Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
The Romaunt of Margret
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
  I PLANT a tree whose leaf
    The yew-tree leaf will suit:
But when its shade is o’er you laid,
    Turn round and pluck the fruit.
Now reach my harp from off the wall        5
    Where shines the sun aslant;
The sun may shine and we be cold!
O harken, loving hearts and bold,
    Unto my wild romaunt,
                    Margret, Margret.        10
  Sitteth the fair ladye
    Close to the river side
Which runneth on with a merry tone
    Her merry thoughts to guide:
  It runneth through the trees,        15
    It runneth by the hill,
Nathless the lady’s thoughts have found
    A way more pleasant still.
                    Margret, Margret.
  The night is in her hair
    And giveth shade to shade,
And the pale moonlight on her forehead white
    Like a spirit’s hand is laid;
  Her lips part with a smile
    Instead of speakings done:        25
I ween, she thinketh of a voice,
    Albeit uttering none.
                    Margret, Margret.
  All little birds do sit
    With heads beneath their wings:        30
Nature doth seem in a mystic dream,
    Absorbed from her living things:
  That dream by that ladye
    Is certes unpartook,
For she looketh to the high cold stars        35
    With a tender human look.
                    Margret, Margret.
  The ladye’s shadow lies
    Upon the running river;
It lieth no less in its quietness,        40
    For that which resteth never:
  Most like a trusting heart
    Upon a passing faith,
Or as upon the course of life
    The steadfast doom of death.        45
                    Margret, Margret.
  The ladye doth not move,
    The ladye doth not dream,
Yet she seeth her shade no longer laid
    In rest upon the stream:        50
  It shaketh without wind,
    It parteth from the tide,
It standeth upright in the cleft moonlight,
    It sitteth at her side.
                    Margret, Margret.        55
  Look in its face, ladye,
    And keep thee from thy swound;
With a spirit bold thy pulses hold
    And hear its voice’s sound:
  For so will sound thy voice        60
    When thy face is to the wall,
And such will be thy face, ladye,
    When the maidens work thy pall.
                    Margret, Margret.
  ‘Am I not like to thee?
    The voice was calm and low,
And between each word you might have heard
    The silent forests grow;
  ‘The like may sway the like;’
    By which mysterious law        70
Mine eyes from thine and my lips from thine
    The light and breath may draw.
                    Margret, Margret.
  ‘My lips do need thy breath,
    My lips do need thy smile,        75
And my pallid eyne, that light in thine
    Which met the stars erewhile:
  Yet go with light and life
    If that thou lovest one
In all the earth who loveth thee        80
    As truly as the sun,
                    Margret, Margret.
  Her cheek had waxëd white
    Like cloud at fall of snow;
Then like to one at set of sun,        85
    It waxëd red alsò;
  For love’s name maketh bold
    As if the loved were near
And then she sighed the deep long sigh
    Which cometh after fear.        90
                    Margret, Margret.
  ‘Now, sooth, I fear thee not—
    Shall never fear thee now!’
(And a noble sight was the sudden light
    Which lit her lifted brow.)        95
  ‘Can earth be dry of streams,
    Or hearts of love?’ she said;
‘Who doubteth love, can know not love:
    He is already dead.’
                    Margret, Margret.        100
  ‘I have’ … and here her lips
    Some word in pause did keep,
And gave the while a quiet smile
    As if they paused in sleep,—
  ‘I have … a brother dear,        105
    A knight of knightly fame!
I broidered him a knightly scarf
    With letters of my name.
                    Margret, Margret.
  ‘I fed his grey gosshawk,
    I kissed his fierce bloodhoùnd,
I sate at home when he might come
    And caught his horn’s far sound:
  I sang him hunter’s songs,
    I poured him the red wine,        115
He looked across the cup and said,
    I love thee, sister mine.’
                    Margret, Margret.
  IT trembled on the grass
    With a low, shadowy laughter;        120
The sounding river which rolled, for ever
    Stood dumb and stagnant after:
  ‘Brave knight thy brother is!
    But better loveth he
Thy chaliced wine than thy chaunted song,        125
    And better both than thee,
                    Margret, Margret.’
  The ladye did not heed
    The river’s silence while
Her own thoughts still ran at their will,        130
    And calm was still her smile.
  ‘My little sister wears
    The look our mother wore:
I smooth her locks with a golden comb,
    I bless her evermore.’        135
                    Margret, Margret.
  I gave her my first bird
    When first my voice it knew;
I made her share my posies rare
    And told her where they grew:        140
  I taught her God’s dear name
    With prayer and praise to tell,
She looked from heaven into my face
    And said, I love thee well.’
                    Margret, Margret.        145
  IT trembled on the grass
    With a low, shadowy laughter;
You could see each bird as it woke and stared
    Through the shrivelled foliage after.
  ‘Fair child thy sister is!        150
    But better loveth she
Thy golden comb than thy gathered flowers,
    And better both than thee,
                    Margret, Margret.’
  The ladye did not heed
    The withering on the bough;
Still calm her smile albeit the while
    A little pale her brow:
  ‘I have a father old,
    The lord of ancient halls;        160
An hundred friends are in his court
    Yet only me he calls.
                    Margret, Margret.
  ‘An hundred knights are in his court
    Yet read I by his knee;        165
And when forth they go to the tourney show
    I rise not up to see:
  ’Tis a weary book to read,
    My tryst’s at set of sun,
But loving and dear beneath the stars        170
    Is his blessing when I’ve done.’
                    Margret, Margret.
  IT trembled on the grass
    With a low, shadowy laughter;
And moon and star though bright and far        175
    Did shrink and darken after.
  ‘High lord thy father is!
    But better loveth he
His ancient halls than his hundred friends,
    His ancient halls, than thee,        180
                    Margret, Margret.’
  The ladye did not heed
    That the far stars did fail;
Still calm her smile, albeit the while …
    Nay, but she is not pale!        185
  ‘I have more than a friend
    Across the mountains dim:
No other’s voice is soft to me,
    Unless it nameth him.’
                    Margret, Margret.        190
  ‘Though louder beats my heart
    I know his tread again,
And his far plume aye, unless turned away
    For the tears do blind me then:
  We brake no gold, a sign        195
    Of stronger faith to be,
But I wear his last look in my soul,
    Which said, I love but thee!’
                    Margret, Margret.
  IT trembled on the grass
    With a low, shadowy laughter;
And the wind did toll, as a passing soul
    Were sped by church-bell after;
  And shadows, ’stead of light,
    Fell from the stars above,        205
In flakes of darkness on her face
    Still bright with trusting love.
                    Margret, Margret.
  ‘He loved but only thee!
    That love is transient too.        210
The wild hawk’s bill doth dabble still
    I’ the mouth that vowed thee true:
  Will he open his dull eyes,
    When tears fall on his brow?
Behold, the death-worm to his heart        215
    Is a nearer thing than thou,
                    Margret, Margret.’
  Her face was on the ground—
    None saw the agony;
But the men at sea did that night agree        220
    They heard a drowning cry:
  And when the morning brake,
    Fast rolled the river’s tide,
With the green trees waving overhead
    And a white corse laid beside.        225
                    Margret, Margret.
  A knight’s bloodhound and he
    The funeral watch did keep;
With a thought o’ the chase he stroked its face
    As it howled to see him weep.        230
  A fair child kissed the dead,
    But shrank before its cold.
And alone yet proudly in his hall
    Did stand a baron old.
                    Margret, Margret.        235
  Hang up my harp again!
    I have no voice for song.
Not song but wail, and mourners pale
    Not bards, to love belong.
  O failing human love!        240
    O light, by darkness known!
O false, the while thou treadest earth!
    O deaf beneath the stone!
                    Margret, Margret.

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