Robert Browning.

Selections from the poetical works of Robert Browning : from the sixth London edition (first and second series) online

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from brick
Distinct, instead of mortar, fierce

bright gold,
That gold of his I did cement them

with !
Let us but love each other. Must

you go ?
That cousin here again ? he waits

outside ?
Must see you you, and not with

me ? Those loans ?
More gaming debts to pay? you smiled

for that ?
Well, let smiles buy me ! have you

more to spend ?
While hand and eye and something

of a heart
Are left me, work's my ware, and

what's it worth ?
I'll pay my fancy. Only let rue

sit






80



THE BISHOP ORDERS HIS TOMB.



The gray remainder of the evening

out,

Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly
How I could paint, were I but back

in France,

One picture, just one more the Vir-
gin's face,
Not your's this time ! I want you at

my side
To hear them that is, Michel Ag-

nolo
Judge all I do and tell you of its

worth.
Will you ? To-morrow satisfy your

friend.

I take the subjects for his corridor,
Finish the portrait out of hand

there, there,
And throw him in another thing or

two
If he demurs : the whole should prove

enough
To pay for this same cousin's freak.

Beside,
What's better and what's all I care

about,
Get you the thirteen scudi for the

ruff!
Love, does that please you ? Ah, but

what does he.

The cousin ' what aoes ue co mease
vou more

T am grown oeaceru. as old age to-
night
regret little. ... wouid change still

.ess
Since tnere my past life lies, why

alter it ?
The very wrong to Francis ! it is

true

I took his coin, was tempted and com-
plied,
And built this house and sinned, and

all is said.
My father and my mother died of

want.
Well, had I riches of my own ? you

see
How one gets rich ! Let each one

bear his lot.
They were born poor, lived poor, and

poor they died :
And I have labored somewhat in my

time
And not been paid profusely. Some

good son
Paint my Two hundred pictures let

him try 1



No doubt, there's something strikes a

balance. Yes,
You loved me quite enough, it seems

to-night.
This must suffice me here. What

would one have ?
In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one

more chance
Four great walls in the New Jerusa

lem,
Meted on each side by the angel's

reed,

For Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo, and me
To cover the three first without a

wife,
While I have mine ! So still they

overcome
Because there's still Lucrezia, as I

choose.

Again the cousiu's whistle ! Go,
my love.



THE BISHOP ORDERS HIS
TOMB AT SAINT PRAX-



BOMB. 15

VANITY, saith the preacher, vanin*
Draw rouna my ued. : is Anseim keejv

ing bacK ?
Nephews sons mine ... ah God, I

know not ! Well
She, men would have to be your

mother once,
Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she

was !
What's done is done, and she is dead

beside,
Dead long ago, and I am Bishop

since,
And as she died so must we die our-

selves,
And thence ye may perceive the

world's a dream.
Life, how and what is it? As here I

lie
In this state-chamber, dying by de-

grees,
Hours and long hours in the dead

night, I ask
" Do I live, am I dead ' 7 : ' Peace

peace seems all.





THE BISHOP ORDERS HIS TOMB.




Saint Praxed's ever was the church

for peace ;
And so, about this tomb '. mine. I

fought
With tooth and nail to save my niche,

ye know :

Old Gandolf cozened me, despite

my care ;
Shrewd was that snatch from out the

corner South
He graced his carrion with, God curse

the same !
Yet still my niche is not so cramped

but thence

One sees the pulpit on the epistle-
side,
And somewhat of the choir, those

silent seats,

And up into the aery dome where live
The angels, and a sunbeam's sure to

lurk ;
And I shall fill my slab of basalt

there,
And 'neath my tabernacle take my

rest,
With those nine columns round me,

two and two,
The odd one at my feet where Anselm

stands :
Peach-blossom marble all, the rare,

the ripe
As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty

pulse.

Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-

stone,
Put me where I may look at him !

True peach,
Rosy and flawless : how I earned the

prize !
Draw close : that conflagration of my

church

What then ? So much was saved

if aught were missed !
My sons, ye would not be my death ?

Go dig
The white-grape vineyard where the

oil-press stood,
Drop water gently till the surface

sink,
And if ye find . . . Ah God, I know

not, I ! . . .
Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves

soft,

And corded up in a tight olive-frail,
Some lump, an God, of lapis lazuli,
Big as a Jew's head cut off at the

nape,
Blue as a vein o'er the Madonna's

breast . . .



Sons, all have I bequeathed you,

villas, all,
That brave Frascati villa with its

bath,
So, let the blue lump poise between

my knees,
Like God the Father's globe on both

his hands
Ye worship in the Jesu Church so

gay,
For Gandolf shall not choose but see

and burst !
Swift as a weaver's shuttle fleet our

years :
Man goeth to the grave, and where is

he?
Did I say, basalt for my slab, sons?

Black
'Twas ever antique-black I meant !

How else
Shall ye contrast my frieze to come

beneath ?
The bass-relief in bronze ye promised

me,
Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of,

and perchance
Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or

so,
The Saviour at his sermon on the

mount,
Saint Praxed in a glory, and one

Pan
Ready to twitch the Nymph's last

garment off,
And Moses with the tables . . . but I

know
Ye mark me not ! What do they

whisper thee,
Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah,

ye hope

To revel down my villas while I gasp
Bricked o'er with beggar's mouldy

travertine
Which Gandolf from his tomb-top

chuckles at !
Nay, boys, ye love me all of jasper,

then !
"Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest

I grieve
My bath must needs be left behind

alas !

One block, pure green as a pistachio-
nut,
There's plenty jasper somewhere in

the world
And have I not Saint Praxed's ear to

pray
Horses for ye, and brown Greek

manuscripts,






82



A TOCCATA OF GALUPPTS.



And mistresses with great smooth
marbly limbs ?

That's if ye carve my epitaph aright,

Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully's
every word,

No gaudy ware like Gandolf's second
line

Tully, my masters ? Ulpian serves
his need !

And then how I shall lie through cen-
turies,

And hear the blessed mutter of the
mass,

And see God made and eaten all day
long,

And feel the steady candle-flame, and
taste

Good strong thick stupefying incense-
smoke !

For as I lie here, hours of the dead
night,

Dying in state and by such slow de-
grees,

I fold my arms as if they clasped a
crook,

And stretch my feet forth straight as
store can point,

And let the bedclothes, for a mort-
cloth, drop

Into great laps and folds of sculptor's
work:

And as yon tapers dwindle, and
strange thoughts

Grow, with a certain humming in my
ears,

About Ine life before I lived this life,

And this life too, popes, cardinals,
and priests,

Saint Praxed at his sermon on the
mount,

Your tall pale mother with her talk-
ing eyes,

And new-found agate urns as fresh
as day,

And marble's language, Latin pure,
discreet,

- Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our
friend?



No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best !

Evil and brief hath been my pilgrim-
age.

All lapis, all, sons ! Else I give the
Pope

My villas ! Will ye ever eat my
heart ?

Ever your eyes were as a lizard's
quick,

They glitter like your mother's for
my soul,

Or ye would heighten n:y impover-
ished frieze,

Piece out its starved design, and fill
my vase

With grapes, and add a visor and a
Term,

And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx

That in his struggle throws the thyr-
sus down,

To comfort me on my entablature
I Whereon I am to lie" till I must ask
I " Do I live ? am I dead ? " There,
leave me, there !

For ye have stabbed me with ingrati-
tude

To death : ye wish it God, ye wish
it ! Stone

Gritstone, a-crumble ! Clammy
squares which sweat

As if the corpse they keep were ooz-
ing through

And no more lapis to delight the
world !

Well go ! I bless ye. Fewer tapers
there,

But in a row: and, going, turn your
backs

Ay, like departing altar-minis-
trants,

And leave me in my church, the
church for peace,

That I may watch at leisure if he
leers

Old Gandclf at me, from his onion-
stone,

As still he envied me, so fair she
was !



A TOCCATA OF GALUPPI'S.

i.

GALITPPI, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find !

1 can hardly misconceive you ; it would prove me deaf and blind:
But, although I take your meaning, 'tis with such a heavy mind 1






A TOCCATA OF GALUPPrS.




Here you coine with your old music, and here's all tbe good it brings.
What, they lived once thus at Venice where the merchants were the kings,
Where Saint Mark's is, where the Doges used to wed the sea with rings ?

in.

Ay, because the sea's the street there; and 'tis arched by ... what you call
. . . Shy lock's bridge with houses on it, where they kept the carnival:
I was never out of England it's as if I saw it all.

IV.

Did young people take their pleasure when the sea was warm in May ?
Balls and masks begun at midnight, burning ever to mid-daj r ,
When they made up fresh adventures for the morrow, do you say ?

v.

Was a lady such a lady, cheeks so round and lips so red,
On her neck the small face buoyant, like a bell-flower on its bed,
O'er the breast's superb abundance where a man might base his head ?

VI.

Well, and it was graceful of them : they'd break talk off and afford

She, to bite her mask's black velvet, he, to finger on his sword,
While you sat and played Toccatas, stately at the clavichord ?

VII.

What ? Those lesser thirds so plaintive, sixths diminished, sigh on sigh,
Told them something? Those suspensions, those solutions "Must we

die ? "
Those commiserating sevenths " Life might last ! we can but try ! "

vin .

"Were you happv?" "Yes." "And are you still as happy?" "Yes.
Andyou?"'

"Then, more kisses !" "Did / stop them, when a million seemed so

few ? "
Hark, the dominant's persistence till it must be answered to !



So, an octave struck the answer. Oh, they praised you, I dare say !
" Brave Galuppi ! that was music ! good alike at grave and gay !
I can always leave off talking when I hear a master play ! "

x.

Then they left you for their pleasure : till in due time, one by one,
Some with lives that came to nothing, some with deeds as well undone,
Death stepped tacitly, and took them where they never see the sun.



But when T sit down to reason, think to take my stand nor swerve,
While I triumph o'er a secret wrung from nature's close reserve,
In you come with your cold music till I creep through every nerve.

XII.

Yes, you, like a ghostly cricket, creaking where a house was burned:
" Dust and ashes, dead and done with, Venice spent what Venice earned.
The soul, doubtless, is immortal where a soul can be discerned.






84



HOW IT STRIKES A CONTEMPORARY.



" Yours for instance: you know physics, something of geology,
Mathematics are your pastime ; souls shall rise in their degree ;
Butterflies may dread extinction, you'll not die, it cannot be !



" As for Venice and her people, merely born to bloom and drop,
Here on earth they bore their fruitage, mirth and folly were the crop;
What of soul was left, I wonder, when the kissing had to stop ?



" Dust and ashes ! " So you creak it, and I want the heart to scold.
Dear dead women, with such hair, too what's become of all the gold
Used to hang and brush their bosoms ? I feel chilly and grown old.



HOW IT STRIKES A CON-
TEMPORARY.

I ONLY knew one poet in nay life :
And this, or something like it, was
his way.

You saw go up and down Vallado-

lid,
A. man of mark, to know next time

you saw.

His very serviceable suit of black
Was courtly once and conscientious

still,
And many might have worn it, though

none did :
The cloak, that somewhat shone and

showed the threads,
Had purpose, and the ruff, signifi-
cance.
He walked, and tapped the pavement

with his cane,
Scenting the world, looking it full in

face :
An old dog, bald and blindish, at his

heels.
They turned up, now, the alley by

the church,
That leads no whither ; now, they

breathed themselves
On the main promenade just at the

wrong time.

You'd come upon his scrutinizing hat,
Making a peaked shade blacker than

itself
Against the single window spared

some house

Intact yet with its mouldered Moor-
ish work,



Or else surprise the ferrel of his stick
Trying the mortar's temper 'tween

the chinks
Of some new shop a-building, French

and fine.
He stood and watched the cobbler at

his trade,

The man who slices lemons into drink.
The coffee-roaster's brazier, and the

boys
That volunteer to help him turn its

winch.
He glanced o'er books on stalls with

half an eye,
And fly-leaf ballads on the vendor's

string,
And broad-edge bold-print posters by

the wall.
He took such cognizance of men and

things,

If any beat a horse, you felt he saw;
If any cursed a woman, he took note;
Yet stared at nobody, you stared at

him,
And found, less to your pleasure than

surprise,
He seemed to know you and expect

as much.
So, next time that a neighbor's

tongue was loosed,
It marked the shameful and notorious-

fact
We had among us, not so much a

spy.

As a recording chief-inquisitor,

The town's true master if the town

but knew !

We merely kept a governor for form,
While this man walked about and

took account






How it strikes a Contemporary. Page 84.








HOW IT STRIKES A CONTEMPORARY.



85



Of all thought, said and acted, then

went home,
And wrote it fully to our Lord the

King
Who has an itch to know things, he

knows why,
And reads them in his bedroom of a

night.
Oh, you might smile ! there wanted

not a touch,
A tang of . . . well, it was not wholly

ease.
As back into your mind the man's

look came.

Stricken in years a little, such a brow
His eyes had to live under! clear

as flint

On either side o' the formidable nose
Curved, cut and colored like an eagle's

claw.
Had he to do with A.'s surprising

fate?

When altogether old B. disappeared,
And young C. got his mistress, was't

our friend,
His letter to the King, that did it

all?
What paid the bloodless man for so

much pains?

Our Lord the King has favorites mani-
fold,
And shifts his ministry some once a

month :
Our city gets new governors at

whiles,
But never word or sign, that I could

hear,

Notified, to this man about the streets,
The King's approval of those letters

conned
The last thing duly at the dead of

night.
Did the man love his office ? Frowned

our Lord,

Exhorting when none heard "Be-
seech me not !
Too far above my people, beneath

me !
I set the watch, how should the

people know ?
Forget them, keep me all the more in

mind ! "
Was some such understanding 'twixt

the two ?

I found no truth in one report at

least

That if you tracked him to his home,
down lanes



Beyond the Jewry, and as clean to

pace,
You found he ate his supper in a

room
Blazing with lights, four Titians on

the wall,
And twenty naked girls to change his

plate !
Poor man, he lived another kind of

life
In that new stuccoed third house by

the bridge,
Fresh-painted, rather smart than

otherwise !
The whole street might o'erlook him

as he sat,
Leg crossing leg, one foot on the dog's

back,
Playing a decent cribbage with his

maid
(Jacynth, you're sure her name was)

o'er the cheese
And fruit, three red halves of starved

winter-pears,

Or treat of radishes in April. Nine,
Ten, struck the church clock, straight

to bed went he.

My father like the man of sense he

was.
Would poin him out to me a dozen

times
" St St." h 3'd whisper, " the Corre-

2idor ' ,

I had been used to think that person-
age
Was one with lacquered breeches,

lustrous belt,

And feathers like a forest in his hat,
Who blew a trumpet and proclaimed

the news,
Announced the bull-fights, gave each

church its turn,

And memorized the miracle in vogue!
He had a great observance from us

boys ;
We were in error ; that was not the

man.

I'd like now, yet had haply been
afraid,

To have just looked, when this man
came to die,

And seen who lined the clean gay
garret sides,

And stood about the neat low truckle-
bed,

With the heavenly manner of reliev-
ing guard







86



PROTUS.



Here had been, mark, the general-in-

chief,
Through a whole campaign of the

world's life and death,
Doing the King's work all the dim

day long,
In his old coat and up to knees in

mud,
Smoked like a herring, dining on a

crust,
And, now the day was won, relieved

at once !
No further show or need of that old

coat,
You are sure, for one thing! Bless

us, all the while
How sprucely we are dressed out,

you and I !

A second, and the angels alter that.
Well, I could never write a verse,

could you ?
Let's to the Prado and make the most

of time.



PROTUS.

AMONG these latter busts we count
by scores,

Half-emperors and quarter-emperors,

Each with his bay-leaf fillet, loose-
thonged vest,

Loric and low-browed Gorgon on the
breast,

One loves a baby face, with violets
there,

Violets instead of laurel in the hair,

As those were all the little locks could
bear.

Now read here. " Protus ends a pe-
riod

Of empery beginning with a god ;
Born in the porphyry chamber at

Byzant,
Queens by his cradle, proud and min-

istrant :
And if he quickened breath there,

t' would like fi re
Pantingly through the dim vast realm

transpire.
A fame that he was missing, spread

afar :
The world, from its four corners, rose

in war,



Till he was borne out on a balcony

To pacify the world when it should
see.

The captains ranged before him, one,
his hand

Made baby points at, gained the chief
command.

And day by day more beautiful he
grew

In shape, all said, in feature and in hue,

While young Greek sculptors gaz-
ing on the child

Became, with old Greek sculpture,
reconciled.

Already sages labored to condense

In easy tomes a life's experience :

And artists took grave counsel to
impart

In one breath and one hand-sweep,
all their art,

And make his graces prompt as blos-
soming

Of plentifully watered palms in spring:

Since well beseems it, whoso mounts
the throne,

For beauty, knowledge, strength,
should stand alone,

And mortals love the letters of his



Stop ! Have you turned two pages ?

Still the same.
New reign, same date. The scribe

goes on to say
How that same year, on such a month

and day,
" John the Pannonian, groundedly

believed
A blacksmith's bastard, whose hard

hand reprieved
The Empire from its fate the year

before,
Came, had a mind to take the crown,

and wore
The same for six years (during which

the Huns
Kept off their fingers from us), til!

his sons
Put something in his liquor " and

so forth.
Then a new reign. Stay "Take at

its just worth "

(Subjoins an annotator) "What I give
As hearsay. Some think, John let

Protus live
And slip away. 'Tis said, he reached

man's age
At some blind northern court ; made

first a page,







MASTER HUGUES OF SAXE-GOTHA.



87



Then tutor to the children ; last, of
use

About the hunting stables. I deduce

He wrote the little tract ' On worm-
ing dogs,'

Whereof the name in sundry cata-
logues

Is extant yet. A Protus of the race

Is rumored to have died a monk in
Thrace,

And, if the same, he reached senili-
ty."

Here's John the smith's rough-ham-
mered head. Great eye,

Gross jaw and griped lips do what
granite can

To give you the crown-grasper.
"What a man !



MASTER HUGUES OF SAXE-
GOTHA.



HIST, but a word, fair and soft !
Forth and be judged, Master

Hugues !
Answer the question I've put you so

oft :

What do you mean by your moun-
tainous fugues ?
See, we're alone in the loft,



I, the poor organist here,

Hugues, the composer of note,
Dead though, and done with, this

many a year :
Let's have a colloquy, something to

quote,
Make the world prick up its ear !



See, the church empties apace :

Fast they extinguish the lights.
Hallo thero, sacristan ! Five min-
utes' grace !

Here's a crank pedal wants set-
ting to rights,
Balks one of holding the base.



See, our huge house of the sounds,

Hushing its hundreds at once,
Bids the last loiterer back to his

bounds !
Oh, you may challenge them !

not a response
Get the church-saints on their rounds!



(Saints go their rounds, who shall

doubt ?

March, with the moon to admire,
Up nave, down chancel, turn tran-
sept about,
Supervise all betwixt pavement and

spire,
Put rats and mice to the rout



Aloys and Jurien and Just

Order things back to their place,
Have a sharp eye lest the candlesticks

rust,

Rub the church-plate, darn the sac-
rament-lace,
Clear the desk-velvet of dust.)



Here's your book, younger folks

shelve !
Played I not off-hand and run-

ningly,
Just now, your masterpiece, hard

number twelve ?
Here's what should strike, could

one handle it cunningly :
Help the axe, give it a helve !

VIII.

Page after page as I played,

Every bar's rest, where one wipes
Sweat from one's brow, I looked up

and surveyed,
O'er my three claviers, yon forest

of pipes
Whence you still peeped in the shade.



Sure you were wishful to speak,

You, with brow ruled like a score,
Yes, and eyes buried in pits on each

cheek,
Like two great breves, as they

wrote them of yore,
Each side that bar, your straight beak!












" r> 88 MASTER HUGHES OF SAKE-GOT HA. ^




X.


XVI.






Sure you said "Good, the mere


One is incisive, corrosive ;






notes !


Two retorts, nettled, curt, crepi-






Still, could'st thou take my intent,


tant :






Know what procured me our Com-


Three makes rejoinder, expansive,






pany's votes


explosive ;






A master were lauded and sciolists


Four overbears them all, strident






shent,


and strepitant :






Parted the sheep from the goats ! "


Five . . . O Danaides, O Sieve !






XI.


XVII.






"Well then, speak up, never flinch !
Quick, ere my candle's a snuff
Burnt, do you see? to its uttermost


Now, they ply axes and crowbars ;
Now, they prick pins at a tissue
Fine as a skein of the casuist Escobar's






inch


"Worked on the bone of a lie. To






I believe in you, but that's not


what issue ?






enough :
Give my conviction a clinch !


Where is our gain at the Two-bars ?








XVIII.






XII.

First you deliver your phrase
Nothing propound, that I see,


Est fur/a, volritur rota.
On we drift : where looms the dim
port ?






Fit in itself for much blame or much


One, Two, Three, Four, Five, contrib






praise
Answered no less, where no answer
needs be :
Off start the Two on their ways.


ute their quota ;
Something is gained, if cne caught
but the import :
Show it us, Hugues of Saxe-Gotha !






XIII.


XIX.






Straight must a Third interpose,
"Volunteer needlessly help ;
In strikes a Fourth, a Fifth thrusts in


What with affirming, denying,
Holding, risposting, subjoining,
All's like . . . it's like . . . for an in






his nose,
So the cry's open, the kennel's


stance I'm trying . . .
There ! See our roof, its gilt mould.






a-yelp,
Argument's hot to the close.


ing and groining
Under those spider-webs lying !






XIV.








One dissertates, he is candid ;
Two must discept, has distin-
guished ;


XX.

So your fugue broadens and thickens,
Greatens and deepens and length-






Three helps the couple, if ever yet
man did '


ens,
Till we exclaim " But where's






Four protests ; Five makes a dart at
the thing wished :
Back to One, goes the case bandied.


music, the dickens ?
Blot ye the gold, while your spider-
web strengthens
Blacked to the stoutest of tickens ? "






XV.








One says his say with a difference ;
More of expounding, explaining !
All now is wrangle, abuse, and vocif-


XXI.

I for man's effort am zealous :
Prove me such censure unfounded ! t






1 f erance ;


Seems it surprising a lover grows 1 I






Now there's a truce, all's subdued,


jealous






self-restraining :


Hopes 'twas for something, his or-






Five, though, stands out all the stiff er


gan-pipes sounded.






hence.


Tiring three boys at the bellows ?






V (> *J






^~j 1 t 1 s < ~* a 1 ^









ABT VOGLER.



89



Is it your moral of Life ?

Such a web, simple and subtle,
Weave we on earth here in impotent

strife,

Backward and forward each throw-
ing his shuttle,
Death ending all with a knife ?



Online LibraryRobert BrowningSelections from the poetical works of Robert Browning : from the sixth London edition (first and second series) → online text (page 10 of 31)