Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE FOURFOLD ASPECT, by ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING



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THE FOURFOLD ASPECT, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: When ye stood up in the house
Last Line: So hopefully ye think upon the dead!
Subject(s): Death; Heroism; Dead, The; Heroes; Heroines


I

WHEN ye stood up in the house
With your little childish feet,
And, in touching Life's first shows,
First the touch of Love did meet, --
Love and Nearness seeming one,
By the heartlight cast before,
And of all Beloveds, none
Standing farther than the door;
Not a name being dear to thought,
With its owner beyond call;
Not a face, unless it brought
Its own shadow to the wall;
When the worst recorded change
Was of apple dropt from bough,
When love's sorrow seemed more strange
Than love's treason can seem now; --
Then, the Loving took you up
Soft, upon their elder knees,
Telling why the statues droop
Underneath the churchyard trees,
And how ye must lie beneath them
Through the winters long and deep,
Till the last trump overbreathe them,
And ye smile out of your sleep.
Oh, ye lifted up your head, and it seemed as if they said
A tale of fairy ships
With a swan-wing for a sail;
Oh, ye kissed their loving lips
For the merry merry tale --
So carelessly ye thought upon the Dead!

II

Soon ye read in solemn stories
Of the men of long ago,
Of the pale bewildering glories
Shining farther than we know;
Of the heroes with the laurel,
Of the poets with the bay,
Of the two worlds' earnest quarrel
For that beauteous Helena;
How Achilles at the portal
Of the tent heard footsteps nigh,
And his strong heart, half-immortal,
Met the keitai with a cry;
How Ulysses left the sunlight
For the pale eidola race
Blank and passive through the dun light,
Staring blindly in his face;
How that true wife said to Paetus,
With calm smile and wounded heart,
'Sweet, it hurts not!' How Admetus
Saw his blessed one depart;
How King Arthur proved his mission,
And Sir Roland wound his horn,
And at Sangreal's moony vision
Swords did bristle round like corn.
Oh, ye lifted up your head, and it seemed, the while ye read,
That this Death, then, must be found
A Valhalla for the crowned,
The heroic who prevail:
None, be sure can enter in
Far below a paladin
Of a noble noble tale --
So awfully ye thought upon the Dead!

III

Ay, but soon ye woke up shrieking,
As a child that wakes at night
From a dream of sisters speaking
In a garden's summer-light, --
That wakes, starting up and bounding,
In a lonely lonely bed,
With a wall of darkness round him,
Stifling black about his head!
And the full sense of your mortal
Rushed upon you deep and loud,
And ye heard the thunder hurtle
From the silence of the cloud.
Funeral-torches at your gateway
Threw a dreadful light within.
All things changed: you rose up straightway,
And saluted Death and Sin.
Since, your outward man has rallied,
And your eye and voice grown bold;
Yet the Sphinx of Life stands pallid,
With her saddest secret told.
Happy places have grown holy:
If ye went where once ye went,
Only tears would fall down slowly,
As at solemn sacrament.
Merry books, once read for pastime,
If ye dared to read again,
Only memories of the last time
Would swim darkly up the brain.
Household names, which used to flutter
Through your laughter unawares, --
God's Divinest ye could utter
With less trembling in your prayers.
Ye have dropt adown your head, and it seems as if ye tread
On your own hearts in the path
Ye are called to in His wrath,
And your prayers go up in wail
-- 'Dost Thou see, then, all our loss,
O Thou agonized on cross?
Art thou reading all its tale?'
So mournfully ye think upon the Dead!

IV

Pray, pray, thou who also weepest,
And the drops will slacken so.
Weep, weep, and the watch thou keepest
With a quicker count will go.
Think: the shadow on the dial
For the nature most undone,
Marks the passing of the trial,
Proves the presence of the sun.
Look, look up, in starry passion,
To the throne above the spheres:
Learn: the spirit's gravitation
Still must differ from the tear's.
Hope: with all the strength thou usest
In embracing thy despair.
Love: the earthly love thou losest
Shall return to thee more fair.
Work: make clear the forest-tangles
Of the wildest stranger-land.
Trust: the blessed deathly angels
Whisper, 'Sabbath hours at hand!'
By the heart's wound when most gory,
By the longest agony,
Smile! Behold in sudden glory
The TRANSFIGURED smiles on thee!
And ye lifted up your head, and it seemed as if he said,
'My Beloved, is it so?
Have ye tasted of my woe?
Of my Heaven ye shall not fail!'
He stands brightly where the shade is,
With the keys of Death and Hades,
And there, ends the mournful tale --
So hopefully ye think upon the Dead!





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