AURORA’S AUNT

In this extract, Aurora reflects upon the restrictions of her aunt’s existence:

birdcage

                               She had lived, we’ll say,
A harmless life, she called a virtuous life,
A quiet life, which was not life at all,
(But that, she had not lived enough to know)
Between the vicar and the county squires,
The lord-lieutenant looking down sometimes
From the empyrean to assure their souls
Against chance-vulgarisms, and, in the abyss
The apothecary, looked on once a year
To prove their soundness of humility.
The poor-club exercised her Christian gifts
Of knitting stockings, stitching petticoats,
Because we are of one flesh after all
And need one flannel (with a proper sense
Of difference in the quality) – and still
The book-club, guarded from your modern trick
Of shaking dangerous questions from the crease,
Preserved her intellectual. She had lived
A sort of cage-bird life, born in a cage,
Accounting that to leap from perch to perch
Was act and joy enough for any bird.
Dear heaven, how silly are the things that live
In thickets, and eat berries!
I, alas,
A wild bird scarcely fledged, was brought to her cage,
And she was there to meet me. Very kind.
Bring the clean water, give out the fresh seed.

(Aurora Leigh, Book One, ll.287-309)

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THE DISCOVERY OF POETRY

The third of our weekly extracts from Aurora Leigh.

In this extract, taken from Book One of Aurora Leigh, Aurora describes her experiences when she first comes across poetry in her father’s library:

                                                      As the earth
Plunges in fury, when the internal fires
Have reached and pricked her heart, and, throwing flat
The marts and temples, the triumphal gates
And towers of observation, clears herself
To elemental freedom – thus, my soul,
At poetry’s divine first finger-touch
Let go conventions and sprang up surprised,
Convicted of the great eternities
Before two worlds.

(Aurora Leigh Book One, ll. 845-54)

antiquarian books 2

Aurora’s first view of England

In this, the second of the weekly quotations from Aurora Leigh, Aurora details her initial impressions of England upon her arrival there from Italy.

Then, land! – then, England! oh, the frosty cliffs
Looked cold upon me. Could I find a home
Among these mean red houses through the fog?
And when I heard my father’s language first
From alien lips which had no kiss for mine
I wept aloud, then laughed, then wept, then wept,
And some one near me said the child was mad
Through much sea-sickness. The train swept us on.
Was this my father’s England? the great isle?
The ground seemed cut up from the fellowship
Of verdure, field from field, as man from man;
The skies themselves looked low and positive,
As almost you could touch them with a hand,
And dared to do it they were so far off
From God’s celestial crystals; all things blurred
And dull and vague. Did Shakespeare and his mates
Absorb the light here? – not a hill or stone
With heart to strike a radiant colour up
Or active outline on the indifferent air.

(Aurora Leigh, Book One, ll.251-69)

cliffs

The Poet in the Modern World

Each week before the conference, we’ll be posting a quotation from Aurora Leigh with the aim of further emphasising the poem’s currency, richness and vibrancy. For the first post, then, here’s Aurora’s famous assertion of the role of the poet in the modern world.

 london for AL 1

… if there’s room for poets in this world
A little overgrown, (I think there is)
Their sole work is to represent the age,
Their age, not Charlemagne’s, – this live, throbbing age,
That brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires,
And spends more passion, more heroic heat,
Betwixt the mirrors of its drawing-rooms,
Than Roland with his knights at Roncesvalles.
To flinch from modern varnish, coat or flounce,
Cry out for togas and the picturesque,
Is fatal, – foolish too.

(Aurora Leigh Book 5, ll.200-10)

Welcome to the website for the conference ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Legacies of Aurora Leigh to be held at the University of Westminster on 15 October 2016.

Information about the conference, call for papers, the keynotes, the programme, accommodation and location is available on the relevant pages.

If you have any queries or questions, please contact the conference organiser, Dr Simon Avery, on s.avery@westminster.ac.uk.