The Young Queen

Table of contents

1. The Young Queen

This awful responsibility is imposed upon me so suddenly, and at so early a period of my life, that I should feel myself utterly oppressed by the burden, were I not sustained by the hope that Divine Providence, which has called me to this work, will give me strength for the performance of it.
The Queen’s Declaration in Council a

The shroud is yet unspread
To wrap our crownëd dead;
His soul hath scarcely hearkened for the thrilling word of doom;
And Death that makes serene
Ev’n brows where crowns have been,
Hath scarcely time to meeten 6 his, for silence of the tomb.
St. Paul’s 7 king-dirging note
The city’s heart hath smote—
The city’s heart is struck with thought more solemn than the tone!
A shadowre solemn than the tone! sweeps apace
Before the nation’s face,
Confusing in a shapeless blot the sepulchre and throne.
The palace sounds with wail—
The courtly dames are pale—
A widow o’er the purple15 bows, and weeps its splendour dim:
And we who hold the boon, 16
A king for freedom won,
Do feel eternity rise up between our thanks and him.
And while all things express
All glory’s nothingness,
A royal maiden treadeth firm where that departed trod!
The deathly scented crown
Weighs her shining ringlets down;
But calm she lifts her trusting face, and calleth upon God.
Her thoughts are deep within her:
No outward pageants win her
From memories that in her soul are rolling wave on wave—
Her palace walls enring
The dust that was a king—
And very cold beneath her feet, she feels her father’s grave4
And One 31, as fair as she,
Can scarce forgotten be,—
Who clasped a little infant dead, for all a kingdom’s worth!
The mournëd, blessëd One,
Who views Jehovah’s throne,
Aye 36 smiling to the angels, that she lost a throne on earth.
Perhaps our youthful Queen
Remembers what has been—
Her childhood’s rest by loving heart, and sport on grassy sod—
Alas! can others wear
A mother’s heart for her?
But calm she lifts her trusting face, and calleth upon God
Yea! Call on God, thou maiden
Of spirit nobly laden,
And leave such happy days behind, for happy-making years!
A nation looks to thee
For stedfast 47 sympathy:
Make room within thy bright clear eyes, for all its gathered tears.
And so the grateful isles
Shall give thee back their smiles,
And as thy mother joys in thee, in them shalt thou rejoice;
Rejoice to meekly bow
A somewhat paler brow,
While the King of kings shall bless thee by the British people’s voice!

2. Note on the text

At the death of her uncle King William IV on June 20, 1837, Princess Victoria (1819-1901) became Queen of England at age eighteen. As the daughter of the fourth son of King George III, in early life she would not have seemed likely to succeed, but the lack of legitimate heirs to her uncles elevated her to the throne. The girlish monarch quickly captured the imaginations and sympathy of her subjects, as reports of her behavior following King William’s death emphasized both her youthful vulnerability and her great poise and dignity. EBB, despite her avowed “republicanism,” found the young monarch “very interesting” and appealing because of her “very tender heart” (BC 3:261). This poem appeared in the Athenæum on 1 July 1837 less than two weeks after Victoria became monarch, during widespread public euphoria over her accession. Although EBB included it in her 1838 collection with another poem on the young queen, “Victoria’s Tears," a1 she did not reprint either in her later collected works. It remains unclear whether she judged both poems inferior or too topical in interest, or whether her attitudes toward the queen had changed so that the poems no longer expressed her sentiments. Criticism: Harrison (1990); for analysis in relation to cultural representations of Queen Victoria, see also Houston and Munich a2. For a text with variants and more extended annotation, see The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Vol. 5, General Editor, Sandra Donaldson (London: Pickering and Chatto).

3. Explanatory Notes

The Queen's Declaration in Council The epigraph is from the opening sentence of the Queen’s first speech to members of her Privy Council on the morning following William IV’s death, her first official address.

meeten make suitable or proper.

St. Paul's The Anglican cathedral (completed in 1710) that dominates the center of London tolled its bell to signal William’s passing.

purple a color traditionally associated with royalty, and with death as the color of the pall, or cloth covering the body or coffin.

boon benefit, blessing.

grave Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent (1767-1820), would have succeeded to the throne before her, but he died when she was eight months old.

One Princess Charlotte, the daughter of George IV, who would have succeeded him to the throne, died in childbirth in 1817, when her father was still Prince Regent. She was widely beloved and mourned.

Aye ever.

stedfast steadfast.

Victoria's Tears EBB also wrote a poem on the occasion of Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, “Crowned and Wedded” (1840). For EBB’s mixed reactions to Queen Victoria, see, e.g., BC 3:291; 4:58, 120, 171, 200; 5:193, 313-14, 315, 321, 353-54; 6:25.

Munich Gail Turley Houston, Royalties: The Queen and Victorian Writers (Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1999); Adrienne Munich, Queen Victoria’s Secrets (NY: Columbia UP, 1996).

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Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Date: 28-Feb-2009
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