Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
From “Casa Guidi Windows”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–61)

I HEARD last night a little child so singing
  ’Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,
O bella libertà, O bella!—stringing
  The same words still on notes he went in search
So high for, you concluded the upspringing        5
  Of such a nimble bird to sky from perch
Must leave the whole bush in a tremble green,
  And that the heart of Italy must beat,
While such a voice had leave to rise serene
  ’Twixt church and palace of a Florence street:        10
A little child, too, who not long had been
  By mother’s finger steadied on his feet,
And still O bella libertà he sang.
Then I thought, musing, of the innumerous
  Sweet songs which still for Italy outrang        15
From older singers’ lips who sang not thus
  Exultingly and purely, yet, with pang
Fast sheath’d in music, touch’d the heart of us
  So finely that the pity scarcely pain’d.
I thought how Filicaja led on others,        20
  Bewailers for their Italy enchain’d,
And how they call’d her childless among mothers,
  Widow of empires, ay, and scarce refrain’d
Cursing her beauty to her face, as brothers
  Might a sham’d sister’s,—“Had she been less fair        25
She were less wretched;”—how, evoking so
  From congregated wrong and heap’d despair
Of men and women writhing under blow,
  Harrow’d and hideous in a filthy lair,
Some personating Image wherein woe        30
  Was wrapp’d in beauty from offending much,
They call’d it Cybele, or Niobe,
  Or laid it corpse-like on a bier for such,
Where all the world might drop for Italy
  Those cadenced tears which burn not where they touch,—        35
“Juliet of nations, canst thou die as we?
  And was the violet that crown’d thy head
So over-large, though new buds made it rough,
  It slipp’d down and across thine eyelids dead,
O sweet, fair Juliet?” Of such songs enough,        40
  Too many of such complaints! behold, instead,
Void at Verona, Juliet’s marble trough:
  As void as that is, are all images
Men set between themselves and actual wrong,
  To catch the weight of pity, meet the stress        45
Of conscience,—since ’t is easier to gaze long
  On mournful masks and sad effigies
Than on real, live, weak creatures cruch’d by strong.

  The sun strikes, through the windows, up the floor;
Stand out in it, my own young Florentine,        50
  Not two years old, and let me see thee more!
It grows along thy amber curls, to shine
  Brighter than elsewhere. Now, look straight before,
And fix thy brave blue English eyes on mine,
  And from my soul, which fronts the future so,        55
With unabash’d and unabated gaze,
  Teach me to hope for, what the angels know
When they smile clear as thou dost. Down God’s ways
  With just alighted feet, between the snow
And snowdrops, where a little lamb may graze,        60
  Thou hast no fear, my lamb, about the road,
Albeit in our vain-glory we assume
  That, less than we have, thou hast learnt of God.
Stand out, my blue-eyed prophet!—thou, to whom
  The earliest world-day light that ever flow’d,        65
Through Casa Guidi windows chanced to come!
  Now shake the glittering nimbus of thy hair,
And be God’s witness that the elemental
  New springs of life are gushing everywhere
To cleanse the water-courses, and prevent all!        70
  Concrete obstructions which infest the air!
That earth’s alive, and gentle or ungentle
  Motions within her, signify but growth!—
The ground swells greenest o’er the laboring moles.
  Howe’er the uneasy world is vex’d and wroth,        75
Young children, lifted high on parent souls,
  Look round them with a smile upon the mouth,
And take for music every bell that tolls;
  (WHO said we should be better if like these?)
But we sit murmuring for the future though        80
  Posterity is smiling on our knees,
Convicting us of folly. Let us go—
  We will trust God. The blank interstices
Men take for ruins, He will build into
  With pillar’d marbles rare, or knit across        85
With generous arches, till the fane’s complete.
  This world has no perdition, if some loss.
Such cheer I gather from thy smiling, Sweet!
  The self-same cherub-faces which emboss
The Vail, lean inward to the Mercy-seat.        90


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