So, I've been trying to read "The Autumn" by Elizabeth Barret Browning. There, I stumbled over the following verse:

Come autumn's scathe — come winter's cold —
Come change — and human fate!
Whatever prospect Heaven doth bound,
Can ne'er be desolate.

I wonder what the word "come" stands for in this sentence. Should it be understood as "Let autumn's scathe come!", or "Autumn's scathe will come", or "Even when autumn's scathe comes...", or "Even though autumn's scathe will come..."?
Also, am I getting it right that the second sentence means "Whatever prospect Heaven does bound, it [prospect] can never be desolate"? If I am, why is the verb "bind" in its past tense form, while "doth" ("does") stands in present? Why is it not "does bind"? I guess that archaic verb forms might differ from what we have now, but I would really like to know the reasoning behind it.
Thank you in advance.

  • Come change – when change comes. It is poetry and the word order doesn't always follow the rules for prose. The idiom can be seen in phrases like cometh the hour, cometh the man too. – Weather Vane Jan 5 at 18:44
  • I guess that bound is like "I am bound to get the job" - Used to emphasize that one is sure of something. – Weather Vane Jan 5 at 18:55
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    @WeatherVane, I don't think that the words- "come change" means- "when the change comes". The author is probably beckoning change (and other things) to come. – lee Jan 6 at 6:13

First, the meaning in less poetic diction is “Ignore the inevitability that winter’s cold will come.” I suspect that you are correct that technically it means “Let change come,” but we really have no choice in the matter: it will come with or without our consent.

It is used in part to maintain the meter and in part to parallel the imperatives in the first stanza.

Heaven doth bound

is a poet’s play on words. “Heaven” may be used in the sense of “sky” or as an allusion to “God.” “Bound” is a present tense as you see. The verb “bound” has the sense of “limit” or “to set a boundary line” rather than “tightly constrain” as the verb “bind” does. The past participle of “bound” is “bounded” rather than “bound.” So the literal meaning is “whatever we see on the horizon.” But the play on words allows a reading (a misreading?) of “whatever fate God has bound us to” using the past participle of “bind.” Of course, I do not know what was in her mind, but the similarity of “bound” and the past tense of “bind” are things poets hear. And the literal meaning harks back to the earlier line in the same stanza: “the sky is round them still.”

We are not in the business of literary criticism, but it is a very tight though very Victorian poem.

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