James Thomson: E.B.B.

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1. James Thomson "E.B.B."

James Thomsona
The white-rose garland at her feet,
The crown of laurel at her head,2
Her noble life on earth complete,
Lay her in the last low bed
For the slumber calm and deep:
“He giveth His beloved sleep.”6
Soldiers find their fittest grave
In the field whereon they died;
So her spirit pure and brave
Leaves the clay it glorified
To the land for which she fought
With such grand impassioned thought.
Keats and Shelley sleep at Rome,13
She in well-loved Tuscan earth;
Finding all their death’s long home
Far from their old home of birth.
Italy, you hold in trust
Very sacred English dust.
Therefore this one prayer I breathe,--
That you yet may worthy prove
Of the heirlooms they bequeath
Who have loved you with such love:
Fairest land while land of slaves
Yields their free souls no fit graves.

2. Explanatory Notes

From The Poetical Works of James Thomson, ed. Bertram Dobell (London: Reeves & Turner, 1895), 1:251-52. Thomson (1834-82), a poet, journalist, essayist, and social critic, is best known for his poem “The City of Dreadful Night.” Thomson wrote a “prequel” to EBB’s “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” (1844) entitled “Bertram to the Most Noble and Beautiful Lady Geraldine” (1857; see Thomson’s Poetical Works 2:337-50). For discussion of this tribute and those by late Victorian poets Alfred Austin and H.D. Rawnsley (available on the supplementary website), see Samantha Matthews, “Entombing the Woman Poet: Tributes to Elizabeth Barrett Browning,” SBHC 24 (2001), 31-53.

William Wetmore Story (1819-95), American sculptor, author, and good friend of the Brownings from 1853, placed wreathes of white roses and of bay (laurel, the traditional crown of poets) on EBB’s coffin. See Henry James, William Wetmore Story and His Friends (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903), 2:66.

Quotes Psalms 127.2 and EBB’s 1838 poem “The Sleep,” which quotes Psalms as an epigraph and uses variations of this line as a refrain.

Keats and Shelley are interred in the Protestant cemetery in Rome.

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James Thomson. Date: 14-June-2011
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