From Aurora Leigh:

Poor child! I would have mended it with gold,
Until it gleamed like St. Sophia's dome
When all the faithful troop to morning prayer:
But he, he nipped the bud of such a thought
With that cold Leigh look which I fancied once,
And broke in, 'Henceforth she was called his wife.
'His wife required no succour: he was bound
'To Florence, to resume this broken bond:
'Enough so. Both were happy, he and Howe,
'To acquit me of the heaviest charge of all–'
At which I shut my tongue against my fly
And struck him; 'Would he carry,–he was just,–
'A letter from me to Aurora Leigh,
'And ratify from his authentic mouth
'My answer to her accusation?'–'Yes,
'If such a letter were prepared in time.'
–He's just, your cousin,–ay, abhorrently.

What does this mean? Is it some saying or proverb?

  • 1
    It's hard for me to keep track of who is saying what here, and impossible to understand what they are saying. I would have thought 'At which I shut my tongue against my fly' meant 'At which I refrained from uttering sharp words' or something, as in letting fly a flight of arrows, a volley, a zinger. But '...and struck him' seems to indicate the narrator did reply in a forceful way. EBB sure wrote in a hard-for-me-to-understand way! – kimchi lover Dec 25 '17 at 18:08

The first edition of the poem (Chapman & Hall, London, 1857) has shot, not shut:

–At which I shot my tongue against my fly
And struck him;

Subsequent editions by Chapman & Hall also have shot; the Internet Archive has the third (1857) and fifth (1860) editions. It was in the early U.S. editions, for example C. S. Francis & Co., New York (1857) that the word was changed to shut.

Almost certainly shut is a misprint, because the change makes nonsense of the line, while the original version is quite clear: it is a metaphor in which the writer of the letter (Lady Waldemar) imagines herself a frog shooting out her tongue at a fly and striking it (‘him’). In the metaphor the fly stands for Rowney Leigh, whom she has caught in her trap.

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