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"An Island" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The following is the complete text of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "An Island." Our presentation of this classic poem comes from The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1900). To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Visit these other works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
"Bertha in the Lane"
"Christmas Gifts"
Short poems and sonnets
"The Complaint of Annelida to False Arcite"
"Crowned and Buried"
"The Dead Pan"
"Earth and her Praisers"
"The Lay of the Brown Rosary"
"A Lay of the Early Rose"
"The Lost Bower"

"Napoleon III in Italy"
"Night and the Merry Man"
"A Rhapsody of Life's Progress"
"Rhyme of the Duchess May"
"A Romance of the Ganges"
"The Romaunt of the Page"
"The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point"
"The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus"
"A Vision of Poets"

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* Rediscovering an old favorite book, poem or story.
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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, obsolete footnotes, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"An Island" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning


by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

First printed in the New Monthly Magazine January, 1837.

'All goeth but Goddis will.' -- Old Poet.


My dream is of an island-place
Which distant seas keep lonely;
A little island on whose face
The stars are watchers only:
Those bright still stars! they need not seem
Brighter or stiller in my dream.


An island full of hills and dells,
All rumpled and uneven
With green recesses, sudden swells,
And odorous valleys driven
So deep and straight, that always there
The wind is cradled to soft air.


Hills running up to heaven for light
Through woods that half-way ran,
As if the wild earth mimicked right
The wilder heart of man:
Only it shall be greener far
And gladder than hearts ever are.


More like, perhaps, that mountain piece
Of Dante's paradise,
Disrupt to an hundred hills like these,
In falling from the skies;
Bringing within it, all the roots
Of heavenly trees and flowers and fruits.


For--saving where the grey rocks strike
Their javelins up the azure,
Or where deep fissures, miser-like
Hoard up some fountain treasure,
(And e'en in them, stoop down and hear,
Leaf sounds with water in your ear,)--


The place is all awave with trees,
Limes, myrtles purple-beaded,
Acacias having drunk the lees
Of the night-dew, faint-headed,
And wan grey olive-woods which seem
The fittest foliage for a dream.


Trees, trees on all sides! they combine
Their plumy shades to throw,
Through whose clear fruit and blossom fine
Whene'er the sun may go,
The ground beneath he deeply stains,
As passing through cathedral panes.


But little needs this earth of ours
That shining from above her,
When many Pleiades of flowers
(Not one lost) star her over,
The rays of their unnumbered hues
Being all refracted by the dews.


Wide-petalled plants that boldly drink
The Amreeta of the sky,
Shut bells that dull with rapture sink,
And lolling buds, half shy;
I cannot count them, but between
Is room for grass and mosses green,


And brooks, that glass in different strengths
All colours in disorder.
Or, gathering up their silver lengths
Beside their winding border,
Sleep, haunted through the slumber hidden,
By lilies white as dreams in Eden.


Nor think each arched tree with each
Too closely interlaces
To admit of vistas out of reach,
And broad moon-lighted places
Upon whose sward the antlered deer
May view their double image clear.


For all this island's creature-full,
(Kept happy not by halves)
Mild cows, that at the vine-wreaths pull,
Then low back at their calves
With tender lowings, to approve
The warm mouths milking them for love.


Free gamesome horses, antelopes,
And harmless leaping leopards,
And buffaloes upon the slopes,
And sheep unruled by shepherds:
Hares, lizards, hedgehogs, badgers, mice,
Snakes, squirrels, frogs, and butterflies.


And birds that live there in a crowd,
Horned owls, rapt nightingales,
Larks bold with heaven, and peacocks proud,
Self-sphered in those grand tails;
All creatures glad and safe, I deem.
No guns nor springes in my dream!


The island's edges are a-wing
With trees that overbranch
The sea with song-birds welcoming
The curlews to green change;
And doves from half-closed lids espy
The red and purple fish go by.


One dove is answering in trust
The water every minute,
Thinking so soft a murmur must
Have her mate's cooing in it:
So softly does earth's beauty round
Infuse itself in ocean's sound.


My sanguine soul bounds forwarder
To meet the bounding waves;
Beside them straightway I repair,
To live within the caves:
And near me two or three may dwell
Whom dreams fantastic please as well.


Long winding caverns, glittering far
Into a crystal distance!
Through clefts of which, shall many a star
Shine clear without resistance,
And carry down its rays the smell
Of flowers above invisible.


I said that two or three might choose
Their dwelling near mine own:
Those who would change man's voice and use,
For Nature's way and tone--
Man's veering heart and careless eyes,
For Nature's steadfast sympathies.


Ourselves to meet her faithfulness,
Shall play a faithful part;
Her beautiful shall ne'er address
The monstrous at our heart:
Her musical shall ever touch
Something within us also such.


Yet shall she not our mistress live,
As doth the moon of ocean,
Though gently as the moon she give
Our thoughts a light and motion:
More like a harp of many lays,
Moving its master while he plays.


No sod in all that island doth
Yawn open for the dead;
No wind hath borne a traitor's oath;
No earth, a mourner's tread;
We cannot say by stream or shade,
'I suffered here--was here betrayed.'


Our only 'farewell' we shall laugh
To shifting cloud or hour,
And use our only epitaph
To some bud turned a flower:
Our only tears shall serve to prove
Excess in pleasure or in love.


Our fancies shall their plumage catch
From fairest island-birds,
Whose eggs let young ones out at hatch,
Born singing! then our words
Unconsciously shall take the dyes
Of those prodigious fantasies.


Yea, soon, no consonant unsmooth
Our smile-turned lips shall reach;
Sounds sweet as Hellas spake in youth
Shall glide into our speech:
(What music, certes, can you find
As soft as voices which are kind?)


And often, by the joy without
And in us, overcome,
We, through our musing, shall let float
Such poems,--sitting dumb,--
As Pindar might have writ, if he
Had tended sheep in Arcady;


Or AEschylus--the pleasant fields
He died in, longer knowing;
Or Homer, had men's sins and shields
Been lost in Meles flowing;
Or poet Plato, had the undim
Unsetting Godlight broke on him.


Choose me the cave most worthy choice,
To make a place for prayer,
And I will choose a praying voice
To pour our spirits there:
How silverly the echoes run!
Thy will be done,--thy will be done.


Gently yet strangely uttered words!
They lift me from my dream;
The island fadeth with its swards
That did no more than seem:
The streams are dry, no sun could find--
The fruits are fallen, without wind.


So oft the doing of God's will
Our foolish wills undoeth!
And yet what idle dream breaks ill,
Which morning-light subdueth?
And who would murmur and misdoubt,
When God's great sunrise finds him out?

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