Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
 
Mystery
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
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 …        5
  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;        10
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;        15
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,        20
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        25
  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.        30
 
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,        35
  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,—        40
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
  Which soon is large enough for death.
 
 
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