In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Book 5 of Aurora Leigh, Browning remarks on the human inclination to ignore what is right in front of them—especially in regards to human emotion and greatness. Browning is aware that many people view the past as a more glorious time filled with heroes and fair maidens. She seems to disapprove of the notion that modern society does not possess its own heroes and villains.
While these men and women are immortalized in poetry and mythology, they were not in reality immortal. The men grew old and died. The women faded away. Children were born and died. And life was just as messy as in the present. Browning writes, “And Hector’s infant whimpered at a plume / As yours last Friday at a turkey-cock. / All actual heroes are essential men, / And all men possible heroes” (lines 149-153). Browning sees beyond the story to the real life experiences of men and women, and she urges others to acknowledge both the good and the bad.
Browning extends this view of the past by suggesting we look at the present in a similar manner. She writes, “Nay, if there’s room for poets in this world / A little overgrown (I think there is), / Their sole work is to represent the age, / Their age, not Charlemagne’s, --this live, throbbing age, / that brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires, and spends more passion, more heroic heat, / Betwixt the mirrors of its drawing-rooms, / Than Roland with his knights at Roncesvalles” (lines 200-207). For Browning, the present is just as alive as the past. Life continues on a chaotic and emotional journey that needs recording.
I think Browning’s point is that people always seem to underestimate the value and the interest of their life experiences. Things you haven’t been a part of often sound more interesting. However, Browning forces readers to see that the passion and reality in humans from every era is worth chronicling.