On a Picture of Riego's Widow, Placed in the Exhibition

Table of contents

1. On a Picture of Riego's Widow, Placed in the Exhibition

Daughter of Spain! a passer by
May mark the cheek serenely pale—
The dark eyes which dream silently,
And the calm lip which gives no wail!
Calm! it bears not a deeper trace
Of feelings it disdained to show;
We look upon the Widow's face,
And only read the Patriot's woe!
No word, no look, no sigh of thine,
Would make his glory seem more dim;
Thou would'st not give to vulgar eyne 11
The sacred tear which fell for HIM.
Thou would'st not hold to the world's view
Thy ruined joys, thy broken heart—
The jeering world—it only knew
Of all thine anguish—that thou WERT!
While o'er his grave thy steps would go
With a firm tread,—stilling thy love,—
As if the dust would blush below
To feel one faltering foot above.
For Spain, he dared the noble strife—
For Spain, he gave his latest breath;
And he who lived the Patriot's life,
Was dragged to die the traitor's death!
And the shout of thousands swept around,
As he stood the traitor's block beside;
But his dying lips gave a free sound—
Let the foe weep!—THY brow had pride!
Yet haply in the midnight air,
When none might part thy God and thee,
The lengthened sob, the passionate prayer,
Have spoken thy soul's agony!
But silent else, thou past away—
The plaint unbreath'd, the anguish hid—
More voiceless than the echoing clay
Which idly knocked thy coffin's lid.
Peace be to thee! while Britons seek
This place, if British souls they bear,
'Twill start the crimson in the cheek
To see Riego's widow THERE!

2. Note on the text

A portrait by John Hayes (active 1814-51) in the Royal Academy’s 1824 exhibition inspired this poem. The painting depicted Maria Teresa del Riego y Riego, widow of a leader of the 1820 Spanish Revolution, Rafael del Riego Nunez, who wrote a popular revolutionary song. After he was condemned to death, his young wife of only two years, a refugee in London, unsuccessfully implored the French ambassador to save him. The London Times, avidly read by seventeen-year-old EBB, supported the Spanish revolution and published spirited reports of events leading to the execution of this popular hero in November 1823. a1 Teresa died a year later, reportedly of grief. EBB returned to the subject of Teresa in "The Death-Bed of Teresa del Riego" (1833) and represented similarly stoic women patriots in Casa Guidi Windows (1851; 1.873-78, 2.684-94) and “Mother and Poet” (1862). After EBB died in 1861, RB discovered among her keepsakes a lock of Teresa’s hair, which she had sent as thanks for EBB’s notice of Riego. a2 For discussion of the poem, see Mermin (1989), 37-39.

3. Explanatory Notes

eyne eyes.

See the London Times of 7, 8, 9, 23, and 30 November 1823. See “Stanzas on the Death of Lord Byron” and “Riga’s Last Song” for other examples of EBB’s preoccupation in the 1826 volume with heroes who died fighting for democratic or nationalistic revolutions.

Within the month following EBB’s death, RB wrote on the envelope containing the lock of hair: “Ba. told me years ago that the widow of Riego sent her a lock of her own hair as all the acknowledgment she could make for some verses of Ba. upon Riego. This must be the hair. RB. Alone, Casa Guidi, July, 1861.” (R H508). The envelope and hair are at the ABL.

EBB Archive HomePoemsAbout the EBB Archive

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 2009-01-23
This page is copyrighted by the EBB Archive