Home  »  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse  »  86. From ‘Aurora Leigh’

Nicholson & Lee, eds. The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

86. From ‘Aurora Leigh’

TRUTH, so far, in my book;—the truth which draws

Through all things upwards,—that a twofold world

Must go to a perfect cosmos. Natural things

And spiritual,—who separates those two

In art, in morals, or the social drift

Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,

Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,

Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,

Is wrong, in short, at all points. We divide

This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,—

The perfect round which fitted Venus’ hand

Has perished as utterly as if we ate

Both halves. Without the spiritual, observe,

The natural’s impossible,—no form,

No motion: without sensuous, spiritual

Is inappreciable,—no beauty or power:

And in this twofold sphere the twofold man

(For still the artist is intensely a man)

Holds firmly by the natural, to reach

The spiritual beyond it,—fixes still

The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,

With eyes immortal, to the antetype

Some call the ideal,—better call the real,

And certain to be called so presently

When things shall have their names. Look long enough

On any peasant’s face here, coarse and lined,

You’ll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,

As perfect featured as he yearns at Rome

From marble pale with beauty; then persist,

And, if your apprehension’s competent,

You’ll find some fairer angel at his back,

As much exceeding him as he the boor,

And pushing him with empyreal disdain

For ever out of sight. Aye, Carrington

Is glad of such a creed: an artist must,

Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone

With just his hand, and finds it suddenly

A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.

Why else do these things move him, leaf, or stone?

The bird’s not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;

Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:

But man, the twofold creature, apprehends

The twofold manner, in and outwardly,

And nothing in the world comes single to him,

A mere itself,—cup, column, or candlestick,

All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;

The whole temporal show related royally,

And built up to eterne significance

Through the open arms of God. ‘There’s nothing great

Nor small’, has said a poet of our day,

Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve

And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell:

And truly, I reiterate, nothing’s small!

No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,

But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;

No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;

No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim;

And (glancing on my own thin, veinèd wrist),

In such a little tremor of the blood

The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul

Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware

More and more from the first similitude.