"By Thunders Of White Silence Overthrown"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: As a poet of the mid-nineteenth century, Mrs. Browning was influenced by the school of idealism, especially in terms of her understanding of the nature and role of art; according to this school, a work of art transcends reality and lifts the spectator into the realm of ideas wherein the anguish and pain of life are harmonized into cosmic order. Accepting this didactic and elevated view of art, Mrs. Browning was always interested in social reform and in the lamentable conditions of the lower classes; to her, poetry and the fine arts were instruments for the amelioration of society. In the 1840's and 1850's there was much talk against the slave trade, especially in relationship to the United States since England had already outlawed slavery; as a social reformer, Mrs. Browning, horrified by attempts to rationalize the practice, turned to art as a means of lifting men's minds to a universal truth. By drawing her readers' attentions to the statue of the Greek Slave, she hopes to uplift their spirits to the point that art and universal truth will triumph and thus end slavery. Hiram Powers was an American sculptor working in Italy during the time of the Brownings' residence there. His "Greek Slave" (1843) was one of the most famous sculptures of this period.

Pierce to the centre,
Art's fiery finger! and break up ere long
The serfdom of this world! appeal, fair stone,
From God's pure heights of beauty against man's wrong!
Catch up in thy divine face, not alone
East griefs, but west, and strike and shame the strong,
By thunders of white silence overthrown.