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Short poem

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Only a Curl

              1FRIENDS of faces unknown and a land
              2   Unvisited over the sea,
              3Who tell me how lonely you stand
              4With a single gold curl in the hand
              5   Held up to be looked at by me, --

              6While you ask me to ponder and say
              7   What a father and mother can do,
              8With the bright fellow-locks put away
              9Out of reach, beyond kiss, in the clay
            10   Where the violets press nearer than you.

            11Shall I speak like a poet, or run
            12   Into weak woman's tears for relief ?
            13Oh, children ! -- I never lost one, --
            14Yet my arm 's round my own little son,
            15   And Love knows the secret of Grief.

            16And I feel what it must be and is,
            17   When God draws a new angel so
            18Through the house of a man up to His,
            19With a murmur of music, you miss,
            20   And a rapture of light, you forgo.

            21How you think, staring on at the door,
            22   Where the face of your angel flashed in,
            23That its brightness, familiar before,
            24Burns off from you ever the more
            25   For the dark of your sorrow and sin.

            26`God lent him and takes him,' you sigh ;
            27   -- Nay, there let me break with your pain :
            28God 's generous in giving, say I, --
            29And the thing which He gives, I deny
            30   That He ever can take back again.

            31He gives what He gives. I appeal
            32   To all who bear babes -- in the hour
            33When the veil of the body we feel
            34Rent round us, -- while torments reveal
            35   The motherhood's advent in power,

            36And the babe cries ! -- has each of us known
            37   By apocalypse (God being there
            38Full in nature) the child is our own,
            39Life of life, love of love, moan of moan,
            40   Through all changes, all times, everywhere.

            41He 's ours and for ever. Believe,
            42   O father ! -- O mother, look back
            43To the first love's assurance. To give
            44Means with God not to tempt or deceive
            45   With a cup thrust in Benjamin's sack.

            46He gives what He gives. Be content !
            47   He resumes nothing given, -- be sure !
            48God lend ? Where the usurers lent
            49In His temple, indignant He went
            50   And scourged away all those impure.

            51He lends not ; but gives to the end,
            52   As He loves to the end. If it seem
            53That He draws back a gift, comprehend
            54'Tis to add to it rather, -- amend,
            55   And finish it up to your dream, --

            56Or keep, -- as a mother will toys
            57   Too costly, though given by herself,
            58Till the room shall be stiller from noise,
            59And the children more fit for such joys,
            60   Kept over their heads on the shelf.

            61So look up, friends ! you, who indeed
            62   Have possessed in your house a sweet piece
            63Of the Heaven which men strive for, must need
            64Be more earnest than others are,--speed
            65   Where they loiter, persist where they cease.

            66You know how one angel smiles there.
            67   Then weep not. 'Tis easy for you
            68To be drawn by a single gold hair
            69Of that curl, from earth's storm and despair,
            70   To the safe place above us. Adieu.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Last Poems. London: Chapman and Hall, 1862. 19th-cent. STC: 5.1.510. mfe DA 533 N55.
First publication date: 1862
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: Not in printed RP.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/6

Rhyme: abaab

Other poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning