Parting Lovers

Table of contents

1. Parting of Lovers: Siena, 1861

I love thee, love thee, Guilio;
Some call me cold, and some demure;
And if thou hast ever guessed that so
I loved thee . . well, the proof was poor,
And no one could be sure. 5
Before thy song (with shifted rhymes
To suit my name) did I undo
The persian?8 If it stirred sometimes,
Thou hast not seen a hand push through
A foolish flower or two.
My mother listening to my sleep,
Heard nothing but a sigh at night,—
The short sigh rippling on the deep,
When hearts run out of breath and sight
Of men, to God's clear light.
When others named thee,—thought thy brows
Were straight, thy smile was tender,—"Here
He comes between the vineyard-rows!"
I said not "Ay," nor waited, Dear,
To feel thee step too near.
I left such things to bolder girls,—
Olivia or Clotilda. Nay,
When that Clotilda, through her curls,
Held both thine eyes in hers one day,
I marvelled, let me say.
I could not try the woman's trick:
Between us straightway fell the blush
Which kept me separate, blind and sick.
A wind came with thee in a flush,
As blown through Sinai's bush. 30
But now that Italy invokes
Her young men to go forth and chase
The foe or perish,—nothing chokes
My voice, or drives me from the place.
I look thee in the face.
I love thee! It is understood,
Confest: I do not shrink or start.
No blushes! all my body's blood
Has gone to greaten this poor heart,
That, loving, we may part.
Our Italy invokes the youth
To die if need be. Still there's room,
Though earth is strained with dead in truth:
Since twice the lilies were in bloom
They have not grudged a tomb.
And many a plighted maid and wife
And mother, who can say since then
"My country,"—cannot say through life
"My son," "my spouse," "my flower of men,"
And not weep dumb again. 50
Heroic males the country bears,—
But daughters give up more than sons:
Flags wave, drums beat, and unawares
You flash your souls out with the guns,
And take your Heaven at once.
But we!—we empty heart and home
Of life's life, love! We bear to think
You're gone,—to feel you may not come,—
To hear the door-latch stir and clink,
Yet no more you! . . nor sink.
Dear God! when Italy is one,
Complete, content from bound to bound,
Suppose, for my share, earth's undone
By one grave in't!—as one small wound
May kill a man, 'tis found.
What then? If love's delight must end,
At least we'll clear its truth from flaws.
I love thee, love thee, sweetest friend!
Now take my sweetest without pause,
And help the nation's cause.
And thus, of noble Italy
We'll both be worthy! Let her show
The future how we made her free,
Not sparing life . . nor Giulio,
Nor this . . this heartbreak! Go.

2. Note on the text

First published in the New York Independent (21 March 1861), this poem is a companion work to "Mother and Poet," which immediately followed in Last Poems (1862). After the people of Tuscany in 1859 demanded the abdication of their Grand Duke Leopold II, who was viewed as a puppet of Austria, Siena was the first of the region's communes to petition for union with Piedmont to form the new nation of Italy. In 1860 many men from the northern areas volunteered to fight with the daring general Garibaldi in the south to liberate the region of Naples (see "Garibaldi," 1860, 1862). Though not particularly distinguished by Victorian reviewers, "Parting Lovers" in 1917, at the end of World War I, was cited along with "A Court Lady" in a survey of war poetry written by women in English, Russian, French, and Italian, as having interest "at a time when the question of woman's share in patriotic work looms important" (Donaldson [1993], 1917.2).

3. Explanatory Notes

Nineteenth-century conduct literature advising women on social proprieties emphasized that a lady must never avow her love before the man proposed marriage.

persian slatted outside window shutter or blind (see Aurora Leigh 7:662).

Sinai's bush On Mount Sinai (also called Horeb) God took the form of a burning bush to speak with Moses (Exodus 3.1-4).

Cp. "Mother and Poet" (1861, 1862).

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 2009-03-10
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