Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
Aurora Leigh (1856)
Selection from Seventh Book
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
THE NEXT day we took train to Italy
And fled on southward in the roar of steam.
The marriage-bells of Romney must be loud,
To sound so clear through all: I was not well,
And truly, though the truth is like a jest,        5
I could not choose but fancy, half the way,
I stood alone i’ the belfry, fifty bells
Of naked iron, mad with merriment,
(As one who laughs and cannot stop himself)
All clanking at me, in me, over me,        10
Until I shrieked a shriek I could not hear,
And swooned with noise,—but still, along my swoon,
Was ’ware the baffled changes backward rang,
Prepared, at each emerging sense, to beat
And crash it out with clangour. I was weak;        15
I struggled for the posture of my soul
In upright consciousness of place and time,
But evermore, ’twixt waking and asleep,
Slipped somehow, staggered, caught at Marion’s eyes
A moment, (it is very good for strength        20
To know that some one needs you to be strong)
And so recovered what I called myself,
For that time.
            I just knew it when we swept
Above the old roofs of Dijon: Lyons dropped
A spark into the night, half trodden out        25
Unseen. But presently the winding Rhone
Washed out the moonlight large along his banks
Which strained their yielding curves out clear and clean
To hold it,—shadow of town and castle blurred
Upon the hurrying river. Such an air        30
Blew thence upon the forehead,—half an air
And half a water,—that I leaned and looked,
Then, turning back on Marion, smiled to mark
That she looked only on her child, who slept,
His face toward the moon too.
                        So we passed
        35
The liberal open country and the close,
And shot through tunnels, like a lightening-wedge
By great Thor-hammers driven through the rock,
Which, quivering through the intestine blackness, splits
And lets it in at once: the train swept in        40
Athrob with effort, trembling with resolve,
The fierce denouncing whistle wailing on
And dying off smothered in the shuddering dark,
While we, self-awed, drew troubled breath, oppressed
As other Titans underneath the pile        45
And nightmare of the mountains. Out, at last,
To catch the dawn afloat upon the land!
—Hills, slung forth broadly and gauntly everywhere,
Not crampt in their foundations, pushing wide
Rich outspreads of the vineyards and the corn,        50
(As if the entertained i’ the name of France)
While, down their straining sides, streamed manifest
A soil as red as Charlemagne’s knightly blood,
To consecrate the verdure. Some one said,
‘Marseilles!’ And lo, the city of Marseilles,        55
With all her ships behind her, and beyond,
The scimitar of ever-shining sea
For right-hand use, bared blue against the sky!
 
That night we spent between the purple heaven
And purple water: I think Marian slept;        60
But I, as a dog a-watch for his master’s foot,
Who cannot sleep or eat before he hears,
I sate upon the deck and watched the night
And listened through the stars for Italy.
Those marriage-bells I spoke of, sounded far,        65
As some child’s go-cart in the street beneath
To a dying man who will not pass the day,
And knows it, holding by a hand he loves.
I too sate quiet, satisfied with death,
Sate silent: I could hear my own soul speak,        70
And had my friend,—for Nature comes sometimes
And says, “I am ambassador for God.”
I felt the wind soft from the land of souls;
The old miraculous mountains heaved in sight,
One straining past another along the shore,        75
The way of grand dull Odyssean ghosts,
Athirst to drink the cool blue wine of seas
And stare on voyagers. Peak pushing peak
They stood: I watched, beyond that Tyrian belt
Of intense sea betwixt them and the ship,        80
Down all their sides the misty olive-woods
Dissolving in the weak congenial moon
And still disclosing some brown convent-tower
That seems as if it grew from some brown rock,
Or many a little lighted village, dropt        85
Like a fallen star upon so high a point,
You wonder what can keep it in its place
From sliding headlong with the waterfalls
Which powder all the myrtle and orange groves
With spray of silver. Thus my Italy        90
Was stealing on us. Genoa broke with day,
The Doria’s long pale palace striking out,
From green hills in advance of the white town,
A marble finger dominant to ships,
Seen glimmering through the uncertain gray of dawn.
*        *        *        *        *
        95
Truth, so far, in my book! a truth which draws
From all things upward. I, Aurora, still
Have felt it hound me through the wastes of life
As Jove did Io; and, until that Hand
Shall overtake me wholly and on my head        100
Lay down its large unfluctuating peace,
The feverish gad-fly pricks me up and down.
It must be. Art’s the witness of what Is
Behind this show. If this world’s show were all,
Then imitation would be all in Art;        105
There, Jove’s hand gripes us!—For we stand here, we,
If genuine artists, witnessing for God’s
Complete, consummate, undivided work;
—That every natural flower which grows on earth
Implies a flower upon the spiritual side,        110
Substantial, archetypal, all a-glow
With blossoming causes,—not so far away,
But we, whose spirit-sense is somewhat cleared,
May catch at something of the bloom and breath,—
Too vaguely apprehended, though indeed        115
Still apprehended, consciously or not,
And still transferred to picture, music, verse,
For thrilling audient and beholding souls
By signs and touches which are known to souls.
How known, they know not,—why, they cannot find,        120
So straight call out on genius, say, “A man
Produced this,” when much rather they should say,
“’T is insight, and he saw this.”…
 
 
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