Prologue I heard an angel speak last night, And he said "Write! Write a Nation's curse for me, And send it over the Western Sea." I faltered, taking up the word: "Not so, my lord! If curses must be, choose another To send thy curse against my brother. "For I am bound by gratitude, By love and blood, To brothers of mine across the sea, Who stretch out kindly hands to me." "Therefore," the voice said, "shalt thou write My curse to-night. From the summits of love a curse is driven, As lightning is from the tops of heaven." "Not so," I answered. "Evermore My heart is sore For my own land's sins: for little feet Of children bleeding along the street: "For parked-up honors that gainsay The right of way: For almsgiving through a door that is Not open enough for two friends to kiss: "For love of freedom which abates Beyond the Straits: For patriot virtue starved to vice on Self-praise, self-interest, and suspicion: "For an oligarchic parliament, And bribes well-meant. What curse to another land assign, When heavy-souled for the sins of mine?" "Therefore," the voice said, "shalt thou write My curse to-night. Because thou hast strength to see and hate A foul thing done within thy gate." "Not so," I answered once again. "To curse, choose men. For I, a woman, have only known How the heart melts and the tears run down." "Therefore," the voice said, "shalt thou write My curse to-night. Some women weep and curse, I say (And no one marvels), night and day. "And thou shalt take their part to-night, Weep and write. A curse from the depths of womanhood Is very salt, and bitter, and good." So thus I wrote, and mourned indeed, What all may read. And thus, as was enjoined on me, I send it over the Western Sea. The Curse Because ye have broken your own chain With the strain Of brave men climbing a Nation's height, Yet thence bear down with brand and thong On souls of others, for this wrong This is the curse. Write. Because yourselves are standing straight In the state Of Freedom's foremost acolyte, Yet keep calm footing all the time On writhing bond-slaves, for this crime This is the curse. Write. Because ye prosper in God's name, With a claim To honor in the old world's sight, Yet do the fiend's work perfectly In strangling martyrs, for this lie This is the curse. Write. Ye shall watch while kings conspire Round the people's smouldering fire, And, warm for your part, Shall never dare O shame! To utter the thought into flame Which burns at your heart. This is the curse. Write. Ye shall watch while nations strive With the bloodhounds, die or survive, Drop faint from their jaws, Or throttle them backward to death; And only under your breath Shall favor the cause. This is the curse. Write. Ye shall watch while strong men draw The nets of feudal law To strangle the weak; And, counting the sin for a sin, Your soul shall be sadder within Than the word ye shall speak. This is the curse. Write. When good men are praying erect That Christ may avenge His elect And deliver the earth, The prayer in your ears, said low, Shall sound like the tramp of a foe That's driving you forth. This is the curse. Write. When wise men give you their praise, They shall praise in the heat of the phrase, As if carried too far. When ye boast your own charters kept true, Ye shall blush; for the thing which ye do Derides what ye are. This is the curse. Write. When fools cast taunts at your gate, Your scorn ye shall somewhat abate As ye look o'er the wall; For your conscience, tradition, and name Explode with a deadlier blame Than the worst of them all. This is the curse. Write. Go, wherever ill deeds shall be done, Go, plant your flag in the sun Beside the ill-doers! And recoil from clenching the curse Of God's witnessing Universe With a curse of yours. This is the curse. Write.
Return to the Elizabeth Barrett Browning library , or . . . Read the next poem; A Dead Rose