Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Mary Russell Mitford, "Married Poets. Elizabeth Barrett Browning — Robert Browning" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 169-84.

Married poets! Charming words are these, significant of congenial gifts, congenial labor, congenial tastes; — quick and sweet resources of mind and of heart, a long future of happiness live in those two words. And the reality is as rare as it is charming. Married authors we have had of all ages and of all countries; from the Daciers, standing stiff and stately under their learning, as if it were a load, down to the Guizots, whose story is so pretty, that it would sound like a romance to all who did not know how often romance looks pale beside reality; from the ducal pair of Newcastle, walking stately and stiff under their strawberry-leafed coronets, to William and Mary Howitt, ornaments of a sect to whom coronets are an abomination. Married authors have been plentiful as blackberries, but married poets have been rare indeed! The last instance, too, was rather a warning than an example. When Caroline Bowles changed her own loved and honored name to become the wife of the great and good man Robert Southey, all seemed to promise fairly, but a slow and fatal disease had seized him even before the wedding-day, and darkened around him to the hour of his death. In the pair of whom I am now to speak, the very reverse of this sad destiny has happily befallen, and the health of the bride, which seemed gone forever, has revived under the influence of the climate of Italy, of new scenes, new duties, a new and untried felicity.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning is too dear to me as a friend to be spoken of merely as a poetess. Indeed such is the influence of her manners, her conversation, her temper, her thousand sweet and attaching qualities, that they who know her best are apt to lose sight altogether of her learning and of her genius, and to think of her only as the most charming person that they have ever met. But she is known to so few, and the peculiar characteristics of her writings, their purity, their tenderness, their piety, and their intense feeling of humanity and of womanhood have won for her the love of so many, that it will gratify them without, I trust, infringing on the sacredness of private intercourse to speak of her not wholly as a poetess, but a little as a woman. When in listening to the nightingale, we try to catch a glimpse of the shy songster, we are moved by a deeper feeling than curiosity.

My first acquaintance with Elizabeth Barrett commenced about fifteen years ago. She was certainly one of the most interesting persons that I had ever seen. Every body who then saw her said the same; so that it is not merely the impression of my partiality or my enthusiasm. Of a slight, delicate figure, with a shower of dark curls falling on either side of a most expressive face, large tender eyes richly fringed by dark eyelashes, a smile like a sunbeam, and such a look of youthfulness, that I had some difficulty in persuading a friend, in whose carriage we went together to Chiswick, that the translatress of the "Prometheus" of Aeschylus, the authoress of the "Essay on Mind," was old enough to be introduced into company, in technical language was out. Through the kindness of another invaluable friend, to whom I owe many obligations, but none so great as this, I saw much of her during my stay in town. We met so constantly and so familiarly that in spite of the difference of age intimacy ripened into friendship, and after my return into the country, we corresponded freely and frequently, her letters being just what letters ought to be — her own talk put upon paper.

The next year was a painful one to herself and to all who loved her. She broke a blood-vessel upon the lungs which did not heal. If there had been consumption in the family that disease would have intervened. There were no seeds of the fatal English malady in her constitution, and she escaped. Still, however, the vessel did not heal, and after attending her for above a twelvemonth at her father's house in Wimpole street, Dr. Chambers, on the approach of winter, ordered her to a milder climate. Her eldest brother, a brother in heart and in talent worthy of such a sister, together with other devoted relatives, accompanied her to Torquay, and there occurred the fatal event which saddened her bloom of youth, and gave a deeper hue of thought and feeling, especially of devotional feeling, to her poetry. I have so often been asked what could be the shadow that had passed over that young heart, that now that time has softened the first agony it seems to me right that the world should hear the story of an accident in which there was much sorrow, but no blame.

Nearly a twelvemonth had passed, and the invalid, still attended by her affectionate companions, had derived much benefit from the mild sea-breezes of Devonshire. One fine summer morning her favorite brother, together with two other fine young men, his friends, embarked on board a small sailing-vessel, for a trip of a few hours. Excellent sailors all, and familiar with the coast, they sent back the boatmen, and undertook themselves the management of the little craft. Danger was not dreamt of by any one; after the catastrophe, no one could divine the cause, but in a few minutes after their embarkation, and in sight of their very windows, just as they were crossing the bar, the boat went down, and all who were in her perished. Even the bodies were never found. I was told by a party who was traveling that year in Devonshire and Cornwall, that it was most affecting to see on the corner houses of every village street, on every church-door, and almost on every cliff for miles and miles along the coast, handbills, offering large rewards for linens cast ashore marked with the initials of the beloved dead; for it so chanced that all the three were of the dearest and the best; one, I believe, an only son, the other the son of a widow.

This tragedy nearly killed Elizabeth Barrett. She was utterly prostrated by the horror and the grief, and by a natural but a most unjust feeling, that she had been in some sort the cause of this great misery. It was not until the following year that she could be removed in an invalid carriage, and by journeys of twenty miles a day, to her afflicted family and her London home. The house that she occupied at Torquay had been chosen as one of the most sheltered in the place. It stood at the bottom of the cliffs, almost close to the sea; and she told me herself, that during that whole winter the sound of the waves rang in her ears like the moans of one dying. Still she clung to literature and to Greek; in all probability she would have died without that wholesome diversion to her thoughts. Her medical attendant did not always understand this. To prevent the remonstrances of her friendly physician, Dr. Barry, she caused a small edition of Plato to be so bound as to resemble a novel. He did not know, skillful and kind though he were, that to her such books were not an arduous and painful study, but a consolation and a delight.

Returned to London, she began the life which she continued for so many years, confined to one large and commodious but darkened chamber, admitting only her own affectionate family and a few devoted friends (I, myself, have often joyfully traveled five-and-forty miles to see her, and returned the same evening, without entering another house); reading almost every book worth reading in almost every language, and giving herself, heart and soul, to that poetry of which she seemed born to be the priestess.

Gradually her health improved. About four years ago she married Mr. Browning, and immediately accompanied him to Pisa. They then settled at Florence; and this summer I have had the exquisite pleasure of seeing her once more in London, with a lovely boy at her knee, almost as well as ever, and telling tales of Italian rambles, of losing herself in chestnut forests, and scrambling on muleback up the sources of extinct volcanoes. May Heaven continue to her such health and such happiness!

In her abundant riches it is difficult to select extracts. If I did not know her scorn of her own earlier works (for she was the most precocious of authoresses, wrote largely at ten years old, and more than well at fifteen) — if I were not aware of her fastidiousness, I should be tempted to rescue certain exquisite stanzas which I find printed at the end of her first version of the "Prometheus Bound" — for, dissatisfied with her girlish translation of the grand old Greek, she recommenced her labor, and went fairly through the drama from the first line to the last; but she has condemned the poem, and therefore I refrain.

Perhaps there is some personal preference in the selection I do make, since I first received it written in her own clear and beautiful manuscript, on the fly-leaf of another volume, which she has also withdrawn from circulation. Besides being one of the earliest, it is among the most characteristic of her smaller poems.

How joyously the young seamew
Lay dreaming on the waters blue,
Whereon our little bark had thrown
A forward shade, the only one,
(But shadows aye will men pursue.)

Familiar with the waves, and free
As if their own white foam were he;
His heart upon the heart of ocean
Lay learning all its mystic motion
And throbbing to the throbbing sea.

And such a brightness in his eye,
As if the ocean and the sky
Within him had lit up and nurst
A soul God gave him not at first
To comprehend their mystery.

We were not cruel, yet did sunder
His white wing from the blue waves under,
And bound it; — while his fearless eyes
Looked up to ours in calm surprise,
As deeming us some ocean wonder.

We bore our ocean bird unto
A grassy place where he might view
The flowers that curtsy to the bees,
The waving of the tall green trees,
The falling of the silver dew.

The flowers of earth were pale to him
Who had seen the rainbow fishes swim;
And when earth's dew around him lay
He thought of ocean's winged spray
And his eye waxed pale and dim.

The green trees round him only made
A prison, with their darksome shade:
And drooped his wing and mourned he
For his own boundless glittering sea,—
Albeit he knew not they could fade.

Then One her gladsome face did bring,
Her gentle voice's murmuring,
In ocean's stead his heart to move,
And teach him what was human love—
He thought it a strange mournful thing.

He lay down in his grief to die,
(First looking to the sea-like sky
That hath no waves,) because, alas!
Our human touch did on him pass,
And with our touch, our agony.

Perhaps the very finest of Mrs. Browning's poems is "The Lady Geraldine's Courtship," written (to meet the double exigency of completing the uniformity of the original two volumes, and of catching the vessel that was to carry the proofs to America) in the incredible space of twelve hours. That delicious ballad must have been lying unborn in her head and in her heart; but when we think of its length and of its beauty, the shortness of time in which it was put into form appears one of the most stupendous efforts of the human mind. And the writer was a delicate woman, a confirmed invalid, just dressed and supported for two or three hours from her bed to her sofa, and so back again. Let me add, too, that the exertion might have been avoided by a new arrangement of the smaller poems, if Miss Barrett would only have consented to place "Pan is Dead" at the end of the first volume instead of the second. The difference does not seem much. But she had promised Mr. Kenyon that "Pan is Dead" should conclude the collection; and Mr. Kenyon was out of town and could not release her word. To this delicate conscientiousness we owe one of the most charming love-stories in any language. It is too long for insertion here; and I no more dare venture an abridgment, than I should venture to break one of the crown jewels. So the Dead Pan shall take the place. It were mere pedantry to compare Sehiller's "Gods of Greece" to this glorious gallery of classical statues, fresh and life-like, as if just struck into beauty by the chisel of Phidias.

I transcribe Mrs. Browning's own modest and graceful introduction.


"Excited by Schiller's 'Gotter Griechenlands,' and partly founded on a well-known tradition mentioned in a treatise of Plutarch ("De Oraculorum Defectu"), according to which, at the hour of the Savior's agony, a cry of 'Great Pan is Dead!' swept across the waves in the hearing of certain mariners, and the oracles ceased.

"It is in all veneration to the memory of the deathless Schiller that I oppose a doctrine still more dishonoring to poetry than to Christianity.

"As Mr. Kenyon's graceful and harmonious paraphrase of the German poem was the first occasion of my turning my thoughts in this direction, I take advantage of the pretense to indulge my feelings (which overflow on other grounds), by inscribing my lyric to that dear friend and relative, with the earnestness of appreciating esteem as well as of affectionate gratitude. — E. B. B."

Gods of Hellas! gods of Hellas!
Can ye listen in your silence?
Can your mystic voices tell us
Where ye hide? — In floating islands
With a wind that evermore
Keeps you out of sight of shore?
Pan, Pan is dead.

In what revels are ye sunken
In old Aethiopia?
Have the Pygmies made you drunken,
Bathing in Mandragora
Your divine pale lips, that shiver
Like the lilies in the river?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Do ye sit there still in slumber,
In gigantic Alpine rows?
The black poppies out of number,
Nodding, dripping from your brows
To the red lees of your wine,
And so kept alive and fine?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Or lie crushed your stagnant corses
Where the silver spheres roll on,
Stung to life by centric forces,
Thrown like rays out from the sun?
While the smoke of your old altars
Is the shroud that round you welters?
Great Pan is dead.

"Gods of Hellas, gods of Hellas!"
Said the old Hellenic tongue,
Said the hero-oaths, as well as
Poets' songs the sweetest sung!
Have ye grown deaf in a day?
Can ye speak not yea or nay—
Since Pan is dead?

Do ye leave your rivers flowing
All alone, O Naiades!
While your drenched locks dry slow in
This cold feeble sun and breeze!
Not a word the Naiads say
Though the rivers run for aye,—
For Pan is dead.

From the glooming of the oak-wood,
O, ye Dryads, could ye flee?
At the rushing thunder-stroke, would
No sob tremble through the tree?
Not a word the Dryads say,
Though the forests wave for aye,
For Pan is dead.

Have ye left the mountain places,
Oreads wild for other tryst?
Shall we see no sudden faces
Strike a glory through the mist?
Not a sound the silence thrills
Of the everlasting hills.
Pan, Pan is dead.

O, twelve gods of Plato's vision
Crowned to starry wanderings,—
With your chariots in procession
And your silver clash of wings.
Very pale ye seem to rise,
Ghosts of Grecian deities,
Now Pan is dead.

Jove! that right hand is unloaded,
Whence the thunder did prevail:
While in idiotcy of godhead
Thou are staring, the stars pale
And thine eagle, blind and old,
Boughs his feathers in the cold.
Pan, Pan is dead.

Where, O Juno! is the glory
Of thy regal look and tread?
Will they lay for evermore, thee
On thy dim straight golden bed?
Will thy queendom all lie hid
Meekly under either lid?
Pan, Pan is dead.

Ha, Apollo! Floats his golden
Hair, all mist-like where he stands;
While the Muses hang enfolding
Knee and foot with faint wild hands.
'Neath the clanging of thy bow
Niobe looked lost as thou!
Pan, Pan is dead.

Shall the casque with its brown iron
Pallas' broad blue eyes eclipse,
And no hero take inspiring
From the God-greek of her lips?
'Neath her olive dost thou sit,
Mars the mighty, cursing it?
Pan Pan is dead.

Bacchus, Bacchus! on the Panther,
He swoons, bound with his own vines!
And his Maenads slowly saunter,
Head aside among the pines,
While they murmur dreamingly,
Evohe — ah — evohe!
Ah, Pan is dead.

Neptune lies beside his trident,
Dull and senseless as a stone:
And old Pluto, deaf and silent,
Is cast out into the sun.
Ceres smileth stern thereat,
"We all now are desolate"—
Now Pan is dead.

Aphrodite! dead and driven
As thy native foam thou art;
With the cestus long done heaving
On the white calm of thine heart
Ai Adonis! At that shriek
Not a tear runs down her cheek—
Pan, Pan is dead.

And the loves we used to know from
One another — huddled lie
Frore as taken in a snow-storm
Close beside her tenderly,—
As if each had weakly tried
Once to kiss her ere he died.
Pan, Pan is dead.

What, and Hermes? Time enthralleth
All thy cunning, Hermes, thus,—
And the ivy blindly crawleth
Round thy brave caduceus?
Hast thou no new message for us
Full of thunder and Jove glories?
Nay! Pan is dead.

Crowned Cybele's great turret
Rocks and crumbles on her head:
Roar the lions of her chariot
Toward the wilderness unfed:
Scornful children are not mute,—
"Mother, mother, walk afoot,—
Since Pan is dead."

In the fiery-hearted center
Of the solemn Universe,
Ancient Vesta, — who could enter
To consume thee with this curse?
Drop thy gray chin on thy knee,
O, thou palsied Mystery!
For Pan is dead.

Gods! we vainly do adjure you,—
Ye return nor words nor sign:
Not a votary could secure you
Even a grave for your Divine!
Not a grave to show thereby
Here those gray old gods do lie.
Pan, Pan is dead.

Even that Greece who took your wages
Calls the Obolus outworn,
And the horse deep-throated ages
Laugh your godships unto scorn—
And the poets do disclaim you
Or grow colder if they name you—
And Pan is dead.

Gods bereaved, gods belated,—
With your purples rent asunder!
Gods discrowned and desecrated,—
Disinherited of thunder!
Now the goats may climb and crop
The soft grass on Ida's top—
Now Pan is dead.

Calm of old, the hark went onward
When a cry more loud than wind
Rose up, deepened, and swept sunward,
From the piled Dark behind:
And the sun shrank and grew pale
Breathed against by the great wail—
"Pan, Pan is dead."

And the rowers from the benches
Fell, each shuddering on his face—
While departing Influences
Struck a cold back through the place:
And the shadow of the ship
Reeled along the passive deep—
Pan, Pan is dead.

I have no room for the rest, but I must find a place for one exquisite stanza:

O, ye vain false gods of Hellas,
Ye are silent evermore!
And I dash down this old chalice
Whence libations ran of yore.
See! the wine crawls in the dust
Worm-like — as your glories must!
Since Pan is dead.

The last edition of Mrs. Browning's poems closes with three-and-forty sonnets from the Portuguese — glowing with passion, melting with tenderness. True love was never more fitly sung:

What can I give thee back, O liberal
And princely giver!... who hast brought the gold
And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,
And laid them on the outside of the wall
For such as I to take or leave withal
In unexpected largesse? Am I cold,
Ungrateful, that for these most manifold
High gifts I render nothing back at all?
Not so. Not cold! — but very poor instead!
Ask God, who knows! for frequent tears have run
The colors from my life, and left so dead
And pale a stuff; it were not fitly done
To give the same as pillow to thy head.
Go farther! Let it serve to trample on.

There is a deep truth in this which follows:

Yet love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright
Let temple burn or flax! An equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar plant or weed.
And love is fire; and when I say at need.
I love thee — mark — I love thee! in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low
In love, when love the lowest; meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features,
Of what I am doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of love enhances Nature's.

The same visit to London that brought me acquainted with my beloved friend, Elizabeth Barrett, first gave me a sight of Mr. Browning. It was at a period that forms an epoch in the annals of the modern drama — the first representation of "Ion."

I had the honor and pleasure of being the inmate of Mr. and Mrs. Serjeant Talfourd (my accomplished friend has since worthily changed his professional title — but his higher title of poet is indelible) — having been, I believe, among the first who had seen that fine play in manuscript. The dinner party consisted merely of Mr. Wordsworth, Mr. Landor, and I think Mr. Forster. By a singular coincidence it was our host's birthday, and no one present can forget the triumph of the evening — a triumph of no common order as regarded the number, the quality, or the enthusiasm of the audience; the boxes being crammed to the ceiling, and the pit filled, as in an elder day, with critics and gentlemen.

A large party followed the poet home to supper, a party comprising distinguished persons of almost every class; lawyers, authors, actors, artists, all were mingled around that splendid board; healths were drunk and speeches spoken, and it fell to the lot of the young author of "Paracelsus" to respond to the toast of "The Poets of England." That he performed this task with grace and modesty, and that he looked still younger than he was, I well remember; but we were not introduced, and I knew him only by those successive works which redeemed the pledge that "Paracelsus" had given, until this very summer, when going to London purposely to meet my beloved friend, I was by her presented to her husband. Ah! I hope it will not be fifteen years again before we look each other in the face again!

I never see those two volumes of his collected works which correspond so prettily with the last edition of Mrs. Browning's poems — a sort of literary twins — without wishing again and again, and again, that we had actors and a stage. Besides "The Blot on the Scutcheon" which has been successfully produced at two metropolitan theaters, "Colombe's Birthday" and "Lucia" show not only what he has done, but what with the hope of a great triumph before him he might yet do as a dramatist. I could show what I mean by transcribing the last act of "Colombe's Birthday." I could make my meaning clearer still by transcribing the whole play. But as these huge borrowings are out of the question, I must limit myself to a couple of dramatic lyrics, each of which tells its own story

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall
Looking as if she were alive; I call
That piece a wonder now; Fra Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her I said
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you but I),
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst
How such a glance came there; so not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat;" such stuff
Was courtesy she thought; and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart — how shall I say! — too soon made glad,
Too easily imprest; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! my favor at her breast
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace — all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush at least. She thanked men — good; but thanked
Somehow — I know not how — as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred years old name
With any body's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech — (which I have not) — to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say: "Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; — here you miss
Or there exceed the mark;" and if she let
Herself be lessened so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours forsooth and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping, and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, Sir, she smiled no doubt
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands,
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below, then. I repeat
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self; as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune though
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

Poor dead Duchess and poor living one too! for that complaisant embassador who listened so silently would hardly give warning, even if the father were likely to take it; and we feel as they walk down the palace stairs that another victim comes. The pathos of the next lyric is of a different order.

I sprang to the stirrup, and Ioris and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
"Good speed!" cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew,
"Speed!" echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other: we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place,
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right
Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

'Twas moonset at starting, but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom a great yellow star came out to see;
At Duffeld 'twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mechelm church-steeple we heard the half chime,
So Ioris broke silence with "Yet there is time!"

At Aerschot, up leaped of a sudden the sun
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze as some bluff river headland its spray.

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence — ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upward in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Ioris, "Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her
We'll remember at Aix" — for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck, and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So we were left galloping, Ioris and I,
Past Loos and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And "Gallop," gasped Ioris, "for Aix is in sight!

"How they'll greet us!" — and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and crop over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news, which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.

Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is friends flocking round,
As I sate with his head twixt my knees on the ground,
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat one last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.

Although we have cause to hope that the good steed recovered yet his trial of speed and strength is too painful to conclude with. I add a few lines from the "Englishman in Italy," a long poem so pulpy, so juicy, so full of bright color and of rich detail, that it is just like a picture by Rubens. Selection is difficult — but choose the passage in question because its exceeding truth was first pointed out to me by Mr. Ruskin.

But to-day not a boat reached Salerno,
So back to a man
Came our friends with whose help in the vineyards
Grape-harvest began:
In the vat half-way up on our house-side
Like blood the juice spins,
While your brother all bare-legged is dancing
Till breathless he grins
Dead beaten in effort on effort
To keep the grapes under,
Since still when he seems all but master
In pours the fresh plunder
From girls who keep coming and going
With basket on shoulder—
Meanwhile see the grape-bunch they've brought you,—
The rain-water slips
O'er the heavy blue bloom on each globe,
Which the wasp to your lips
Still follows with fretful persistence—
Nay taste while awake
This half of a curd-white smooth cheese-ball,
That peels flake by flake
Like an onion's each smoother and whiter;
Next sip this weak wine
From the thin green flask with its stopper
A leaf of the vine—
And end with the prickly pear's red flesh,
That leaves through its juice
The stony black seeds on your pearl teeth—

and so on.