Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  A Court Lady

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806–61

A Court Lady


HER hair was tawny with gold, her eyes with purple were dark,

Her cheeks’ pale opal burnt with a red and restless spark.

Never was lady of Milan nobler in name and in race;

Never was lady of Italy fairer to see in the face.

Never was lady on earth more true as woman and wife,

Larger in judgment and instinct, prouder in manners and life.

She stood in the early morning, and said to her maidens, “Bring

That silken robe made ready to wear at the court of the king.

“Bring me the claps of diamond, lucid, clear of the mote,

Clasp me the large at the waist, and clasp me the small at the throat.

“Diamonds to fasten the hair, and diamonds to fasten the sleeves,

Laces to drop from their rays, like a powder of snow from the eaves.”

Gorgeous she enter’d the sunlight which gather’d her up in a flame,

While, straight in her open carriage, she to the hospital came.

In she went at the door, and gazing from end to end,

“Many and low are the pallets, but each is the place of a friend.”

Up she pass’d through the wards, and stood at a young man’s bed:

Bloody the band on his brow, and livid the droop of his head.

“Art thou a Lombard, my brother? Happy art thou,” she cried,

And smiled like Italy on him: he dream’d in her face and died.

Pale with his passing soul, she went on still to a second:

He was a grave hard man, whose years by dungeons were reckon’d.

Wounds in his body were sore, wounds in his life were sorer.

“Art thou a Romagnole?” Her eyes drove lightnings before her.

“Austrian and priest had join’d to double and tighten the cord

Able to bind thee, O strong one,—free by the stroke of a sword.

“Now be grave for the rest of us, using the life overcast

To ripen our wine of the present,(too new,) in glooms of the past.”

Down she stepp’d to a pallet where lay a face like a girl’s,

Young, and pathetic with dying,—a deep black hole in the curls.

“Art thou from Tuscany, brother? and seest thou, dreaming in pain,

Thy mother stand in the piazza, searching the List of the slain?”

Kind as a mother herself, she touch’d his cheeks with her hands:

“Blessed is she who has borne thee, although she should weep as she stands.”

On she pass’d to a Frenchman, his arm carried off by a ball:

Kneeling, … “O more than my brother! how shall I thank thee for all?

“Each of the heroes around us has fought for his land and line,

But thou hast fought for a stranger, in hate of a wrong not thine.

“Happy are all free peoples, too strong to be dispossess’d:

But blessed are those among nations, who dare to be strong for the rest!”

Ever she pass’d on her way, and came to a couch where pin’d

One with a face from Venetia, white with a hope out of mind.

Long she stood and gaz’d, and twice she tried at the name,

But two great crystal tears were all that falter’d and came.

Only a tear for Venice?—she turn’d as in passion and loss,

And stoop’d to his forehead and kiss’d it, as if she were kissing the cross.

Faint with that strain of heart she mov’d on then to another,

Stern and strong in his death. “And dost thou suffer, my brother?”

Holding his hands in hers:—“Out of the Piedmont lion

Cometh the sweetness of freedom! sweetest to live or to die on.”

Holding his cold rough hands,—“Well, oh, well have ye done

In noble, noble Piedmont, who would not be noble alone.”

Back he fell while she spoke. She rose to her feet with a spring,—

“That was a Piedmontese! and this is the Court of the King.”