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The Soul's Travelling Post by :welmon Category :Poems Author :Elizabeth Barrett Browning Date :October 2011 Read :3437

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The Soul's Travelling

Ede noerous
Petasai tarsous.

--SYNESIUS.


I.

I dwell amid the city ever.
The great humanity which beats
Its life along the stony streets,
Like a strong and unsunned river
In a self-made course,
I sit and hearken while it rolls.
Very sad and very hoarse
Certes is the flow of souls;
Infinitest tendencies
By the finite prest and pent,
In the finite, turbulent:
How we tremble in surprise
When sometimes, with an awful sound,
God's great plummet strikes the ground!

II.

The champ of the steeds on the silver bit,
As they whirl the rich man's carriage by;
The beggar's whine as he looks at it,--
But it goes too fast for charity;
The trail on the street of the poor man's broom,
That the lady who walks to her palace-home,
On her silken skirt may catch no dust;
The tread of the business-men who must
Count their per-cents by the paces they take;
The cry of the babe unheard of its mother
Though it lie on her breast, while she thinks of the other
Laid yesterday where it will not wake;
The flower-girl's prayer to buy roses and pinks
Held out in the smoke, like stars by day;
The gin-door's oath that hollowly chinks
Guilt upon grief and wrong upon hate;
The cabman's cry to get out of the way;
The dustman's call down the area-grate;
The young maid's jest, and the old wife's scold,
The haggling talk of the boys at a stall,
The fight in the street which is backed for gold,
The plea of the lawyers in Westminster Hall;
The drop on the stones of the blind man's staff
As he trades in his own grief's sacredness,
The brothel shriek, and the Newgate laugh,
The hum upon 'Change, and the organ's grinding,
(The grinder's face being nevertheless
Dry and vacant of even woe
While the children's hearts are leaping so
At the merry music's winding;)
The black-plumed funeral's creeping train,
Long and slow (and yet they will go
As fast as Life though it hurry and strain!)
Creeping the populous houses through
And nodding their plumes at either side,--
At many a house, where an infant, new
To the sunshiny world, has just struggled and cried,--
At many a house where sitteth a bride
Trying to-morrow's coronals
With a scarlet blush to-day:
Slowly creep the funerals,
As none should hear the noise and say
"The living, the living must go away
To multiply the dead."
Hark! an upward shout is sent,
In grave strong joy from tower to steeple
The bells ring out,
The trumpets sound, the people shout,
The young queen goes to her Parliament.
She turneth round her large blue eyes
More bright with childish memories
Than royal hopes, upon the people;
On either side she bows her head
Lowly, with a queenly grace
And smile most trusting-innocent,
As if she smiled upon her mother;
The thousands press before each other
To bless her to her face;
And booms the deep majestic voice
Through trump and drum,--"May the queen rejoice
In the people's liberties!"

III.

I dwell amid the city,
And hear the flow of souls in act and speech,
For pomp or trade, for merrymake or folly:
I hear the confluence and sum of each,
And that is melancholy!
Thy voice is a complaint, O crowned city,
The blue sky covering thee like God's great pity.

IV.

O blue sky! it mindeth me
Of places where I used to see
Its vast unbroken circle thrown
From the far pale-peaked hill
Out to the last verge of ocean,
As by God's arm it were done
Then for the first time, with the emotion
Of that first impulse on it still.
Oh, we spirits fly at will
Faster than the winged steed
Whereof in old book we read,
With the sunlight foaming back
From his flanks to a misty wrack,
And his nostril reddening proud
As he breasteth the steep thundercloud,--
Smoother than Sabrina's chair
Gliding up from wave to air,
While she smileth debonair
Yet holy, coldly and yet brightly,
Like her own mooned waters nightly,
Through her dripping hair.

V.

Very fast and smooth we fly,
Spirits, though the flesh be by;
All looks feed not from the eye
Nor all hearings from the ear:
We can hearken and espy
Without either, we can journey
Bold and gay as knight to tourney,
And, though we wear no visor down
To dark our countenance, the foe
Shall never chafe us as we go.

VI.

I am gone from peopled town!
It passeth its street-thunder round
My body which yet hears no sound,
For now another sound, another
Vision, my soul's senses have--
O'er a hundred valleys deep
Where the hills' green shadows sleep
Scarce known because the valley-trees
Cross those upland images,
O'er a hundred hills each other
Watching to the western wave,
I have travelled,--I have found
The silent, lone, remembered ground.

VII.

I have found a grassy niche
Hollowed in a seaside hill,
As if the ocean-grandeur which
Is aspectable from the place,
Had struck the hill as with a mace
Sudden and cleaving. You might fill
That little nook with the little cloud
Which sometimes lieth by the moon
To beautify a night of June;
A cavelike nook which, opening all
To the wide sea, is disallowed
From its own earth's sweet pastoral:
Cavelike, but roofless overhead
And made of verdant banks instead
Of any rocks, with flowerets spread
Instead of spar and stalactite,
Cowslips and daisies gold and white:
Such pretty flowers on such green sward,
You think the sea they look toward
Doth serve them for another sky
As warm and blue as that on high.

VIII.

And in this hollow is a seat,
And when you shall have crept to it,
Slipping down the banks too steep
To be o'erbrowzed by the sheep,
Do not think--though at your feet
The cliffs disrupt--you shall behold
The line where earth and ocean meet;
You sit too much above to view
The solemn confluence of the two:
You can hear them as they greet,
You can hear that evermore
Distance-softened noise more old
Than Nereid's singing, the tide spent
Joining soft issues with the shore
In harmony of discontent,
And when you hearken to the grave
Lamenting of the underwave,
You must believe in earth's communion
Albeit you witness not the union.

IX.

Except that sound, the place is full
Of silences, which when you cull
By any word, it thrills you so
That presently you let them grow
To meditation's fullest length
Across your soul with a soul's strength:
And as they touch your soul, they borrow
Both of its grandeur and its sorrow,
That deathly odour which the clay
Leaves on its deathlessness alway.

X.

Alway! alway? must this be?
Rapid Soul from city gone,
Dost thou carry inwardly
What doth make the city's moan?
Must this deep sigh of thine own
Haunt thee with humanity?
Green visioned banks that are too steep
To be o'erbrowzed by the sheep,
May all sad thoughts adown you creep
Without a shepherd? Mighty sea,
Can we dwarf thy magnitude
And fit it to our straitest mood?
O fair, fair Nature, are we thus
Impotent and querulous
Among thy workings glorious,
Wealth and sanctities, that still
Leave us vacant and defiled
And wailing like a soft-kissed child,
Kissed soft against his will?

XI.

God, God!
With a child's voice I cry,
Weak, sad, confidingly--
God, God!
Thou knowest, eyelids, raised not always up
Unto Thy love, (as none of ours are) droop
As ours, o'er many a tear;
Thou knowest, though Thy universe is broad,
Two little tears suffice to cover all:
Thou knowest, Thou who art so prodigal
Of beauty, we are oft but stricken deer
Expiring in the woods, that care for none
Of those delightsome flowers they die upon.

XII.

O blissful Mouth which breathed the mournful breath
We name our souls, self-spoilt!--by that strong passion
Which paled Thee once with sighs, by that strong death
Which made Thee once unbreathing--from the wrack
Themselves have called around them, call them back,
Back to Thee in continuous aspiration!
For here, O Lord,
For here they travel vainly, vainly pass
From city-pavement to untrodden sward
Where the lark finds her deep nest in the grass
Cold with the earth's last dew. Yea, very vain
The greatest speed of all these souls of men
Unless they travel upward to the throne
Where sittest THOU the satisfying ONE,
With help for sins and holy perfectings
For all requirements: while the archangel, raising
Unto Thy face his full ecstatic gazing,
Forgets the rush and rapture of his wings.


(The end)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem: Soul's Travelling

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