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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From ‘Catarina to Camoens’

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

  • [Dying in his absence abroad, and referring to the poem in which he recorded the sweetness of her eyes.]

  • ON the door you will not enter

    I have gazed too long: adieu!

    Hope withdraws her “peradventure”;

    Death is near me,—and not you!

    Come, O lover,

    Close and cover

    These poor eyes you called, I ween,

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

    When I heard you sing that burden

    In my vernal days and bowers,

    Other praises disregarding,

    I but hearkened that of yours,

    Only saying

    In heart-playing,

    “Blessèd eyes mine eyes have been,

    If the sweetest HIS have seen!”

    But all changes. At this vesper

    Cold the sun shines down the door.

    If you stood there, would you whisper,

    “Love, I love you,” as before,—

    Death pervading

    Now and shading

    Eyes you sang of, that yestreen,

    As the sweetest ever seen?

    Yes, I think, were you beside them,

    Near the bed I die upon,

    Though their beauty you denied them,

    As you stood there looking down,

    You would truly

    Call them duly,

    For the love’s sake found therein,

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

    And if you looked down upon them,

    And if they looked up to you,

    All the light which has foregone them

    Would be gathered back anew;

    They would truly

    Be as duly

    Love-transformed to beauty’s sheen,

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

    But, ah me! you only see me,

    In your thoughts of loving man,

    Smiling soft, perhaps, and dreamy,

    Through the wavings of my fan;

    And unweeting

    Go repeating

    In your revery serene,

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

    O my poet, O my prophet!

    When you praised their sweetness so,

    Did you think, in singing of it,

    That it might be near to go?

    Had you fancies

    From their glances,

    That the grave would quickly screen

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen”?

    No reply. The fountain’s warble

    In the courtyard sounds alone.

    As the water to the marble

    So my heart falls with a moan

    From love-sighing

    To this dying.

    Death forerunneth Love to win

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

    Will you come? When I’m departed

    Where all sweetnesses are hid,

    Where thy voice, my tender-hearted,

    Will not lift up either lid,

    Cry, O lover,

    Love is over!

    Cry, beneath the cypress green,

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

    When the Angelus is ringing,

    Near the convent will you walk,

    And recall the choral singing

    Which brought angels down our talk?


    I viewed heaven,

    Till you smiled—“Is earth unclean,

    Sweetest eyes were ever seen?”

    When beneath the palace-lattice

    You ride slow as you have done,

    And you see a face there that is

    Not the old familiar one,

    Will you oftly

    Murmur softly,

    “Here ye watched me morn and e’en,

    Sweetest eyes were ever seen”?

    When the palace-ladies, sitting

    Round your gittern, shall have said,

    “Poets, sing those verses written

    For the lady who is dead,”

    Will you tremble,

    Yet dissemble,

    Or sing hoarse, with tears between,

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen”?

    “Sweetest eyes!” How sweet in flowings

    The repeated cadence is!

    Though you sang a hundred poems,

    Still the best one would be this.

    I can hear it

    ’Twixt my spirit

    And the earth-noise intervene,—

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

    But—but now—yet unremovèd

    Up to heaven they glisten fast;

    You may cast away, belovèd,

    In your future all my past:

    Such old phrases

    May be praises

    For some fairer bosom-queen—

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen!”

    Eyes of mine, what are ye doing?

    Faithless, faithless, praised amiss

    If a tear be, on your showing,

    Dropped for any hope of HIS!

    Death has boldness

    Besides coldness,

    If unworthy tears demean

    “Sweetest eyes were ever seen.”

    I will look out to his future;

    I will bless it till it shine.

    Should he ever be a suitor

    Unto sweeter eyes than mine,

    Sunshine gild them,

    Angels shield them,

    Whatsoever eyes terrene

    Be the sweetest HIS have seen.