Only a Curl

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806–1861 Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I.
FRIENDS of faces unknown and a land
    Unvisited over the sea,
Who tell me how lonely you stand
With a single gold curl in the hand
    Held up to be looked at by me, —

II.
While you ask me to ponder and say
    What a father and mother can do,
With the bright fellow-locks put away
Out of reach, beyond kiss, in the clay
    Where the violets press nearer than you.

III.
Shall I speak like a poet, or run
    Into weak woman's tears for relief ?
Oh, children ! — I never lost one, —
Yet my arm 's round my own little son,
    And Love knows the secret of Grief.

IV.
And I feel what it must be and is,
    When God draws a new angel so
Through the house of a man up to His,
With a murmur of music, you miss,
    And a rapture of light, you forgo.

V.
How you think, staring on at the door,
    Where the face of your angel flashed in,
That its brightness, familiar before,
Burns off from you ever the more
    For the dark of your sorrow and sin.

VI.
God lent him and takes him,' you sigh ;
    — Nay, there let me break with your pain :
God 's generous in giving, say I, —
And the thing which He gives, I deny
    That He ever can take back again.

VII.
He gives what He gives. I appeal
    To all who bear babes — in the hour
When the veil of the body we feel
Rent round us, — while torments reveal
    The motherhood's advent in power,

VIII.
And the babe cries ! — has each of us known
    By apocalypse (God being there
Full in nature) the child is our own,
Life of life, love of love, moan of moan,
    Through all changes, all times, everywhere.

IX.
He 's ours and for ever. Believe,
    O father ! — O mother, look back
To the first love's assurance. To give
Means with God not to tempt or deceive
    With a cup thrust in Benjamin's sack.

X.
He gives what He gives. Be content !
    He resumes nothing given, — be sure !
God lend ? Where the usurers lent
In His temple, indignant He went
    And scourged away all those impure.

XI.
He lends not ; but gives to the end,
    As He loves to the end. If it seem
That He draws back a gift, comprehend
'Tis to add to it rather, — amend,
    And finish it up to your dream, —

XII.
Or keep, — as a mother will toys
    Too costly, though given by herself,
Till the room shall be stiller from noise,
And the children more fit for such joys,
    Kept over their heads on the shelf.

XIII.
So look up, friends ! you, who indeed
    Have possessed in your house a sweet piece
Of the Heaven which men strive for, must need
Be more earnest than others are,—speed
    Where they loiter, persist where they cease.

XIV.
You know how one angel smiles there.
    Then weep not. 'Tis easy for you
To be drawn by a single gold hair
Of that curl, from earth's storm and despair,
    To the safe place above us. Adieu.

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806–1861

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Religion, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Christianity, Weather, Death, Parenthood, God & the Divine

Occasions Funerals

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Elizabeth  Barrett Browning

Biography

Among all women poets of the English-speaking world in the nineteenth century, none was held in higher critical esteem or was more admired for the independence and courage of her views than Elizabeth Barrett Browning. During the years of her marriage to Robert Browning, her literary reputation far surpassed that of her poet-husband; when visitors came to their home in Florence, she was invariably the greater attraction. Both in . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Christianity, Weather, Death, Parenthood, God & the Divine

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.