"Discontent" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

Light human nature is too lightly tost
And ruffled without cause, complaining on—
Restless with rest, until, being overthrown,
It learneth to lie quiet. Let a frost
Or a small wasp have crept to the inner-most
Of our ripe peach, or let the wilful sun
Shine westward of our window,—straight we run
A furlong's sigh as if the world were lost.
But what time through the heart and through the brain
God hath transfixed us
,—we, so moved before,
Attain to a calm. Ay, shouldering weights of pain,
We anchor in deep waters, safe from shore,
And hear submissive o'er the stormy main
God's chartered judgments walk for evermore.

What is the meaning of the phrase in bold? It's hard to understand..

"But since the moment when God has transfixed us through the heart and brain"? Does it mean "since the moment we started to believe in God"?

  • 3
    what time = at the moment when. God is subject of the verb "hath transifixed" But when God hath transfixed us through the heart and through the brain, we, [who were] so moved [see tost] before, attain to a calm.
    – TimR
    Nov 11, 2017 at 14:27
  • 3
    It's an Early Modern English construction with an implicit at; the construction lingered into the 19th century in poetry. Nov 11, 2017 at 14:46
  • "Let a frost...have crept" is an interesting construction.
    – TimR
    Nov 11, 2017 at 17:20

1 Answer 1


Well, it's poetry, so as StoneyB says in his comment, Browning uses an archaic English construction "(at) what time", which might have given the line a sense of weight and history to her contemporary readers, but which would probably not be used in ordinary conversation.

"(At) What time" simply means "when".

But when (through the heart and through the brain) God hath transfixed us (we become calm)

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