1. A Woman's Shortcomings
She has laughed as softly as if she sighed,
She has counted six, and over,
Of a purse well filled and a heart well tried—
Oh, each a worthy lover!
They "give her time;" for her soul must slip
Where the world has set the grooving.
She will lie to none with her fair red lip—
But love seeks truer loving.
She trembles her fan in a sweetness dumb,
As her thoughts were beyond recalling,
With a glance for one, and a glance for some,
From her eyelids rising and falling;
Speaks common words with a blushful air,
Hears bold words, unreproving;
But her silence says—what she never will swear—
And love seeks better loving.
Go, lady, lean to the night-guitar,
And drop a smile to the bringer,
Then smile as sweetly, when he is far,
At the voice of an in-door singer.
Bask tenderly beneath tender eyes;
Glance lightly, on their removing;
And join new vows to old perjuries—
But dare not call it loving.
Unless you can think, when the song is done,
No other is soft in the rhythm;
Unless you can feel, when left by One,
That all men 1
go with him;
Unless you can know, when unpraised by his breath,
That your beauty itself 2
Unless you can swear, "For life, for death!"—
Oh, fear to call it loving!
Unless you can muse in a crowd all day,
On the absent face that 3
With the breadth of heaven betwixt you;
Unless you can dream that his faith is fast,
That your beauty itself wants proving;
Unless you can die when the dream is past—
Oh, never call it loving.!
2. Note on the text
Published as a companion to "A Man's Requirements" in Poems (1850),
lyric seems to have developed out of early drafts of stanzas 3 and 4, simply entitled "Song,"
first composed in the 1830s; one of these is published in Diary by
E.B.B., 313 (see R D1131-37). Titles of later ms versions vary: one is entitled "Loving—a
Song"; another "Light to Love." For recent critical comment, see Stephenson (1989). For a text
with more extended annotation, see The Works of Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, Vol. 2, General Editor, Sandra Donaldson, Volume Editors Marjorie Stone
& Beverly Taylor (London: Pickering and Chatto).
Pub. 1846, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (October); 1850, Poems.