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ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

1806-1861

685                                    Farewells from Paradise

River-spirits

HARK! the flow of the four rivers
   Hark the flow!
How the silence round you shivers,
While our voices through it go,
 Cold and clear.

A softer voice

Think a little, while ye hear,
   Of the banks
Where the willows and the deer
Crowd in intermingled ranks,
As if all would drink at once
Where the living water runs!
Of the fishes golden edges
Flashing in and out the sedges;
Of the swans on silver thrones,
Floating down the winding streams
With impassive eyes turned shoreward
And a chant of undertones,
And the lotus leaning forward
To help them into dreams.
   Fare ye well, farewell!
The river-sounds, no longer audible,
   Expire at Edens door.
   Each footstep of your treading
Treads out some murmur which ye heard before.
 Farewell! the streams of Eden
 Ye shall hear nevermore!

Bird-spirit

I am the nearest nightingale
That singeth in Eden after you;
And I am singing loud and true,
And sweet,I do not fail.
I sit upon a cypress bough,
Close to the gate, and I fling my song
Over the gate and through the mail
Of the warden angels marshalld strong,
 Over the gate and after you!
And the warden angels let it pass,
Because the poor brown bird, alas,
 Sings in the garden, sweet and true.
And I build my song of high pure notes,
 Note over note, height over height,
 Till I strike the arch of the Infinite,
And I bridge abysmal agonies
With strong, clear calms of harmonies,
And something abides, and something floats,
In the song which I sing after you.
 Fare ye well, farewell!
The creature-sounds, no longer audible,
 Expire at Edens door.
 Each footstep of your treading
Treads out some cadence which ye heard before
 Farewell! the birds of Eden
 Ye shall hear nevermore!

686                                                      Grief

I TELL you, hopeless grief is passionless;
   That only men incredulous of despair,
   Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to Gods throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness
   In souls as countries lieth silent-bare
   Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to Death
   Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
   Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

687                                            A Musical Instrument

WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,
   Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat
   With the dragon-fly on the river.
He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,
   From the deep cool bed of the river;
The limpid water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a-dying lay,
And the dragon-fly had fled away,
   Ere he brought it out of the river.
High on the shore sat the great god Pan,
   While turbidly flowd the river;
And hackd and hewd as a great god can
With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,
Till there was not a sign of the leaf indeed
   To prove it fresh from the river.
He cut it short, did the great god Pan
   (How tall it stood in the river!),
Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,
Steadily from the outside ring,
And notchd the poor dry empty thing
   In holes, as he sat by the river.
This is the way, laughd the great god Pan
   (Laughd while he sat by the river),
The only way, since gods began
To make sweet music, they could succeed.
Then dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,
   He blew in power by the river.
Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
   Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
   Came back to dream on the river.
Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,
   To laugh as he sits by the river,
Making a poet out of a man:
The true gods sigh for the cost and pain
For the reed which grows nevermore again
   As a reed with the reeds of the river.

688                                     Sonnets from the Portuguese

(i)

I THOUGHT once how Theocritus had sung
    Of the sweet years, the dear and wishd-for years,
   Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
   I saw in gradual vision through my tears
   The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ware,
   So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
   And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,
Guess now who holds thee?Death, I said. But there
   The silver answer rangNot Death, but Love.

689                                                       (ii)

UNLIKE are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
    Unlike our uses and our destinies.
   Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another, as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
   A guest for queens for social pageantries,
   With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
   With looking from the lattice-lights at me
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
   The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
The chrism is on thine headon mine the dew
   And Death must dig the level where these agree.

690                                                        (iii)

GO from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

691                                                         (iv)

IF thou must love me, let it be for naught
  Except for loves sake only. Do not say,
 I love her for her smileher lookher way
Of speaking gently,for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
 A sense of pleasant ease on such a day
 For these things in themselves, Belovàd, may
Be changed, or change for theeand love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
 Thine own dear pitys wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
 Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for loves sake, that evermore
 Thou mayst love on, through loves eternity.

692                                                        (v)

WHEN our two souls stand up erect and strong,
  Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
 Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curving point,what bitter wrong
Can the earth do us, that we should not long
 Be here contented? Think! In mounting higher,
 The angels would press on us, and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
 Rather on earth, Belovàdwhere the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
 And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
 With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

 

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