Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
FACE to face in my chamber, my silent chamber, I saw her:
God and she and I only,… there, I sate down to draw her
Soul through the clefts of confession…. Speak, I am holding thee fast,
As the angels of resurrection shall do it at the last.
      ‘My cup is blood-red        5
      With my sin,’ she said,
  ‘And I pour it out to the bitter lees,
As if the angels of judgement stood over me strong at the last,
    Or as thou wert as these!’
When God smote his hands together, and struck out thy soul as a spark        10
Into the organized glory of things, from deeps of the dark,—
Say, didst them shine, didst thou burn, didst thou honour the power in the form,
As the star does at night, or the fire-fly, or even the little ground-worm?
      ‘I have sinn’d,’ she said,
      ‘For my seed-light shed        15
  Has smoulder’d away from his first decrees!
The cypress praiseth the fire-fly, the ground-leaf praiseth the worm,—
    I am viler than these!’
When God on that sin had pity, and did not trample thee straight
With his wild rains beating and drenching thy light found inadequate;        20
When He only sent thee the north-winds, a little searching and chill,
To quicken thy flame … didst thou kindle and flash to the heights of his will?
      ‘I have sinn’d,’ she said,
      ‘Unquicken’d, unspread
  My fire dropt down, and I wept on my knees!        25
I only said of his winds of the north as I shrank from their chill,…
    What delight is in these?’
When God on that sin had pity, and did not meet it as such,
But temper’d the wind to thy uses, and soften’d the world to thy touch,
At least thou wast moved in thy soul, though unable to prove it afar,        30
Thou couldst carry thy light like a jewel, not giving it out like a star?
      ‘I have sinn’d,’ she said,
      ‘And not merited
  The gift He gives, by the grace He sees!
The mine-cave praiseth the jewel, the hillside praiseth the star;        35
    I am viler than these.’
Then I cried aloud in my passion,… Unthankful and impotent creature,
To throw up thy scorn unto God through the rents in thy beggarly nature!
If He, the all-giving and loving, is served so unduly, what then
Hast thou done to the weak and the false, and the changing,… thy fellows of men?        40
      ‘I have loved,’ she said,
      (Words bowing her head
  As the wind the wet acacia-trees!)
‘I saw God sitting above me,—but I … I sate among men,
    And I have loved these.’        45
Again with a lifted voice, like a choral trumpet that takes
The lowest note of a viol that trembles, and triumphing breaks
On the air with it solemn and clear,—‘Behold! I have sinned not in this!
Where I loved, I have loved much and well,—I have verily loved not amiss.
      Let the living,’ she said,        50
      ‘Inquire of the Dead,
  In the house of the pale-fronted Images:
My own true dead will answer for me, that I have not loved amiss
    In my love for all these.
‘The least touch of their hands in the morning, I keep it by day and by night;        55
Their least step on the stair, at the door, still throbs through me, if ever so light;
Their least gift, which they left to my childhood, far off, in the long-ago years,
Is now turned from a toy to a relic, and seen through the crystals of tears.
      Dig the snow,’ she said,
      ‘For my churchyard bed,        60
  Yet I, as I sleep, shall not fear to freeze,
If one only of these my belovèds, shall love me with heart-warm tears,
    As I have loved these!
‘If I anger’d any among them, from thenceforth my own life was sore;
If I fell by chance from their presence, I clung to their memory more.        65
Their tender I often felt holy, their bitter I sometimes call’d sweet;
And whenever their heart has refused me, I fell down straight at their feet.
      I have loved,’ she said,—
      ‘Man is weak, God is dread,
  Yet the weak man dies with his spirit at ease,        70
Having pour’d such an unguent of love but once on the Saviour’s feet,
    As I lavish’d for these.’
‘Go,’ I cried, ‘thou hast chosen the Human, and left the Divine!
Then, at least, have the Human shared with thee their wild berry-wine?
Have they loved back thy love, and when strangers approach’d thee with blame,        75
Have they cover’d thy fault with their kisses, and loved thee the same?’
      But she shrunk and said,
      ‘God, over my head,
  Must sweep in the wrath of His judgement-seas,
If He shall deal with me sinning, but only indeed the same        80
    And no gentler than these.’

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.