Human Life’'s Mystery


    We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,
    We build the house where we may rest,
    And then, at moments, suddenly,
    We look up to the great wide sky,
    Inquiring wherefore we were born…
    For earnest or for jest?

    The senses folding thick and dark
    About the stifled soul within,
    We guess diviner things beyond,
    And yearn to them with yearning fond;
    We strike out blindly to a mark
    Believed in, but not seen.

    We vibrate to the pant and thrill
    Wherewith Eternity has curled
    In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
    While, freshening upward to His feet,
    In gradual growth His full-leaved will
    Expands from world to world.

    And, in the tumult and excess
    Of act and passion under sun,
    We sometimes hear, oh, soft and far,
    As silver star did touch with star,
    The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
    Through all things that are done.

    God keeps His holy mysteries
    Just on the outside of man’s dream;
    In diapason slow, we think
    To hear their pinions rise and sink,
    While they float pure beneath His eyes,
    Like swans adown a stream.

    Abstractions, are they, from the forms
    Of His great beauty? exaltations
    From His great glory? strong previsions
    Of what we shall be? intuitions
    Of what we are, in calms and storms,
    Beyond our peace and passions?

    Things nameless! which, in passing so,
    Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
    We say, ‘Who passes?’ they are dumb.
    We cannot see them go or come:
    Their touches fall soft, cold, as snow
    Upon a blind man’s face.

    Yet, touching so, they draw above
    Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
    Our daily joy and pain advance
    To a divine significance,
    Our human love, O mortal love,
    That light is not its own!

    And sometimes horror chills our blood
    To be so near such mystic Things,
    And we wrap round us for defence
    Our purple manners, moods of sense,
    As angels from the face of God
    Stand hidden in their wings.

    And sometimes through life’s heavy swound
    We grope for them! with strangled breath
    We stretch our hands abroad and try
    To reach them in our agony,
    And widen, so, the broad life-wound
    Which soon is large enough for death.


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Return to the Elizabeth Barrett Browning library , or . . . Read the next poem; Insufficiency

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