From Aurora Leigh:

Thus is Art
Self-magnified in magnifying a truth
Which, fully recognized, would change the world
And shift its morals. If a man could feel,
Not one day, in the artist's ecstasy,
But every day, feast, fast, or working-day,
The spiritual significance burn through
The hieroglyphic of material shows,
Henceforward he would paint the globe with wings,
And reverence fish and fowl, the bull, the tree,
And even his very body as a man,–
Which now he counts so vile, that all the towns
Make offal of their daughters for its use
On summer-nights
, when God is sad in heaven
To think what goes on in his recreant world
He made quite other; while that moon he made
To shine there, at the first love's covenant,
Shines still, convictive as a marriage-ring
Before adulterous eyes.

Man believes that his body is vile. Because of that, citizens of towns kill women and turn them into offal? Something gruesome and totally cryptic. And whose is its use? I cannot understand.

What is the author trying to describe?

  • 4
    My OED says (sense 4) that offal can be "Refuse in general; rubbish, garbage" and figuratively (sense 5) "Refuse, offscourings, dregs, scum" (citing a use by Macaulay: "Wretches...whom every body now believes to have been... the offal of gaols and brothels") and attributively (sense 6b) "Outcast; worthless; vile." According to these senses EBB might be saying the towns turn their daughters into prostitutes. Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 1:03

1 Answer 1


One possible reading: “its” is “his very body as a man.” So, it could be a very circumlocutionary way of saying something like, “The physical urges of men are so base, women in every town die because of them.” Or, perhaps, that women are degraded, abandoned and treated like garbage.

Some context within the poem for the metaphor of daughters being killed for the use of men’s bodies was when Marian in Book 6 says she was “not seduced, but simply murdered,” that is, raped, and Aurora thinks to herself, “Marian is dead?”

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