The Poet's Vow. Part The First

Part 1: Showing Wherefore The Vow Was Made

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

-- O be wiser thou,
Instructed that true knowledge leads to love.


Eve is a twofold mystery --
The stillness Earth doth keep;
The motion wherewith human hearts
Do each to either leap,
As if all souls, which Earth controls,
Felt Parting comes in sleep.


The rowers lift their oars to view
Each other in the sea;
The landsmen watch the rocking boats,
In a pleasant company;
While up the hill go gladlier still
Dear friends by two and three.


The peasant's wife hath looked without
Her cottage door and smiled;
For there the peasant drops his spade
To clasp his youngest child,
Which hath no speech, but its hands can reach
And stroke his forehead mild.


A poet sate that eventide
Within his hall alone,
As silent as its ancient lords
In the coffined place of stone; [monk --
When the bat hath shrunk from the praying
And the praying monk is gone.


Nor wore the dead a stiller face
Beneath the cerement's roll:
His carven lips refused in words
Their mystic thoughts to dole;
And his steadfast eye burnt inwardly,
As burning out his soul.


You would not think that brow could e'er
Ungentle moods express:
Yet seemed it, in this troubled world,
Too calm for gentleness:
When the very star, that shines from far,
Shines trembling, ne'ertheless.


It lacked -- all need -- the softening light
Which other brows supply:
We should conjoin the scathed trunks
Of our humanity,
That each leafless spray, entwining, may
Look softer 'gainst the sky.


None gazed within the poet's face --
The poet gazed in none:
He threw a lonely shadow straight
Before the moon and sun,
Affronting nature's heaven-dwelling creatures,
With wrong to nature done.


Because this poet daringly,
The nature at his heart,
And that quick tune along his veins
He could not change by art,
Had vowed his blood of brotherhood
To a stagnant place apart.


He did not vow in fear, or wrath,
Or grief's fantastic whim;
But, weights and shows of sensual things
Too closely crossing him,
On his soul's eyelid, the pressure slid,
And made its vision dim.


And darkening in the dark he strove
'Twixt earth and sea and sky,
To lose in shade and wave and cloud,
His brother's haunting cry.
The winds were welcome as they swept:
God's five-day work he would accept,
But let the rest go by.


He cried -- O touching, patient Earth,
That weepest in thy glee!
Whom God created very good,
And very mournful, we!
Thy voice of moan doth reach His throne,
As Abel's rose from thee.


Poor crystal sky, with stars astray;
Mad winds, that howling go
From east to west; perplexed seas,
That stagger from their blow!
O motion wild! O wave defiled!
Our curse hath made thee so.


We! and our curse! Do I partake
The dreary, cruel sin?
Have I the apple at my lips?
The money-lust within?
Do I human stand with the wronging hand,
To the blasting heart akin?


Thou solemn pathos of all things,
For solemn pomp designed!
Behold, submissive to your cause,
An holy wrath I find,
And, for your sake, the bondage break,
That knits me to my kind.


Hear me forswear man's sympathies,
His pleasant yea and no --
His riot on the piteous earth
Whereon his thistles grow
His changing love -- with stars above!
His pride-with graves below!


Hear me forswear his roof by night,
His bread and salt by day,
His talkings at the lighted hearth,
His greetings by the way,
His musing looks, his systemed books,
All man, for aye and aye.


That so my purged, once human heart,
From all the human rent,
May gather strength to pledge and drink
Your wine of wonderment,
While you pardon me, all blessingly,
The woe mine Adam sent.


And I shall feel your unseen looks
Innumerous, constant, deep,
And soft as haunted Adam once,
Though sadder, round me creep;
As slumbering men have mystic ken
Of watchers on their sleep.


And ever, when I lift my brow
At evening to the sun,
No voice of woman or of child
Recording 'Day is done,'
Your silences shall a love express,
More deep than such an one!


The Poems Of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Volume 1
Copyright 1853
C. S. Francis & Co., 262 Broadway, New York
Crosby & Nichols, Boston