Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
VI. Human Experience
The Cry of the Human
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
 
“THERE is no God,” the foolish saith,
  But none, “There is no sorrow”;
And nature oft the cry of faith
  In bitter need will borrow:
Eyes which the preacher could not school,        5
  By wayside graves are raised;
And lips say, “God be pitiful,”
  Who ne’er said, “God be praised.”
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
The tempest stretches from the steep        10
  The shadow of its coming;
The beasts grow tame, and near us creep,
  As help were in the human:
Yet while the cloud-wheels roll and grind
  We spirits tremble under!—        15
The hills have echoes; but we find
  No answer for the thunder.
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
The battle hurtles on the plains—
  Earth feels new scythes upon her:        20
We reap our brothers for the wains,
  And call the harvest, honor,—
Draw face to face, front line to line,
  One image all inherit,—
Then kill, curse on, by that same sign,        25
  Clay, clay,—and spirit, spirit.
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
The plague runs festering through the town,
  And never a bell is tolling:
And corpses jostled ’neath the moon,        30
  Nod to the dead-cart’s rolling.
The young child calleth for the cup—
  The strong man brings it weeping;
The mother from her babe looks up,
  And shrieks away its sleeping.        35
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
The plague of gold strides far and near,
  And deep and strong it enters:
This purple chimar which we wear,
  Makes madder than the centaur’s.        40
Our thoughts grow blank, our words grow strange;
  We cheer the pale gold-diggers—
Each soul is worth so much on ’Change,
  And marked, like sheep, with figures.
                        Be pitiful, O God!        45
 
The curse of gold upon the land,
  The lack of bread enforces—
The rail-cars snort from strand to strand,
  Like more of Death’s White Horses:
The rich preach “rights” and future days,        50
  And hear no angel scoffing:
The poor die mute—with starving gaze
  On corn-ships in the offing.
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
We meet together at the feast—        55
  To private mirth betake us—
We stare down in the winecup lest
  Some vacant chair should shake us!
We name delight, and pledge it round—
  “It shall be ours to-morrow!”        60
God’s seraphs, do your voices sound
  As sad in naming sorrow?
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
We sit together, with the skies,
  The steadfast skies, above us:        65
We look into each other’s eyes,
  “And how long will you love us?”
The eyes grow dim with prophecy,
  The voice is low and breathless—
“Till death us part!”—O words, to be        70
  Our best for love the deathless!
                        Be pitiful, dear God!
 
We tremble by the harmless bed
  Of one loved and departed—
Our tears drop on the lids that said        75
  Last night, “Be stronger hearted!”
O God,—to clasp those fingers close,
  And yet to feel so lonely!—
To see a light upon such brows,
  Which is the daylight only!        80
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
The happy children come to us,
  And look up in our faces:
They ask us—Was it thus, and thus,
  When we were in their places?        85
We cannot speak:—we see anew
  The hills we used to live in;
And feel our mother’s smile press through
  The kisses she is giving.
                        Be pitiful, O God!        90
 
We pray together at the kirk,
  For mercy, mercy, solely—
Hands weary with the evil work,
  We lift them to the Holy!
The corpse is calm below our knee—        95
  Its spirit bright before thee—
Between them, worse than either, we—
  Without the rest of glory!
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
We leave the communing of men,        100
  The murmur of the passions;
And live alone, to live again
  With endless generations.
Are we so brave?—The sea and sky
  In silence lift their mirrors;        105
And, glassed therein, our spirits high
  Recoil from their own terrors.
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
We sit on hills our childhood wist,
  Woods, hamlets, streams, beholding:        110
The sun strikes through the farthest mist,
  The city’s spire to golden.
The city’s golden spire it was,
  When hope and health were strong;
But now it is the churchyard grass,        115
  We look upon the longest.
                        Be pitiful, O God!
 
And soon all vision waxeth dull—
  Men whisper, “He is dying”:
We cry no more, “Be pitiful!”—        120
  We have no strength for crying:
No strength, no need! Then, Soul of mine,
  Look up and triumph rather—
Lo! in the depth of God’s Divine,
  The Son adjures the Father—        125
                        BE PITIFUL, O GOD.
 
 
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