Aurora Leigh

Since I referred to the lines from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh” (Book 7)

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware

I have been reading the original poem (These lines are about two thirds of the way through Book 7). I have often heard EBB dismissed as a romantic poet or writer of love poems. She certainly wrote about love, but she also wrote about social conditions of her time and was a feminist. She was a well-educated woman and her poetry is full of classical references. “Aurora Leigh” is a novel in poem form, and anyone who doubts EBB’s greatness should take a look at it, or at least at the summary of the poem to get a flavour of how contraversial and shocking her writing must have seemed in Victorian England. There are many on-line, this one is no better or worse than others.

The topics covered in this epic poem include prostitution, rape, betrayal, social engineering, and the notion of a professional and independent woman, which EBB was.   There are many religious references throughout the poem but I’m not sure they were intended in the way that some christian preachers have taken ownership of, and I find that amusing. References to pagan gods are also used extensively.

Anyway, Elizabeth Barrett Browning is certainly worth reading. She is as at least as great a writer as any of her contemporaries, and I’m only sorry that it’s taken me this long to rediscover her, and to look beyond the quotations and platitudes that are attributed to her.


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