Aurora: goddess, lightening shades of dawn, poet, woman. In Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem Aurora Leigh, the eponymous heroine represents all these things. The multiple meanings of Aurora's name are played with throughout the poem, an added layer to Barrett Browning's juxtapositions of light and dark, morning and night. The significance of Aurora's name is heightened at the end of the poem when her cousin and beloved, Romney Leigh, goes blind. The eternal darkness of Romney's lost sight is contrasted with the light which Aurora represents. After confessing their love for each other, Aurora turns the accepted convention of a welcoming day and a frightening or forbidding night upside down:
But oh, the night! oh bitter-sweet! oh, sweet!
O dark, O moon and stars, O ecstasy
Of darkness! O great mystery of love, —
In which absorbed, loss, anguish, treason's self
Enlarges rapture, — as a pebble dropt
In some full wine-cup, over-brims the wine!
While we two sate together, leaned that night
So close, my very garments crept and thrilled
With strange electric life; and both my cheeks
Grew red, then pale, with touches from my hair
In which his breath was; while the golden moon
Was hung before our faces as the badge
Of some sublime despair,
Since ever to be seen by only one, —
A voice said, low and rapid as a sigh,
Yet breaking, I felt conscious, from a smile, —
"Thank God, who made me blind, to make me see!
Shine on, Aurora, dearest light of souls,
Which rul'st for evermore both day and night!
I am happy." [9: ll.814-833]
In this passage the light of the moon represents what Romney has lost, the world they will never share. The darkness, illuminated only by Aurora herself, is mysterious but vital.
1. Romney's blindness parallels that of Rochester in Jane Eyre, yet earlier the poem sets up Romney as a St. John figure to Aurora's Jane. Were both these parallels deliberate? What effect does literary allusions have? Is Romney's blindness the same as Mr. Rochester's? (ie. is Romney being punished for something? If so, what?) Does his blindness have a similar effect on his character as Mr. Rochester's blindness has on his?
2. Does Aurora's name function simply as an allusion, or does it symbolize her connection with light, or specifically the coming of the day?
3. Aurora says that love absorbs "loss, anguish, treason's self" and turns them into even greater rapture. How does this compare with her view of poetry as a transcendent form?
Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Aurora Leigh and Other Poems. Ed. John Robert Glorney Bolton and Julia Bolton Holloway. London: Penguin Books, 1995.
Last modified 22 March 2004