Bessie Rayner Parkes: To Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Table of contents

1. Bessie Rayner Parkes "To Elizabeth Barrett Browning"

Bessie Rayner Parkesa
I was a child when first I read your books,
And lov’d you dearly, so far as I could see
Your obvious meanings, your more subtle depths
Being then (as still, perhaps,) a mystery.
I had no awe of you, so much does love,
In simple daring, all shy fears transcend;
And when they told me, “You shall travel south,”
I chiefly thought, “In Florence dwells my friend!”
In those first days I seldom heard your name,
You seem’d in my strange fancy all my own,
Or else as if you were some saint in Heaven
Whose image took my bookcase for a throne.
As time went on, your words flew far and wide,
I heard them quoted, critically scann’d
With grave intentness, learnt, half mournfully,
That you were a great Poet in the land,
So far, so far from me, who lov’d you so,
And never might one human blessing claim;
Yet oh! how I rejoic’d that you were great,
And all my heart exulted in your fame;
A woman’s fame, and yours! I use no words
Of any careful beauty, being plain
As earnestness, and quiet as that Truth
Which shrinks from any flattering speech with pain.
Indeed, I should not dare—but that this love,
Long nurs’d, demands expression, and alone
Seeks by love’s dear strength—to approach near you
In words so weak and poor beside your own.

2. Explanatory Notes

From Poems (London: John Chapman, 1852), 93, where it is entitled “To *****.” Bessie Rayner Parkes (later Belloc; 1829-1925), writer and editor, is chiefly remembered as a key organizer of the mid-Victorian women’s rights movement. EBB identified with Parkes’s feminist opposition to the conservative views of women expressed by poet and essayist Coventry Patmore: “she & the rest of us militant, foam with rage” (letter of 1856, qtd. in AL [Ohio], 18).

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Bessie Rayner Parkes. Date: 14-June-2011
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