Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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Borsi, called Venerino, the mere tool
Of Guide and his friend the Governor, —
Avowal I proved wrung from out the wrotch.

After long rotting in imprisonment.

As price of liberty and favor : long

They tempted, he at last succumbed, and lo

Counted tnem out full tale each kiss and more,

** The journey being one long embrace," quoth

Still, though we should believe the driver's lie,
Nor even admit as probable excuse,
Right reading of the riddle, — as I urged
In my first argument, with fruit perhaps —
That what the owl-like eves (at back of headD
O' the driver, drowsed by driving night and

Supposed a vulgar interchange of lipe^
This was but innocent jog of head 'gainrt head.
Cheek meeting jowl as apple may touch i>ear
From branch and branch contiguous in the

When Autk(nn blusters and the orchard

rocks: — ,
That rapid run a^ the rough road were cause
O the casual ambigv^ty, no harm
I' the world to eyes airake and penetrative : —
Say. — not to grasp a tMh. I can release
And safely fight withouKyet oonauer stUl^ —
Say, she kissed him, say, B^ kissed her again I
Such osculation was a potest means,
A very efficacious help, no opubt :
Such with a third part of her vectar md
Venus imbue : why should Poiippilia AinfiT
The poet's declaration in his teWi ? —
Pause to employ what— since itwd success.
And kept the priest her servant to^he end
We must presume of energy enong4|
No whit superfluous, so permissiUel

The goal is gained : day, night, and yel ^ ^7
Have run their round : a long and devii
Is traversed, — manv manners, various
Passed in review, what cities aid they
What hamlets mark, what profitable f<
For after-meditation euU and storo 1
Till Rome, that Rome whereof — this yoi(
Would it might make our Molinists observl
That she is built upon a rock nor shall t i
Their powers provail against her I — Rome! *

say, '

Is all but reached ; one stage moro and ihV

Saved : pluck up heart, ye pair, and forwartf

then I

Ah, Naturo — baffled she recurs, alas I
Naturo imperiously exacts her due.
Spirit is willing but the fl^ih is weak :
Pompilia needs must acquiesce and swoon.
Give hopes alike and fears a breathing^while.
The innocent sleep soundly : sound she sleeps.
So let her slumber, Uien, unguarded save
By her own chastity, a triple mail, ,

And his good hand whose stalwart arms have

borne ^^

The sweet and senseless burden like a babe
From coach to couch, — the servioeaWe

strongth I
Nay, what and if he gazed rewardedly
On the pale beauty prisoned in embrace.
Stooped over, stole a balmy breath perhaps


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tat mam assoranoe sleep was not deoeaee —
" Ut vidV' ** how I saw I »' suooeeded by
" Sl/^"'" " ^**^ ^ sudden lost my brains I "
— Wnat harm ensued to her nnoonscioas qnite ?
For, curiosity — how natural !
ImportunatenesB — what a priyileee
In the ardent sex I And why curb ardor here ?
How can the priMi bat pity whom he saved ?
And pity is so near to lore, and lore
80 neuhborly to all unreasonableness !
As to love's object, whether love were sage
Or foolish, could Pompilia know or care,
Being still sound asleep, as I premised ?
Thus the philosopher absorbed by thought,
Even Arenimedes, busy o*er a book
The while besiegers sacked his Sjrraouse, ^
Was Ignorant of the imminence o* the point
O* the sword till it surprised him : let it stab,
And never knei# himself was dead at all.
So sleep thou on, secure whatever betide !
For thou, too, hast th^ problem hard to solve —
How so much beauty is compatible
With so much innocence I

Fit place, methinks,
While in this task she rosHy is lost.
To treat of and repel objection here
Which, — frivolous, I grant, — my mind mis-
May somehow still have flitted, gadfly^-like.
And teased the Court at times — as if. all said
And done, there seemed, the Court mignt nearly

In a certain acceptation, somewhat more
Of what may pass for insincerity.
Falsehood, throughout the course Pompilia

Than befits Christian. Pagans held, we know,
Man always ought to aim at TOod and truth,
Not always put one thing in the same words :
J^on idem semper dicere sed spectare
Debemtu. But the Pagan yoke was light ;
*^ Lie not at all," the ezaoter precept bids:
£ach least lie breaks the law, — is sin, we

I humble me, but venture to submit —
What prevents sin, itself is sinless, sure :
And sin, which hinders sin of deeper dye.
Softens itself away by contrast so.
Conceive me ! Little sin, by none at all.
Were properly condemned for creat : but great,
J3y greater, dwindles into small again.
Tiow, what is greatest sin of womanhood ?
That which unwomans it, abolishes
Th e nature of the woman, — impudence.
Who contradicts me here ? Concede me, then,
'Whatever friendly fault may interpose
To save the sex from self -abolishment
Is three-parts on l^e way to virtue's rank I
And, what is taxed here as duplicity,
feint, wile, and trick, — admitted for the

nonce, —

What worse do one and all than interpose,
JEXold, as it were, a deprecating hand,
Statneequely, in the Medicean mode,
Before some shame which modesty would veil ?
"Wlio blames the gesture prettily perverse ?
Tims, — leet ye miss a pomt illustrative, —

Admit the husband^s calumny — allow

That the wife, having penned the epistle


With horrors, charge on charge of crime aha

C the head of Pietro and Viokmte — (still
Presumed her parents) —having dispatched the

To their arch-enemy Paolo^ through free choice
And no sort of compulsion m the world —
Put case she next diseards simplicity
For craft, denies the voluntary act.
Declares herself a passive instrument
I' the husband's hands; that, duped by knavery.
She traced the characters she could not write.
And took on trust the unread sense whidi, read,
And reco^rnized were to be spumed at once :
Allow this calunmy, I reiterate I
Who is so dull as wonder at the pcae
Of our Pompilia in the circumstance f
Who sees not that the too-ingenuous soul.
Repugnant even at a duty d<Mie
Whicn brought beneath too scrutinizing glare
The misdemeanors, — buried in the dark, —
Of the authors of her bein^, was believed, —
Stung to the quick at her impulsive deed.
And wiUUng to repair what harm it worked.
She — wise in this beyond what Nero proved.
Who, when folk urged the candid juvenile
To sign the warrant, doom the guuty dead,
*' Would I had never learned to write I " quoth

— Pompilia rose above the Roman, cried.
^* To read or write I never learned at all I *'
O splendidly mendacious !

But time fleets :
Let us not linger : hurry to the end.
Since flight does end, and that disastrously.
Beware ye blame desert for unsuccess.
Disparage each expedient else to praise.
Call failure f ollv I Man's best effort fails.
After ten years resistance Troy succumbed :
Could valor save a town, Troy still had stood.
Pompilia came off halting in no point
Of courage, condact, her long journey through :
But nature sank exhausted at the dose.
And, as I said, she swooned and slept all night.
Mom breaks and brings the husbana : we assist
At the spectacle. Discovery succeeds.
Ha, how IB this ? What moonstruck rage is

Though we confess to partial frailty now.
To error in a woman and a wife,
Is 't by the rough way she shall be reclaimed ?
Who bursts upon her chambered privacv ?
What crowd profanes the chaste cubiculumf
What outcries and lewd laughter, scurril gibe
And ribald jest to scare the ministrant^
Good angeb that commerce with souls in sleep ?
Why, Imd the worst crowned Quido to his

Confirmed his most irrational snnmse, .
Yet there be bounds to man's emotion.

To an immoderate astonishment.
'Tis decent horror, regulated wrath.
Befit our dispensation : have we back

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The old Pasan Uoenae P Shall a Vnloan dap

Hki net o* the sndden and expose the pair

To the nnqnenchable nniyenial mirth ?

A feat, antiquity saw Bcandal in

80 dearly, that the nauseous tale thereof —

Demodoens his nngatorr song —

Hath erer been ooodnded modem stuff

Impossible to the mouth of the grare Muse,

So, foisted into that Eighth Odyssey

By some impertinent piokthank. thou fool.

Count Guido Franoesdiini, what didst gain

Bt publishing thy secret to the world ?

Were all the precepts of the wise a waste —

Bred in thee not one touch of reverence ?

Admit thy wife — admonish we the fool —

Were falseness^ sdf, whv chronicle thy shame ?

Much rather should thy teeth bite out thy

Dumb lip consort with desecrated brow.
Silence become historiographer.
And thou — thine own Cornelius Tadtus I
But virtue, barred, still leaps the barrier, lords I
—Still, moon-like, penetrates the encroaching

And bursts, all broad and bare, on night, ye

Surprised, then, in the garb of truth, periiaps,
Pompilia, thus opposed, breaks obstacle.
Springs to her feet, and stands Thalassian-pure.
Confronts the foe, — nay, catches at his swora
And tries to kill the intruder, he complains.
Why, so she gave her lord his lesson back.
Crowned him, this time, the yirtuons woman's

"W^ an exact obedience ; he brought sword.
She drew the same, since swords are meant to

Ten not me 'tis sharp play with tools on edge I
It was the husband chose the weapon here
Why did not he inaugurate the game
Wim some gentility of imophthegm
Stni pregnant on the phuosophio page.
Some captivating cadence still a-lisp
O' the poet's lyre? Such spells subdue the

Make tame the tempest, much more mitagate
The passions <d the mind, and probablv
Had nunred Pompilia to a smihng blush.
No, he must needs prefer the argument
O' the blow : and she obeyed, in duty bound.
Returned him buffet ratiodnative —
Ay, in the reasoner's own interest.
For wife must f oUow whither husband leads.
Vindicate honor as himself prescribes.
Save him the very way himself bids save !
No question but who jumps into a quag
Should stretch forth hand and pray us ** Pull

me out
By the hand I " such were the customarv cry :
But Guido pleased to bid " Leave hand alone I
Join both feet, rather, jump upon mv head :
I extricate myself b^ uie rebound ! "
And dutifully as enioined she jumped —
Drew his own sword and menaced nis own life.
Anything to content a wilful spouse.

And so he was contented — one must do
Justice to the expedient which succeeds.

Strange as it seem : at flourish of the blade.
The crowd drew back, stood breathless and

llien murmured, ** This should be no wanton

No consdenoe-stricken sinner, caught i' the

And patiently awaiting our first stone :
But a poor hard-pressed all-bewildered thing.
Has rushed so far, misguidedly perhaps.
Meaning no more harm than a frightened sheep.
She sought for aid ; and if she niade mistake
I' the man could aid most, why — so mortals

Even the blessed Magdalen mistook
Far less for^vablv: consult the place —
Supposing lum to he the gardener,
*Sir,' said she, and so following." Why more

Forthwith the wife is pronounced innocent :
What would the husband more than gain his

And find that honor flash in the world's eye.
His apprehendon was lest soil had smirched f

So. happily the adventure comes to dose
Wncoeon my isX opponent grounds his chanm
Preposterous: at mid-day he groans **How

Listen to me, thou Archangfllic swine I
Where is the ambiguity to olame.
The flaw to find in our Pompilia ? Safe
She stands, seel Does thy comment follow

** Safe, inasmuch as at the end proposed ;
But thither she picked way by devious path—
Stands dirtied, no dubiety at all I
I recognize suoces^ yet, all the same,
Importnnatdy will suggestion prompt —
Better Pompilia gained the right to coast,
*No devious path, no doubtful patch w
I saved my head nor sacrificed my foot I '
Whv, being in a peril, show mistrust
Of tne angels set to guard the innocent?
Why rather hold by obvious vulgar hdp
Of stratagem and subterfuge, excused
Somewhat, but still no less a foil, a fault.
Since low with high, and good with bad is

Methinks I view some andent bas-relief.
There stands Redone thrust out by Troy,
Her father's hand has chained her to a crag.
Her mother's from the virgin plucked the vest^
At a safe distance both distressful watch.
While near and nearer comes the snorting ore
I look that, white and perfect to the end.
She wait till Jove dispatch some demigod ;
Not that. — impatient of celestial dub
Alomena's son should brandish at the beast, ~
She daub, disguise her dainty limbs with pitdli.
And so elude the purblind monster I Av,
The trick succeeds, but 'tis an nglv trick.
Where needs have been no trick !''

My answer? Fauglil
NimU xncongnu ! Too absurdly put t
SerUentiam epo teneo contrariamf
Trick, I maintain, had no alternative.

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The heavens were bound with brass, — Jove far

at feast
(No feast like that thou didst not ask me to,
Aroangeli, — I heard of th^ regale I)
With the nnblamed ^thiop, — Heroolet spun

r the lap of Omphale, while Virtue shrieked —
The brute came paddUn^ all the faster. You
Of Trov, who stood at distance, where 's the aid
Tou ofrered in the extremity ? Most and least,
Gentle and simple, here the Governor,
There Uie Aronbishop, everywhere the friends,
Shook heads and waited for a miracle.
Or went their way, left Virtue to her fate.
Just this one roneh and ready man leapt forth !
— Wss found, sole anti-Fabius (dare I sa^)
Who restored thiivs, with no delay at all.
Qui havA ctmctanao rem restituit ! He,
He only^aponsaochi 'mid a crowd.
Caught Virtue up, carried Pompilia off
Through gaping impotence of sympathy
In ranged Arezzo : what you take for pitch
Is notmng worse, belike, than black and blue.
Here evanescent proof that hardy hands
Did yeoman's service, oand not where the gripe
Was more than duly energetic : bruised.
She smarts a little, out her bones are saved
A fracture, and her skin will soon riiow sleek.
How it diKusts when weakness, false-refined.
Censures the honest rude effective strength, —
When sickly dreamers of the impossible
Decry plain sturdineas which does the feat
With eyes wide open I

Did occasion serve,
I could illustrate, if mv lords allow ;
'^ \xd vetat^ what f orbios I aptly ask


xth Horace, that I give my anger vent.
While I let breathe, no leas, and recreate.
The gravity of my Judges, oy a tale ?
A case in point — what though an apologue
Graced by tradition ? —possibly a fact :
Tradition must precede all scripture, words
Serve as our warrant ere our books can be :
So, to tradition back we needs must go
For an^ fact's authority ' and this
Hath hved so far (like jewel hid in muck)
On page of that old l3ring vanity
Calfed ^'Senher Toldoth Teechu:" God be

I read no Hebrew, — take the thing on trust:
But I believe the writer meant no good
(filind as he was to truth in some respects)
To our pestiferous and schismatic . . . well,
My loras' conjecture be the touchstone, show
The thing for what it is ! The author lacks
Diflcretion, and his zeal exceeds : but zeal. —
How rare m our degenerate dav I Enough !
Here is the stoxj : fear not, I snail chop
And change a little, else my Jew would press
All too unmannerly before the Court.

It happened once, — be^ns this foolish Jew,
IVetending to write Christian history, —
That three, held greatest, best and worst of men,
Peter and John and Judas, spent a day ^
In toil and travel through the country-side
On aome sufficient busxneas —I suspect,

Suppression of some Molinism i' the bud.
Foot-sore and hun^prv, dropping with fatigue.
They reached by nigntfall a poor lonely grange.
Hostel or inn : so, knocked and entered there.
'Tour pleasure, great ones ? " — '' Shelter,

rest and food!"
For shelter, there was one bare room above ;
For rest therein, three beds of bundled straw :
For food, one wretched starveling fowl, no

more —
Meat for one mouth, but mockery for three.
** Tou have my utmost." How should supper

Peter broke sUence : '' To the spit with fowl I
And while 'tis cooking, sleep I — since beds

there be.
And, so far, satisfaction of a want.
Sleep we an hour, awake at supper-time.
Then each of us narrate the dream he had.
And he whose dream shall prove the happiest,

Tlie dearliest out the dreamer as ordained
Beyond his fellows to reoeive the fowl.
Him let our shares be cheerful tribute to.
His the entire meal, may it do him good I "
Who could dispute so plain a eoosec|nenoe ?
So said, so done : each hurried to his straw.
Slept his hour's-aleep and dreamed his dream,

and woke.
" I," commenced John, ** dreamed that I gained

thei '



h Upa

That ever proved man meanest of his mates,
And bom foot-washer and foot-wiper, nay
Foot-kisser to each comrade of you aU I
I dreamed I dreamed ; and in that mimic dream

Smpalpable to dream as dream to fact)
etnou^ht I meanly chose to sleep no wink
But wait until I heard my brethren snore ;
Then stole &om couch, slipped noiseless o'er

the planks.
Slid downstairs, furtively approached the

Found the fowl duly brown, both back and

Hissing in harmony with the cricket's chirp,
Grilled to a point ; said no grace, but fell to.
Nor finishea till the skeleton lav bare.
In penitence for which ignoble oream,
Lo, I renounce my portion cheerfully !
Fie on the fle^ — be mine the ethereal gust.
And vours the sublunary sustenance I
See that whate'er be leit ye give the poor I "
Down the two scuttled, one on other's heel.
Stung by a fell surmise ; and found, alack.

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A goodly sayor, both the dnunstiok bones.
Alia that which henceforth took the appropri-
ate name
O* the Merry-thonght, in memory of the fact
That to keep wide awake is man*s best dream.

So, — as was said once of Thncydides

Aiid his sole joke, ** The lion, lo, hath

Jnst so, the Qoyemor and all that *8 great
I' the city never meant that Innocence
Shonld quite starre while Authority sat at

They meant to flinga bone at banquet^s end :
Wisned well to our Fompilia — in their dreams,
Nor Ixnre the secular sword in yain — asleep.
■Just so the Archbishop and all good like hmi
Went to bed meaning to pour ou and wine
I' the wounds of her, next day, — but long ere

THiey had burned the one and drunk the other,

Just 80, again, oontrariwise, the priest
Sustained poor Nature in extremity
By stuffing barley-bread into her mouth,
Saying PompUia (grant the parallel)
By the plain homely and straightforward way
Taught him by common sense. Let others

** Oh what refined expedients did we dream
Proyed us the only fit to help the fair I ''
He cried. **A carriage waits, jump in with


And now, this application pardoned, lords, —
This reoreatiye pause and Dreathing^while, —
Back to beseemmgnesB and gravity 1
For Law steps in : Guido appeals to Law,
Demands she arbitrate, — does well for once.
O Law, of thee how neatly was it said
By that old Sophocles, thou hast th^ seat
I' the very breast of Jove, no meanher throned I
Here is a piece of work now, hitherto
B^grun ana carried on, concluded near.
Without an eye-glance cast thy sceptre's way ;
And, lo, the stumbling and discomfiture !
Well may you call them ** lawless" means,

men take
To extricate themselves through mother-wit
When tangled haply in the toils of life I
-Guido womd try conclusions with his foe.
Whoe'er the foe was and whatever the offence ;
He would recover certain dowry-dues :
Instead of asking Law to lend a hand,
What pother of sword drawn and pistol cocked.
What peddling with forged letters and paid

Politic circumvention ! — all to end
As it began — by loss of the f ooPs head.
First in a figure, presently in a fact.
It is a lesson to mankind at large.
How other were the end, would men be sage
And bear confidii^ty each quarrel straight,
O Law, to thy recipient mother-knees !
How would the children light come and prompt

This, with a red-cheeked apple for reward,
The other, peradventure red-cheeked too

I' the rear, by taste of birch for punishment.
No foolish brawling murdw anj more I
Peace for the household, practice for the Fiso,
And plenty for the exchequer of my lords !
Too much to hope, in this worid : in the next.
Who knows ? Since, why should sit tibe Twelve

To jud|^ the tribes, unless the tribes be judged t
And 't is impossible but offences come :
So, all *s one lawsuit, all one long leet-day t

Forgive me this digression — that I stand
Entranced awhile at Law's first beam, outbreak
O' the business, when the Count's good angel

** Put up thy sword, bom enemy to the ear.
And let Law listen to thv difference I "
And Law does listen and compose the strife.
Settle the suit, how wisely ana how well !
On our Pompilia, faultless to a fault.
Law bends a brow maternally severe.
Implies the worth of perfect chastity.
By fancying the flaw she cannot fina.
Superfluous sifting snow, nor helps nor harms :
'T is safe to censure levity in youUi,
Tax womanhood with in<fisoretion, sure I
Since tojrs, permiarible to-day, become
Follies to-m6rrow : prattle shocks in church :
And that curt skirt which lets a maiden skip,
The matron changes for a trailing robe.
Mothers may aim a blow with hiuf -shut eyes
Nodding above their spindles by the fire.
And chance to hit some hidden fault, else safe.
Just soj Law hazarded a punishment —
If apphcable to the circumstance.

Why. well I if not so apposite, well too.
** Qmt the gay range o' the world," I hear



** Enter, in lieu, the penitential pound :
Exchange the ^uds of pomp for ashes, dust I
Leave each mollitious haunt of luxury I
The golden-garnished silken-couohed alcove.
The many-columned terrace that so tempts
Feminine soul put foot forth, extend ear
To fluttering joy of lover's serenade, —
Leave these for cellular seclusion ! mask
And dance no more, but fast and pray!

avaunt —
Be burned, thy wicked townsman's sonnet-
Welcome, mild hymnal by . . . some better

scribe I
For the warm arms were wont enfold thy flesh,
Let wire-shirt plough and whip-cord disoi-

If such an exhortation proved, perehance,
Inapplicable, words bestowed in waste,
What harm, since Law has store, can spend nor
■ I?

And so, our paragon submits herself,
Goes at command into the holy house.
And, also at command, comes out again :
For, could the effect of such obedience prove
Too certain, too immediate ? Being healed,
Go blaze abroad the matter, blessea one I
Art thou sound forthwith ? Speedily vacate
The step by pool-side, leave Bethesda free

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To patients plentifiilly posted rooBd,
Sinoe the whole need not the phsrsicuui I Brief,
She maj betake her to her parente' place.
Weloome her, father, with wide arms oooe

Motion her, mother, to thy breast again !
For whj ? Sinoe Law rehnquishes the charge,
Gki&nts to yoor dwelling-place a prison's style.
Rejoice yon with Pompiua 1 golden days,
RmwiU 8€Uumia reana. Six weeks sup,
And she is domicilea in house and home
As though she thence had never budged at all.
And thither let the husband — joyous, ay.
But contrite also — quick betake himself.
Proud that his dove which lay among the pots
Hath mned those dingy feathers, — moulted

Shows silyer bosom clothed with yellow gold I
So shall he tempt her to the perch she fled.
Bid to domestie bliss the truant back.

But let him not delay I Time fleets how fast.

And opportunity, the inerocable.

Once nown will flout him! Is the furrow

If field with com ye fail preoccupy,
Darnel for wheat and thistle-beajros for grain,
Infrlij^ lolium^ cardmui horridug,
will grow apace in combination prompt,
Deficaud the husbandman of his desire.
Already — hist — what murmurs 'monish now
The laggard ? — doubtful, nay, fantastic bruit
Of suehan apparition, such retura
Interdum^ to anticipate the spouse,
Of Gaponsaoohi's very self I 'T is said,
Whoi nights are lone and company is race.
His visitations brighten winter up.
If so they did — which nowise I beUeTe—

(How can I ? — proof abounding that the priest.

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 109 of 198)