A Dead Rose

Table of contents

1. A Dead Rose

O Rose, who dares to name thee?
No longer roseate2 now, nor soft, nor sweet,
But pale, and hard, and dry, as stubble-wheat,—3
Kept seven years in a drawer—thy titles shame thee.
The breeze that used to blow thee
Between the hedge-row thorns, and take away
An odor up the lane to last all day,—
If breathing now,—unsweetened would forego thee.
The sun that used to smite9 thee,
And mix his glory in thy gorgeous urn
Till beam appeared to bloom, and flower to burn,—
If shining now,—with not a hue would light thee.
The dew that used to wet thee,
And, white first, grow incarnadined,14because
It lay upon thee where the crimson was,—
If dropping now,—would darken, where it met thee.
The fly that 'lit upon thee,
To stretch the tendrils of its tiny feet
Along thy leaf's pure edges after heat,—
If 'lighting now,—would coldly overrun thee.
The bee that once did suck thee,
And build thy perfumed ambers up his hive,
And swoon in thee for joy, till scarce alive,—
If passing now,—would blindly overlook thee.
The heart doth recognize thee,
Alone, alone! the heart doth smell thee sweet,
Doth view thee fair, doth judge thee most complete,
Perceiving all those changes that disguise thee.
Yes, and the heart doth owe thee
More love, dead rose, than to any roses bold
Which Julia wears at dances, smiling cold!—
Lie still upon this heart—which breaks below thee!

2. Note on the text

Paired with “Song of the Rose” in Poems (1850), this poignant lyric seems to have been composed before that translation of a text attributed to Sappho was made for Anne Thomson’s projected “Classical Album,” first mentioned by EBB in April 1845 (BC 10:157, 397-98). A draft entitled “A Withered rose—undone!” appears in the “Sonnets” notebook dated 1842. Two subsequent fair copies of it, one entitled “The Dead Rose,” are dated 1844 (see R D193-95).For a text with variants and 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).

3. Explanatory Notes

roseate the pink or crimson color associated with roses; rose-colored.

stubble-wheat the lower part of the wheat stalk left in the ground after the crop has been harvested.

smite hit or strike; in this case, the sun’s rays “smite” or beam down upon the rose.

grow incarnadined become crimson or blood-red in color

EBB Archive HomePoemsAbout the EBB Archive

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 17-Feb-2009
This page is copyrighted by the EBB Archive