A remote sky, prolonged to the sea's brim:
One rock-point standing buffeted alone,
Vexed at its base with a foul beast unknown,
Hell-spurge of geomaunt and teraphim:
A knight, and a winged creature bearing him,
Reared at the rock: a woman fettered there,
Leaning into the hollow with loose hair
And throat let back and heartsick trail of limb.
The sky is harsh, and the sea shrewd and salt.
Under his lord, the griffin-horse ramps blind
With rigid wings and tail. The spear's lithe stem
Thrills in the roaring of those jaws: behind,
The evil length of body chafes at fault.
She doth not hear nor see—she knows of them.
Clench thine eyes now, —'tis the last instant, girl:
Draw in thy senses, set thy knees, and take
One breath for all: thy life is keen awake, —
Thou may'st not swoon. Was that the scattered whirl
Of its foam drenched thee?—or the waves that curl
And split, bleak spray wherein thy temples ache?—
Or was it his the champion's blood to flake
Thy flesh?—Or thine own blood's anointing, girl? …
… Now, silence; for the sea's is such a sound
As irks not silence; and except the sea,
All is now still. Now the dead thing doth cease
To writhe, and drifts. He turns to her: and she
Cast from the jaws of Death, remains there, bound,
Again a woman in her nakedness.
Elizabeth Barrett lived most of her life as an invalid in the home of a tyran-
nical father until she began a correspondence with Robert Browning
(1812–89), who was a relatively obscure poet during her lifetime. He fell in
love with her through her poetry. The two secretly married and eloped to
Italy, where they lived happily until her death in 1861. Barrett Browning de-
scribes her love for her husband in her enduring Sonnets from the Portuguese.
The title seems to suggest that the sequence is a translation from the Por-
tuguese language, but it is really a private reference to her poem “Catarina to