A Woman’s Shortcomings – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

She has laughed as softly as if she sighed, 

She has counted six, and over, 

Of a purse well filled, and a heart well tried – 

Oh, each a worthy lover! 

They “give her time”; for her soul must slip 

Where the world has set the grooving; 

She will lie to none with her fair red lip: 

But love seeks truer loving. 
She trembles her fan in a sweetness dumb, 

As her thoughts were beyond recalling; 

With a glance for one, and a glance for some, 

From her eyelids rising and falling; 

Speaks common words with a blushful air, 

Hears bold words, unreproving; 

But her silence says – what she never will swear – 

And love seeks better loving. 
Go, lady! lean to the night-guitar, 

And drop a smile to the bringer; 

Then smile as sweetly, when he is far, 

At the voice of an in-door singer. 

Bask tenderly beneath tender eyes; 

Glance lightly, on their removing; 

And join new vows to old perjuries – 

But dare not call it loving! 
Unless you can think, when the song is done, 

No other is soft in the rhythm; 

Unless you can feel, when left by One, 

That all men else go with him; 

Unless you can know, when unpraised by his breath, 

That your beauty itself wants proving; 

Unless you can swear “For life, for death!” – 

Oh, fear to call it loving! 
Unless you can muse in a crowd all day 

On the absent face that fixed you; 

Unless you can love, as the angels may, 

With the breadth of heaven betwixt you; 

Unless you can dream that his faith is fast, 

Through behoving and unbehoving; 

Unless you can die when the dream is past – 

Oh, never call it loving!

A Musical Instrument – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What was he doing, the great god Pan, 

Down in the reeds by the river? 

Spreading ruin and scattering ban, 

Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat, 

And breaking the golden lilies afloat 

With the dragon-fly on the river. 
He tore out a reed, the great god Pan, 

From the deep cool bed of the river: 

The limpid water turbidly ran, 

And the broken lilies a-dying lay, 

And the dragon-fly had fled away, 

Ere he brought it out of the river. 
High on the shore sat the great god Pan 

While turbidly flowed the river; 

And hacked and hewed as a great god can, 

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed, 

Till there was not a sign of the leaf indeed 

To prove it fresh from the river. 
He cut it short, did the great god Pan, 

(How tall it stood in the river!) 

Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man, 

Steadily from the outside ring, 

And notched the poor dry empty thing 

In holes, as he sat by the river. 
‘This is the way,’ laughed the great god Pan 

(Laughed while he sat by the river), 

‘The only way, since gods began 

To make sweet music, they could succeed.’ 

Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed, 

He blew in power by the river. 
Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan! 

Piercing sweet by the river! 

Blinding sweet, O great god Pan! 

The sun on the hill forgot to die, 

And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly 

Came back to dream on the river. 
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan, 

To laugh as he sits by the river, 

Making a poet out of a man: 

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, — 

For the reed which grows nevermore again 

As a reed with the reeds in the river.

A Man’s Requirements – Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Love me Sweet, with all thou art, 

Feeling, thinking, seeing; 

Love me in the lightest part, 

Love me in full being. 
II 
Love me with thine open youth 

In its frank surrender; 

With the vowing of thy mouth, 

With its silence tender. 
III 
Love me with thine azure eyes, 

Made for earnest grantings; 

Taking colour from the skies, 

Can Heaven’s truth be wanting? 
IV 
Love me with their lids, that fall 

Snow-like at first meeting; 

Love me with thine heart, that all 

Neighbours then see beating. 

Love me with thine hand stretched out 

Freely — open-minded: 

Love me with thy loitering foot, — 

Hearing one behind it. 
VI 
Love me with thy voice, that turns 

Sudden faint above me; 

Love me with thy blush that burns 

When I murmur ‘Love me!’ 
VII 
Love me with thy thinking soul, 

Break it to love-sighing; 

Love me with thy thoughts that roll 

On through living — dying. 
VIII 
Love me in thy gorgeous airs, 

When the world has crowned thee; 

Love me, kneeling at thy prayers, 

With the angels round thee. 
IX 
Love me pure, as muses do, 

Up the woodlands shady: 

Love me gaily, fast and true, 

As a winsome lady. 

Through all hopes that keep us brave, 

Farther off or nigher, 

Love me for the house and grave, 

And for something higher. 
XI 
Thus, if thou wilt prove me, Dear, 

Woman’s love no fable, 

I will love thee — half a year — 

As a man is able.

A Dead Rose – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

O Rose! who dares to name thee? 

No longer roseate now, nor soft, nor sweet; 

But pale, and hard, and dry, as stubble-wheat,— 

Kept seven years in a drawer—thy titles shame thee. 
The breeze that used to blow thee 

Between the hedgerow thorns, and take away 

An odour up the lane to last all day,— 

If breathing now,—unsweetened would forego thee. 
The sun that used to smite thee, 

And mix his glory in thy gorgeous urn, 

Till beam appeared to bloom, and flower to burn,— 

If shining now,—with not a hue would light thee. 
The dew that used to wet thee, 

And, white first, grow incarnadined, because 

It lay upon thee where the crimson was,— 

If dropping now,—would darken where it met thee. 
The fly that lit upon thee, 

To stretch the tendrils of its tiny feet, 

Along thy leaf’s pure edges, after heat,— 

If lighting now,—would coldly overrun thee. 
The bee that once did suck thee, 

And build thy perfumed ambers up his hive, 

And swoon in thee for joy, till scarce alive,— 

If passing now,—would blindly overlook thee. 
The heart doth recognise thee, 

Alone, alone! The heart doth smell thee sweet, 

Doth view thee fair, doth judge thee most complete,— 

Though seeing now those changes that disguise thee. 
Yes, and the heart doth owe thee 

More love, dead rose! than to such roses bold 

As Julia wears at dances, smiling cold!— 

Lie still upon this heart—which breaks below thee!

A Curse For A Nation – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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.

A Child Asleep – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How he sleepeth! having drunken 

Weary childhood’s mandragore, 

From his pretty eyes have sunken 

Pleasures, to make room for more- – 

Sleeping near the withered nosegay, which he pulled the day before. 
Nosegays! leave them for the waking: 

Throw them earthward where they grew. 

Dim are such, beside the breaking 

Amaranths he looks unto- – 

Folded eyes see brighter colours than the open ever do. 
Heaven-flowers, rayed by shadows golden 

From the paths they sprang beneath, 

Now perhaps divinely holden, 

Swing against him in a wreath- – 

We may think so from the quickening of his bloom and of his breath. 
Vision unto vision calleth, 

While the young child dreameth on. 

Fair, O dreamer, thee befalleth 

With the glory thou hast won! 

Darker wert thou in the garden, yestermorn, by summer sun. 
We should see the spirits ringing 

Round thee,- -were the clouds away. 

‘Tis the child-heart draws them, singing 

In the silent-seeming clay- – 

Singing! – -Stars that seem the mutest, go in music all the way. 
As the moths around a taper, 

As the bees around a rose, 

As the gnats around a vapour,- – 

So the Spirits group and close 

Round about a holy childhood, as if drinking its repose. 
Shapes of brightness overlean thee,- – 

Flash their diadems of youth 

On the ringlets which half screen thee,- – 

While thou smilest,… not in sooth 

Thy smile… but the overfair one, dropt from some aethereal mouth. 
Haply it is angels’ duty, 

During slumber, shade by shade: 

To fine down this childish beauty 

To the thing it must be made, 

Ere the world shall bring it praises, or the tomb shall see it fade. 
Softly, softly! make no noises! 

Now he lieth dead and dumb- – 

Now he hears the angels’ voices 

Folding silence in the room- – 

Now he muses deep the meaning of the Heaven-words as they come. 
Speak not! he is consecrated- – 

Breathe no breath across his eyes. 

Lifted up and separated, 

On the hand of God he lies, 

In a sweetness beyond touching- -held in cloistral sanctities. 
Could ye bless him- -father- -mother? 

Bless the dimple in his cheek? 

Dare ye look at one another, 

And the benediction speak? 

Would ye not break out in weeping, and confess yourselves too weak? 
He is harmless- -ye are sinful,- – 

Ye are troubled- -he, at ease: 

From his slumber, virtue winful 

Floweth outward with increase- – 

Dare not bless him! but be blessed by his peace- -and go in peace.