Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
From Aurora Leigh, Book Seven, (1856)
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes—
The rest sit round it and pick blackberries.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the oldest of twelve children and the first person in her family for two hundred years to be born in England (her family had lived in Jamaica where they owned sugar plantations). An enthusiastic Christian believer, as a teenager Browning taught herself Hebrew to read the Old Testament in its original language, and later studied Greek. By age fifteen she had suffered a chronic lung ailment and a spinal injury from a horsing accident that virtually incapacitated her for the rest of her life. When her brother drowned she withdrew and became a near recluse. Her father bitterly opposed her romance with Robert Browning, who was six years younger than her, and with whom she exchanged nearly six hundred letters in less than two years. In 1846 they eloped to Florence, Italy, where she died some fifteeen years later.