According to Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Aurora Leigh, what makes a good epic poem?  


Aurora Leigh

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As Elizabeth Barrett Browning begins her own epic poem, the First Book, which focuses on her own childhood, tells us how she was exposed to the world of books and how as a child she dwelt more in this world than in the world of reality. However, given the author's own future career as a poet, it is particularly interesting to see how she describes the epic poets:

I write so
Of the only truth-tellers, now left to God,–
The only speakers of essential truth,
Posed to relative, comparative,
And temporal truths; the only holders by
His sun-skirts, through conventional grey glooms;
The only teachers who instruct mankind,
From just a shadow on a charnel wall,
To find man's veritable stature out,
Erect, sublime,–the measure of a man,
And that's the measure of an angel, says
The apostle.

A "good" epic poem then, according to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, will "tell truth" to humans about our condition and will tell truth that is "essential" to our understanding of what it is to be human. Epic poems will "instruct mankind" and teach us important lessons based on the most everyday and seemingly insignificant occurrence, such as a "shadow on a charnel wall." Good epic poems, Elizabeth Barrett Browning argues, have the capacity to enlarge and deepen our understanding of what it is to be human and our position in this world.


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