyly from his traps,
    Until he marvelled at the soul in mice
    Which took the cheese and left the snare? The same
    Dear soft heart always! 'Twas for this I grieved
    Howe's letter never reached you. Ah, you had heard
    Of illness not the issue, not the extent:
    My life, long sick with tossings up and down,
    The sudden revulsion in the blazing house,
    The strain and struggle both of body and soul,
    Which left fire running in my veins for blood,
    Scarce lacked that thunderbolt of the falling beam
    Which nicked me on the forehead as I passed
    The gallery-door with a burden. Say heaven's bolt,
    Not William Erle's, not Marian's father's, tramp
    And poacher, whom I found for what he was,
    And, eager for her sake to rescue him,
    Forth swept from the open highway of the world,
    Road-dust and all till, like a woodland boar
    Most naturally unwilling to be tamed,
    He notched me with his tooth. But not a word
    To Marian! and I do not think, besides,
    He turned the tilting of the beam my way;
    And if he laughed, as many swear, poor wretch,
    Nor he, nor I supposed the hurt so deep.
    We'll hope his next laugh may be merrier,
    In a better cause."

    "Blind, Romney?"

    "Ah, my friend,
    You'll learn to say it in a cheerful voice;
    I, too, at first desponded. To be blind,
    Turned out of nature, mulcted as a man,
    Refused the daily largesse of the sun
    To humble creatures! When the fever's heat
    Dropped from me, as the flame did from my house,
    And left me ruined like it, stripped of all
    The hues and shapes of aspectable life,
    A mere bare blind stone in the blaze of day,
    A man, upon the outside of the earth,
    As dark as ten feet under, in the grave,
    Why, that seemed hard."

    "No hope?"

         "A tear! you weep,
    Divine Aurora? tears upon my hand!
    I've seen you weeping for a mouse, a bird,
    But, weep for me, Aurora? Yes, there's hope.
    Not hope of sight, I could be learned, dear,
    And tell you in what Greek and Latin name
    The visual nerve is withered to the root,
    Though the outer eyes appear indifferent,
    Unspotted in their crystals. But there's hope.
    The spirit, from behind this dethroned sense,
    Sees, waits in patience till the walls break up
    From which the bas-relief and fresco have dropped:
    There's hope. The man here, once so arrogant
    And restless, so ambitious, for his part,
    Of dealing with statistically packed
    Disorders (from a pattern on his nail),
    And packing such things quite another way,
    Is now contented. From his personal loss
    He has come to hope for others when they lose,
    And wear a gladder faith in what we gain . . .
    Through bitter experience, compensation sweet,
    Like that tear, sweetest. I am quiet now,
    As tender surely for the suffering world,
    But quiet, sitting at the wall to learn,
    Content henceforth to do the thing I can:
    For, though as powerless, said I, as a stone,
    A stone can still give shelter to a worm,
    And it is worth while being a stone for that:
    There's hope, Aurora."

    "Is there hope for me?
    For me? and is there room beneath the stone
    For such a worm? And if I came and said . . .
    What all this weeping scarce will let me say,
    And yet what women cannot say at all
    But weeping bitterly . . . (the pride keeps up,
    Until the heart breaks under it) . . . I love,
    I love you, Romney" . . .

    "Silence!" he exclaimed.
    "A woman's pity sometimes makes her mad.
    A man's distraction must not cheat his soul
    To take advantage of it. Yet, 'tis hard
    Farewell, Aurora."

    "But I love you, sir;
    And when a woman says she loves a man,
    The man must hear her, though he love her not,
    Which . . . hush! . . . he has leave to answer in his turn;
    She will not surely blame him. As for me,
    You call it pity, think I'm generous?
    'Twere somewhat easier, for a woman proud
    As I am, and I'm very vilely proud,
    To let it pass as such, and press on you
    Love born of pity, seeing that excellent loves
    Are born so, often, nor the quicklier die,
    And this would set me higher by the head
    Than now I stand. No matter: let the truth
    Stand high; Aurora must be humble: no,
    My love's not pity merely. Obviously
    I'm not a generous woman, never was,
    Or else, of old, I had not looked so near
    To weights and measures, grudging you the power
    To give, as first I scorned your power to judge
    For me, Aurora. I would have no gifts,
    Forsooth, but God's, and I would use them too
    According to my pleasure and my choice,
    As He and I were equals, you below,
    Excluded from that level of interchange
    Admitting benefaction. You were wrong
    In much? you said so. I was wrong in most.
    Oh, most! You only thought to rescue men
    By half-means, half-way, seeing half their wants,
    While thinking nothing of your personal gain.
    But I, who saw the human nature broad
    At both sides, comprehending too the soul's,
    And all the high necessities of Art,
    Betrayed the thing I saw, and wronged my own life
    For which I pleaded. Passioned to exalt
    The artist's instinct in me at the cost
    Of putting down the woman's, I forgot
    No perfect artist is developed here
    From any imperfect woman. Flower from root,
    And spiritual from natural, grade by grade
    In all our life. A handful of the earth
    To make God's image! the despised poor earth,
    The healthy, odorous earth, I missed with it
    The divine Breath that blows the nostrils out
    To ineffable inflatus, ay, the breath
    Which love is. Art is much, but Love is more.
    O Art, my Art, thou'rt much, but Love is more!
    Art symbolises heaven, but Love is God
    And makes heaven. I, Aurora, fell from mine.
    I would not be a woman like the rest,
    A simple woman who believes in love
    And owns the right of love because she loves,
    And, hearing she's beloved, is satisfied
    With what contents God: I must analyse,
    Confront, and question; just as if a fly
    Refused to warm itself in any sun
    Till such was in Leone: I must fret,
    Forsooth, because the month was only May,
    Be faithless of the kind of proffered love,
    And captious, lest it miss my dignity,
    And scornful, that my lover sought a wife
    To use . . . to use! O Romney, O my love,
    I am changed since then, changed wholly, for indeed
    If now you'd stoop so low to take my love
    And use it roughly, without stint or spare,
    As men use common things with more behind
    (And, in this, ever would be more behind)
    To any mean and ordinary end,
    The joy would set me like a star, in heaven,
    So high up, I should shine because of height
    And not of virtue. Yet in one respect,
    Just one, beloved, I am in nowise changed:
    I love you, loved you . . . loved you first and last,
    And love you on for ever. Now I know
    I loved you always, Romney. She who died
    Knew that, and said so; Lady Waldemar
    Knows that; . . . and Marian. I had known the same,
    Except that I was prouder than I knew,
    And not so honest. Ay, and, as I live,
    I should have died so, crushing in my hand
    This rose of love, the wasp inside and all,
    Ignoring ever to my soul and you
    Both rose and pain except for this great loss,
    This great despair to stand before your face
    And know you do not see me where I stand.
    You think, perhaps, I am not changed from pride
    And that I chiefly bear to say such words,
    Because you cannot shame me with your eyes?
    O calm, grand eyes, extinguished in a storm,
    Blown out like lights o'er melancholy seas,
    Though shrieked for by the shipwrecked, O my Dark,
    My Cloud, to go before me every day
    While I go ever toward the wilderness,
    I would that you could see me bare to the soul!
    If this be pity, 'tis so for myself,
    And not for Romney! he can stand alone;
    A man like him is never overcome:
    No woman like me counts him pitiable
    While saints applaud him. He mistook the world;
    But I mistook my own heart, and that slip
    Was fatal. Romney, will you leave me here?
    So wrong, so proud, so weak, so unconsoled,
    So mere a woman! and I love you so,
    I love you, Romney "

    Could I see his face,
    I wept so? Did I drop against his breast,
    Or did his arms constrain me? were my cheeks
    Hot, overflooded, with my tears or his?
    And which of our two large explosive hearts
    So shook me? That, I know not. There were words
    That broke in utterance . . . melted, in the fire,
    Embrace, that was convulsion, . . . then a kiss
    As long and silent as the ecstatic night,
    And deep, deep, shuddering breaths, which meant beyond
    Whatever could be told by word or kiss.
    But what he said . . . I have written day by day,
    With somewhat even writing. Did I think
    That such a passionate rain would intercept
    And dash this last page? What he said, indeed,
    I fain would write it down here like the rest,
    To keep it in my eyes, as in my ears,
    The heart's sweet scripture, to be read at night
    When weary, or at morning when afraid,
    And lean my heaviest oath on when I swear
    That, when all's done, all tried, all counted here,
    All great arts, and all good philosophies,
    This love just puts its hand out in a dream
    And straight outstretches all things.

    What he said,
    I fain would write. But if an angel spoke
    In thunder, should we haply know much more
    Than that it thundered? If a cloud came down
    And wrapped us wholly, could we draw its shape,
    As if on the outside and not overcome?
    And so he spake. His breath against my face
    Confused his words, yet made them more intense
    (As when the sudden finger of the wind
    Will wipe a row of single city-lamps
    To a pure white line of flame, more luminous
    Because of obliteration), more intense,
    The intimate presence carrying in itself
    Complete communication, as with souls
    Who, having put the body off, perceive
    Through simply being. Thus, 'twas granted me
    To know he loved me to the depth and height
    Of such large natures, ever competent,
    With grand horizons by the sea or land,
    To love's grand sunrise. Small spheres hold small fires,
    But he loved largely, as a man can love
    Who, baffled in his love, dares live his life,
    Accept the ends which God loves, for his own,
    And lift a constant aspect.

    From the day
    I brought to England my poor searching face
    (An orphan even of my father's grave),
    He had loved me, watched me, watched his soul in mine,
    Which in me grew and heightened into love.
    For he, a boy still, had been told the tale
    Of how a fairy bride from Italy
    With smells of oleanders in her hair,
    Was coming through the vines to touch his hand;
    Whereat the blood of boyhood on the palm
    Made sudden heats. And when at last I came,
    And lived before him lived, and rarely smiled
    He smiled and loved me for the thing I was,
    As every child will love the year's first flower
    (Not certainly the fairest of the year,
    But, in which, the complete year seems to blow),
    The poor sad snowdrop, growing between drifts,
    Mysterious medium 'twixt the plant and frost,
    So faint with winter while so quick with spring,
    And doubtful if to thaw itself away
    With that snow near it. Not that Romney Leigh
    Had loved me coldly. If I thought so once,
    It was as if I had held my hand in fire
    And shook for cold. But now I understood,
    For ever, that the very fire and heat
    Of troubling passion in him burned him clear,
    And shaped, to dubious order, word and act:
    That, just because he loved me over all,
    All wealth, all lands, all social privilege,
    To which chance made him unexpected heir,
    And, just because on all these lesser gifts,
    Constrained by conscience and the sense of wrong,
    He had stamped with steady hand God's arrow-mark
    Of dedication to the human need,
    He thought it should be so too, with his love.
    He, passionately loving, would bring down
    His love, his life, his best (because the best),
    His bride of dreams, who walked so still and high
    Through flowery poems as through meadow-grass,
    The dust of golden lilies on her feet,
    That she should walk beside him on the rocks
    In all that clang and hewing out of men,
    And help the work of help which was his life,
    And prove he kept back nothing, not his soul.
    And when I failed him, for I failed him, I,
    And when it seemed he had missed my love, he thought
    "Aurora makes room for a working-noon,"
    And so, self-girded with torn strips of hope,
    Took up his life as if it were for death
    (Just capable of one heroic aim),
    And threw it in the thickest of the world,
    At which men laughed as if he had drowned a dog.
    No wonder, since Aurora failed him first!
    The morning and the evening made his day.

    But oh, the night! oh, bitter-sweet! oh, sweet!
    O dark, O moon and stars, O ecstasy
    Of darkness! O great mystery of love,
    In which absorbed, loss, anguish, treason's self
    Enlarges rapture, as a pebble dropped
    In some full wine-cup overbrims the wine!
    While we two sat together, leaned that night
    So close my very garments crept and thrilled
    With strange electric life, and both my cheeks
    Grew red, then pale, with touches from my hair
    In which his breath was, while the golden moon
    Was hung before our faces as the badge
    Of some sublime inherited despair,
    Since ever to be seen by only one,
    A voice said, low and rapid as a sigh,
    Yet breaking, I felt conscious, from a smile,
    "Thank God, who made me blind, to make me see!
    Shine on, Aurora, dearest light of souls,
    Which rul'st for evermore both day and night!
    I am happy."

    I flung closer to his breast,
    As sword that, after battle, flings to sheath;
    And, in that hurtle of united souls,
    The mystic motions which in common moods
    Are shut beyond our sense, broke in on us,
    And, as we sat, we felt the old earth spin,
    And all the starry turbulence of worlds
    Swing round us in their audient circles, till,
    If that same golden moon were overhead
    Or if beneath our feet, we did not know.

    And then calm, equal, smooth with weights of joy,
    His voice rose, as some chief musician's song
    Amid the old Jewish temple's Selah-pause,
    And bade me mark how we two met at last
    Upon this moon-bathed promontory of earth,
    To give up much on each side, then take all.
    "Beloved," it sang, "we must be here to work;
    And men who work can only work for men,
    And, not to work in vain, must comprehend
    Humanity and so work humanly,
    And raise men's bodies still by raising souls,
    As God did first."

    "But stand upon the earth,"
    I said, "to raise them (this is human too,
    There's nothing high which has not first been low;
    My humbleness, said One, has made me great!)
    As God did last."

    "And work all silently
    And simply," he returned, "as God does all;
    Distort our nature never for our work,
    Nor count our right hands stronger for being hoofs.
    The man most man, with tenderest human hands,
    Works best for men, as God in Nazareth."

    He paused upon the word, and then resumed:
    "Fewer programmes, we who have no pre-science.
    Fewer systems, we who are held and do not hold.
    Less mapping out of masses to be saved,
    By nations or by sexes. Fourier's void,
    And Comte absurd, and Cabet puerile.
    Subsist no rules of life outside of life,
    No perfect manners without Christian souls:
    The Christ Himself had been no Lawgiver
    Unless He had given the life, too, with the law."

    I echoed thoughtfully: "The man, most man,
    Works best for men, and, if most man indeed,
    He gets his manhood plainest from his soul:
    While obviously this stringent soul itself
    Obeys the old law of development,
    The Spirit ever witnessing in ours,
    And Love, the soul of soul, within the soul,
    Evolving it sublimely. First, God's love."

    "And next," he smiled, "the love of wedded souls,
    Which still presents that mystery's counterpart.
    Sweet shadow-rose, upon the water of life,
    Of such a mystic substance, Sharon gave
    A name to! human, vital, fructuous rose,
    Whose calyx holds the multitude of leaves,
    Loves filial, loves fraternal, neighbour-loves
    And civic all fair petals, all good scents,
    All reddened, sweetened from one central Heart!"

    "Alas," I cried, "it was not long ago
    You swore this very social rose smelt ill."

    "Alas," he answered, "is it a rose at all?
    The filial's thankless, the fraternal's hard,
    The rest is lost. I do but stand and think,
    Across the waters of a troubled life
    This Flower of Heaven so vainly overhangs,
    What perfect counterpart would be in sight
    If tanks were clearer. Let us clean the tubes,
    And wait for rains. O poet, O my love,
    Since I was too ambitious in my deed,
    And thought to distance all men in success
    (Till God came on me, marked the place, and said
    'Ill-doer, henceforth keep within this line,
    Attempting less than others,' and I stand
    And work among Christ's little ones, content),
    Come thou, my compensation, my dear sight,
    My morning-star, my morning, rise and shine,
    And touch my hills with radiance not their own.
    Shine out for two, Aurora, and fulfil
    My falling-short that must be! work for two,
    As I, though thus restrained, for two, shall love!
    Gaze on, with inscient vision toward the sun,
    And, from his visceral heat, pluck out the roots
    Of light beyond him. Art's a service, mark:
    A silver key is given to thy clasp,
    And thou shalt stand unwearied, night and day,
    And fix it in the hard, slow-turning wards,
    To open, so, that intermediate door
    Betwixt the different planes of sensuous form
    And form insensuous, that inferior men
    May learn to feel on still through these to those,
    And bless thy ministration. The world waits
    For help. Beloved, let us love so well,
    Our work shall still be better for our love,
    And still our love be sweeter for our work,
    And both commended, for the sake of each,
    By all true workers and true lovers born.
    Now press the clarion on thy woman's lip
    (Love's holy kiss shall still keep consecrate)
    And breathe thy fine keen breath along the brass,
    And blow all class-walls level as Jericho's
    Past Jordan, crying from the top of souls,
    To souls, that, here assembled on earth's flats,
    They get them to some purer eminence
    Than any hitherto beheld for clouds!
    What height we know not, but the way we know,
    And how by mounting ever we attain,
    And so climb on. It is the hour for souls,
    That bodies, leavened by the will and love,
    Be lightened to redemption. The world's old,
    But the old world waits the time to be renewed,
    Toward which, new hearts in individual growth
    Must quicken, and increase to multitude
    In new dynasties of the race of men;
    Developed whence, shall grow spontaneously
    New churches, new oeconomies, new laws
    Admitting freedom, new societies
    Excluding falsehood: He shall make all new."

    My Romney! Lifting up my hand in his,
    As wheeled by Seeing spirits toward the east,
    He turned instinctively, where, faint and far,
    Along the tingling desert of the sky,
    Beyond the circle of the conscious hills,
    Were laid in jasper-stone as clear as glass
    The first foundations of that new, near Day
    Which should be builded out of heaven to God.

    He stood a moment with erected brows,
    In silence, as a creature might who gazed,
    Stood calm, and fed his blind, majestic eyes
    Upon the thought of perfect noon: and when
    I saw his soul saw, "Jasper first," I said;
    "And second, sapphire; third, chalcedony;
    The rest in order: last, an amethyst."


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Add Aurora Leigh: Book 9 to your library.

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