Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
Extracts from Aurora Leigh: The Beauty of England
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
I LEARNT to love that England. Very oft,
Before the day was born, or otherwise
Through secret windings of the afternoons,
I threw my hunters off and plunged myself
Among the deep hills, as a hunted stag        5
Will take the waters, shivering with the fear
And passion of the course. And when at last
Escaped, so many a green slope built on slope
Betwixt me and the evening’s house behind,
I dared to rest, or wander, in a rest        10
Made sweeter for the step upon the grass,
And view the ground’s most gentle dimplement,
(As if God’s finger touched, but did not press
In making England) such an up and down
Of verdure,—nothing too much up or down,        15
A ripple of land; such little hills, the sky
Can stoop so tenderly and the wheatfields climb;
Such nooks of valleys lined with orchises,
Fed full of noises by invisible streams;
And open pastures where you scarcely tell        20
White daisies from white dew,—at intervals
The mythic oaks and elm-trees standing out
Self-poised upon their prodigy of shade,—
I thought my father’s land was worthy too
Of being my Shakespeare’s.
*        *        *        *        *
            Ofter we walked only two,
If cousin Romney pleased to walk with me.
We read, or talked, or quarrelled, as it chanced.
We were not lovers, nor even friends well-matched:
Say rather, scholars upon different tracks,        30
And thinkers disagreed, he, overfull
Of what is, and I, haply, overbold
For what might be.
                    But then the thrushes sang,
And shook my pulses and the elms’ new leaves;
At which I turned, and held my finger up,        35
And bade him mark that, howsoe’er the world
Went ill, as he related, certainly
The thrushes still sang in it. At the word
His brow would soften,—and he bore with me
In melancholy patience, not unkind,        40
While breaking into voluble ecstasy
I flattered all the beauteous country round,
As poets use, the skies, the clouds, the fields,
The happy violets hiding from the roads
The primroses run down to, carrying gold;        45
The tangled hedgerows, where the cows push out
Impatient horns and tolerant churning mouths
’Twixt dripping ash-boughs,—hedgerows all alive
With birds and gnats and large white butterflies,
Which look as if the May-flower had caught life        50
And palpitated forth upon the wind;
Hills, vales, woods, netted in a silver mist,
Farms, granges, doubled up among the hills;
And cattle grazing in the watered vales,
And cottage-chimneys smoking from the woods,        55
And cottage-gardens smelling everywhere,
Confused with smell of orchards. ‘See,’ I said,
‘And see! is God not with us on the earth?
And shall we put him down by aught we do?
Who says there ’s nothing for the poor and vile        60
Save poverty and wickedness? behold!’
And ankle-deep in English grass I leaped
And clapped my hands, and called all very fair.

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