The Way of a 19th Century Coquette

     This post is for all the romantics out there... I know who you are.

     The following is a poem written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning titled A Woman's Shortcomings, and by her words, it can be determined that she was not in favor of flirtation.  And because of her singleness of heart, she lived one of the most enchanting stories of true love.  Author Nancy Moser writes the story of Miss Barrett as authentically as is possible.  Never was a biography so captivating.

She has laughed as softly as if she sighed,
She has counted six, and over,
Of a purse well filled, and a heart well tried -
Oh, each a worthy lover!
They "give her time"; for her soul must slip
Where the world has set the grooving;
She will lie to none with her fair red lip:
But love seeks truer loving.

She trembles her fan in a sweetness dumb,
As her thoughts were beyond recalling;
With a glance for one, and a glance for some,
From her eyelids rising and falling;
Speaks common words with a blushful air,
Hears bold words, unreproving;
But her silence says - what she never will swear -
And love seeks better loving.

Go, lady! lean to the night-guitar,
And drop a smile to the bringer;
Then smile as sweetly, when he is far,
At the voice of an in-door singer.
Bask tenderly beneath tender eyes;
Glance lightly, on their removing;
And join new vows to old perjuries -
But dare not call it loving!

Unless you can think, when the song is done,
No other is soft in the rhythm;
Unless you can feel, when left by One,
That all men else go with him;
Unless you can know, when unpraised by his breath,
That your beauty itself wants proving;
Unless you can swear "For life, for death!" -
Oh, fear to call it loving!

Unless you can muse in a crowd all day
On the absent face that fixed you;
Unless you can love, as the angels may,
With the breadth of heaven betwixt you;
Unless you can dream that his faith is fast,
Through behoving and unbehoving;
Unless you can die when the dream is past -
Oh, never call it loving! 

     If Elizabeth Browning endeavored by this poem to teach young women anything, her message would have clearly been "be true.  To yourself and to those around you, who shower you with affection.  Take not advantage though your power hold them captive.  For you are more powerful when you possess a woman's heart than you could ever be pretending."

h. rae

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