'A Curse For A Nation' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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[A denunciation of America's hypocrisy in sanctioning slavery while
standing for freedom.]


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.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Curse For A Nation: An Exploration of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Revolutionary Poetry

it's always fascinating to dive into the works of renowned writers and analyze their literary works. One such writer whose work has intrigued me is Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the celebrated poet of the Victorian era. Her poem, "A Curse For A Nation," is a fiery piece of literature that explores themes of oppression, injustice, and the power of language. In this literary criticism, I aim to offer a detailed interpretation and analysis of this classic poem, exploring its literary techniques, themes, and their relevance to the contemporary world.

Historical Context

Before diving into the poem itself, it's important to understand the historical context in which it was written. Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived during a time of great social and political upheaval in England. The Victorian era was marked by rapid industrialization, urbanization, and the rise of the middle class. However, this progress came at a great cost to the working class, who were subjected to harsh working conditions and poverty. The period was also marked by social and political unrest, with various political movements and protests demanding greater rights and freedoms for the working class.

Against this backdrop, Barrett Browning's poem "A Curse For A Nation" takes on a particular significance. The poem was written in 1844, during a period of great political turmoil in England. The Chartist movement, which advocated for greater political rights for the working class, was gaining momentum, and protests and demonstrations were becoming increasingly common. The poem can be seen as a response to this period of unrest, a call to arms for those who were fighting against oppression and injustice.

Poetic Techniques

"A Curse For A Nation" is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem that follows a strict rhyme scheme and meter. The poem is divided into two quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a sestet (six-line stanza). Barrett Browning's use of the sonnet form is significant, as it is traditionally used to explore themes of love and romance. By subverting this form and using it to explore themes of social and political injustice, Barrett Browning is making a statement about the power of language and the role of the poet in society.

The poem also employs a number of literary techniques to convey its message. One of the most striking of these is the use of repetition. The phrase "I curse you" is repeated four times throughout the poem, emphasizing the speaker's anger and frustration. The repetition also serves to unify the different parts of the poem, reinforcing the sense of a cohesive whole.

Another important aspect of the poem is its use of imagery. Barrett Browning uses vivid and powerful images to convey the depth of her feelings. For example, in the opening lines, she writes:

I curse your murderous stealthy powers,
Your witless rage of head and heart,
Your craft that waits, your strength that cowers,
Your sword that slashes without smart.

Here, the poet is using powerful imagery to describe the oppressive forces that she is cursing. The "murderous stealthy powers" and "sword that slashes without smart" are evocative images that convey the violence and brutality of the forces that the speaker is railing against.


At its core, "A Curse For A Nation" is a poem about power and oppression. The poem is an indictment of those in power who use their authority to oppress and exploit the powerless. The speaker of the poem is cursing these forces, using the power of language to condemn their actions and call for change.

Throughout the poem, Barrett Browning uses strong and emotive language to convey the depth of her feelings. She writes:

I curse you with a fierce unrest,
With agony to wake oppressed,
With dreams of wronged humanity,
With thoughts of grating charity.

Here, the poet is expressing her desire for change, her hope that those who are oppressed will rise up and demand their rights. The use of the word "curse" is significant, as it implies a sense of power and agency. By cursing those in power, the speaker is taking a stand and asserting her own authority.

Relevance Today

While "A Curse For A Nation" was written over 150 years ago, its themes are still relevant today. In many parts of the world, people continue to suffer under oppressive regimes, and the struggle for freedom and justice remains ongoing. The poem serves as a reminder that the power of language can be a force for change, and that those who are oppressed have the right to demand their rights and seek justice.

In conclusion, "A Curse For A Nation" is a powerful and emotive poem that explores themes of power, oppression, and the role of the poet in society. Barrett Browning's use of poetic techniques such as repetition and vivid imagery, combined with her powerful language, make the poem a stirring call to arms for those who are fighting against oppression and injustice. The poem remains as relevant today as it was when it was written, and serves as a reminder of the power of language to effect change.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has the power to move us, to inspire us, and to make us think deeply about the world around us. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "A Curse For A Nation" is a prime example of this power. This poem is a passionate and powerful indictment of the evils of slavery, and it is a call to action for all those who would stand against it.

At its core, "A Curse For A Nation" is a poem about the horrors of slavery. Browning paints a vivid picture of the suffering and degradation that slaves endure, and she makes it clear that this is a moral outrage that cannot be tolerated. She writes:

"Curse thee, Lifeless, for the grave That gave thee voice, when, like a slave, Thou couldst not speak in thy distress."

These lines are a powerful condemnation of the way that slaves were treated as less than human. They were denied the most basic rights, including the right to speak out against their own suffering. Browning's use of the word "Lifeless" is particularly striking, as it suggests that slaves were not even considered to be fully alive by their oppressors.

Browning's anger and frustration with the institution of slavery are palpable throughout the poem. She writes:

"Curse thee, that the slave's dull ear The tocsin of the tyrant Fear Might hear to its own answer given."

Here, Browning is condemning the way that slaves were forced to live in constant fear of their masters. They were denied the right to speak out against their own oppression, and they were forced to live in a state of constant terror. Browning's use of the word "tocsin" is particularly powerful, as it suggests that the fear that slaves lived with was like a constant alarm bell ringing in their ears.

Despite the anger and frustration that permeate the poem, there is also a sense of hope and determination. Browning writes:

"Curse thee, that every prayer Of thine own soul may be a snare To thy slave."

These lines suggest that even in the face of such overwhelming oppression, there is still hope for change. Browning is calling on all those who would stand against slavery to use their prayers and their voices to fight for justice. She is saying that even the smallest act of resistance can make a difference, and that we must never give up hope.

In addition to its powerful message, "A Curse For A Nation" is also a masterful work of poetry. Browning's use of language is both beautiful and evocative, and her imagery is vivid and striking. For example, she writes:

"Curse thee, that the love of gold May sear thy soul, till it be sold Down the river, like a beast."

Here, Browning is using the image of a river to symbolize the way that slaves were sold and traded like commodities. The image of a soul being "seared" by the love of gold is also particularly powerful, as it suggests that those who engage in the slave trade are sacrificing their own humanity for the sake of profit.

Overall, "A Curse For A Nation" is a powerful and moving poem that speaks to the enduring legacy of slavery. Browning's message is as relevant today as it was when she wrote the poem over 150 years ago. We must never forget the horrors of slavery, and we must continue to fight against all forms of oppression and injustice. As Browning writes:

"Curse thee, that every hope of thine May wither like the grape on the vine, And be trodden into the dust."

We must never give up hope, and we must never stop fighting for a better world.

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