EARTH AND HER PRAISERS
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The Earth is old;
Six thousand winters make her heart a-cold;
The sceptre slanteth from her palsied hold.
She saith, "'Las me! God's word that I was 'good'
Is taken back to heaven,
From whence when any sound comes, I am riven
By some sharp bolt; and now no angel would
Descend with sweet dew-silence on my mountains,
To glorify the lovely river fountains
That gush along their side:
I see--O weary change!--I see instead
This human wrath and pride,
These thrones and tombs, judicial wrong and blood,
And bitter words are poured upon mine head--
'O Earth! thou art a stage for tricks unholy,
A church for most remorseful melancholy;
Thou art so spoilt, we should forget we had
An Eden in thee, wert thou not so sad!'
Sweet children, I am old! ye, every one,
Do keep me from a portion of my sun.
Give praise in change for brightness!
That I may shake my hills in infiniteness
Of breezy laughter, as in youthful mirth,
To hear Earth's sons and daughters praising Earth."
Whereupon a child began
With spirit running up to man
As by angels' shining ladder,
(May he find no cloud above!)
Seeming he had ne'er been sadder
All his days than now,
Sitting in the chestnut grove,
With that joyous overflow
Of smiling from his mouth o'er brow
And cheek and chin, as if the breeze
Leaning tricksy from the trees
To part his golden hairs, had blown
Into an hundred smiles that one.
"O rare, rare Earth!" he saith,
"I will praise thee presently;
Not to-day; I have no breath:
I have hunted squirrels three--
Two ran down in the furzy hollow
Where I could not see nor follow,
One sits at the top of the filbert-tree,
With a yellow nut and a mock at me:
Presently it shall be done!
When I see which way these two have run,
When the mocking one at the filbert-top
Shall leap adown and beside me stop,
Then, rare Earth, rare Earth,
Will I pause, having known thy worth,
To say all good of thee!"
Next a lover,--with a dream
'Neath his waking eyelids hidden,
And a frequent sigh unbidden,
And an idlesse all the day
Beside a wandering stream,
And a silence that is made
Of a word he dares not say,--
Shakes slow his pensive head:
"Earth, Earth!" saith he,
"If spirits, like thy roses, grew
On one stalk, and winds austere
Could but only blow them near,
To share each other's dew;--
If, when summer rains agree
To beautify thy hills, I knew
Looking off them I might see
Some one very beauteous too,--
Then Earth," saith he,
"I would praise . . . nay, nay--not thee!"
Will the pedant name her next?
Crabbed with a crabbed text
Sits he in his study nook,
With his elbow on a book,
And with stately crossed knees,
And a wrinkle deeply thrid
Through his lowering brow,
Caused by making proofs enow
That Plato in "Parmenides"
Meant the same Spinoza did,--
Or, that an hundred of the groping
Like himself, had made one Homer,
Homeros being a misnomer.
What hath he to do with praise
Of Earth or aught? Whene'er the sloping
Sunbeams through his window daze
His eyes off from the learned phrase,
Straightway he draws close the curtain.
May abstraction keep him dumb!
Were his lips to ope, 't is certain
"Derivatum est" would come.
Then a mourner moveth pale
In a silence full of wail,
Raising not his sunken head
Because he wandered last that way
With that one beneath the clay:
Weeping not, because that one,
The only one who would have said
"Cease to weep, beloved!" has gone
Whence returneth comfort none.
The silence breaketh suddenly,--
"Earth, I praise thee!" crieth he,
"Thou hast a grave for also me."
Ha, a poet! know him by
The ecstasy-dilated eye,
Not uncharged with tears that ran
Upward from his heart of man;
By the cheek, from hour to hour,
Kindled bright or sunken wan
With a sense of lonely power;
By the brow uplifted higher
Than others, for more low declining:
By the lip which words of fire
Overboiling have burned white
While they gave the nations light:
Ay, in every time and place
Ye may know the poet's face
By the shade or shining.
'Neath a golden cloud he stands,
Spreading his impassioned hands.
"O God's Earth!" he saith, "the sign
From the Father-soul to mine
Of all beauteous mysteries,
Of all perfect images
Which, divine in His divine,
In my human only are
Very excellent and fair!
Think not, Earth, that I would raise
Weary forehead in thy praise,
(Weary, that I cannot go
Farther from thy region low,)
If were struck no richer meanings
From thee than thyself. The leanings
Of the close trees o'er the brim
Of a sunshine-haunted stream
Have a sound beneath their leaves,
Not of wind, not of wind,
Which the poet's voice achieves:
The faint mountains, heaped behind,
Have a falling on their tops,
Not of dew, not of dew,
Which the poet's fancy drops:
Viewless things his eyes can view,
Driftings of his dream do light
All the skies by day and night,
And the seas that deepest roll
Carry murmurs of his soul.
Earth, I praise thee! praise thou me!
God perfecteth his creation
With this recipient poet-passion,
And makes the beautiful to be.
I praise thee, O beloved sign,
From the God-soul unto mine!
Praise me, that I cast on thee
The cunning sweet interpretation,
The help and glory and dilation
Of mine immortality!"
There was silence. None did dare
To use again the spoken air
Of that far-charming voice, until
A Christian resting on the hill,
With a thoughtful smile subdued
(Seeming learnt in solitude)
Which a weeper might have viewed
Without new tears, did softly say,
And looked up unto heaven alway
While he praised the Earth--
I count the praises thou art worth,
By thy waves that move aloud,
By thy hills against the cloud,
By thy valleys warm and green,
By the copses' elms between,
By their birds which, like a sprite
Scattered by a strong delight
Into fragments musical,
Stir and sing in every bush;
By thy silver founts that fall,
As if to entice the stars at night
To thine heart; by grass and rush,
And little weeds the children pull,
Mistook for flowers!
Art thou, Earth, albeit worse
Than in heaven is called good!
Good to us, that we may know
Meekly from thy good to go;
While the holy, crying Blood
Puts its music kind and low
'Twixt such ears as are not dull,
And thine ancient curse!
"Praised be the mosses soft
In thy forest pathways oft,
And the thorns, which make us think
Of the thornless river-brink
Where the ransomed tread:
Praised be thy sunny gleams,
And the storm, that worketh dreams
Of calm unfinished:
Praised be thine active days,
And thy night-time's solemn need,
When in God's dear book we read
No night shall be therein:
Praised be thy dwellings warm
By household fagot's cheerful blaze,
Where, to hear of pardoned sin,
Pauseth oft the merry din,
Save the babe's upon the arm
Who croweth to the crackling wood:
Yea, and, better understood,
Praised be thy dwellings cold,
Hid beneath the churchyard mould,
Where the bodies of the saints
Separate from earthly taints
Lie asleep, in blessing bound,
Waiting for the trumpet's sound
To free them into blessing;--none
Weeping more beneath the sun,
Though dangerous words of human love
Be graven very near, above.
"Earth, we Christians praise thee thus,
Even for the change that comes
With a grief from thee to us:
For thy cradles and thy tombs,
For the pleasant corn and wine
And summer-heat; and also for
The frost upon the sycamore
And hail upon the vine!"