Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  From “Casa Guidi Windows”

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

Elizabeth Barrett Browning 1806–61

From “Casa Guidi Windows”



I HEARD last night a little child so singing

’Neath Casa Guidi windows, by the church,

O bella libertà, O bella!—stringing

The same words still on notes he went in search

So high for, you concluded the upspringing

Of such a nimble bird to sky from perch

Must leave the whole bush in a tremble green,

And that the heart of Italy must beat,

While such a voice had leave to rise serene

’Twixt church and palace of a Florence street:

A little child, too, who not long had been

By mother’s finger steadied on his feet,

And still O bella libertà he sang.

Then I thought, musing, of the innumerous

Sweet songs which still for Italy outrang

From older singers’ lips who sang not thus

Exultingly and purely, yet, with pang

Fast sheath’d in music, touch’d the heart of us

So finely that the pity scarcely pain’d.

I thought how Filicaja led on others,

Bewailers for their Italy enchain’d,

And how they call’d her childless among mothers,

Widow of empires, ay, and scarce refrain’d

Cursing her beauty to her face, as brothers

Might a sham’d sister’s,—“Had she been less fair

She were less wretched;”—how, evoking so

From congregated wrong and heap’d despair

Of men and women writhing under blow,

Harrow’d and hideous in a filthy lair,

Some personating Image wherein woe

Was wrapp’d in beauty from offending much,

They call’d it Cybele, or Niobe,

Or laid it corpse-like on a bier for such,

Where all the world might drop for Italy

Those cadenced tears which burn not where they touch,—

“Juliet of nations, canst thou die as we?

And was the violet that crown’d thy head

So over-large, though new buds made it rough,

It slipp’d down and across thine eyelids dead,

O sweet, fair Juliet?” Of such songs enough,

Too many of such complaints! behold, instead,

Void at Verona, Juliet’s marble trough:

As void as that is, are all images

Men set between themselves and actual wrong,

To catch the weight of pity, meet the stress

Of conscience,—since ’t is easier to gaze long

On mournful masks and sad effigies

Than on real, live, weak creatures cruch’d by strong.


The sun strikes, through the windows, up the floor;

Stand out in it, my own young Florentine,

Not two years old, and let me see thee more!

It grows along thy amber curls, to shine

Brighter than elsewhere. Now, look straight before,

And fix thy brave blue English eyes on mine,

And from my soul, which fronts the future so,

With unabash’d and unabated gaze,

Teach me to hope for, what the angels know

When they smile clear as thou dost. Down God’s ways

With just alighted feet, between the snow

And snowdrops, where a little lamb may graze,

Thou hast no fear, my lamb, about the road,

Albeit in our vain-glory we assume

That, less than we have, thou hast learnt of God.

Stand out, my blue-eyed prophet!—thou, to whom

The earliest world-day light that ever flow’d,

Through Casa Guidi windows chanced to come!

Now shake the glittering nimbus of thy hair,

And be God’s witness that the elemental

New springs of life are gushing everywhere

To cleanse the water-courses, and prevent all!

Concrete obstructions which infest the air!

That earth’s alive, and gentle or ungentle

Motions within her, signify but growth!—

The ground swells greenest o’er the laboring moles.

Howe’er the uneasy world is vex’d and wroth,

Young children, lifted high on parent souls,

Look round them with a smile upon the mouth,

And take for music every bell that tolls;

(WHO said we should be better if like these?)

But we sit murmuring for the future though

Posterity is smiling on our knees,

Convicting us of folly. Let us go—

We will trust God. The blank interstices

Men take for ruins, He will build into

With pillar’d marbles rare, or knit across

With generous arches, till the fane’s complete.

This world has no perdition, if some loss.

Such cheer I gather from thy smiling, Sweet!

The self-same cherub-faces which emboss

The Vail, lean inward to the Mercy-seat.