Psyche Gazing on Cupid
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Then Psyche, weak in body and soul, put on
The cruelty of Fate, in place of strength:
She raised the lamp to see what should be done,
And seized the steel, and was a man at length
In courage, though a woman! Yes, but when
The light fell on the bed whereby she stood
To view the ” beast ” that lay there, — certes, then,
She saw the gentlest, sweetest beast in wood —
Even Cupid’s self, the beauteous god! more beauteous
For that sweet sleep across his eyelids dim.
The light, the lady carried as she viewed,
Did blush for pleasure as it lighted him,
The dagger trembled from its aim unduteous;
And she . . . oh, she — amazed and soul-distraught,
And fainting in her whiteness like a veil,
Slid down upon her knees, and, shuddering, thought
To hide — though in her heart — the dagger pale!
She would have done it, but her hands did fail
To hold the guilty steel, they shivered so, —
And feeble, exhausted, unawares she took
To gazing on the god, — till, look by look,
Her eyes with larger life did fill and glow.
She saw his golden head alight with curls, —
She might have guessed their brightness in the dark
By that ambrosial smell of heavenly mark!
She saw the milky brow, more pure than pearls,
The purple of the cheeks, divinely sundered
By the globed ringlets, as they glided free,
Some back, some forwards, — all so radiantly,
That, as she watched them there, she never wondered
To see the lamplight, where it touched them, tremble:
On the god’s shoulders, too, she marked his wings
Shine faintly at the edges and resemble
A flower that ‘s near to blow. The poet sings
And lover sighs, that Love is fugitive;
And certes, though these pinions lay reposing,
The feathers on them seemed to stir and live
As if by instinct, closing and unclosing.
Meantime the god’s fair body slumbered deep,
All worthy of Venus, in his shining sleep;
While at the bed’s foot lay the quiver, bow,
And darts, — his arms of godhead. Psyche gazed
With eyes that drank the wonders in, — said, — ” Lo,
Be these my husband’s arms?” — and straightway raised
An arrow from the quiver-case, and tried
Its point against her finger, — trembling till
She pushed it in too deeply (foolish bride!)
And made her blood some dewdrops small distil,
And learnt to love Love, of her own goodwill.