Where’s Agnes? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Nay, if I had come back so,
And found her dead in her grave,
And if a friend I know
Had said, “Be strong, nor rave:
She lies there, dead below:


“I saw her, I who speak,
White, stiff, the face one blank:
The blue shade came to her cheek
Before they nailed the plank,
For she had been dead a week.”


Why, if he had spoken so,
I might have believed the thing,
Although her look, although
Her step, laugh, voice’s ring
Lived in me still as they do.


But dead that other way,
Corrupted thus and lost?
That sort of worm in the clay?
I cannot count the cost,
That I should rise and pay.


My Agnes false? such shame?
She? Rather be it said
That the pure saint of her name
Has stood there in her stead,
And tricked you to this blame.


Her very gown, her cloak
Fell chastely: no disguise,
But expression! while she broke
With her clear grey morning-eyes
Full upon me and then spoke.


She wore her hair away
From her forehead,–like a cloud
Which a little wind in May
Peels off finely: disallowed
Though bright enough to stay.


For the heavens must have the place
To themselves, to use and shine in,
As her soul would have her face
To press through upon mine, in
That orb of angel grace.


Had she any fault at all,
‘T was having none, I thought too–
There seemed a sort of thrall;
As she felt her shadow ought to
Fall straight upon the wall.

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Her sweetness strained the sense
Of common life and duty;
And every day’s expense
Of moving in such beauty
Required, almost, defence.


What good, I thought, is done
By such sweet things, if any?
This world smells ill i’ the sun
Though the garden-flowers are many,–
She is only one.


Can a voice so low and soft
Take open actual part
With Right,–maintain aloft
Pure truth in life or art,
Vexed always, wounded oft?–


She fit, with that fair pose
Which melts from curve to curve,
To stand, run, work with those
Who wrestle and deserve,
And speak plain without glose?


But I turned round on my fear
Defiant, disagreeing–
What if God has set her here
Less for action than for Being?–
For the eye and for the ear.


Just to show what beauty may,
Just to prove what music can,–
And then to die away
From the presence of a man,
Who shall learn, henceforth, to pray?


As a door, left half ajar
In heaven, would make him think
How heavenly-different are
Things glanced at through the chink,
Till he pined from near to far.


That door could lead to hell?
That shining merely meant
Damnation? What! She fell
Like a woman, who was sent
Like an angel, by a spell?


She, who scarcely trod the earth,
Turned mere dirt? My Agnes,–mine!
Called so! felt of too much worth
To be used so! too divine
To be breathed near, and so forth!


Why, I dared not name a sin
In her presence: I went round,
Clipped its name and shut it in
Some mysterious crystal sound,–
Changed the dagger for the pin.

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Now you name herself that word?
O my Agnes! O my saint!
Then the great joys of the Lord
Do not last? Then all this paint
Runs off nature? leaves a board?


Who’s dead here? No, not she:
Rather I! or whence this damp
Cold corruption’s misery?
While my very mourners stamp
Closer in the clods on me.


And my mouth is full of dust
Till I cannot speak and curse–
Speak and damn him … “Blame’s unjust”?
Sin blots out the universe,
All because she would and must?


She, my white rose, dropping off
The high rose-tree branch! and not
That the night-wind blew too rough,
Or the noon-sun burnt too hot,
But, that being a rose–‘t was enough!


Then henceforth may earth grow trees!
No more roses!–hard straight lines
To score lies out! none of these
Fluctuant curves, but firs and pines,
Poplars, cedars, cypresses!

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