Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 108 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 108 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

To boot (as if one introduced Saint Anne

By bold conjecture to complete the group)

And juTemle Pompilia with her baM,

Who, seeking safety in the wilderness,

Wero all surprised by Herod, while out-

In sleep beneath a palm-tree by a spring.
And killed — the very droumstance I paint,
Moring the pity and terror of my lords —
Exactnr so haye 1, a month at least.
Tour Fiscal, made me cognizant of facts.
Searched out, pried into, pressed the meaning

Of eyery piece of eyidence in point.
How bloody Herod slew these innocents, —
Until the glad result is gained, the group
D e monstrably presented in detail.
Their slumber and his onslaught, — like as life.
Tea, and. availing me of help allowed
By law, discreet provision lest my lords
Be too much troubled by effront«ry, —
The rack, law plies suspected crime withal —
(Law that hath listened while the Ivrist sang

Lene tormentum ingenio admoves,"
(3ently thou joggest dv a twinge the wit,
" Plerumque duro^*^ else wero slow to blab I)
Through this concession my full cup runs o'er :
The guilty owns his guilt without reserve.
Therefore by part ami part I clutch my case
Which, in entirety now, — momentous task, —
My lords demand, so ronder them I must,
Since, one poor pleading moro and I have done.
But shall I ply my papers, play my proo&.
Parade my studies, fifty in a row.
As though the Court wero ^et in pupilage.
Claimed not the artist's ultimate appeal ?
Much rather let me soar the height prescribed
And, bowing low, proffer my picturo's self !
No moro of proof, disproof, — such virtue was.
Such vice was never in Pompilia, now 1

Digitized by




Far better saj '' Behold Pompilia ! '' — for

I leare the family as mimanaffeable.

And stick to just one portrait, bat Ufe-eize.)

Hath oalomny impntea to the fair

A blemish, mole on cheek or wart on chin,

Mnoh more, blind hidden horrors best nn-

Shan I descend to prore von, point by point.
Never was knock-knee Known nor spUy-zoot

In Phryne ? (I must let the portrait go.
Content me with the model, I believe) —
— I prove this ? An indignant sweep of hand.
Dash at and doin^ away with drapery,
And, — nse vonr eyes, Athenians, smooth she

Or, — since my client can no longer smile.
And more appropriate instances abound. —
What is this Tale of Tarqnin, how the slave
Was caught by him, preferred to Collatine?
Thou, even from thy corpse-clothes virginal,
Look'st the lie dead, Lucretia I

Thus at least
I, by the ^fuidanoe of antiquity,
Cpur one mfalHble guide,) now operate.
Sure that the innocence thus shown is safe ;
Sure, too, that, while I plead, the echoes cry
(Lend my weak voice thy trump, sonorous

** Monstrosity the Phrynean shape shall roar,
Lucretia's soul comport with Tarquin*s lie.
When thistles grow on vines or thorns yield figs.
Or oblique sentence leave this judgment^seatl "

A great theme : maj mv strength be adequate I

For — paint Pompilia, dares my feebleness ?

How did I unaware engage so much

— Find myself undertaking to produce

A faultless nature in a flawless form ?

What 's here ? Oh, turn aside nor dare the

Of such a crown, such constellation, say.
As jewels here thy front, Humanity I
Plrst, infancy, DeUucid as a pearl ;
Then, childhood — stone which, dewdrop at the

(An old conjecture) sucks, by dint of fpoe,
Blue from the sky and turns to sapphire so :
Yet both these gems eclipsed by^ last and best.
Womanliness and wifehood opalme.
Its milk-white pallor, — chastitv^ — suffused
With here and there a tint and hmt of flame, —
Desire, — the lapidary loves to find.
Such jewels bind conspicuously thy browj
Pompilia, infant J child, maid, woman, wife —
Crown the ideal m our earth at last !
What should a faculty like mine do here ?
Close eyes, or else, the rashlier hurry hand I

Which is to say, — lose no time but begin !

Sermodnando ne declamem^ Sirs,

Ultra cUpsydram^ as our preachers smile.

Lest I exceed my hour-flrlass. Whereupon,

As Flaocus prompts, I dare the epic plunge —

Begin at once with marriage, up till when

Little or nothing would arrest your love.

In the easeful life o' the lady ; lamb and lamb.

How do they differ P £jiow one, you know all

Manners of maidenhood : mere maiden she.
And since all lambs are like in more than fleece.
Prepare to find that, lamb-like, she too frisks —
O the weaker sex, my lords, the weaker sex I
To whom, the Teian teaches us, for gift.
Not strength, — man's dower, —but beauty^

nature gave.
" Beauty in lieu of spears, in lieu of shields I "
And what is beauty's sure concomitant.
Nay, intimate essential character,
But melting wiles, deliciousest deceits.
The whole redoubted armory of love ?
Therefore of vernal pranks, dishevelHn^
O* the hair of youth that dances April m,
And easily-imaged Hebe-slips
O'er sward which May makes overemooth for

foot —
These shall we pry into ? — or wiselier wink,
Though numerous and dear they may have

For lo. advancing Hymen and his pomp t
Disceaunt nunc amores^ loves, farewell !
Maneat amor, let love, the sole, remain t
Farewell to dewiness and prime of life I
Remains the rough determined day: dance

To work, with plough and harrow I What

'T is Guido henceforth guides Pompilia's step.
Cries, *^ No more friskings o'er the foodful s^ebe,.
Else, *ware the whip I" Accordingly, — first

O' the thong, — we hear that his young wife

was barred,
Cohibitafuit, from the old free life,
Vitam liberiorem ducere.
Demur we? Nowise: heifer brave the hind ?
We seek not there should lapse the natural law,.
The proper pietv to lord and king
And husband : let the heifer bear the yoke !
Only, I crave he cast not patience off.
This hind ; for deem you she endures the whip.
Nor winces at the goad, nay, restive, kicks ?
What if the adversary's charge be just.
And all untowardly she pursue her wa^r
With groan and grunt, though hind stnke ne'er-

so hard?
If petulant remonstrance made appeal.
Unseasonable, o'erprotracted, — it
Importunate challenge taxed the public ear
When silence more decorously had served
For protestation, — if Pompiuan plaint
Wrought but to aggravate Gnidonion ire, —
Why, such mishaps, ungainly^ though they be»
Ever companion change, are incident
To altered modes and novelty of life :
The philosophic mind expects no less,
Smihngly knows and names the crisis, sits
Waiting till old things go and new arrive.
Therefore, I hold^ a husband but inept
Who turns impatient at such transit-time.
As if this running from the rod would last I

Since, even while I speak^ the end ib reached :
Success awaits the soon-disheartened man.
The parents turn their backs and leave the

Digitized by




The wife may wail but none shall intervene :
He hath attained his object, grroom and bride
Partake the nuptial bower no soul can see,
Old thinffs are passed and all again is new.
Oyer and grone the obstacles to peace,
Novorum — tenderly the Mantuan turns
The expression, some such puxpose in his eye —
Nascitur ordo ! Every storm is laid.
And forth from plain each pleasant herb may

Each bloom of wifehood in abevanoe late :
(Confer a passage in the Canticles.)

But what if , as 't is wont with plant and wife,
Flowers — after a suppression to good end,
Still, when they do spring forth — sprout here,

spread there.
Anywhere likelier than beneath the foot
O* uie lawful ^:ood-man gardener of the nound ?
He dug and dibbled, sowed and watered, — still
*T is a chance wayfarer shall pluck the increase.
Just so, respecting persons not too much.
The lady, foes allege, put forth each charm
And proper floweret oi feminity
To wnosoever had a nose to smell
Or breast to deck : what if the charge be true ?
The fault were graver had she looked with

Fastidiously appointed who should grasp.
Who, in the whole town, go without the prize I
To nobody she destined donative.
But, first come was first served, the accuser

Put case her sort of ... in this kind . . .

Were many and oft and indiscriminate —
Impute ye as the action were prepense.
The gift particular, arguing inalice so r
Whion butterfly of the wide air shall bxag
** I was preferred to Quido '* — when 't is clear
The cup, he quaffs at. lay with olent breast
Open to gnat, midge, nee and moth as well ?
One chafice entertained the company ;
And if its peevish lord object the more.
Mistake, misname such bountv in a wife.
Haste we to advertise him — onarm of cheek,
Lustre of eve, allowance of the lip.
All womanly components in a spouse.
These are no household-bread each stranger's

Leaves by so much diminished for the mouth
O* the master of the house at supper-time :
But rather like a lump of spice they He,
Morsel of myrrh, which scents the neighborhood
Yet greets its lord no lighter by a gram.

Nay, even so, he shall be satisfied !
Concede we there was reason in his wrong,
Grant we his grievance and content the man I
For lo, Pompuia, she submits herself ;
Ere three revolving years have crowued their

Off and away she puts this same reproach
Of lavish bounij, inconsiderate gift
O' the sweets of wifehood storea to other ends :
No longer shall he bkune ** She none excludes,''
But substitute '' She laudably sees all,
Seazohea the beat oat and selects the same."

For who is here, long sous^t and latest found.
Waiting his^tum unmoved amid the whirl,
** CoHitans in /evt/ote," — Ua, my lords ?
Calm in his levity, — indulge the quip I —
Since 't is a levite bears the bell awav.
Parades him henceforth as Pompilia^s choice.
'T Lb no ignoble object^ husband I Doubt 'st ?
When here comes tripping Flaccus with hia

** Trust me. no miscreant singled from the mob,
Crede non iuum tibi de tceUsta
PUbe deUctum^^'' but a man of mark,
A priest, dost hear? Why then, submit thy-
self I
Priest, ay, and very phcenix of such fowl.
Well-bom, of culture, ^oung and vigorous.
Comely too, since precise the precept points—*
On the selected levite be there found
Nor mole nor scar nor blemish, lest the mind
Come all uncandid through the thwarting flesh !
Was not the son of Jesse ruddy, sleek.
Pleasant to look on, pleasant every way ?
Since well he smote the harp and sweetly sang.
And danced till Abigail came out to see.
And seeing smiled and smiling mimstered
The raisin-cluster and the cake of figs,
^th ready meal refreshed the gif tM vouth.
Till Nabal, who was absent shearing sheep.
Felt heart sink, took to bed (discreetly done —
Thejr mi^ht have been beforehand with him else)
And died — would Guide have behaved as well ?
But ah^ the faith of earl^ days is ^ne,
Heu pntcajidet I Nothing died m him
Save courtesy, sood sense and proper trust.
Which, when tney ebb from souls they diould

Discover stub, weed, sludge and ugliness.
(The Po^, we know, is Neapolitan
And relishes a sesrside simile.)
Deserted by each charitable wave.
Guide, left high and dry, shows jealous now I
Jealous avouched, paraded : tax the fool
With any peccadillo, he responds,
** Truly I beat my wife through jealousy,
Imprisoned her and punished otherwise.
Being jealous : now would threaten, sword in

Now manage to mix poison in her sight.
And so forth : jealously I dealt, in fine."
Concede thus much, and what remains to prove ?
Have I to teach mv masters what effect
Hath jealousy, and how, befooling men.
It makes false true, abuses eye and ear.
Turns mere mist adamantine, loads with sound
Silence, and into void and vacancy ^
Crowds a whole phalanx of conspiring foes ?
Therefore who owns ** I watchea with jealousT
My wife," adds " for no reason in the world I "
YHiat need that, thus proved madman, he re-
**The thing I thought a serpent proved an

Perchance the right Comaochian, dx foot

And not an inch too long for that rare pie
(Master Aroangeli has heard of such)
Whose succulence makes fasting bearable ;
Meant to regale some moody splenetic

Digitized by




Who, pleasing to mistake the donor^s gift,
8p3riiig I know not what Lenuean snake
I^ the Insoions Lenten <

oreatare, stamps for-

The dainty in the dnst.

Enough ! Prepare.
Snbh Innes annonnoed, for downright lunacy I
Insanit Aomo, threat snooeeds to threat.
And hlow redoubles blow, — his wife, the

But, if a bloek, shall not she jar the hand
That buffets her ? The iniurious idle stone
Rebounds and hits the head of him who flung.
Causeless rage breeds, i' the wife now, rageful

Tyranny Wkes rebellion from its sleep.
Rebellion, say I ? — rather, self-defence,
Xiaudable wish to live and see good days,
Pricks our Pompilia now to fly the fool
JBj any means, at any price, — nay, more,
Iniy, most of all, il the yery interest
O' the fool that, baffled of his blind desire
At any price, were truliest yictor so.
.Shall he effect his crime and lose his soul ?
No, dictates duty to a loying wife !
Far better that me unconsunmiate blow,
Adnntly balked by her, should back again,
- Correctly ely admonish his own pate I

Crime then, ~ the Court is with me? — she

must crush:
How crush it ? By all efllcadous means :
And fhese, — why, what in woman should they

*'Wiih horns the bull, with teeth the lion

'To woman,'' quoth the lyrist quoted late,
**Nor teeth, nor horns, but beauty, Kature

gaye I "
Pretty i* the Pagan I Who dares blame the use
Of armory thus allowed for natural, —
ETclaim against a seeming^ubious play
O* the sole permitted weajpon, spear and shield
Alike, resorted to i* the circumstance
By poor Pompilia ? Grant she somewhat plied
Arts that allure, the magic nod and wink.
The witdiery of gesture, spell of word.
Whereby the likelier to enlist this friend.
Yea stnmger, as a champion on her side ?
Such man, being but mere man, ('t was all she

Must be made sure by beauty's silken bond,
'The weakness that subdues the strong, and

Wisdom alike and folly. Grant the tale
O' the husband, which is false, were proyed

and true
To the letter — or the letters, I should say,
Abominations he professed to find
And Bx upon Pompilia and the priest, —
Allow them hers —for though she could not

In early dajrs of Eye-like innocence
That plucked no apple from the knowledge-
Tet, at the Serpent's word. Eye plucks and eats
And knows — e^eoially how to read and write :

And so Pom|nlia, — as the moye o' the maw.
Quoth Permus, makes a parrot bid **Good

A crow salute the concaye, and a pie
Endeayor at proficiency in speech, —
So she, through hunger after fellowship,
May well haye learned, though late, to play the

As indeed, there 's one letter on the list
Explicitly declares did happen here,
"xou thought my letters could be none of

She tells her parents ~ ** mine, who wanted

But now I bays the skill, and write, you see I *'
She needed write loye-letters, so die Ieamed«
^^NeuatCLM art\fex sequi voces " —though
This letter nowise 'scapes the common lot,
But lies i' the condemnation of the rest.
Found by the husband's self who foiged them

Yet, for the sacredness of argument.

For this once an exemption shall it plead — -

Anything, anything to let the wheels

Of argument run gubly^ to their goal I

Concede she wrote (which were prepost e rous)

This and the other epistle, — what of it ?

Where does the figment toud^ her candid

Being in peril of her life — " my life.
Not an hour's purchase," as the letter runs,—
And haying but one stay in this extreme.
Out of the wide world but a single friena —
What could she other than resort to him.
And how with any hope resort but thus f
Shall modesty dare bid a stranger braye


[*, disgrace, nay death in her behalf —
to entice the sternness of the steel

spare loye's loadstone moying manlj


— Most of all, when such mind is hampered so
By growth of circumstance athwart the life
O the natural man, that decency forbids
He stoop and take the common priyilege.
Say frank " I loye," as all the yulgar do.
A man is wedded to philosophy.
Married to statesmanship : a man is old ;
A man is fettered by the foolishness
He took for wisdom and talked ten yettn

A man is, like our friend the Canon here,
A priest, and wicked if he break his yow:
Shall he dare loye, who may be Pope one daj f
Despite the coil of such encumbrance here,
Suf>pose this man could loye, unhappily.
Ana would loye, dared he only let loye show t
In case the woman of his loye speaks first,
From what embarrassment she sets him froe t
'Tis I who break reserye. begin appeal.



Down to the carpet where the kittens bask.
All under the pretence of gratitude I

From all which, I deduce — the lady here
Was bound to inoffer nothing diort of loye

Digitized by




To the priest whose servioe was to save her.

Shall she propose him luere, dust o' the mine,
Rabbish o' the rook, some diamond, muck-
worms prixe,
Some pearl secreted by a sickly fish ?
Scarcely I She caters for a generous taste.
'T is love shall beckon, beauty bid to breast.
Till all the iSamson sink into the snare I
Because, permit the end —permit therewith
Means to the end I

How say yon, good my lardM ?
I hope you heard my adversary ring
The chans^ on this precept : now, let me
Reyeraethe peal I Qifta data iicitojine^
Ad ilium assequendum ordinata
Non 8wU damnanda media^ — licit end
Enough was found in mere escape from death.
To legalize our means illicit else
Of feuned lore, false allurement, fitfided fact.
Thus Venus losing Cupid on a day,
^ee that Idyllium Moachi) seeking help,
In the amdety of motherhood.
Allowably promised, *^ Who snail bring report
Where he is wandered to, my winekl babe,
I gire him for reward a aectered kiss :
But who brings safely back the tmant^sself.
His be a super«weet makes kiss seem cold 1 "
Are not these things writ for examplo sake ?

To such permitted mottre, then, refer

All those professions, else were hard enlain.

Of hope, tear, jealousy, and the rest of lore !

He is Myrtillus, Amaryllis she.

She bums, he freexes, —all a mere derice

To catch and keep the man, may save her

Whom otherwise nor catches she nor keeps I
Wont, once, turns best now: in all faith, she

Feigning, — the liker innocence to ^wlt,
The truer to the life in what she feigns I
How if U lys ses, — when, for public good
He sunk jMrticular qualms and played the spy.
Entered Troy's hostile gate in be^spsr's garb—
How if he first had boggled at this clout.
Grown dainty o*er that clack-dish ? Grime is

To whoso gropes amid the dung for gold.

Hence, beyond pronuses, we praise each proof
That promise was not simply made to break.
Here moonshine-stmoture meant to fade at

We praise, as consequent and requimte.
What, enemies allege, were more than words.
Deeds — meetings at the window, twilight-
Nocturnal entertainments in the dim
Old labyrinthine palace ; lies, we know —
Inrentions we, long since, tuined inside out.
Must such external semblanoe of intrigue
Demonstrate that intrime there lurks perdue ?
Does every hazel-sheaw disclose a nut r
He were a Molinist who dared maintain
That midnight meetings in a screened aloore
Must argue folly in a matron — since
So would he brmg a slur on Judith's self.

Commended berond women, that she hired

The lustful to destruction through hia 1^.

PompiUa took not Judith's liberty.

No falchion find you in her hand to smite,

No damsel to conyey in dish the head

Of Hdof ernes, — s^le the Canon so —

Or is it the Count? If I entangle me

With my similitudes, — if wax wings melt,

And earthward down I drop, not mine the

Blame your beneficence, O Court, O sun.
Whereof the beamy smue affects my flight I
What matter, so PompiBa's fame rerire
I' the warmth that prores the bane of Icamsf

Tea, we haye shown it lawful, neeeasary
PompiUa leave her husband, seek the house
O' the parents: and because 'twizt home and

Lies a long road with many a danger rife.
Lions by the way and serpents in the path.
To rob and ravish, — much behooves she keep
Each shadow of suspicion from iaar fame.
For her own sake much, but for his sake mote.
The ingrate husband's. Evidence shall be.
Plain witness to the world how white she walks
I' the mire she wanders throogh ere Rome she

And who so proper witness as a priest ?
Gainsay ye ? List me hear who dares gainsay I
I heme we still can punish heretics t
*' Give me the man," I say with him of Gath,
*'That we may fight togeUierl" None, I

The priest is granted me.

llien, if a priest.
One juvenile and potent : else, mayhap.
That dragon, our Saint George would stay, slays

And should iaar face accompany strong hand.
The more complete equipment : nothing mars
Work, else praiseworthy, like a bodily flaw
r the worker: as 'tis said Saint Paul himself


Hierefore the agent, as prescribed, she takes, —
Both juvenile and potent, handsome too, —
In all obedience : " good," you grant again.
Do you ? I would von were the nusband, lords I
How prompt and tacile mi^t departure be I
How Doldly would Pominlia and the priest
Bfaroh out of door, sfmad flag at beat of drum.
But that inapprehensive Guicu> jirrants
Neither premiss nor vet conclusion here.
And, jmrblind, dreaos a bear in every bush I
For his own quietude and comfc^ then.
Means must be found for flight in masquerade
At hour when all thii^is sleep— ** Save

jealousy ! "
Right, Judges! Therefore shall the lady'a

Sumtlv the boon thwart nature balkshim of.
And do " *

rice with the potent drug

(Helen's nepenthe, as my lordis opine)
Which respites blessedly each fretted nerve
O' the much-enduring man: accordingly.

Digitized by




There lies he, duly doeed and aonnd asleep,
RelieTed of woes <)r real or raved aboat.
While soft she leaires his side, he shall not

Nor stop who steals away to join her friend^
Nor do him mischief should he catch that fnend
Intent on more than friendly offioe, — nay,
Nor get himself raw head and bones laid bare
In payment of his apparition I

Wonld I defend the step, — were the thing

Which is a fable, — see my former speech, —
That Ghiido slept (who never slept a wink)
Through treachery, an opiate from his wife,
Who not so much as know what opiates mean.

Now she may start : or hist, — a stoppage still I

A journey is an enterprise of cost I

As in campaigns, we nght but others pay,

Suis expensis^ nemo muUat,

'T is Gnido's self we gnard from acddent,

£n8imn|r safety to Pompilia, yersed

Nowise m misadyentures by the way.

Hard ridinff and rongh quarters, the rude fare.

The unready host. What magic mitigates

Each plague of trayel to the unpractised wife ?

Money, sweet Sirs ! And were the fiction fact

She helped herself theroto with liberal hand

From out her husband's storo, — what fitter

Was eyer husband's money destined to ?
With bag and baggage thus did IMdo once
Decamp, — for mora authority, a queen I

So is she fairly on her route at last.
Prepared for either fortune : nay and if
The priest, now all aglow with enterprise.
Cool somewhat presently when fades the flush
C the first adyenturo, douded o'er belike
By doubts, mis^frings how the da^ may die.
Though bom with such auroral bnllianoe, — if
The brow seem oyei^ensiye and the lip
'Gin la^ and lose the prattle lightsome late, —
Vanquished by tedium of a prolonged jaunt
In a close carriage o'er a jolting road.
With only one young female substitute
For seyenteen other Canons of ripe age
Were wont to keep him company in ^uroh, —
Shall not Pompilia haste to dissipate
The silent cloud that, gathering, bodes her

bale? —
Prop the irresolutenesB may portend
Suspension of the project, check the flight,
Bring ruin on them both ? Use eyenr means,
Since means to the end are lawful I What i'

the way
Of wile should have allowance like a kiss
Sagely and sisterly administered,
Sororia saltern oscula t We flnd
Such was the remedy her wit applied
To each- incipient scruple of the priest.
If we belieye, — as. while my wit is mine
I cannot, — what the driver testifies,

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 108 of 198)