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Sixth Book

THE English have a scornful insular way
Of calling the French light. The levity
Is in the judgment only, which yet stands;
For say a foolish thing but oft enough,
(And here's the secret of a hundred creeds,–
Men get opinions as boys learn to spell,
By re-iteration chiefly) the same thing
Shall pass at least for absolutely wise,
And not with fools exclusively. And so,
We say the French are light, as if we said
The cat mews, or the milch-cow gives us milk:
Say rather, cats are milked, and milch cows mew,
For what is lightness but inconsequence,
Vague fluctuation 'twixt effect and cause,
Compelled by neither? Is a bullet light,
That dashes from the gun-mouth, while the eye
Winks, and the heart beats one, to flatten itself
To a wafer on the white speck on a wall
A hundred paces off? Even so direct,
So sternly undivertible of aim,
Is this French people.
All idealists
Too absolute and earnest, with them all
The idea of a knife cuts real flesh;
And still, devouring the safe interval
Which Nature placed between the thought and act,
They threaten conflagration to the world
And rush with most unscrupulous logic on
Impossible practice. Set your orators
To blow upon them with loud windy mouths
Through watchword phrases, jest or sentiment,
Which drive our burley brutal English mobs
Like so much chaff, whichever way they blow,–
This light French people will not thus be driven.
They turn indeed; but then they turn upon
Some central pivot of their thought and choice,
And veer out by the force of holding fast.
–That's hard to understand, for Englishmen
Unused to abstract questions, and untrained
To trace the involutions, valve by valve,
In each orbed bulb-root of a general truth,
And mark what subtly fine integument
Divides opposed compartments. Freedom's self
Comes concrete to us, to be understood,
Fixed in a feudal form incarnately
To suit our ways of thought and reverence,
The special form, with us, being still the thing.
With us, I say, though I'm of Italy
My mother's birth and grave, by father's grave
And memory; let it be,–a poet's heart

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poem by from Aurora Leigh (1856)Report problemRelated quotes
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