Human Life's Mystery

Human Life's Mystery

- by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 18th Century

We sow the glebe, we reap the corn,

We build the house where we may rest,

And then, at moments, suddenly,

We look up to the great wide sky,

Inquiring wherefore we were born...

For earnest or for jest?

The senses folding thick and dark

About the stifled soul within,

We guess diviner things beyond,

And yearn to them with yearning fond;

Believed in, but not seen.

We vibrate to the pant and thrill

Wherewith Eternity has curled

In serpent-twine about God's seat;

While, freshening upward to His feet,

In gradual growth His full-leaved will

Expands from world to world.

And, in tumult and excess

Of act and passion under sun,

We sometimes hear - oh, soft and far,

As silver star did touch with star,

The kiss of Peace and Righteousness

Through all things that are done.

God keeps His holy mysteries

Just on the outside of man's dream;

In diapason slow, we think

To hear their pinions rise and sink,

While they float pure beneath His eyes,

Like swans adown a stream.

Abstractions are they, from the forms

Of His great beauty? - exaltations

From His great glory? - strong previsions

Of what we shall be? - intuitions

Of what we are - in calms and storms,

Beyond our peace and passions?

Things nameless! which, in passing so,

Do stroke us with a subtle grace,

We say 'Who passes?' - they are dumb.

We cannot see them go or come:

Their touches fall soft, cold as snow

Upon a blind man's face.

Yet, touching so, they draw above

Our common thoughts to Heaven's unknown,

Our daily joy and pain advance

To a divine significance,

Our human love - O mortal love,

That light is not its own!

And sometimes horror chills our blood

To be so near such mystic Things,

And we wrap round us for defence

Our purple manners, moods of sense -

As angels from the face of God

Stand hidden in their wings.

And sometimes through life's heavy swound

We grope for them! - with strangled breath

We search our hands abroad and try

To reach them in our agony, -

And widen, so, the broad life-wound

Which soon is large enough for death.