Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Extracts from Aurora Leigh: The Journey South
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
                I JUST knew it when we swept
Above the old roofs of Dijon: Lyons dropped
A spark into the night, half trodden out
Unseen. But presently the winding Rhone
Washed out the moonlight large along his banks,        5
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
Blew thence upon the forehead,—half an air
And half a water,—that I leaned and looked,        10
Then, turning back on Marian, smiled to mark
That she looked only on her child, who slept,
His face toward the moon too.
                            So we passed
The liberal open country and the close,
And shot through tunnels, like a lightning-wedge        15
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
Athrob with effort, trembling with resolve,
The fierce denouncing whistle wailing on        20
And dying off smothered in the shuddering dark,
While we, self-awed, drew troubled breath, oppressed
As other Titans underneath the pile
And nightmare of the mountains. Out, at last,
To catch the dawn afloat upon the land!        25
—Hills, slung forth broadly and gauntly everywhere,
Not crampt in their foundations, pushing wide
Rich outspreads of the vineyards and the corn,
(As if they entertained i’ the name of France)
While, down their straining sides, streamed manifest        30
A soil as red as Charlemagne’s knightly blood,
To consecrate the verdure. Some one said,
‘Marseilles!’ And lo, the city of Marseilles,
With all her ships behind her, and beyond,
The scimitar of ever-shining sea        35
For right-hand use, bared blue against the sky!
*        *        *        *        *
I felt the wind soft from the land of souls;
The old miraculous mountains heaved in sight,
One straining past another along the shore,
The way of grand dull Odyssean ghosts,        40
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,
Down all their sides the misty olive-woods        45
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
Like a fallen star upon so high a point,        50
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
Was stealing on us. Genoa broke with day,        55
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.
 
 
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