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The Curse

Because ye have broken your own chain

With the strain

Of brave men climbing a Nation's height,

Yet thence bear down with brand and thong

On souls of others--for this wrong

This is the curse. Write.

Because yourselves are standing straight

In the state

Of Freedom's foremost acolyte,

Yet keep calm footing all the time

On writhing bond slaves--for this crime

This is the curse. Write.

Because ye prosper in God's name,

With a claim

To honor in the old world's sight,

Yet do the fiend's work perfectly

In strangling martyrs--for this lie

This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while kings conspire

Round the people's smoldering fire,

And, warm for your part,

Shall never dare--O shame!--

To utter the thought into flame

Which burns at your heart.

This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while nations strive

With the bloodhounds, die or survive,

Drop faint from their jaws,

Or throttle them backward to death;

And only under your breath

Shall favor the cause.

This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while strong men draw

The nets of feudal law

To strangle the weak;

And, counting the sin for a sin,

Your soul shall be sadder within

Than the word ye shall speak.

This is the curse. Write.

When good men are praying erect

That Christ may avenge his elect

And deliver the earth,

The prayer in your ears, said low,

Shall sound like the tramp of a foe

That's driving you forth.

This is the curse. Write.

When wise men give you their praise,

They shall pause in the heat of the phrase,

As if carried too far.

When ye boast your own charters kept true,

Ye shall blush; for the thing which ye do

Derides what ye are.

This is the curse. Write.

When fools cast taunts at your gate,

Your scorn ye shall somewhat abate

As ye look o'er the wall;

For your conscience, tradition, and name

Explode with a deadlier blame

Than the worst of them all.

This is the curse. Write.

Go, wherever ill deeds shall be done,

Go plant your flag in the sun

Beside the ill-doers!

And recoil from clenching the curse

Of God's witnessing Universe

With a curse of yours.

This is the curse. Write.

The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point

I look on the sea and the sky!

Where the pilgrims' ships first anchored lay,

The free sun rideth gloriously;

But the pilgrim-ghosts have slid away

Through the earliest streaks of the morn.

My face is black, but it glares with a scorn

Which they dare not meet by day.


I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;

That only men incredulous of despair,

Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air

Beat upward to God's throne in loud access

Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,

In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare

Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare

Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express

Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death —

Most like a monumental statue set

In everlasting watch and moveless woe

Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.

Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:

If it could weep, it could arise and go.

If thou must love me (Sonnet 14)

If thou must love me, let it be for nought

Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,

“I love her for her smile—her look—her way

Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought

That falls in well with mine, and certes brought

A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—

For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may

Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,

May be unwrought so. Neither love me for

Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:

A creature might forget to weep, who bore

Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!

But love me for love’s sake, that evermore

Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.

Let the world's sharpness, like a clasping knife (Sonnet 24)

Let the world's sharpness, like a clasping knife,

Shut in upon itself and do no harm

In this close hand of Love, now soft and warm,

And let us hear no sound of human strife

After the click of the shutting. Life to life—

I lean upon thee, Dear, without alarm,

And feel as safe as guarded by a charm

Against the stab of worldlings, who if rife

Are weak to injure. Very whitely still

The lilies of our lives may reassure

Their blossoms from their roots, accessible

Alone to heavenly dews that drop not fewer,

Growing straight, out of man's reach, on the hill.

God only, who made us rich, can make us poor.

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.

Aurora Leigh

Books, books, books!

I had found the secret of a garret room

Piled high with cases in my father’s name;

Piled high, packed large, - where, creeping in and out

Among the giant fossils of my past,

Like some small nimble mouse between the ribs

Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there

At this or that box, pulling through the gap,

In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,

The first book first. And how I felt it beat

Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,

An hour before the sun would let me read
"OF writing many books there is no end;
And I who have written much in prose and verse
For others' uses, will write now for mine,–
Will write my story for my better self,
As when you paint your portrait for a friend,
Who keeps it in a drawer and looks at it
Long after he has ceased to love you, just
To hold together what he was and is."


A Musical Instrument


WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,

Down in the reeds by the river ?

Spreading ruin and scattering ban,

Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,

And breaking the golden lilies afloat

With the dragon-fly on the river.


He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,

From the deep cool bed of the river :

The limpid water turbidly ran,

And the broken lilies a-dying lay,

And the dragon-fly had fled away,

Ere he brought it out of the river.


High on the shore sate the great god Pan,

While turbidly flowed the river ;

And hacked and hewed as a great god can,

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,

Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed

To prove it fresh from the river.


He cut it short, did the great god Pan,

(How tall it stood in the river !)

Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,

Steadily from the outside ring,

And notched the poor dry empty thing

In holes, as he sate by the river.


This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan,

Laughed while he sate by the river,)

The only way, since gods began

To make sweet music, they could succeed.'

Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,

He blew in power by the river.


Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !

Piercing sweet by the river !

Blinding sweet, O great god Pan !

The sun on the hill forgot to die,

And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly

Came back to dream on the river.


Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,

To laugh as he sits by the river,

Making a poet out of a man :

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, —

For the reed which grows nevermore again

As a reed with the reeds in the river.

A Man's Requirements

Love me Sweet, with all thou art,

Feeling, thinking, seeing;

Love me in the lightest part,

Love me in full being.

Love me with thine open youth

In its frank surrender;

With the vowing of thy mouth,

With its silence tender.

Love me with thine azure eyes,

Made for earnest grantings;

Taking colour from the skies,

Can Heaven's truth be wanting?

Love me with their lids, that fall

Snow-like at first meeting;

Love me with thine heart, that all

Neighbours then see beating.

Love me with thine hand stretched out

Freely — open-minded:

Love me with thy loitering foot, —

Hearing one behind it.

Love me with thy voice, that turns

Sudden faint above me;

Love me with thy blush that burns

When I murmur 'Love me!'

Love me with thy thinking soul,

Break it to love-sighing;

Love me with thy thoughts that roll

On through living — dying.

Love me in thy gorgeous airs,

When the world has crowned thee;

Love me, kneeling at thy prayers,

With the angels round thee.

Love me pure, as muses do,

Up the woodlands shady:

Love me gaily, fast and true,

As a winsome lady.

Through all hopes that keep us brave,

Farther off or nigher,

Love me for the house and grave,

And for something higher.

Thus, if thou wilt prove me, Dear,

Woman's love no fable,

I will love thee — half a year —

As a man is able.

The Cry of the Children


Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,

Ere the sorrow comes with years?

They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,

And that cannot stop their tears.

The young lambs are bleating in the meadows,

The young birds are chirping in the nest,

The young fawns are playing with the shadows,

The young flowers are blowing toward the west —

But the young, young children, O my brothers,

They are weeping bitterly!

They are weeping in the playtime of the others,

In the country of the free.


Do you question the young children in the sorrow

Why their tears are falling so?

The old man may weep for his to-morrow

Which is lost in Long Ago.

The old tree is leafless in the forest,

The old year is ending in the frost,

The old wound, if stricken, is the sorest,

The old hope is hardest to be lost:

But the young, young children, O my brothers,

Do you ask them why they stand

Weeping sore before the bosoms of their mothers,

In our happy Fatherland?


They look up with their pale and sunken faces,

And their looks are sad to see,

For the man's hoary anguish draws and presses

Down the cheeks of infancy;

"Your old earth," they say, "is very dreary,

Our young feet," they say, "are very weak!

Few paces have we taken, yet are weary —

Our grave-rest is very far to seek.

Ask the aged why they weep, and not the children;

For the outside earth is cold;

And we young ones stand without, in our bewildering,

And the graves are for the old."


"True," say the children, "it may happen

That we die before our time.

Little Alice died last year — her grave is shapen

Like a snowball, in the rime.

We looked into the pit prepared to take her.

Was no room for any work in the close clay!

From the sleep wherein she lieth none will wake her,

Crying, 'Get up, little Alice! it is day.'

If you listen by that grave, in sun and shower,

With your ear down, little Alice never cries.

Could we see her face, be sure we should not know her,

For the smile has time for growing in her eyes.

And merry go her moments, lulled and stilled in

The shroud by the kirk-chime! >> note 2

It is good when it happens," say the children,

"That we die before our time."


Alas, alas, the children! they are seeking

Death in life, as best to have.

They are binding up their hearts away from breaking,

With a cerement from the grave.

Go out, children, from the mine and from the city,

Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do.

Pluck you handfuls of the meadow-cowslips pretty.

Laugh aloud, to feel your fingers let them through!

But they answer, "Are your cowslips of the meadows

Like our weeds anear the mine?

Leave us quiet in the dark of the coal-shadows,

From your pleasure fair and fine!


"For oh," say the children, "we are weary,

And we cannot run or leap.

If we cared for any meadows, it were merely

To drop in them and sleep.

Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping,

We fall on our faces, trying to go;

And, underneath our heavy eyelids drooping,

The reddest flower would look as pale as snow.

For, all day, we drag our burden tiring

Through the coal-dark, underground —

Or, all day, we drive the wheels of iron

In the factories, round and round.


"For all day the wheels are droning, turning —

Their wind comes in our faces, —

Till our hearts turn, — our heads with pulses burning,

And the walls turn in their places.

Turns the sky in the high window blank and reeling,

Turns the long light that drops adown the wall,

Turn the black flies that crawl along the ceiling,

All are turning, all the day, and we with all.

And all day the iron wheels are droning,

And sometimes we could pray,

'O ye wheels' (breaking out in a mad moaning)

'Stop! be silent for to-day!'"


Ay! be silent! Let them hear each other breathing

For a moment, mouth to mouth!

Let them touch each other's hands, in a fresh wreathing

Of their tender human youth!

Let them feel that this cold metallic motion

Is not all the life God fashions or reveals.

Let them prove their living souls against the notion

That they live in you, or under you, O wheels! —

Still, all day, the iron wheels go onward,

Grinding life down from its mark;

And the children's souls, which God is calling sunward,

Spin on blindly in the dark.


Now tell the poor young children, O my brothers,

To look up to Him and pray;

So the blessèd One who blesseth all the others,

Will bless them another day.

They answer, "Who is God that He should hear us,

While the rushing of the iron wheels is stirred?

When we sob aloud, the human creatures near us

Pass by, hearing not, or answer not a word.

And we hear not (for the wheels in their resounding)

Strangers speaking at the door.

Is it likely God, with angels singing round Him,

Hears our weeping any more?


"Two words, indeed, of praying we remember,

And at midnight's hour of harm,

'Our Father,' looking upward in the chamber,

We say softly for a charm.

We know no other words except 'Our Father,'

And we think that, in some pause of angels' song,

God may pluck them with the silence sweet to gather,

And hold both within His right hand which is strong.

'Our Father!' If He heard us, He would surely

(For they call Him good and mild)

Answer, smiling down the steep world very purely,

'Come rest with me my child.'"


"But, no!" say the children, weeping faster,

"He is speechless as a stone.

And they tell us, of His image is the master

Who commands us to work on.

Go to!" say children, — "up in Heaven,

Dark, wheel-like, turning clouds are all we find.

Do not mock us; grief has made us unbelieving —

We look up of God, but tears have made us blind."

Do you hear the children weeping and disproving,

O my brothers, what ye preach?

For God's possible is taught by His world's loving,

And the children doubt of each.


And well may the children weep before you!

They are weary ere they run.

They have never seen the sunshine, nor the glory

Which is brighter than the sun.

They know the grief of man, without his wisdom.

They sink in man's despair, without his calm;

Are slaves, without the liberty in Christdom,

Are martyrs, by the pang without the palm, —

Are worn, as if with age, yet unretrievingly

The harvest of its memories cannot reap, —

Are orphans of the earthly love and heavenly.

Let them weep! let them weep!


They look up with their pale and sunken faces,

And their look is dread to see,

For they mind you of the angels in high places

With eyes turned on Deity! —

"How long," they say, "how long, O cruel nation,

Will you stand, to move the world, on a child's heart, —

Stifle down with a mailed heel its palpitation,

And tread onward to your throne amid the mart?

Our blood splashes upward, O gold-heaper,

And your purple shows your path!

But the child's sob in the silence curses deeper

Than the strong man in his wrath."