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Elizabeth Barrett Browning, A Child’s Grave 19/04/2011

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A Child’s Grave at Florence

Born, July 1848. Died, November 1849


Of English blood, of Tuscan birth,
What country should we give her?
Instead of any on the earth,
The civic Heavens receive her.


And here among the English tombs
In Tuscan ground we lay her,
While the blue Tuscan sky endomes
Our English words of prayer.


A little child!—how long she lived,
By months, not years, is reckoned:
Born in one July, she survived
Alone to see a second.


Bright-featured, as the July sun
Her little face still played in,
And splendours, with her birth begun,
Had had no time for fading.


So, Lily, from those July hours,
No wonder we should call her;
She looked such kinship to the flowers,
Was but a little taller.


A Tuscan Lily, only white,
As Dante, in abhorrence
Of red corruption, wished aright
The lilies of hisFlorence.


We could not wish her whiter, her
Who perfumed with pure blossom
The house – a lovely thing to wear
Upon a mother’s bosom!


This July creature thought perhaps
Our speech not worth assuming;
She sat upon her parents’ laps
And mimicked the gnat’s humming;


Said ‘father’, ‘mother’ — then left off,
For tongues celestial, fitter:
Her hair had grown just long enough
To catch heaven’s jasper-glitter.


Babes! Love could always hear and see
Behind the cloud that hid them.
’Let little children come to Me,
And do not thou forbid them.’


So, unforbidding, have we met,
And gently here have laid her,
Though winter is no time to get
The flowers that should o’erspread her:


We should bring pansies quick with spring,
Rose, violet, daffodilly,
And also, above everything,
White lilies for our Lily.


Nay, more than flowers, this grave exacts,
Glad, grateful attestations
Of her sweet eyes and pretty acts,
With calm renunciations.


Her very mother with light feet
Should leave the place too earthy,
Saying ‘The angels have thee, Sweet,
Because we are not worthy.


But winter kills the orange-buds,
The gardens in the frost are,
And all the heart dissolves in floods,
Remembering we have lost her.


Poor earth, poor heart, too weak, too weak
To miss the July shining!
Poor heart! What bitter words we speak
When God speaks of resigning!


Sustain this heart in us that faints,
Thou God, the self-existent!
We catch up wild at parting saints
And feel Thy heaven too distant.


The wind that swept them out of sin
Has ruffled all our vesture:
On the shut door that let them in
We beat with frantic gesture,


To us, us also, open straight!
The outer life is chilly;
Are we too, like the earth, to wait
Till next year for our Lily?


Oh, my own baby on my knees,
My leaping, dimpled treasure,
At every word I write like these,
Clasped close with stronger pressure!


Too well my own heart understands,—
At every word beats fuller—
My little feet, my little hands,
And hair of Lily’s colour!


But God gives patience, Love learns strength,
And Faith remembers promise,
And Hope itself can smile at length
On other hopes gone from us.    


Love, strong as Death, shall conquer Death,
Through struggle made more glorious:
This mother stills her sobbing breath,
Renouncing yet victorious.


Arms, empty of her child, she lifts
With spirit unbereaven,—
‘God will not all take back His gifts;
My Lily’s mine in heaven.


‘Still mine! maternal rights serene
Not given to another!
The crystal bars shine faint between
The souls of child and mother.


‘Meanwhile’, the mother cries, ‘content!
Our love was well divided:
Its sweetness following where she went,
Its anguish stayed where I did.


‘Well done of God, to halve the lot,
And give her all the sweetness;
To us, the empty room and cot,—
To her, the Heaven’s completeness.


‘To us, this grave,—to her, the rows
The mystic palm-trees spring in;
To us, the silence in the house,—
To her, the choral singing.


‘For her, to gladden in God’s view,—
For us, to hope and bear on.
Grow, Lily, in thy garden new,
Beside the Rose of Sharon!


‘Grow fast in heaven, sweet Lily clipped,
In love more calm than this is,
And may the angels dewy-lipped
Remind thee of our kisses!


‘While none shall tell thee of our tears,
These human tears now falling,
Till, after a few patient years,
One home shall take us all in.


‘Child, father, mother—who, left out?
Not mother, and not father!
And when, our dying couch about,
The natural mists shall gather,


‘Some smiling angel close shall stand
In old Correggio’s fashion,
And bear a Lily in his hand,
For death’s ANNUNCIATION.’

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Greek Slave 05/04/2011

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1850 on Powers’ celebrated Florentine statue

They say Ideal beauty cannot enter
The house of anguish. On the threshold stands
An alien Image with enshackled hands,
Called the Greek Slave! as if the artist meant her
(That passionless perfection which he lent her,
Shadowed not darkened where the sill expands)
To so confront man’s crimes in different lands
With man’s ideal sense. Pierce to the centre,
Art’s fiery finger! and break up ere long
The serfdom of this world. Appeal, fair stone,
From God’s pure heights of beauty against man’s wrong!
Catch up in thy divine face, not alone
East griefs but west, and strike and shame the strong,
By thunders of white silence, overthrown

‘Ring of Gold’ 13/02/2011

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c. 1905

To the men and women of the Anglo-Saxon race Florence is rich in reminiscences, for so many English and American men of art and letters have made it their second home. At San Domenico there stands the fine villa in which Walter Savage Landor wrote and died. The great Medici villa at Careggi will remind them not only of Lorenzo the Magnificent, but also of G. F. Watts and the brilliant band that surrounded him in his youthful days when he worked in Florence. The heights of Bellosguardo speak of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a prosaic house in the town was once the home of Anthony Trollope, while in some one of these streets, down which the people pass with hurrying feet, Charles Lever wrote his cheery tales. But of all the famous men and women who of late years knew and loved Florence, there are two whose names will be for ever linked with hers – Robert and Elizabeth Browning, whose home was the Casa Guidi, from the windows of which Mrs. Browning watched the stir and stress of the early days of Italian liberty. Above the dark doorway, through which her slight form must so often have flitted, the passer-by may read the graceful tribute that the Italian poet, Tommaseo, has offered to the genius of his English sister. ‘QUI SCRISSE E MORI E. B. BROWNING Che . . . fece del suo verso aureo anello fra Italia e Inghilterra.’ Thy rare gold ring of verse (the Poet praised), Linking our England to his Italy.


Ass’s Milk and ‘at least some of the Browning Poems’ 30/01/2011

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c. 1890

In Florence the family was again held back from going on to Rome. In London the baby had been ill, in Florence she was very ill. The patience of Dr. Taylor and his wife was great and their faith strong; yet this was a most trying and anxious time for them. To be ill at home is bad, but to be ill in a foreign land, among strangers and hearing strange tongues, is far worse. The best English-speaking doctors of the city were called in, and they were kind and helpful. The child was put on ass’ milk, the ass coming around every day to be milked at the very front door of the hotel. God was merciful, and the child lived.

While some of the beauties of the city and some of her well-known historic spots were seen, still even the children in the pension as well as Dr. Taylor and his son had less heart and interest in picture galleries and other famous spots almost innumerable, because they were devoted to Susy and at least stayed around, anxious to help if in any way they could. Yet they did have a peep at least at some of the wonders and glories of Florence. There were the Uffizi and Pitti galleries, strung out in a strange way on a strange bridge that spanned the Arno. In these galleries are great pictures that once seen go with one through life, such for example as the Madonna della Seggiola, by Raphael, and La Bella by Titian. Of course each visitor has his favorites. The children loved the Boboli Gardens, while Dr. Taylor rejoiced in the Baptistery, in Giotto’s campanile, and in the Duomo.

In the one or two days after the baby was out of danger, and before they set out for Rome, Mrs. Taylor had some glimpses of the pictures and points of interest in the city. Dr. Taylor and his wife had many a chat as they waited and watched about their great and difficult task in this new and largely unknown land; yet they did not fail to think and talk about many of the great men, such as Dante, Savonarola, Giotto, the Medici, and others who had helped to make Florence beautiful and famous. They managed also to read at least some of the Browning poems.