Treasure Island

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

(6 March 1806 – 29 June 1861 / Durham / England)

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A Curse For A Nation


I heard an angel speak last night,
And he said 'Write!
Write a Nation's curse for me,
And send it over the Western Sea.'

I faltered, taking up the word:
'Not so, my lord!
If curses must be, choose another
To send thy curse against my brother.

'For I am bound by gratitude,
By love and blood,
To brothers of mine across the sea,
Who stretch out kindly hands to me.'

'Therefore,' the voice said, 'shalt thou write
My curse to-night.
From the summits of love a curse is driven,
As lightning is from the tops of heaven.'

'Not so,' I answered. 'Evermore
My heart is sore
For my own land's sins: for little feet
Of children bleeding along the street:

'For parked-up honors that gainsay
The right of way:
For almsgiving through a door that is
Not open enough for two friends to kiss:

'For love of freedom which abates
Beyond the Straits:
For patriot virtue starved to vice on
Self-praise, self-interest, and suspicion:

'For an oligarchic parliament,
And bribes well-meant.
What curse to another land assign,
When heavy-souled for the sins of mine?'

'Therefore,' the voice said, 'shalt thou write
My curse to-night.
Because thou hast strength to see and hate
A foul thing done within thy gate.'

'Not so,' I answered once again.
'To curse, choose men.
For I, a woman, have only known
How the heart melts and the tears run down.'

'Therefore,' the voice said, 'shalt thou write
My curse to-night.
Some women weep and curse, I say
(And no one marvels), night and day.

'And thou shalt take their part to-night,
Weep and write.
A curse from the depths of womanhood
Is very salt, and bitter, and good.'

So thus I wrote, and mourned indeed,
What all may read.
And thus, as was enjoined on me,
I send it over the Western Sea.

The Curse

Because ye have broken your own chain
With the strain
Of brave men climbing a Nation's height,
Yet thence bear down with brand and thong
On souls of others, -- for this wrong
This is the curse. Write.

Because yourselves are standing straight
In the state
Of Freedom's foremost acolyte,
Yet keep calm footing all the time
On writhing bond-slaves, -- for this crime
This is the curse. Write.

Because ye prosper in God's name,
With a claim
To honor in the old world's sight,
Yet do the fiend's work perfectly
In strangling martyrs, -- for this lie
This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while kings conspire
Round the people's smouldering fire,
And, warm for your part,
Shall never dare -- O shame!
To utter the thought into flame
Which burns at your heart.
This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while nations strive
With the bloodhounds, die or survive,
Drop faint from their jaws,
Or throttle them backward to death;
And only under your breath
Shall favor the cause.
This is the curse. Write.

Ye shall watch while strong men draw
The nets of feudal law
To strangle the weak;
And, counting the sin for a sin,
Your soul shall be sadder within
Than the word ye shall speak.
This is the curse. Write.

When good men are praying erect
That Christ may avenge His elect
And deliver the earth,
The prayer in your ears, said low,
Shall sound like the tramp of a foe
That's driving you forth.
This is the curse. Write.

When wise men give you their praise,
They shall praise in the heat of the phrase,
As if carried too far.
When ye boast your own charters kept true,
Ye shall blush; for the thing which ye do
Derides what ye are.
This is the curse. Write.

When fools cast taunts at your gate,
Your scorn ye shall somewhat abate
As ye look o'er the wall;
For your conscience, tradition, and name
Explode with a deadlier blame
Than the worst of them all.
This is the curse. Write.

Go, wherever ill deeds shall be done,
Go, plant your flag in the sun
Beside the ill-doers!
And recoil from clenching the curse
Of God's witnessing Universe
With a curse of yours.
This is the curse. Write.

Submitted: Saturday, May 12, 2001
Edited: Saturday, May 12, 2001

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  • Savita Tyagi (6/12/2013 5:26:00 PM)

    Ye shall watch while strong men draw the nets of feudal law to strangle the weak A happening of centuries- the curse that keeps on falling upon most prosperous! Wonderful poem! (Report) Reply

  • Deci Hernandez (6/12/2012 10:14:00 AM)

    you can see this poem still taking part in today's american society. not with slavery but with our gov't still. i wonder if she wrote this poem in a night. for how could such intellect be gathered plainly and with flawless structure unless it took many days to write or unless there was a God at hand. (Report) Reply

  • Emmanuel Solorzano (3/23/2012 12:42:00 AM)

    This poem was against american slavery. it was published in an abolitionist newspaper and then again in Poems Before Congress. I think she uses the 'curse' because of the old testament prophets who spoke up against Israel and also against foreign nations. she may mean to show the lack of Christian behavior our supposedly Christian nation (at the time) was showing in keeping slaves. anyway, the poem's interesting. I like the prologue particularly. just beautiful. (Report) Reply

  • Manonton Dalan (6/12/2010 7:37:00 AM)

    i believe this is address to slavery in america...but why she picks this his dad once owns slaves in jamaica. it might be at that time you must protest on something. it might be fad at that time. now i could imagine why women movements pick her as role model. (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (6/12/2010 1:52:00 AM)

    Beggars and cry of women are great curse of a nation indeed! Nothing is perfect in any nation! Praises cannot last longer! Curses cannot be curtailed! (Report) Reply

  • James Walter Orr (9/8/2009 10:17:00 PM)

    This poem is addressed to the state of mind of the world which opposes justice for all, freedom from all kinds of oppression, and that foments the the idea that progress is being made by walking in the blood of the helpless.

    EB has written more melodious poems, but none with more social impact. The questions was asked as to whether this poem swayed any of the slaveholders, and others of their ilk. One will never know for sure, but the slaves are free from chains today, and in some tomorrow will be free from the foot on the neck.

    As long as concentrations of power exist that exceed the power of the government, such as the huge industries that we all know exceed the power of and and all national governments, this poem will still be current and spot-on.

    One might go back and re-read the part of the poem where the idiots shout at the walls (sic) , and make them own assessment of whom those idiots consist today.

    Great Poem, great poet, and fully equal to her great husband.

    James (Report) Reply

  • Michael Pruchnicki (6/12/2009 6:13:00 PM)

    For once I agree 100% with Kevin Straw! The poem? by EB Browning does not measure up to her usual standard! Think about the 19th century and the British empire and the barbarians of the Middle East in today's world! I admire her work and that of her spouse Robert Browning who wrote some of the best poetry of the 19th century, bar none! Forget the hysterics of Guy and her sisters! (Report) Reply

  • Kevin Straw (6/12/2009 7:23:00 AM)

    I wonder what good cursing people does? Were the slavers altered in any way by this poem? Were the anti-slavers in America encouraged or rather put off by this poem. A passionate and excellent poet, but perhaps she should not have written this poem. (Report) Reply

  • Mary R Guy (6/12/2007 11:50:00 AM)

    How appropo This poem could be making a statment about events of today not the nineteenth century Amazing poem I love all of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's work (Report) Reply

  • Jae Centorino (6/12/2007 8:38:00 AM)

    Simply AMAZING....i't really makes me think..SANDY I ALSO AGREE..thank you for typing for me..I love it..what a nice poem to read first thing in the morning...MAKES ME WANT TO WRITE! (Report) Reply

  • Sandy Fulton (6/13/2005 11:19:00 AM)

    Now and then-O frabjous day! -you send me a poem I've never read before that really grabs me. This is the best yet. I love a poem I can't quite figure out rationally, and some of the language in this one is really oblique, especially the final 2 stanzas.

    What political incidents forced Elizabeth Barrett Browning to write something this embittered? Could it have been the scandalous English lack of interest in the Irish potato famine? Or does it pertain to America? Sometimes it reads as if she is writing of the slave-owning Confederate 'aristocrats, ' but the British in India, Africa and elsewhere were no better.

    Truly, it's universal. It pertains as much to our country today-an outcry against jingoists, hypocrites and timid liberals who whisper objections but do nothing-as it did in 19th century imperialist England! (Report) Reply

Read all 17 comments »

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