A Curse for a Nation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning | Student Handouts
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A Curse for a Nation
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

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.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote this anti-slavery poem in 1854. Click here to print. For more of our free printable poetry and accompanying worksheets, click here.
"A Curse for a Nation" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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