Sunday, May 22, 2016

Human life's mystery

Yesterday I went to Berrima for the day with a friend, to catch up with other friends from Sydney, and found this lovely volume in Berkelouw's book barn. There are poems within it I've never before read, which is always a delight from a poet one appreciates. I like this one below. I have added it to the "Sehnsucht poems" collection.

A photo posted by Alison Payne (@thisfoggyday) on


HUMAN LIFE’S MYSTERY
By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

                    I

We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,
   We build the house where we may rest,
And then, at moments, suddenly,
We look up to the great wide sky,
Inquiring wherefore we were born…
   For earnest, or for jest?

                    II

The senses folding thick and dark
   About the stifled soul within,
We guess diviner things beyond,
And yearn to them with yearning fond;
We strike out blindly to a mark
   Believed in, but not seen.

                    III

We vibrate to the pant and thrill
   Wherewith Eternity has curled
In serpent-twine about God’s seat;
While, freshening upward to His feet,
In gradual growth His full-leaved will
   Expands from world to world.

                    IV

And, in the tumult and excess
   Of act and passion under sun,
We sometimes hear—oh, soft and far,
As silver star did touch with star,
The kiss of Peace and Righteousness
    Through all things that are done.

                    V

God keeps His holy mysteries
   Just on the outside of man’s dream.
In diapason slow, we think
To hear their pinions rise and sink,
While they float pure beneath His eyes,
   Like swans adown a stream.

                    VI

Abstractions, are they, from the forms
   Of His great beauty?—exaltations
From His great glory?—strong previsions
Of what we shall be?—intuitions
Of what we are—in calms and storms,
   Beyond our peace and passions?

                    VII

Things nameless! which, in passing so,
   Do stroke us with a subtle grace.
We say, ‘Who passes?’—they are dumb.
We cannot see them go or come:
Their touches fall soft—cold—as snow
    Upon a blind man’s face.

                    VIII

Yet, touching so, they draw above
   Our common thoughts to Heaven’s unknown,
Our daily joy and pain advance
To a divine significance,—
Our human love—O mortal love,
   That light is not its own!

                    IX

And sometimes, horror chills our blood
   To be so near such mystic Things,
And we wrap round us, for defence,
Our purple manners, moods of sense—
As angels, from the face of God,
   Stand hidden in their wings.

                    X

And, sometimes, through life’s heavy swound
   We grope for them!—with strangled breath
We stretch our hands abroad and try
To reach them in our agony,—
And widen, so, the broad life-wound
   Which soon is large enough for death.

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