Only A Curl – Elizabeth Barrett Browning


FRIENDS of faces unknown and a land 

Unvisited over the sea, 

Who tell me how lonely you stand 

With a single gold curl in the hand 

Held up to be looked at by me, — 


While you ask me to ponder and say 

What a father and mother can do, 

With the bright fellow-locks put away 

Out of reach, beyond kiss, in the clay 

Where the violets press nearer than you. 

Shall I speak like a poet, or run 

Into weak woman’s tears for relief ? 

Oh, children ! — I never lost one, — 

Yet my arm ‘s round my own little son, 

And Love knows the secret of Grief. 


And I feel what it must be and is, 

When God draws a new angel so 

Through the house of a man up to His, 

With a murmur of music, you miss, 

And a rapture of light, you forgo. 

How you think, staring on at the door, 

Where the face of your angel flashed in, 

That its brightness, familiar before, 

Burns off from you ever the more 

For the dark of your sorrow and sin. 

`God lent him and takes him,’ you sigh ; 

— Nay, there let me break with your pain : 

God ‘s generous in giving, say I, — 

And the thing which He gives, I deny 

That He ever can take back again. 

He gives what He gives. I appeal 

To all who bear babes — in the hour 

When the veil of the body we feel 

Rent round us, — while torments reveal 

The motherhood’s advent in power, 

And the babe cries ! — has each of us known 

By apocalypse (God being there 

Full in nature) the child is our own, 

Life of life, love of love, moan of moan, 

Through all changes, all times, everywhere. 

He ‘s ours and for ever. Believe, 

O father ! — O mother, look back 

To the first love’s assurance. To give 

Means with God not to tempt or deceive 

With a cup thrust in Benjamin’s sack. 

He gives what He gives. Be content ! 

He resumes nothing given, — be sure ! 

God lend ? Where the usurers lent 

In His temple, indignant He went 

And scourged away all those impure. 

He lends not ; but gives to the end, 

As He loves to the end. If it seem 

That He draws back a gift, comprehend 

‘Tis to add to it rather, — amend, 

And finish it up to your dream, — 

Or keep, — as a mother will toys 

Too costly, though given by herself, 

Till the room shall be stiller from noise, 

And the children more fit for such joys, 

Kept over their heads on the shelf. 

So look up, friends ! you, who indeed 

Have possessed in your house a sweet piece 

Of the Heaven which men strive for, must need 

Be more earnest than others are,–speed 

Where they loiter, persist where they cease. 

You know how one angel smiles there. 

Then weep not. ‘Tis easy for you 

To be drawn by a single gold hair 

Of that curl, from earth’s storm and despair, 

To the safe place above us. Adieu.