As Aurora Leigh progressed, I found it interesting how Aurora's attitude towards writing and the position of the writer developed alongside her character. We have the first book in which we find the young Aurora who professes that "I lived, those days and wrote because I lived — unlicensed else." (line 959-60, book 1).

Then in book 5 she says "I am sad" (line 398) largely because to the fact that she has become overwhelmed by her position as a poet, which entails

                                     a twofold life,
When one life has been found enough for pain!
We, staggering 'neath our burden as mere men,
Being called to stand up straight as demi-gods,
Support the intolerable strain and stress
Of the universal, and send clearly up,
With voices broken by the human sob,
Our Poems to find rhymes among the stars!

This is certainly not the Aurora of before who was played at being a poet, seeking greatness for the crown of glory, and not for the actual writing of the poems. Is this a message for society, a way of dispelling those who become enraptured by the image of greatness, and who do not actually realise the heart ache entailed in the "reaching" for the higher through art?

E.B.B. sounds a chord much like a theme in her husband's work when she also writes in book 5 of Aurora's troubles as a poet:

                                      the toil
of stretching past the known and seen to reach the archetypal
Beauty out of sight . . . whoso loves
Believes the impossible. And I am sad:
I cannot thoroughly love a work of mine." [lines 404-407]

Here Aurora seems to suffering as poet with having to settle with her work not able to attain this pure and higher truth? Does she feels poets are obligated to reach this? Are they then the bearers of a double life whereby they are to illuminate the way for their readers. Is that what art is meant for?

Then what are we to make of lines 849-857 in the fifth book,where we find a conversation between Romney and Aurora on the nature of work on this earth, whether artistic or social?

                                      we must be here to work;
And men who work, can only work for men,
And, not to work in vain, must comprehend
Humanity and, so, work humanly,
And raise men's bodies still by raising souls,
As God did, first.' 'But stand upon the earth,'
I said, 'to raise them, — (this is human too;
There's nothing high which has not first been low;
My humbleness, said One, has made me great!)
As God did, last.'


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning

Last modified 16 October 2003