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June 29 marks the 154th death anniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She was born on March 6, 1806 in county Durham to Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett and Mary Graham Clarke. The Barretts were wealthy and Elizabeth’s early childhood spent with her eleven siblings in their family estate of Herefordshire were comfortable. She revealed her literary aspirations early in her life. Her father admired her efforts and on her 14th birthday presented her with 50 printed copies of her poetry.
About this time Elizabeth also started showing signs of a failing health. A mystery disease that remained undetected during her lifetime started plaguing her. She contacted lung infections in her early days which also showed sings of recurrence. Her illness often used to make her dizzy and morphine was of no use to subdue her pain that spread across her spine and head. She started becoming dependent on a opium concoction to alleviate her physical discomfort.
Elizabeth’s courtship and eventual marriage to Robert Browning in 1840s did not go down well with the family. Her father disinherited her from the property and her brothers severed ties with her. Elizabeth moved to Italy with her husband Robert Browning and her loyal nurse since childhood. Robert Browning was well known in Italy, did have earnings of his own to sustain his family. Together Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning shared an amicable relationship. Both the conviviality at home and the warmer climate of Italy had a positive effect on Elizabeth’s health.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew and was friendly with many of the prominent authors of the day. This included such personalities as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Harriet Beecher Stowe and George Sand. She vehemently campaigned for the abolition of slavery, a curse that she was well aware of owing to her ancestral connection to the plantations of Jamaica.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

We walked beside the sea,
After a day which perished silently
Of its own glory – like the Princess weird
Who, combating the Genius, scorched and seared,
Uttered with burning breath, ‘Ho! victory!’
And sank adown, an heap of ashes pale;
So runs the Arab tale.

The sky above us showed
An universal and unmoving cloud,
On which, the cliffs permitted us to see
Only the outline of their majesty,
As master–minds, when gazed at by the crowd!
And, shining with a gloom, the water grey
Swang in its moon–taught way.

Nor moon nor stars were out.
They did not dare to tread so soon about,
Though trembling, in the footsteps of the sun.
The light was neither night’s nor day’s, but one
Which, life–like, had a beauty in its doubt;
And Silence’s impassioned breathings round
Seemed wandering into sound.

O solemn–beating heart
Of nature! I have knowledge that thou art
Bound unto man’s by cords he cannot sever–
And, what time they are slackened by him ever,
So to attest his own supernal part,
Still runneth thy vibration fast and strong,
The slackened cord along.

For though we never spoke
Of the grey water anal the shaded rock,–
Dark wave and stone, unconsciously, were fused
Into the plaintive speaking that we used,
Of absent friends and memories unforsook;
And, had we seen each other’s face, we had
Seen haply, each was sad.

Painting by Pierre–Auguste Renoir (25 February 1841 – 3 December 1919)twofigures

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