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Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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M_50x66
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Nov 17, 10

bookshelves: poetry-long
Read from September 08 to 17, 2010

from BOOK ONE:

A book in one hand,--mere statistics, (if
I chanced to lift the cover) count of all
The goats whose bears are sprouting down toward hell.

I read books bad and good--some bad and good
At once: good aims not always make good books;
Well-tempered spades turn up ill-smelling soils
In digging vineyards, even; . . .
The world of books is still the world, I write,
And both worlds have God's providence, thank God,
To keep and hearten: with some struggle, indeed,
Among the breakers, some hard swimming through
The deeps--I lost breath in my soul sometimes
And cried 'God save me if there's any God.'
But, even so, God save me; and, being dashed
From error on to error, every turn
Still brought me nearer to the central truth.

. . . What's this, Aurora Leigh,
You write so of the poets, and not laugh?
Those virtuous liars, dreamers after dark,
Exaggerators of the sun and moon,
And soothsayers in a tea-cup?

. . . O delight
And triumph of the poet,--who would say
A man's mere 'yes,' a woman's common 'no,'
A little human hope of that or this,
And says the word so that it burns you through
With a special revelation, shakes the heart
Of all the men and women in the world,
As if one came back from the dead and spoke,
With eyes too happy, a familiar thing
Become divine i' the utterance!

They saw a light at a window now and then,
They had not set there. Who had set it there?
My father's sister started when she caught
My soul agaze in my eyes.

===

from BOOK TWO:

Observe,--it had not much
Consoled the race of mastodons to know
Before they went to fossil, that anon
Their place should quicken with the elephant
They were not elephants but mastodons:
And I, a man, as men are now, and not
As men may be hereafter, feel with men
In the agonising present.

You think a woman ripens as a peach,--
In the cheeks, chiefly.

'Now,' I said, 'may God
Be witness 'twixt us two!' and with the word,
Meseemed I floated into a sudden light
Above his stature,--'am I proved too weak
To stand alone, yet strong enough to bear
Such leaners on my shoulder? poor to think,
Yet rich enough to sympathise with thought?
Incompetent to sing, as blackbirds can,
Yet competent to love, like HIM?'

A starved man
Exceeds a fat beast: we'll not barter, sir,
The beautiful for barley.--And, even so,
I hold you will not compass your poor ends
Of barley-feeding and material ease,
Without a poet's individualism
To work your universal. It takes a soul,
To move body: it takes a high-souled man,
To move the masses . . even to a cleaner stye:
It takes the idea, to blow a hair's breadth off
The dust of the actual.

==

from BOOK THREE:

Get work; get work;
Be sure 'tis better than what you work to get.

Youth's stern, set face to face
With youth's ideal: and when people came
I smiled for pity of them who pitied me,
And thought I should be better soon perhaps
For those ill looks. Observe--'I,' means in youth
Just I . . the conscious and eternal soul
With all its ends,--and not the outside life,
The parcel-man, the doublet of the flesh,
The so much liver, lung, integument,
Which make the sum of 'I' hereafter, when
World-talkers talk of doing well or ill.

I had to live, that therefore I might work.
And, being but poor, I was constrained, for life,
To work with one hand for the booksellers,
While working with the other for myself
And art. You swim with feet as well as hands,
Or make small way. I apprehended this,--
In England, no one lives by verse that lives;
And, apprehending, I resolved by prose
To make a space to sphere my living verse.

Thus, at three,
This poor weaned kid would run off from the fold,
This babe would steal off from the mother's chair,
And, creeping through the golden walls of gorse,
Would find some keyhole toward the secrecy
Of Heaven's high blue, and, nestling down, peer out--
Oh, not to catch the angels at their games,
She had never heard of angels, but to gaze
She knew not why, to see she knew not what,
A-hungering outward from the barren earth
For something like a joy. She liked, she said,
To dazzle black her sight against the sky,
For then, it seemed, some grand blind Love came down,
And groped her out, and clasped he with a kiss;
She learnt God that way, and was beat for it
Whenever she went home,--yet came again,
As surely as the trapped hare, getting free,
Returns to his form.

If a flower
Were thrown you out of heaven at intervals,
You'd soon attain to a trick of looking up,--
And so with her.

==

from BOOK FOUR:

This perhaps was love--
To have its hands too full of gifts to give,
For putting out a hand to take a gift;
To love so much, the perfect round of love
Includes, in strict conclusion, the being loved;
As Eden-dew went up and fell again,
Enough for watering Eden.

We are wrong always, when we think too much
Of what we think or are; albeit our thoughts
Be verily bitter as self-sacrifice,
We're no less selfish. If we sleep on rocks
Or roses, sleeping past the hour of noon
We're lazy. This I write against myself.

The Lady Waldemar had missed her tool,
Had broken it in the lock as being too straight
For a crooked purpose, . . .

"The whole creation, from the hour we are born,
Perplexes us with questions. Not a stone
But cries behind us, every weary step,
'Where, where?' I leave stones to reply to stones.
Enough for me and for my fleshly heart
To harken the invocations of my kind,
When men catch hold upon my shuddering nerves
And shriek, 'What help? what hope? what bread i' the house,
'What fire i' the frost?' . . .

==

from BOOK FIVE

A tree's mere firewood, unless humanised;
Which well the Greeks knew, when they stirred the bark
With close-pressed bosoms of subsiding nymphs,
And made the forest-rivers garrulous
With babble of gods.

All men are possible heroes: every age,
Heroic in proportions, double-faced,
Looks backward and before, expects a morn
And claims an epos.
Ay, but every age
Appears to souls who live in it, (ask Carlyle)
Most unheroic. . . . That's wrong thinking, to my mind,
And wrong thoughts make poor poems.

But poets should
Exert a double vision; should have eyes
To see near things as comprehensibly
As if afar they took their point of sight,
And distant things, as intimately deep,
As if they touched them. Let us strive for this.
I do distrust the poet who discerns
No character or glory in his times,
And trundles back his soul five hundred years . . .
As dead as must be, for the greater part,
The poems made on their chivalric bones.
And that's no wonder: death inherits death.

King Arthur's self
Was commonplace to Lady Guenever;
And Camelot to minstrels seemed as flat,
As Regent street to poets.
Never flinch,
But still, unscrupulously epic, catch
Upon a burning lava of a song,
The full-veined, heaving, double-breasted Age; . . .

And take for a worthier stage the soul itself,
Its shifting fancies and celestial lights,
With all its grand orchestral silences
To keep the pauses of the rhythmic sounds.

Bubbles round a keel
Mean nought, excepting that the vessel moves.
There's more than passion goes to make a man,
Or book, which is a man too.

Advise him that he is not overshrewd
In being so little modest: a dropped star
Makes bitter waters, says a Book I've read, . . .

Good love, howe'er ill-placed,
Is better for a man's soul in the end,
Than if he loved ill what deserves love well.
A pagan, kissing, for a step of Pan,
The wild-goat's hoof-print on the loamy down,
Exceeds our modern thinker who turns back
The strata . . granite, limestone, coal, and clay,
Concluding coldly with, 'Here's law! Where's God?'

Still, [my Italian hills] ye go
Your own determined, calm, indifferent way
Toward sunrise, shade by shade, and light by light;
Of all the grand progression nought left out;
As if God verily made you for yourselves,
And would not interrupt your life with ours.

==

from BOOK SEVEN

The world's male chivalry has perished out,
But women are knights-errant to the last;
And, if Cervantes had been greater still,
He had made his Don a Donna.
So it clears,
And so we rain our skies blue.

A mere itself,--cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And built up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God. 'There's nothing great
Nor small,' has said a poet of our day, . . .

How known, they know not,--why, they cannot find,
So straight call out on genius, say, 'A man
Produced this,'--when much rather they should say,k
' 'Tis insight, and he saw this.'

How sure it is,
That, if we say a true word, instantly
We feel 'tis God's, not ours, and pass it on
As bread at sacrament, . . .

It's sublime,
This perfect solitude of foreign lands!
To be, as if you had not been till then,
And were then, simply that you chose to be: . . .

==

from BOOK NINE

--drawing you who gaze,
With passionate desire, to leap and plunge
And find a sea-king with a voice of waves,
And treacherous soft eyes, and slippery locks
You cannot kiss but you shall bring away
Their salt upon your lips.

' . . . After Adam, work was curse;
The natural creature labours, sweats and frets.
But, after Christ, work turns to privilege;
And henceforth one with our humanity,
Te Six-day Worker, working still in us,
Has called us freely to work on with Him
In high companionship. So happiest!
I count that Heaven itself is only work
To a surer issue. . . .'

'. . . God's self would never have come down to die,
Could man have thanked him for it.'

'. . . Passioned to exalt
The artist's instinct in me at the cost
Of putting down the woman's--I forgot
No perfect artist is developed here
From any imperfect woman. . . .'

What he said,
I fain would write. But if an angel spoke
In thunder, should we, haply, know much more
Than that it thundered? If a cloud came down
And wrapt us wholly, could we draw its shape,
As if on the outside, and not overcome?
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