Monday, October 11, 2021

Elizabeth Barrett Browning*

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806―1861) is one of the nineteenth century’s greatest poets. She was outspoken against many abuses of human rights ― including against slavery, and the reliance upon slave labour on her family’s Jamaican sugar plantations. She also boldly expressed her Christian faith, and spoke out against issues such as child labour, even though these were not popular with many readers.

Her 11,000-line epic poem Aurora Leigh (1856) ― which is described as a novel in blank verse ― tells the story of the young woman, Aurora, who aspires to be a poet. One important focus of the story is the difficulty for women to have artistic ambitions, due to the restrictive expectations of women’s roles, and limited opportunities for education. Browning saw it as the most mature of her works. The critic John Ruskin called Aurora Leigh the greatest long poem of the nineteenth century.

The opening setting for Aurora Leigh is Florence, where Elizabeth and her husband Robert Browning primarily lived from 1846 until her death.

From Aurora Leigh ― Book VII

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

*This is the fourth Kingdom Poets post about Elizabeth Barrett Browning: first post, second post, third post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Amazon, and Wipf & Stock.