In an exchange at a party, Lord Howe expresses concern for Aurora and backs a mutual friend’s proposal to her by referring to the Parable of the Tares. In that parable, an enemy sows weeds in a farmer’s field. Rather than root everything up and risk damaging the wheat, the farmer waits for it all to grow and will sort it then, as the evil will eventually be sorted from the righteous among men. Howe believes Aurora is ignoring the parable’s meaning by prioritizing her pure artistic life, making her poorer than those who compromise just as the woman whose apron holds pure wheat is poorer than the farmer with both wheat and tare.

“I mean you, you,” he answered with some fire.
'A happy life means prudent compromise;
The tare runs through the farmer's garnered sheaves;
But though the gleaner's apron holds pure wheat,
We count her poorer. Tare with wheat, we cry,
And good with drawbacks. You, you love your art,
And, certain of vocation, set your soul
On utterance. Only, . . in this world we have made,
(They say God made it first, but, if He did,
'Twas so long since, . . and, since, we have spoiled it so,
He scarce would know it, if He looked this way . . .

                                 It is hard to stand for art,
Unless some golden tripod from the sea
Be fished up, by Apollo's divine chance,
To throne such feet as yours, my prophetess,
At Delphi. Think, — the god comes down as fierce
As twenty bloodhounds! shakes you, strangles you,
Until the oracular shriek shall ooze in froth!
At best it's not all ease, — at worst too hard:
A place to stand on is a 'vantage gained,
And here's your tripod. To be plain, dear friend,
You're poor, except in what you richly give;
You labour for your own bread painfully,
Or ere you pour our wine. For art's sake, pause.'

After extending the metaphor to God’s spoiled world, much like the farmer’s infiltrated crop, Howe switches to classical references. Aurora is the Delphic oracle inspired by Apollo, an unsubtle nod to her poetry. Howe thinks it best to have stability from something other than poetry, even if it means accepting the tares with the wheat.

Questions

1. How apt is Howe’s application of the Parable of the Tares? Does extending it to Aurora’s poetic life stretch its meaning?

2. What does Browning hope to accomplish with this argument against a life of pure art? Although Aurora is more often her mouthpiece, might she partially sympathize with Howe, or is he a negative voice for Aurora to overcome?

3. The oracle at Delphi is often portrayed as mad, cryptic and tormented, holding an unenviable job. Does this line up with the poetic life as Aurora leads it?

4, The Parable of the Tares — taking caution where one knows there are evil people in order not to lose the good ones still present — seems to more closely fit Romney’s work among the poor, where he cares for virtuous people like Marian in addition to those he cannot redeem. So why would Browning bring it up in the context of Aurora’s lifestyle instead?


Victorian Overview E. B. Browning Aurora Leigh

Last modified 25 March 2011