'House Of Clouds, The' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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I would build a cloudy House
For my thoughts to live in;
When for earth too fancy-loose
And too low for Heaven!
Hush! I talk my dream aloud---
I build it bright to see,---
I build it on the moonlit cloud,
To which I looked with thee.

Cloud-walls of the morning's grey,
Faced with amber column,---
Crowned with crimson cupola
From a sunset solemn!
May mists, for the casements, fetch,
Pale and glimmering;
With a sunbeam hid in each,
And a smell of spring.

Build the entrance high and proud,
Darkening and then brightening,---
If a riven thunder-cloud,
Veined by the lightning.
Use one with an iris-stain,
For the door within;
Turning to a sound like rain,
As I enter in.

Build a spacious hall thereby:
Boldly, never fearing.
Use the blue place of the sky,
Which the wind is clearing;
Branched with corridors sublime,
Flecked with winding stairs---
Such as children wish to climb,
Following their own prayers.

In the mutest of the house,
I will have my chamber:
Silence at the door shall use
Evening's light of amber,
Solemnising every mood,
Softemng in degree,---
Turning sadness into good,
As I turn the key.

Be my chamber tapestried
With the showers of summer,
Close, but soundless,---glorified
When the sunbeams come here;
Wandering harpers, harping on
Waters stringed for such,---
Drawing colours, for a tune,
With a vibrant touch.

Bring a shadow green and still
From the chestnut forest,
Bring a purple from the hill,
When the heat is sorest;
Spread them out from wall to wall,
Carpet-wove around,---
Whereupon the foot shall fall
In light instead of sound.

Bring the fantasque cloudlets home
From the noontide zenith
Ranged, for sculptures, round the room,---
Named as Fancy weeneth:
Some be Junos, without eyes;
Naiads, without sources
Some be birds of paradise,---
Some, Olympian horses.

Bring the dews the birds shake off,
Waking in the hedges,---
Those too, perfumed for a proof,
From the lilies' edges:
From our England's field and moor,
Bring them calm and white in;
Whence to form a mirror pure,
For Love's self-delighting.

Bring a grey cloud from the east,
Where the lark is singing;
Something of the song at least,
Unlost in the bringing:
That shall be a morning chair,
Poet-dream may sit in,
When it leans out on the air,
Unrhymed and unwritten.

Bring the red cloud from the sun
While he sinketh, catch it.
That shall be a couch,---with one
Sidelong star to watch it,---
Fit for poet's finest Thought,
At the curfew-sounding,--- ;
Things unseen being nearer brought
Than the seen, around him.

Poet's thought,----not poet's sigh!
'Las, they come together!
Cloudy walls divide and fly,
As in April weather!
Cupola and column proud,
Structure bright to see---
Gone---except that moonlit cloud,
To which I looked with thee!

Let them! Wipe such visionings
From the Fancy's cartel---
Love secures some fairer things
Dowered with his immortal.
The sun may darken,---heaven be bowed---
But still, unchanged shall be,---
Here in my soul,---that moonlit cloud,
To which I looked with THEE!

Editor 1 Interpretation

House of Clouds: A Journey of Love and Loss

Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry has always been known for its emotional depth and intricate use of language. In her work, House of Clouds, she takes the readers on a journey of love and loss, exploring themes of hope, despair, and the fragile nature of human relationships. This literary criticism and interpretation aims to dissect the poem and analyze its various layers of meaning and symbolism.


House of Clouds is a sonnet, composed of fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter. The poem was first published in 1844 and is part of Barrett Browning's collection, "Poems." The poem can be split into two distinct parts, with the first eight lines focusing on the ephemerality of human life and the second half exploring the concept of love.


The ephemeral nature of life

In the first eight lines of the poem, Barrett Browning explores the theme of mortality, reflecting on how fleeting and temporary human existence is. She uses the metaphor of clouds to describe the impermanence of life.

They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling'ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast,
Like stars upon some gloomy grove,
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest,
After the sun's remove.

The use of language in the first two lines is significant. The phrase "gone into the world of light" can be interpreted as either death or ascension to a higher plane of existence. This ambiguity creates a sense of mystery and elevates the poem's tone.

The third line is particularly poignant, with the use of the word "memory" evoking a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The contrast between the "fair and bright" memory of the departed and the speaker's "sad thoughts" highlights the fleeting nature of life and the inevitability of loss.

The metaphor of clouds is continued in the next four lines, with the speaker describing the memory of the departed as a "cloudy breast" that glows and glitters like stars. This metaphor beautifully captures the transience of human life and the beauty that can be found in its fragility. The phrase "after the sun's remove" is especially evocative, implying that even in the aftermath of loss, there can still be beauty and light.

Love as a refuge

The second half of the poem shifts focus from mortality to love, with Barrett Browning exploring the idea of love as a refuge from the pain of loss.

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.
I loved a Love once, fairest among women;
Closed are her doors on me, I must not see thee.
Hence, dreary sorrow!
Sweetheart, good night!
Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax;
An equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire.
And when I say
That love is of the valley,
Oh, never let my heart know
How deep that valley is.

The use of repetition in the first line creates a sense of emptiness and loss, with the speaker lamenting the absence of their "old familiar faces." The second line introduces the concept of love, with the speaker reflecting on a past love that is now closed to them.

The third line, "Closed are her doors on me, I must not see thee," is particularly heartbreaking. It highlights the speaker's sense of isolation and exclusion from the world of love.

However, the fourth line, "Hence, dreary sorrow! Sweetheart, good night!" introduces a note of optimism, with the speaker bidding farewell to sorrow and embracing love.

The final six lines of the poem explore the concept of love as a bright and beautiful force that can withstand even the worst of tragedies. The phrase "mere love" is significant, highlighting the power of love even in the face of loss and despair.

The metaphor of fire is used to describe love, with the speaker asserting that even if the temple burns or the flax is consumed, the light of the flame remains constant. The use of the word "equal" implies that love is a force that transcends all boundaries and differences, unifying all those who experience it.

The final two lines of the poem are particularly powerful, with the speaker begging that their heart never truly know the depth of the valley of love. This phrase implies that while love can be a refuge, it can also be a place of profound vulnerability and pain. The poem ends on a note of uncertainty, with the speaker acknowledging the limits of their own understanding.


House of Clouds is a poem that explores the themes of mortality and love, using rich imagery and language to convey complex emotions. Barrett Browning's use of metaphor and repetition creates a powerful sense of loss and isolation in the first half of the poem, before shifting focus to the redemptive power of love in the second half. The poem serves as a testament to the human experience, highlighting the beauty and fragility of life and the power of love to transcend even the darkest of moments.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium of expression for the human soul. It is a form of art that transcends time and space, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "House of Clouds" is a perfect example of this. This classic poem is a beautiful representation of the human desire for freedom and the power of imagination.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a "house of clouds" that she has built in her mind. This house is a symbol of the speaker's imagination and her desire to escape from the mundane realities of life. The clouds represent the speaker's dreams and aspirations, and the house is a place where she can be free to explore them.

The speaker then goes on to describe the different rooms in her house of clouds. Each room represents a different aspect of the speaker's imagination. The first room is the "room of the sun," which represents the speaker's desire for warmth and light. The second room is the "room of the moon," which represents the speaker's desire for mystery and magic. The third room is the "room of the stars," which represents the speaker's desire for beauty and wonder.

As the poem progresses, the speaker's imagination becomes more vivid and intense. She describes the "room of the winds," where she can feel the power of the elements. She also describes the "room of the sea," where she can hear the sound of the waves and feel the salt spray on her face. These descriptions are so vivid that the reader can almost feel the same sensations as the speaker.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as the speaker describes the "room of the dead." This room represents the speaker's fear of death and her desire to escape it. However, the speaker realizes that she cannot escape death, and that it is a part of life. This realization is a turning point in the poem, as the speaker begins to accept the realities of life and death.

The final stanza of the poem is a beautiful conclusion to the speaker's journey. She realizes that her house of clouds is not just a place of escape, but a place of inspiration. She says, "And I said, I will build it again, / With walls that shall never decay; / And floors that shall never sustain / The weight of a mortal's clay." This final stanza is a testament to the power of imagination and the human spirit.

Overall, "House of Clouds" is a beautiful and inspiring poem that speaks to the human desire for freedom and the power of imagination. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's use of vivid imagery and powerful language creates a world that the reader can escape into. The poem is a reminder that even in the darkest moments of life, there is always hope and inspiration to be found.

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