Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CONFESSIONS, by ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING



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CONFESSIONS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Face to face in my chamber, my silent chamber, I saw her
Last Line: And no gentler than these.'
Subject(s): Sin; God


I

FACE to face in my chamber, my silent chamber, I saw her:
God and she and I only, there I sat down to draw her
Soul through the clefts of confession:
'Speak, I am holding thee fast,
As the angel of resurrection shall do at the last!'
'My cup is blood-red
With my sin,' she said,
'And I pour it out to the bitter lees,
As if the angels of judgment stood over me strong at the last,
Or as thou wert as these.'

II

When God smote his hands together, and struck out thy soul as a spark
Into the organized glory of things, from deeps of the dark, --
Say, didst thou shine, didst thou burn, didst thou honor
the power in the form,
As the star does at night, or the fire-fly, or even the
little ground-worm?
'I have sinned,' she said,
'For my seed-light shed
Has smouldered away from his first decrees.
The cypress praiseth the fire-fly, the ground-leaf praiseth the worm;
I am viler than these.'

III

When God on that sin had pity, and did not trample thee straight
With his wild rains beating and drenching thy light found inadequate;
When He only sent thee the north-wind, a little searching and chill,
To quicken thy flame -- didst thou kindle and flash to the
heights of his will?
'I have sinned,' she said,
'Unquickened, unspread,
My fire dropt down, and I wept on my knees:
I only said of his winds of the north as I shrank from their chill,
What delight is in these?'

IV

When God on that sin had pity, and did not meet it as such,
But tempered the wind to thy uses, and softened the world
to thy touch,
At least thou wast moved in thy soul, though unable to prove it afar,
Thou couldst carry thy light like a jewel, not giving it
out like a star?
'I have sinned,' she said,
'And not merited
The gift He gives, by the grace He sees!
The mine-cave praiseth the jewel, the hillside praiseth the star;
I am viler than these.'

V

Then I cried aloud in my passion, -- Unthankful and impotent creature,
To throw up thy scorn unto God through the rents in thy
beggarly nature!
If He, the all-giving and loving, is served so unduly, what then
Hast thou done to the weak and the false and the changing,
-- thy fellows of
men?
'I have loved,' she said,
(Words bowing her head
As the wind the wet acacia-trees)
'I saw God sitting above me, but I ... I sat among men,
And I have loved these.'

VI

Again with a lifted voice, like a choral trumpet that takes
The lowest note of a viol that trembles, and triumphing breaks
On the air with it solemn and clear, --
'Behold! I have sinned not in this!
Where I loved, I have loved much and well, -- I have verily
loved not amiss.
Let the living,' she said,
'Inquire of the dead,
In the house of the pale-fronted images.
My own true dead will answer for me, that I have not loved amiss
In my love for all these.

VII

'The least touch of their hands in the morning, I keep it
by day and by night;
Their least step on the stair, at the door, still throbs
through me, if ever so
light;
Their least gift, which they left to my childhood, far off
in the long-ago
years,
Is now turned from a toy to a relic, and seen through the
crystals of tears.
Dig the snow,' she said,
'For my churchyard bed,
Yet I, as I sleep, shall not fear to freeze,
If one only of these my beloveds shall love me with heart-warm tears,
As I have loved these!

VIII

'If I angered any among them, from thenceforth my own life was sore;
If I fell by chance from their presence, I clung to their memory more:
Their tender I often felt holy, their bitter
I sometimes called sweet;
And whenever their heart has refused me,
I fell down straight at their feet.
I have loved,' she said, --
'Man is weak, God is dread,
Yet the weak man dies with his spirit at ease,
Having poured such an unguent of love but once on the Saviour's feet
As I lavished for these.'

IX

Go, I cried, thou hast chosen the Human, and left the Divine!
Then, at least, have the Human shared with thee their wild-berry wine?
Have they loved back thy love, and when strangers
approached thee with blame,
Have they covered thy fault with their kisses, and loved
thee the same?
But she shrunk and said
'God, over my head,
Must sweep in the wrath of his judgment-seas,
If He shall deal with me sinning, but only indeed the same
And no gentler than these.'





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