FLORIN WEBSITE © JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAYAUREO ANELLO ASSOCIAZIONE, 1997-2017: MEDIEVAL: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, SWEET NEW STYLE: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, & GEOFFREY CHAUCER || VICTORIAN: WHITE SILENCE: FLORENCE'S 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY || ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING || WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR || FRANCES TROLLOPE || ABOLITION OF SLAVERY || FLORENCE IN SEPIA  || CITY AND BOOK CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII || MEDIATHECA 'FIORETTA MAZZEI' || EDITRICE AUREO ANELLO CATALOGUE || UMILTA WEBSITE || RINGOFGOLD WEBSITE || LINGUE/LANGUAGES: ITALIANO, ENGLISH || VITA
New
: Dante vivo || White Silence
 



ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING


AND SLAVERY
 
 

Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett grew up in a slave-owning family from Jamaica, knowing she was herself part Black. She hated slavery. She married Robert Browning, whose family likewise had owned slaves on St Kitts. She used her poetry to speak out against slavery as a 'crime against humanity'.



THE RUNAWAY SLAVE AT PILGRIM’S POINT

 

[ADVERTISEMENT, The following verses were the contribution of the Authoress to a volume entitled ‘The Liberty Bell, by Friends of Freedom,’ printed in America last year for sale at the Boston National Anti-Slavery Bazaar. It is for the use of a few ‘friends of freedom’ and of the writer on this side of the Atlantic that the verses are now reprinted. FLORENCE, 1849.]



                         I stand on the mark, beside the shore
                          Of the first white pilgrim’s bended knee,
                        Where exile changed to ancestor,
                          And God was thanked for liberty.
            5          I have run through the night = my skin is as dark =
                        I bend my knee down on this mark: =
                          I look on the sky and the sea.
 

II

                                   O, pilgrim-souls, I speak to you:
                          I see you come out proud and slow
            10         From the land of the spirits, pale as dew,
                          And round me and round me ye go.
                        O pilgrims, I have gasped and run
                        All night long from the whips of one
                          Who, in your names, works sin and woe.
 

III

            15         And thus I thought that I would come
                          And kneel here where ye knelt before,
                        And feel your souls around me hum
                          In undertone to the ocean’s roar;
                        And lift my black face, my black hand,
            20       Here, in your names, to curse this land
                         Ye blessed in Freedom’s, evermore.
 

IV

                                   I am black = I am black!
                          And yet God made me, they say:
                        But if He did so, smiling, back
            25          He must have cast His work away
                        Under the feet of His white creatures,
                        With a look of scorn, that the dusky features
                          Might be trodden again to clay.
 

V

                                  And yet He has made dark things
            30          To be glad and merry as light:
                        There’s a little dark bird sits and sings;
                          There’s a dark stream ripples out of sight;
                        And the dark frogs chant in the safe morass,
                        And the sweetest stars are made to pass
            35          O’er the face of the darkest night.
 

VI

                                  But we who are dark, we are dark!
                          O God, we have no stars!
                        About our souls, in care and cark,
                          Our blackness shuts like prison bars:
            40       And crouch our souls so far behind,
                        That never a comfort can they find
                          By reaching through the prison-bars.
 

                       

[VII

                                 Indeed we live beneath the sky, . .
                          That great smooth Hand of God, stretched out
            45       On all His children fatherly,
                          To bless them from the fear and doubt,
                        Which would be, if, from this low place,
                        All opened straight up to His face
                          Into the grand eternity.]
 

VIII

            50        Howbeit God’s sunshine and His frost,
                          They make us hot, they make us cold,
                        As if we ere not black and lost;
                          And the beasts and birds, in wood and wold,
                        Do fear and take us for very men: =
            55        Could the weep-poor-will or the cat of the glen
                          Look into my eyes and be bold?
 

IX

                                I am black, I am black!
                          And, once, I laughed in girlish glee;
                        For one of my colour stood in the track
            60          Where the drivers drove, and looked at me =
                        And tender and full was the look he gave!
                        A Slave looked so at another Slave, =
                           I look at the sky and the sea.
 

X

                         And from that hour our spirits grew
65       As free as if unsold, unbought:
       We were strong enough, since we were two,
          To conquer the world, we thought!
       The drivers drove us day by day
       We did not mind, we went one way
70            And no better a liberty sought.


XI

                        In the open ground, between the canes,
                          He said ‘I love you’ as he passed;
                        Where the shingle-roof rang sharp with the rains,
                          I heard how he vowed it fast.
            75       While others trembled, he sate in the hut
                        And carved me a bowl of the cocoa-nut
                          Through the roar of the hurricanes.
 

XII

                               I sang his name instead of a song;
                          Over and over I sang his name;
            80        Backward and forward I drew it along
                          With my sweetest notes, it was still the same!
                        I sang it low, that the slave-girls near
                        Might never guess, from aught they could hear,
                          That all the song was a name.
 

XIII

                   85        I look on the sky and the sea!
                          We were two to love, and two to pray, =
                        Yes, two, O God, who cried on Thee,
                          Though nothing didst Thou say.
                        Coldly Thou sat’st behind the sun:
            90        And now I cry, who am but one, =
                          Thou wilt not speak to-day!
 

XIV

                        We were black, we were black!
                          We had no claim to love and bliss;
                        What marvel, ours was cast to wrack?
            95          They wrung my cold hands out of his, =
                        They dragged him = where?  I crawled to touch
                        His blood’s mark in the dust = not much,
                          Ye pilgrim-souls, = though plain as this!         
              
                                                   
    

XV

                        Wrong, followed by a greater wrong!
            100        Grief seemed too good for such as I:
                        So the white men brought the shame ere long
                          To stifle the sob in my throat thereby.
                        They would not leave me for my dull
                        Wet eyes! = it was too merciful
            105         To let me weep pure tears, and die.
 

XVI

                        I am black, I am black!
                          I wore a child upon my breast =
                        An amulet that hung too slack,
                          And, in my unrest, could not rest:
            110       Thus we went moaning, child and mother,
                        One to another, one to another,
                          Until all ended for the best.
 

XVII

                        For hark!  I will tell you low = low =
                          I am black, you see, =
            115        And the babe, who lay on my bosom so,
                          Was far too white, too white for me;
                        As white as the ladies who scorned to pray
                        Beside me at church but yesterday,
                          Though my tears had washed a place for my knee.
 

XVIII

            120      And my own child!  I could not bear
                          To look in his face, it was so white;
                        I covered him up with a kerchief rare,
                          I covered his face in, close and tight:
                        And he moaned and struggled, as well might be,
            125      For the white child wanted his liberty =
                          Ha, ha!  he wanted the master’s right.

 

 

XIX

                        He moaned and beat with his head and feet,
                          His little feet that never grew;
                        He struck them out, as it was meet,
            130       Against my heart to break it through.
                          I might have sung like a mother =
                        But I dared not sing to the white-faced child
                          The only song I knew.
 

XX

                        And yet I pulled the kerchief close:
            135         He could not see the sun, I swear
                        More, then, alive, than now he does
                          From between the roots of the mango = where?
                        I know where. Close!  A child and mother
                        Do wrong to look at one another,
            140        When one is black and one is fair.
                       

 XXI

                        Even in that single glance I had
                          Of my child’s face, = I tell you all, =
                        I saw a look that made me mad! =
                          The master’s look, that used to fall
            145      On my soul like his lash . . or worse! =
                        Therefore, to save it from my curse
                          I twisted it round in my shawl.
 

XXII

                        And he moaned and trembled from foot to head,
                          He shivered from head to foot, =
            150       Till, after a time, he lay, instead,
                          Too suddenly still and mute.
                        And I felt, beside, a creeping cold =
                        I dared to lift up just a fold,
                          As in lifting a leaf of the mango-fruit.

                       


XXIII

            155       But my fruit!  ha, ha! = there had been
                          (I laugh to think on’t at this hour!)
                        Your fine white angels (who have seen
                          God’s secret nearest to His power)
                        And gathered my fruit to make them wine
            160       And sucked the soul of that child of mine
                          As the humming-bird sucks the soul of the flower.
 

XXIV

                        Ha, ha!  for the trick of the angels white!
                       
  They freed the white child’s spirit so.
                        I said not a word, but day and night,
            165         I carried the body to and fro;
                        And it lay on my heart like a stone = as chill;
                        The sun may shine out as much as he will:
                          I am cold, though it happened a month ago.
 

XXV

                        From the white man’s house, and the black man’s hut,
            170        I carried the little body on;
                        The forest’s arms did round us shut,
                          And silence through the trees did run!
                        They asked no questions as I went, =
                        They stood too high for astonishment, =
            175        They could see God rise on his throne.
 

XXVI

                        My little body, kerchiefed fast,
                          I bore it on through the forest = on =
                        And when I felt it was tired at last,
                          I scooped a hole beneath the moon.
            180      Through the forest-tops the angels far,
                        With a white fine finger in every star,
                          Did point and mock at what was done.
             

XXVII

                        Yet when it was all done aright,
                          Earth, ‘twixt me and my baby strewed, -
            185       All changed to black earth, = nothing white, -
                          A dark child in the dark, = ensued
                        Some comfort, and my heart grew young;
                        I sate down smiling there, and sung
                          The song I told you of, for good.
 

XXVIII

            190      And thus we two were reconciled,
                          The white child and black mother, thus;
                        For, as I sang it, = soft, slow and wild
                          The same song, more melodious,
                        Rose from the grave whereon I sate!
            195       It was the dead child singing that,
                          To join the souls of both of us.
 

XXIX

                        I look on the sea and the sky!
                          Where the Pilgrims’ ships first anchored lay.
                        The great sun rideth gloriously!
            200       But the Pilgrims’ ghosts have slid away
                        Through the first faint streaks of the morn!
                        My face is black, but it glares a scorn
                          Which they dare not meet by day.
 

XXX

                                   Ah! = in their stead their hunter sons!
            205       Ah, ah!  they are on me!  they form in a ring!
                        Keep off! = I brave you all at once! =
                          I throw off your eyes like a noisome thing!
                        You have killed the black eagle at nest, I think:
                        Did you never stand still in your triumph, and shrink
            210        From the stroke of her wounded wing?
 
 
       
 
                                                                                                          XXXI
                      
                               
(Man, drop that stone you dared to lift! = )
                          I wish you who stand there seven abreast,
                        Each for his own wife’s joy and gift,
                          A little corpse as safely at rest,
            215      Hid in the mangos! = Yes, but she
                        May keep live babies on her knee
                          And sing the song she liketh best.

 

XXXII

                        I am not mad:  I am black!
                          I see you staring in my face =
            220     I know you staring, shrinking back! . .
                          Ye are born of the Washington race:
                        And this land is the Free America =
                        And this mark on my wrist, (I prove what I say)
                          Ropes tied me up here to the flogging-place.
 

XXXIII

            225     You think I shrieked then?  Not a sound!
                          I hung as a gourd hangs in the sun:
                        I only cursed them all around,
                          As softly as I might have done
                        My own child after. From these sands
            230      Up to the mountains, lift your hands,
                          O Slaves, and end what I began!
 

XXXIV

                        Whips, curses;  these must answer those!
                          For in this UNION
, you have set
                       
Two kinds of men in adverse rows,
            235        Each loathing each!  and all forget
                        The seven wounds in Christ’s body fair;
                        While
HE see gaping everywhere
                       
  Our countless wounds that pay no debt.

                                                                                                                    XXXV
                       

                      Our wounds are different. Your white men
            240       Are, after all, not gods indeed,
                        Nor able to make Christ’s again
                          Do good with bleeding. We who bleed =
                        (Stand off) = we help not in our loss, =
                        We are too heavy for our cross,
            245       And fall and crush you and your seed.

 
XXXVI

                        I fall, I swoon!  I look at the sky.
                          The clouds are breaking on my brain;
                        I am floated along, as if I should die
                          Of Liberty’s exquisite pain =
           
250     In the name of the white child waiting for me
                        In the deep black death where our kisses agree, =
                       
White men, I leave you all curse-free
                          In my broken heart’s disdain!
                      




‘HIRAM POWERS’ GREEK SLAVE’


They say Ideal Beauty cannot enter
The house of anguish. On the threshold stands
An alien Image with the shackled hands,
Called the Greek Slave: as if the sculptor meant her,
(That passionless perfection which he lent her,
Shadowed, not darkened, where the sill expands)
To, so, confront men’s crimes in different lands,
With man’s ideal sense. Pierce to the centre,

Art’s fiery finger! - and break up erelong

The serfdom of this world! Appeal, fair stone,
From God’s pure heights of beauty, against man’s wrong!
Catch up in thy divine face, not alone

East griefs but west, - and strike and shame the strong,
By thunders of white silence, overthrown!
   

 

Si dice che la Bellezza Ideale non possa entrare nella
casa d'angoscia. Una figura straniera sta sulla soglia,
con le mani incatenate, la Schiava greca:
come se lo scultore eleggesse lei,
(quella perfezione impassibile che egli le diede,
ombreggiata, non oscurata, là dove la soglia si apre)

per misurare i crimini degli uomini in diversi lidi,
con ogni ideale dell'uomo. Penetra nell'intimo,
infuocato dito dell'arte! - e spezza presto
la schiavitù di questo mondo! Appellati, bella pietra,

dalla pura sommità della bellezza di Dio, contro il male dell'uomo!
Cattura nel tuo volto divino, le pene
e dell'oriente e dell'occidente, - e colpisci e umilia i forti,

da tuoni di bianco silenzio sconfitti!



Bibliography


Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Aurora Leigh and Other Poems. Edited, John Robert Glorney Bolton and Julia Bolton Holloway. Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1995.

The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning to her Sister Arabella. Ed. Scott Lewis. 2 vols. Waco: Wedgestone Press, 2002.
Michael Meredith, Eton College, 2006.

Jeannette Marks. The Family of the Barrett: A Colonial Romance. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938. Sheila Frodella, Firenze, 2001.

Joseph Shore and John Stewart. In Old St James (Jamaica): A Book of Parish Chronicles. Kingston, Jamaica:  Aston W. Gardner, 1911. Includes Chapters on 'The Barretts of Cinnamon Hill', and 'A Book of Slaves'. Tony and Jenny Moulton-Barrett, Midhurst, 2005.


Andrew M. Stauffer. 'Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Re-visions of Slavery'. English Language Notes 34 (1997), pp. 29-49.  http://www.cswnet.com/~erin/ebb2.htm



FLORIN WEBSITE © JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAYAUREO ANELLO ASSOCIAZIONE, 1997-2017: MEDIEVAL: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, SWEET NEW STYLE: BRUNETTO LATINO, DANTE ALIGHIERI, & GEOFFREY CHAUCER || VICTORIAN: WHITE SILENCE: FLORENCE'S 'ENGLISH' CEMETERY || ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING || WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR || FRANCES TROLLOPE || ABOLITION OF SLAVERY || FLORENCE IN SEPIA  || CITY AND BOOK CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII || MEDIATHECA 'FIORETTA MAZZEI' || EDITRICE AUREO ANELLO CATALOGUE || UMILTA WEBSITE || RINGOFGOLD WEBSITE || LINGUE/LANGUAGES: ITALIANO, ENGLISH || VITA
New
: Dante vivo || White Silence