Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Florence, Italy

Born in County Durham, the eldest of 12 children, Browning was educated at home. She wrote poetry from around the age of six and this was compiled by her mother, comprising what is now one of the largest collections extant of juvenilia by any English writer. At 15 Browning became ill, suffering from intense head and spinal pain for the rest of her life, rendering her frail. She took laudanum for the pain, which may have led to a lifelong addiction and contributed to her weak health.

Barrett Browning's first known poem was written at the age of six or eight, "On the Cruelty of Forcement to Man". The manuscript is currently in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library; the exact date is controversial because the "2" in the date 1812 is written over something else that is scratched out. Her first independent publication was "Stanzas Excited by Reflections on the Present State of Greece" in The New Monthly Magazine of May 1821; this was followed in the same publication two months later by "Thoughts Awakened by Contemplating a Piece of the Palm which Grows on the Summit of the Acropolis at Athens". Her first collection of poems, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems, was published in 1826 and reflected her passion for Byron and Greek politics. Its publication drew the attention of a blind scholar of the Greek language, Hugh Stuart Boyd, and that of another Greek scholar, Uvedale Price, with whom she maintained a sustained scholarly correspondence. Among other neighbours was Mrs. James Martin from Colwall, with whom she also corresponded throughout her life. Later, at Boyd's suggestion, she translated Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound (published in 1833; retranslated in 1850). During their friendship Barrett studied Greek literature, including Homer, Pindar and Aristophanes.


I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God's throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness,
In souls as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching, vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death--
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it; the marble eyelids are not wet:
If it could weep, it could arise and go.

Comment Stream