Poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Rosalind's Scroll

I LEFT thee last a child at heart  
A woman scarce in years: 
I come to thee a solemn corpse 
Which neither feels nor fears. 
I have no breath to use in sighs; 5 
They laid the dead-weights on mine eyes 
To seal them safe from tears. 

Look on me with thine own calm look: 
I meet it calm as thou. 
No look of thine can change this smile 10 
Or break thy sinful vow: 
I tell thee that my poor scorn'd heart 
Is of thine earth—thine earth—a part: 
It cannot vex thee now. 

I have pray'd for thee with bursting sob 15 
When passion's course was free; 
I have pray'd for thee with silent lips 
In the anguish none could see; 
They whisper'd oft 'She sleepeth soft'— 
But I only pray'd for thee. 20 

Go to! I pray for thee no more: 
The corpse's tongue is still; 
Its folded fingers point to heaven  
But point there stiff and chill: 
No farther wrong no farther woe 25 
Hath licence from the sin below 
Its tranquil heart to thrill. 

I charge thee by the living's prayer  
And the dead's silentness  
To wring from out thy soul a cry 30 
Which God shall hear and bless! 
Lest Heaven's own palm droop in my hand  
And pale among the saints I stand  
A saint companionless. 

The Deserted Garden

I MIND me in the days departed, 
How often underneath the sun 
With childish bounds I used to run 
To a garden long deserted. 

The beds and walks were vanish'd quite; 5 
And wheresoe'er had struck the spade, 
The greenest grasses Nature laid, 
To sanctify her right. 

I call'd the place my wilderness, 
For no one enter'd there but I. 10 
The sheep look'd in, the grass to espy, 
And pass'd it ne'ertheless. 

The trees were interwoven wild, 
And spread their boughs enough about 
To keep both sheep and shepherd out, 15 
But not a happy child. 

Adventurous joy it was for me! 
I crept beneath the boughs, and found 
A circle smooth of mossy ground 
Beneath a poplar-tree. 20 

Old garden rose-trees hedged it in, 
Bedropt with roses waxen-white, 
Well satisfied with dew and light, 
And careless to be seen. 

Long years ago, it might befall, 25 
When all the garden flowers were trim, 
The grave old gardener prided him 
On these the most of all. 

Some Lady, stately overmuch, 
Here moving with a silken noise, 30 
Has blush'd beside them at the voice 
That liken'd her to such. 

Or these, to make a diadem, 
She often may have pluck'd and twined; 
Half-smiling as it came to mind, 35 
That few would look at them. 

O, little thought that Lady proud, 
A child would watch her fair white rose, 
When buried lay her whiter brows, 
And silk was changed for shroud!— 40 

Nor thought that gardener (full of scorns 
For men unlearn'd and simple phrase) 
A child would bring it all its praise, 
By creeping through the thorns! 

To me upon my low moss seat, 45 
Though never a dream the roses sent 
Of science or love's compliment, 
I ween they smelt as sweet. 

It did not move my grief to see 
The trace of human step departed: 50 
Because the garden was deserted, 
The blither place for me! 

Friends, blame me not! a narrow ken 
Hath childhood 'twixt the sun and sward: 
We draw the moral afterward— 55 
We feel the gladness then. 

And gladdest hours for me did glide 
In silence at the rose-tree wall: 
A thrush made gladness musical 
Upon the other side. 60 

Nor he nor I did e'er incline 
To peck or pluck the blossoms white:— 
How should I know but that they might 
Lead lives as glad as mine? 

To make my hermit-home complete, 65 
I brought clear water from the spring 
Praised in its own low murmuring, 
And cresses glossy wet. 

And so, I thought, my likeness grew 
(Without the melancholy tale) 70 
To 'gentle hermit of the dale,' 
And Angelina too. 

For oft I read within my nook 
Such minstrel stories; till the breeze 
Made sounds poetic in the trees, 75 
And then I shut the book. 

If I shut this wherein I write, 
I hear no more the wind athwart 
Those trees, nor feel that childish heart 
Delighting in delight. 80 

My childhood from my life is parted, 
My footstep from the moss which drew 
Its fairy circle round: anew 
The garden is deserted. 

Another thrush may there rehearse 85 
The madrigals which sweetest are; 
No more for me!—myself afar 
Do sing a sadder verse. 

Ah me! ah me! when erst I lay 
In that child's-nest so greenly wrought, 90 
I laugh'd unto myself and thought, 
'The time will pass away.' 

And still I laugh'd, and did not fear 
But that, whene'er was pass'd away 
The childish time, some happier play 95 
My womanhood would cheer. 

I knew the time would pass away; 
And yet, beside the rose-tree wall, 
Dear God, how seldom, if at all, 
Did I look up to pray! 100 

The time is past: and now that grows 
The cypress high among the trees, 
And I behold white sepulchres 
As well as the white rose,— 

When wiser, meeker thoughts are given, 105 
And I have learnt to lift my face, 
Reminded how earth's greenest place 
The colour draws from heaven,— 

It something saith for earthly pain, 
But more for heavenly promise free, 110 
That I who was, would shrink to be 
That happy child again. 


ALL are not taken; there are left behind 
Living Belovèds tender looks to bring 
And make the daylight still a happy thing  
And tender voices to make soft the wind: 
But if it were not so—if I could find 5 
No love in all this world for comforting  
Nor any path but hollowly did ring 
Where 'dust to dust' the love from life disjoin'd; 
And if before those sepulchres unmoving 
I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb 10 
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth) 
Crying 'Where are ye O my loved and loving?'— 
I know a voice would sound 'Daughter I AM. 
Can I suffice for Heaven and not for earth?' 


I TELL you hopeless grief is passionless; 
That only men incredulous of despair  
Half-taught in anguish through the midnight air 
Beat upward to God's throne in loud access 
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness 5 
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 10 
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. 

Sonnets from the Portuguese 

I THOUGHT once how Theocritus had sung 
Of the sweet years the dear and wish'd-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 5 
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 10 
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 rang—'Not Death but Love.' 

Sonnets from the Portuguese 

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 5 
A guest for queens to 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— 10 
A poor tired wandering singer singing through 
The dark and leaning up a cypress tree? 
The chrism is on thine head—on mine the dew— 
And Death must dig the level where these agree. 

Sonnets from the Portuguese 

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 5 
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 10 
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. 

Sonnets from the Portuguese 

IF thou must love me let it be for naught 
Except for love's sake only. Do not say  
'I love her for her smile—her look—her way 
Of speaking gently —for a trick of thought 
That falls in well with mine and certes brought 5 
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'— 
For these things in themselves Belovèd may 
Be changed or change for thee—and love so wrought  
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for 
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry: 10 
A creature might forget to weep who bore 
Thy comfort long and lose thy love thereby! 
But love me for love's sake that evermore 
Thou mayst love on through love's eternity. 

Sonnets from the Portuguese 

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 5 
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 Belovèd—where the unfit 10 
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. 

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 5 
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 10 
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 flow'd the river; 
And hack'd and hew'd as a great god can 15 
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!) 20 
Then drew the pith like the heart of a man  
Steadily from the outside ring  
And notch'd the poor dry empty thing 
In holes as he sat by the river. 

'This is the way ' laugh'd the great god Pan 25 
(Laugh'd 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. 30 

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 35 
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— 40 
For the reed which grows nevermore again 
As a reed with the reeds of the river.

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