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Cupid flew thirsty by, he stooped to sip:
And, fastened there, could never get away.

The sweets of Candy are no sweets to me
Where hers I taste: nor the perfumes of price,
Robbed from the happy shrubs of Araby,
As her sweet breath so powerful to entice.

O hasten then! and if thou be not gone
Unto that wicked traffic through the main,
My powerful sigh shall quickly drive thee on,
And then begin to draw thee back again.

If, in the mean, rude waves have it opprest,
It shall suffice, I ventured at the best.




SONG OF THE SIRENS

From 'The Inner Temple Masque'


Steer hither, steer your wingèd pines,
All beaten mariners!
Here lie love's undiscovered mines,
A prey to passengers:
Perfumes far sweeter than the best
Which make the Phoenix's urn and nest.
Fear not your ships,
Nor any to oppose you save our lips,
But come on shore,
Where no joy dies till love hath gotten more.

For swelling waves our panting breasts,
Where never storms arise,
Exchange, and be awhile our guests:
For stars, gaze on our eyes.
The compass love shall hourly sing,
And as he goes about the ring,
We will not miss
To tell each point he nameth with a kiss.
Then come on shore,
Where no joy dies till love hath gotten more.



AN EPISTLE ON PARTING

From 'Epistles'


Dear soul, the time is come, and we must part;
Yet, ere I go, in these lines read my heart:
A heart so just, so loving, and so true,
So full of sorrow and so full of you,
That all I speak or write or pray or mean, -
And, which is all I can, all that I dream, -
Is not without a sigh, a thought of you,
And as your beauties are, so are they true.
Seven summers now are fully spent and gone,
Since first I loved, loved you, and you alone;
And should mine eyes as many hundreds see,
Yet none but you should claim a right in me;
A right so placed that time shall never hear
Of one so vowed, or any loved so dear.
When I am gone, if ever prayers moved you,
Relate to none that I so well have loved you:
For all that know your beauty and desert,
Would swear he never loved that knew to part.
Why part we then? That spring, which but this day
Met some sweet river, in his bed can play,
And with a dimpled cheek smile at their bliss,
Who never know what separation is.
The amorous vine with wanton interlaces
Clips still the rough elm in her kind embraces:
Doves with their doves sit billing in the groves,
And woo the lesser birds to sing their loves:
Whilst hapless we in griefful absence sit,
Yet dare not ask a hand to lessen it.




SONNETS TO CÆLIA


Fairest, when by the rules of palmistry,
You took my hand to try if you could guess,
By lines therein, if any wight there be
Ordained to make me know some happiness:
I wished that those charácters could explain,
Whom I will never wrong with hope to win;
Or that by them a copy might be ta'en,
By you alone what thoughts I have within.
But since the hand of nature did not set
(As providently loath to have it known)
The means to find that hidden alphabet,
Mine eyes shall be the interpreters alone:
By them conceive my thoughts, and tell me, fair,
If now you see her that doth love me, there.

Were't not for you, here should my pen have rest,
And take a long leave of sweet poesy;
Britannia's swains, and rivers far by west,
Should hear no more my oaten melody.
Yet shall the song I sung of them awhile
Unperfect lie, and make no further known
The happy loves of this our pleasant Isle,
Till I have left some record of mine own.
You are the subject now, and, writing you,
I well may versify, not poetize:
Here needs no fiction; for the graces true
And virtues clip not with base flatteries.
Here should I write what you deserve of praise;
Others might wear, but I should win, the bays.

Fairest, when I am gone, as now the glass
Of Time is marked how long I have to stay,
Let me entreat you, ere from hence I pass,
Perhaps from you for ever more away, -
Think that no common love hath fired my breast,
No base desire, but virtue truly known,
Which I may love, and wish to have possessed,
Were you the highest as fairest of any one.
'Tis not your lovely eye enforcing flames,
Nor beauteous red beneath a snowy skin,
That so much binds me yours, or makes your fame's,
As the pure light and beauty shrined within:
Yet outward parts I must affect of duty,
As for the smell we like the rose's beauty.



HENRY HOWARD BROWNELL

(1820-1872)

This poet, prominent among those who gained their chief inspiration from
the stirring events of the Civil War, was born in Providence, Rhode
Island, February 6th, 1820, and died in East Hartford, Connecticut,
October 31st, 1872. He was graduated at Trinity College, Hartford,
studied law, and was admitted to the bar; but instead of the legal
profession adopted that of a teacher, and made his home in Hartford,
which was the residence of his uncle, the Bishop of Connecticut.
Although Mr. Brownell soon became known as a writer of verse, both grave
and humorous, it was not till the coming on of the Civil War that his
muse found truest and noblest expression. With a poet's sensitiveness he
foresaw the coming storm, and predicted it in verse that has the ring of
an ancient prophet; and when the crash came he sang of the great deeds
of warriors in the old heroic strain. Many of these poems, like 'Annus
Memorabilis' and 'Coming,' were born of the great passion of patriotism
which took possession of him, and were regarded only as the visions of a
heated imagination. But when the storm burst it was seen that he had the
true vision. As the dreadful drama unrolled, Brownell rose to greater
issues, and became the war-poet _par excellence_, the vigorous
chronicler of great actions.

He was fond of the sea, and ardently longed for the opportunity to
witness, if not to participate in, a sea-fight. His desire was gratified
in a singular way. He had printed in a Hartford paper a very felicitous
versification of Farragut's 'General Orders' in the fight at the mouth
of the Mississippi. This attracted Farragut's attention, and he took
steps to learn the name of the author. When it was given, Commodore
Farragut (he was not then Admiral) offered Mr. Brownell the position of
master's-mate on board the Hartford, and attached the poet to him in the
character of a private secretary. Thus he was present at the fight of
Mobile Bay. After the war he accompanied the Admiral in his cruise in
European waters.

Although Brownell was best known to the country by his descriptive
poems, 'The River Fight' and 'The Bay Fight,' which appear in his volume
of collected works, 'War Lyrics,' his title to be considered a true poet
does not rest upon these only. He was unequal in his performance and
occasionally was betrayed by a grotesque humor into disregard of dignity
and finish; but he had both the vision and the lyric grace of the
builder of lasting verse.


ANNUS MEMORABILIS

(CONGRESS, 1860-61)


Stand strong and calm as Fate! not a breath of scorn or hate -
Of taunt for the base, or of menace for the strong -
Since our fortunes must be sealed on that old and famous Field
Where the Right is set in battle with the Wrong.
'Tis coming, with the loom of Khamsin or Simoom,
The tempest that shall try if we are of God or no -
Its roar is in the sky, - and they there be which cry,
"Let us cower, and the storm may over-blow."
Now, nay! stand firm and fast! (that was a spiteful blast!)
This is not a war of men, but of Angels Good and Ill -
'Tis hell that storms at heaven - 'tis the black and deadly Seven,
Sworn 'gainst the Shining Ones to work their damnèd will!
How the Ether glooms and burns, as the tide of combat turns,
And the smoke and dust above it whirl and float!
It eddies and it streams - and, certes, oft it seems
As the Sins had the Seraphs fairly by the throat.
But we all have read (in that Legend grand and dread),
How Michael and his host met the Serpent and his crew -
Naught has reached us of the Fight - but if I have dreamed aright,
'Twas a loud one and a long, as ever thundered through!
Right stiffly, past a doubt, the Dragon fought it out,
And his Angels, each and all, did for Tophet their devoir -
There was creak of iron wings, and whirl of scorpion stings,
Hiss of bifid tongues, and the Pit in full uproar!
But, naught thereof enscrolled, in one brief line 'tis told
(Calm as dew the Apocalyptic Pen),
That on the Infinite Shore their place was found no more.
God send the like on this our earth! Amen.

Copyrighted by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston.


WORDS FOR THE 'HALLELUJAH CHORUS'

Old John Brown lies a-moldering in the grave,
Old John Brown lies slumbering in his grave -
But John Brown's soul is marching with the brave,
His soul is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His soul is marching on.

He has gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord;
He is sworn as a private in the ranks of the Lord, -
He shall stand at Armageddon with his brave old sword,
When Heaven is marching on.

He shall file in front where the lines of battle form,
He shall face to front when the squares of battle form -
Time with the column, and charge in the storm,
Where men are marching on.

Ah, foul Tyrants! do ye hear him where he comes?
Ah, black traitors! do ye know him as he comes,
In thunder of the cannon and roll of the drums,
As we go marching on?

Men may die, and molder in the dust -
Men may die, and arise again from dust,
Shoulder to shoulder, in the ranks of the Just,
When Heaven is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His soul is marching on.


COMING

(APRIL, 1861)


World, are thou 'ware of a storm?
Hark to the ominous sound;
How the far-off gales their battle form,
And the great sea-swells feel ground!

It comes, the Typhoon of Death -
Nearer and nearer it comes!
The horizon thunder of cannon-breath
And the roar of angry drums!

Hurtle, Terror sublime!
Swoop o'er the Land to-day -
So the mist of wrong and crime,
The breath of our Evil Time
Be swept, as by fire, away!



PSYCHAURA

The wind of an autumn midnight
Is moaning around my door -
The curtains wave at the window,
The carpet lifts on the floor.

There are sounds like startled footfalls
In the distant chambers now,
And the touching of airy ringers
Is busy on hand and brow.

'Tis thus, in the Soul's dark dwelling -
By the moody host unsought -
Through the chambers of memory wander
The invisible airs of thought.

For it bloweth where it listeth,
With a murmur loud or low;
Whence it cometh - whither it goeth -
None tell us, and none may know.

Now wearying round the portals
Of the vacant, desolate mind -
As the doors of a ruined mansion,
That creak in the cold night wind.

And anon an awful memory
Sweeps over it fierce and high -
Like the roar of a mountain forest
When the midnight gale goes by.

Then its voice subsides in wailing,
And, ere the dawning of day,
Murmuring fainter and fainter,
In the distance dies away.


SUSPIRIA NOCTIS


Reading, and reading - little is the gain
Long dwelling with the minds of dead men leaves.
List rather to the melancholy rain,
Drop - dropping from the eaves.

Still the old tale - how hardly worth the telling!
Hark to the wind! - again that mournful sound,
That all night long, around this lonely dwelling,
Moans like a dying hound.



ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING

(1809-1861)

It is interesting to step back sixty years into the lives of Miss
Mitford and her "dear young friend Miss Barrett," when the _-esses_ of
"authoresses" and "poetesses" and "editresses" and "hermitesses" make
the pages sibilant; when 'Books of Beauty,' and 'Keepsakes,' and the
extraordinary methods of "Finden's Tableaux" make us wonder that
literature survived; when Mr. Kenyon, taking Miss Mitford "to the
giraffes and the Diorama," called for "Miss Barrett, a hermitess in
Gloucester Place, who reads Greek as I do French, who has published some
translations from Æschylus, and some most striking poems," - "Our sweet
Miss Barrett! to think of virtue and genius is to think of her." Of her
own life Mrs. Browning writes: - "As to stories, my story amounts to the
knife-grinder's, with nothing at all for a catastrophe. A bird in a cage
would have as good a story; most of my events and nearly all my intense
pleasure have passed in my thoughts."

[Illustration: Mrs. Browning]

She was born at Burn Hall, Durham, on March 6th, 1809, and passed a
happy childhood and youth in her father's country house at Hope End,
Herefordshire. She was remarkably precocious, reading Homer in the
original at eight years of age. She said that in those days "the Greeks
were her demigods. She dreamed more of Agamemnon than of Moses, her
black pony." "I wrote verses very early, at eight years old and earlier.
But what is less common, the early fancy turned into a will, and
remained with me." At seventeen years of age she published the 'Essay on
Mind,' and translated the 'Prometheus' of Æschylus. Some years later the
family removed to London, and here Elizabeth, on account of her
continued delicate health, was kept in her room for months at a time.
The shock following on the death of her brother, who was drowned before
her eyes in Torquay, whither she had gone for rest, completely shattered
her physically. Now her life of seclusion in her London home began. For
years she lay upon a couch in a large, comfortably darkened room, seeing
only the immediate members of her family and a few privileged friends,
and spending her days in writing and study, "reading," Miss Mitford
says, "almost every book worth reading in almost every language." Here
Robert Browning met her. They were married in 1846, against the will of
her father. Going abroad immediately, they finally settled in Florence
at the Casa Guidi, made famous by her poem bearing the same name. Their
home became the centre of attraction to visitors in Florence, and many
of the finest minds in the literary and artistic world were among their
friends. Hawthorne, who visited them, describes Mrs. Browning as "a
pale, small person, scarcely embodied at all, at any rate only
substantial enough to put forth her slender fingers to be grasped, and
to speak with a shrill yet sweet tenuity of voice. It is wonderful to
see how small she is, how pale her cheek, how bright and dark her eyes.
There is not such another figure in the world, and her black ringlets
cluster down in her neck and make her face look whiter." She died in
Florence on the 30th of June, 1861, and the citizens of Florence placed
a tablet to her memory on the walls of Casa Guidi.

The life and personality of Elizabeth Barrett Browning seem to explain
her poetry. It is a life "without a catastrophe," except perhaps to her
devoted father. And it is to this father's devotion that some of Mrs.
Browning's poetical sins are due; for by him she was so pampered and
shielded from every outside touch, that all the woes common to humanity
grew for her into awful tragedies. Her life was abnormal and unreal, - an
unreality that passed more or less into everything she did. Indeed, her
resuscitation after meeting Robert Browning would mount into a miracle,
unless it were realized that nothing in her former life had been quite
as woful as it seemed. That Mrs. Browning was "a woman of real genius,"
even Edward Fitzgerald allowed; and in speaking of Shelley, Walter
Savage Landor said, "With the exception of Burns, he [Shelley] and Keats
were inspired with a stronger spirit of poetry than any other poet since
Milton. I sometimes fancy that Elizabeth Barrett Browning comes next."
This is very high praise from very high authority, but none too high for
Mrs. Browning, for her best work has the true lyric ring, that
spontaneity of thought and expression which comes when the singer
forgets himself in his song and becomes tuneful under the stress of the
moment's inspiration. All of Mrs. Browning's work is buoyed up by her
luxurious and overflowing imagination. With all its imperfections of
technique, its lapses of taste and faults of expression, it always
remains poetry, throbbing with passion and emotion and rich in color and
sound. She wrote because she must. Her own assertions notwithstanding,
one cannot think of Mrs. Browning as sitting down in cold blood to
compose a poem according to fixed rules of art. This is the secret of
her shortcomings, as it is also the source of her strength, and in her
best work raises her high above those who, with more technical skill,
have less of the true poet's divine fire and overflowing imagination.

So in the 'Sonnets from the Portuguese,' written at a time when her
woman's nature was thrilled to its very depths by the love of her "most
gracious singer of high poems," and put forth as translations from
another writer and tongue - in these her imperfections drop away, and she
soars to marvelous heights of song. Such a lyric outburst as this, which
reveals with magnificent frankness the innermost secrets of an ardently
loving woman's heart, is unequaled in literature. Here the woman-poet is
strong and sane; here she is free from obscurity and mannerism, and from
grotesque rhymes. She has stepped out from her life of visions and of
morbid woes into a life of wholesome reality and of "sweet
reasonableness." Their literary excellence is due also to the fact that
in the sonnet Mrs. Browning was held to a rigid form, and was obliged to
curb her imagination and restrain her tendency to diffuseness of
expression. Mr. Saintsbury goes so far as to say that the sonnet
beginning -

"If thou wilt love me, let it be for naught
Except for love's sake only - "

does not fall far short of Shakespeare.

'Aurora Leigh' gives rise to the old question, Is it advisable to turn a
three-volume novel into verse? Yet Landor wrote about it: - "I am
reading a poem full of thought and fascinating with fancy - Mrs.
Browning's (Aurora Leigh.) In many places there is the wild imagination
of Shakespeare.... I am half drunk with it. Never did I think I should
have a good draught of poetry again." Ruskin somewhere considered it the
greatest poem of the nineteenth century, "with enough imagination to set
up a dozen lesser poets"; and Stedman calls it "a representative and
original creation: representative in a versatile, kaleidoscopic
presentment of modern life and issues; original, because the most
idiosyncratic of its author's poems. An audacious speculative freedom
pervades it, which smacks of the New World rather than the Old....
'Aurora Leigh' is a mirror of contemporary life, while its learned and
beautiful illustrations make it almost a handbook of literature and the
arts.... Although a most uneven production, full of ups and downs, of
capricious or prosaic episodes, it nevertheless contains poetry as fine
as its author has given us elsewhere, and enough spare inspiration to
set up a dozen smaller poets. The flexible verse is noticeably her own,
and often handled with as much spirit as freedom." Mrs. Browning
herself declared it the most mature of her works, "and the one into
which my highest convictions upon life and art have entered."
Consider this: -

"For 'tis not in mere death that men die most:
And after our first girding of the loins
In youth's fine linen and fair broidery,
To run up-hill and meet the rising sun,
We are apt to sit tired, patient as a fool,
While others gird us with the violent bands
Of social figments, feints, and formalisms,
Reversing our straight nature, lifting up
Our base needs, keeping down our lofty thoughts,
Head downwards on the cross-sticks of the world.
Yet He can pluck us from that shameful cross.
God, set our feet low and our foreheads high,
And teach us how a man was made to walk!"

Or this: -

"I've waked and slept through many nights and days
Since then - but still that day will catch my breath
Like a nightmare. There are fatal days, indeed,
In which the fibrous years have taken root
So deeply, that they quiver to their tops
Whene'er you stir the dust of such a day."

Again: -

"Passion is
But something suffered after all -
. . . . . While Art

Sets action on the top of suffering."

And this: -

"Nothing is small!
No lily-muffled hum of summer-bee
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot but proves a sphere:
. . . . . Earth's crammed with Heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes."

Among Mrs. Browning's smaller poems, 'Crowned and Buried' is,
notwithstanding serious defects of technique, one of the most virile
things she has written; indeed, some of her finest lines are to be found
in it. In 'The Cry of the Children' and in 'Cowper's Grave' the pathos
is most true and deep. 'Lord Walter's Wife' is an even more courageous
vindication of the feminine essence than 'Aurora Leigh'; and her 'Vision
of Poets' is said to "vie in beauty with Tennyson's own." The fine
thought and haunting beauty of 'A Musical Instrument,' with its
matchless climax, need not be dwelt on.

During her fifteen years' residence in Florence she threw herself with
great enthusiasm into Italian affairs, and wrote some political poems of
varying merit, whose interest necessarily faded away when the occasion
passed. But among those poems inspired by the struggle for freedom,
'Casa Guidi Windows' comes close to the 'Sonnets from the Portuguese'
and 'Aurora Leigh,' and holds an enduring place for its high poetry, its
musical, sonorous verse, and the sustained intellectual vigor of
composition. Her volume of 'Last Poems' contains, among much inferior
matter, some of her finest and most touching work, as 'A Musical
Instrument,' 'The Forced Recruit,' and 'Mother and Poet,' Peter Bayne
says of her in his 'Great Englishwomen': - "In melodiousness and splendor
of poetic gift Mrs. Browning stands ... first among women. She may not
have the knowledge of life, the insight into character, the
comprehensiveness of some, but we must all agree that a poet's far more
essential qualities are hers: usefulness, fervor, a noble aspiration,
and above all a tender, far-reaching nature, loving and beloved, and
touching the hearts of her readers with some virtue from its depths. She
seemed even in her life something of a spirit; and her view of life's
sorrow and shame, of its hearty and eternal hope, is something like that
which one might imagine a spirit's to be." Whether political, or
sociological, or mystical, or sentimental, or impossible, there is about
all that Mrs. Browning has written an enduring charm of picturesqueness,
of romance, and of a pure enthusiasm for art. "Art for Art," she cries,

"And good for God, himself the essential Good!
We'll keep our aims sublime, our eyes erect,
Although our woman-hands should shake and fail."

This was her achievement - her hands did not fail!

Her husband's words will furnish, perhaps, the best conclusion to this
slight study: - "You are wrong," he said, "quite wrong - she has genius; I
am only a painstaking fellow. Can't you imagine a clever sort of angel



Online LibraryVariousLibrary of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern — Volume 6 → online text (page 20 of 39)