Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 115 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 115 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

And, being no Felice, lout and clout,
Stomach but ill the phrase, '' I lose my head I "
How euphemistic ! Lose what? Lose your ring.
Your snuff-box, tablets, kerchief I — but, your

I learnt the process at an early age ;
'Twas useful knowledge, in those same old

To know the way a head is set on neck.
My fencing-master n:^d, *' Would tou excel ?
Rest not content with mere bold give-and-

Nor pmk the antagonist somehow-anyhow I
See me dissect a little, and know your game !
Only anatomy makes a thrust the thing."
Oh, Cardinal, those lithe live necks of ours I
Here go the vertebne, here 's Atlas, here
Axisj and here the symphyses stop short.
So wisely and well, — as, o'er a corpse, we

cant, —
And here 's the silver cord which . . . what 's

our word?
Depends from the gold bowl, which loosed (not

Lets us from heaven to hell, — one chop, we 're

** And not much pain i' the process," quoth a

Whotoldhim? Not Felice's ghost, I think !
Such " losing " is scarce Mother Nature's mode.
She fain would have cord ease itself awav.
Worn to a thread by threescore years ana ten.
Snap while we slumber : that seems bearable.
I 'm told one clot of blood extravasate
Ends one as certainly as Roland's sword, -;-
One drop of lymph suffused proves CHiver's

mace, —
Intmding, either of the pleasant pair.
On the arachnoid tunic of my brain.
That's Nature's way of loosing cord! — but

How of Art's process with the engine here.
When bowl and cord alike are crushed across.

Bored between, bruised through? Why, if

Fagon's self,
The French Court's pride, that &med practi-
Would pass nis cold pJe lightning of a kmfe,
Pistoja-ware, adroit 'twixt joint and joint.
With just a " See how facile, gentlefolk ! " —
The thing were not so bad to bear ! Brute force
Cuts as he comes, breaks in, breaks on, breaks

O' the hard and soft of you : is that the same ?
A lithe snake thrids the hedge, makes throb no

A heavy ox sets chest to brier and branch.
Bursts somehow through, and leaves oae hid-
eous hole
Behind him I

And why, why must this needs be ?
Oh, if men were but good ! Thev are not good.
Nowise like Peter : people callea him rough.
But if , as I left Rome, 1 spoke the Saint,
— " PetnUy quo vadis f " — doubtless, I should

" To free the prisoner and forgive his fault I
I plucked the absolute dead from Ood's own

And raised up Dorcas, — why not rescue thee ?"
What would cost one such nullifving word ?
If Lmocent succeeds to Peter's place.
Let him think Peter's thought, speak Peter's

I say, he is bound to it : friends, how say you ?
Concede I be all one bloodguiltiness
And mystery of murder in the flesh.
Why should that fact keep ^e Pope^s mouth

shut fast ?
He execrates my crime, — good ! — sees hell

^ yawn
One inch from the red plank's end which I

press, —
Nothi^ is better' ! What 's the consequence ?
How shotdd a Pope proceed that knows his

Why, leave me linger out my minute here.
Since (dose on death comes judgment and

comes doom,
Not crib at dawn its pittance from a sheep
Destined ere dewf all to be butcher's-meat I
Think, Sirs, if I have done vou any harm.
And you require the natural revenge,
Suppose, and so intend to poison me,
— Just as you take and slip into my draught
The paperrul of powder that clears scores.
Ton notice on my brow a certain blue :
How you both overset the wine at once I
How you both smile, " Our enemy has the

plague !
Twelve hours hence he 'U be scraping his bones

Of that intolerable flesh, and die.
Frenzied with pain : no need for poison here I
Step aside and enjoy the spectacle 1 "
Tender for souls are you, Pope Innocent I
Christ's maxim is — one soul outweighs the

Respite me, save a souh then, curse the world 1
" No," venerable sire, I hear you smirk.

Digitized by




**No: for Chrbt's gospel changee names, not

Renews the obsolete, does nothing more I
Onr fire-new gospel is re-dnkerea law.
Oar mercy, iustioe, — Joye 's rechristened

Na^, whereas, in the popular conceit,
'T IS pity that old harsh Law somehow limps,
Lingers on earth, although Law's day be done,
Else would benignant GkMpel interpose.
Not furtiyely as now, but Dold ana frank
O'erflutter us with healing in her wings.
Law being harshness, Go^>el only love —
We tell the people, on the contraxy.
Gospel takes up the rod which Law lets fall ;
Mercy is vigilant when justice sleeps I
Does Law permit a taste of (}ospel-grace ?
The secular arm allow the spiritual power
To act for once ? — no compliment so fine
As that our Gospel handsomely turn harsh.
Thrust victim Inick on Law the nice and coy ! "
Yes, you do say so, — else you would forgive
Me, whom Law does not touch but tosses you I
Don't think to put on the professional face I
Tou know what I know, — casuists as you are.
Each nerve must creep, each hiur sta^ sting

and stand.
At such illogical inconsequence I
Dear my mends, do but see I A murder 's

There are two parties to the cause : I 'm one,
— Defend myself, as somebody must do :
I have the best o' the battie : that 's a fact.
Simple fact, — fancies find no place just now.
What though half Rome condemned me ? Half

And, none disputes, the luck is mine at last.
All Rome, i' tne main, acquitting me : whereon.
What has the Pope to ask but '' How finds

" I find," replies Law, " I have erred this while :
Guilty or gmltiess, Guido proves a priest.
No lajrmiui : he is therefore yours, not mine :
I bound him: loose him, you whose will is

Christ's I"
And now what does this Vicar of our Lord,
Shepherd o' the flock, — one of whose charge

bleats sore
For crook's help from the quag wherein it

Law suffers him employ the crumpled end :
His pleasure is to turn staff, use tne point.
And thrust the shuddering sheep, he calls a

Back and back, down and down to where hell

*»GailUe8s," cries Law —" Guilty," corrects

the Pope t
"Guilty," for the whim's sake I "Guilty," he

somehow thinks.
And anyhow says : 't is truth ; he dares not lie I

Others should do the lying. That 's the cause
Brings yon both here : I ought in decency
Confess to you that I deserve my fate.
Am guilty, as the Pope thinks, — ay, to the

£eep up tne jest, lie on, lie ever, lie

I' the latest gasp of me I What reason. Sirs f
Because to-morrow will succeed to-day
For you, though not for me : and if I stick
Still to the truth, dedare with my last breath,
I die an innocent and murdered man, —
Why, there's the tongue of Rome will wag

This time to-morrow, — don't I hear the talk I
" So, to the last he proved impenitent ?
Pagans have said as much of martyred saints !
Law demurred, washed her hands of the whole

Prince Somebody said this, Duke Something,

Doubtiess the man 's dead, dead enough, don't

fear I
But, hang it, what if there have been a spice,
A touch of ... eh ? Tou see, the Pope 's so

Some of us add, obtuse, — age never slips
The chance of shoving youth to face death

And so on. Therefore to suppress such talk
You two come here, entreat! tell you lies.
And end, the edifying way. I end.
Telling the truth I Tour self-styled shepherd

thieves I
A thief — and how thieves hate tiie wolves we

know :
Damage to theft, damaee to thrift, all 's one I
The red hand is sworn foe of the black jaw.
That 's only natural, that 's right enough :
But why tne wolf should compliment the thief
With shepherd's titie, bark out life in thanks.
And, spiteless, lick the prong that spits him, —

Cardinal ? My Abate, scarcely thus I
There, let my sheepskin-garb, a curse on 't, go —
Leave my teeth free if I must show my shur I
Repent? What good shaU follow ? If I pass
Twelve hours repenting, will that fact hold

The thirteenth at the horrid dozen's end ?
If I fall forthwith at your feet, gnash, tear.
Foam, rave, to give your storv the due grace,
Will that assist the engine half-way back
Into its hiding-house ? — boards, shaking now,
Bone against bone, like some old skeleton bat
That wants, at winter's end, to wake and prey V, •
Will howling put the spectre back to sleep ?
Ah, but I misconceive vour object. Sirs I i

Since I want new life like the creature. — life, \
Being done with here, begins i' the world away : i
I shall next have "Come, mortals, and be V

judged I "

There 's but a minute betwixt this and then :
So, quick, be sorry since it saves my soul I
Sirs, truth shall save it, since no lies assist !
Hear the truth, you, whatever you style your-
Civilization and society I
Come, one good grapple, I with all the world I
Dving in cold blood is the desperate thing ;
The angry heart explodes, beius off in blaze
The indii^nt soul, and I 'm combustion-ripe.
Why, you intend to do your worst with me I
That 's in your ejres I Ton dare no more than

Digitized by




And mean no lesB. I mnst make np my mind !
80 PSetro — when I chased him here and theie,
Morsel by morsel out away the life
I loathed — cried for just respite to confess
And sare his soul : much respite did I grant I
Why grant me respite who deserre mv doom ?
Me — who engaged to play a i>rize, fight you.
Knowing your arms, and foil yon, trick for

At rapier-fenoe, your match and, maybe, more.
I knew that if I chose sin certain sins.
Solace my lusts out of the regular way
Prescribed me, I should find you in the path.
Have to trr skill with a redoubted foe ;
Yon would lunge, I would parry, and make

At last, occasion of a murder comes :
We cross blades, I, for all my brag, break

And in goes the cold iron at my breast.
Out at my back, and end is made of me.
Ton stand confessed the adroiter swordsman.

But on your triumph yon increase, it seems.
Want more of me than Ijring flat on face :
I ought to raise my mined head, allege
Not simply I pushed worse blade o' the pair,
But my antagonist dispensed with steel f
There was no passage of arms, you looked me

With, brow and eye abolished cut and thrust.
Nor used the Tulgar weapon I This chance

This incidental hurt, this sort of hole ^
I' the heart of me ? I stumbled, got it so I
Fell on my own sword as a bungler may !
Yourself proscribe such heathen took, and

To the naked Tirtue : it was yirtue stood
Unarmed and awed me, — on my brow there

Crime out so plainly, intolerably red.
That I was iam to cry — ** Down to the dust
With me, and bury there brow, brand and

Law had essayed the adventure, — but what *s

MOTality exposed the Gorgon shield !
Morality and Religion conquer me.
If Law sufficed would you come here, entreat
I supplement law, and confess forsooth ?
Did not the Trial show things plain enough ?
^^ Ah, but a word of the man's ver^ self
Would somehow put the keystone m its place
And crown the arch I " Then take the word

yon want I

I say thai, long ago, when things began,

All the world made agreement, such and such

Were pleasure-giying profit-bearing acts,

But henceforth extra-legal, nor to be :

You must not kill the man whose death would

And profit tou, unless his life stop yours
Plainly, and need so be put aside :
Get the thing by a pubhc course, by law,
Only no priyate bloodshed as of old 1
All of us, for the good of every one

Renounced such license and conformed to law :
Who breaks law, breaks pact therefore, helps

To pleasure and profit over and above the due.
Ana must pay forfeit, — pain beyond his

For, pleasure being the sole good in the world.
Any one's pleasure turns to some one's pain.
So. law must watch for every one, — say we^
Who call things wicked that give too much j<>y.
And nickname mere reprisal, envv makes.
Punishment: quite right I thus the world goes

I, being well aware such pact there was,
I, in mv time who found advantage come
(H law^B observance and crime's penalty, —
Who, but for wholesome fear law hted in

Had donbUesB given example long ago.
Furnished forth some friend's pleasure with my

And, by my death, pieced out his scanty life, -

I could not, for that foolish life of me.

Help risking law's infringement, — I broke

And needs must pay price, — wherefore, here 's

my head.
Flung with a flourish ! But, repentance too ?
But pure and simnle sorrow for law's broach
Rather than blnnaerer's-ineptitude ?
Cardinal, no I Abate, scarcely thus I
'T is the fault, not that 1 dared try a fall
With Law and strai^tway am found under-
But that I failed to see, above man's law,
God's precept vou, the Christians, recognize ?
Colly my cow I Don't fidget. Cardinal!
Abs^, cross your breast aind count your beads
And exordse the devil, for here he stands
And stiffens in the bristly nape of neck,
Daring you drive him hence I Yon, Christians

I say, tf ever was such faith at all

Bom in the world, by vour community

Suffered to live its little tick of time,

'Tis dead of age,^ now, ludicrously dc^ ;

Honor its ashes, if you be diMsreet,

In epitaph only I For, concede its death,

AUow extinction, you may boast unchecked

What feats the tning did m a crazy land

At a fabulous epodb, — treat your faith, that

Just as you treat your relics : ** Here 's a shred
Of sain^^ flesh, a scrap of blessed bone,
Raised King Cophetua, who was dead, to life
In Mesopotamy twelve centuries since.
Such was its virtue I " — twangs the Sacristan,
Holding the shrine-box up, with hands Hke

Because of gout in every finger-joint :
Does he bethink him to reduce one knob,
Allay one twinge by touching what he vaunts ?
I think he half uncrooks fist to catch fee,
But, for the grace, the quality of cure, —
Cophetua was the man put that to proof !
Not otherwiBe, your faith is shrinea and shown
And shamed at once: yon banter while yon


Digitized by




Do you dispate this ? Come, a monstex^laugk,
A madinan*s laugh, allowed his Gamiyal
Later ten days ^an when all Rome, hut he.
Laughed at the candle-contest : mine 's alight,
'T is just it sputter till the puff o' the Pope
End it to-morrow and the world turn Ash.
Come, thus I wave a wand and bring to pass
Li a moment, in the twinkle of an eve.
What but that — feigning everywhere grows

Professors turn possessors, realize
The faith they play with as a fancy now,
And bid it operate, have full effect
On every circumstance of life, to-day,
In Rome, — faith's flow set free at fountain-
head I
Kow, you '11 own, at this present, when I speak,
Before I work the wonder, there 's no man.
Woman or child in Rome, laith's fountain-head.
But might, if each were minded, realize
Conversely unbelief, faith's oj^posite —
Set it to work on life unflinchingly,
Tet give no sympton of an outwanl change :
Why should thrngs change because men dis-
believe ?
What 's incompatible, in the whited tomb.
With bones and rottenness one inch below ?
What saintly act is done in Rome to-day
But might be prompted by the devil, — " is "
I say not, — " nas been, and again may be," —
I do say, full i' the face o' the crucifix
Tou try to stop my mouth with 1 Off with it !
Look in vour own heart, if your soul have eyes I
Tou shall see reason why, though faith were

Unbelief still might work the wires and move
Man, the machine, to play a faithful part.
Preside your college. Cardinal, in your ^pe.
Or, — having got above his head, grown Pope, —
Abate, gird your loins and wash my feet I
Do you suppose I am at loss at all
Why you crook, why you cringe, why fast or

Praise, blame, sit, stand, lie or go I —all of it,
Li each of you, purest unbelief may prompt,
And wit explain to who has eyes to see.
But, lo, I wave wand, make the false the true I
Here 's Rome believes in Christianity I
What an explosion, how the fragments fly
Of what was surface, mask and make-believe I
Begin now, —look at tJus Pope's-halberdier
Li wasp-like black and yellow foolery I
He, domg duty at Uie corridor.
Wakes m>m a muse and stands convinced of

Down he flings halbert, leaps the passage-length.
Pushes into the presence^ pantingly
Submits the extreme peril of the case
To tiie Pope's self, — whom in the world

beside? —
And the Pope breaks talk with ambassador^
Bids aside bishop, wills the whole world wait
Till he secure that prize, outweighs the world,
A soul, relieve the sentry of his qualm !
His Altitude the Referendary —
Robed right, and ready for the usher's word
To pay devoir — is, of all times, just then
'Ware of a master-stroke of argument

Will cut the spinal cord . . . ug^, ugh I ... I

Paralyze Molinism forevermore !
Straight he leaves lobby, trundles, two and two,
Down steps to reach home, write, if but a word
Shall end the impudence : he leaves who likes
6o pacify the Pope : there 's Christ to serve I
How otherwise would men display their zeal ?
If the same sentrv had the least surmise
A powder-barrel 'neath the pavement lay
In neighborhood with what might prove a

Meant to blow sky-high Pope and presence

both —
Would he not break through courtiers, rank

and file.
Bundle up, hear off, and save body so,
The Pope, no matter for his priceless soul ?
There 's no fool'fr-freak here, naught to soundly

Only a man in earnest, you 'U so praise
And pay and prate about, that etuth shall ring I
Had thought possessed the Referendary
His jewel-case at home was left ajar.
What would be wrong in running, robes awry,
To be beforehand with the pilferer ?
What talk then of mdecent haste? Which

That both these, each in his degree, would do
Just that — for a comparative nothing's sake.
And thereby gain approval and rewara —
Which, done for what Christ says is worth the

Procures the doer curses^ cuffs and kicks.
I call such difference 'twixt act and act,
Sheer lunacy unless your truth on lip
Be recognized a lie in heart of you 1
How do you all act, promptly or in doubt.
When there 's a guest poisoned at supper-time
And he sits chatting on with spot on cneek ?
** Pluck him by the skirt, and round him in the

Have at him by the beard, warn anyhow I "
Qood ; and this other friend that 's cheat and

And dissolute, — go stop the devil's feast.
Withdraw him from the imminent hell-fire I
Why, for your life, you dare not tellyour friend,
*^ Tou lie, and I aomonish you for Christ I "
Who yet dare seek that same man at the

To warn him — on his knees, and tinkle near, —
He left a cask a-tilt, a tap unturned.
The Trebbian running : what a giateful jump
Out of the Church rewards your vigilance 1
Perform that selfsame service just a thought
More maladroitly, — since a bishop sits
At function I — and he budges not, bites lip, —
** Ton see my case : how can I quit my post ?
He has an eye to any such default.
See to it, neighbor, 1 beseech your love I "
He and you know the relative worth of things,
What is permissible or inopportune.
Contort your brows I Tou know I speak the

(Sold is called gold, and dross called dross, i' the

Gold you let lie and dross pick up and prize I

Digitized by




— Despite your muater ol some fifty monks
And nnns a-maonderins: here and munping

Who could, and on occasion would, spurn dross,
Clutch gold, and prove their faith a fact so

few, —
I grant you I Fifty times the number squeak
And nboer in the madhouse — firm of faith.
This fellow, that his nose supports the moon ;
The other, that his straw hat crowns him Pope :
Does that prove all the world outside insane ?
Do fifty miracle-mongers match the mob
That acts on the f rai& faithless principle,
Bom-baptized-and-bred Christiatt-atheists, each
Wit^ just as much a right to judge as you, —
As many senses in his soul, and nerves
1' neck of him as I, — whom, soul and sense.
Neck and nerve^ you abolish presently, —
I being the unit m creation now
Who pay the Maker, in this speech of mine,
A creature ^s duty, spend my last of breath
In beuing witness, even by mv worst fault.
To the creature's obligation, absolute.
Perpetual: my worst fault protests, **The

Claims all of me : I would give all she claims.
But for a spice of doubt : the risk 's too rash :
Double or quits, I play, but, all or naught.
Exceeds my courage : therefore, I descend
To the next faith with no dubiety —
Faith in the present life, made last as long
And prove as full of pleasure as mav hap.
Whatever pain it cause the world.^' I 'm

I 've had my life, whatever I lose : I 'm right ?
I *ve got the single good there was to gain.
Entire faith, or else complete unbelief !
Aught between has mv loathing and contempt.
Mine and Ghxl^s also, doubtless : ask yourself.
Cardinal, where and how you like a man I
Why, eitner with your feet upon his head,
Confessed your caudatory, or, at large.
The stranger in the crowd who cans to you
But keeps his distance, — why should he pre-
Ton want no hangeron and dropperK>ff . ^
Kow yours, and now not yours but quite his own.
According as the sky looks black or bright.
Just so I capped to and kept off from, faith —
Tou promised trudge behmd through fair and

Yet leave i' the lurch at the first spit ot i
Who holds to faith whenever rain burins
What does the father when his son hes dead.
The merchant when his money-bags take wing,
The politioan whom a rival ousts ?
No case but has its conduct, faith prescribes :
Where 's the obedience that shall edify ? ^
Why, they laugh frankly in the face of faith
And take the natural course, — - this rends his

Because his child is taken to Cbd's breast.
That gnashes teeth and raves at loss of trash
Which rust corrupts and thieves break through

and steal.
And this, enabled to inherit earth
Through meekness, ouraes till your blood runs


»it of rain.

Down they all drop to my low level, rest
Heart upon dungy earth that 's warm and soft,
And let who please attempt the altitudes :
Each plaving prodigal son of heavenlv sire.
Turning his nose up at the fatted calf.
Fain to fill belly with the husks, we swine
Did eat by bom depravity of taste 1

Enough of the hypocrites. But you. Sirs,

you —
Who never budged from litter where I lay^
And buried snout i* the draff-box while I fed.
Cried amen to my creed's one article —
** Get pleasure, 'scape pain, — give your prefer-

To the immediate good, for time is brief.
And death ends good and ill and everytmng I
What 's ^t is ^ned, what 's gained soon is

gained twice.
And — inasmuch as faith gains most — feign

So did we brother-like pass word about :
— You. now, — like bloody drunkards but half-
Who fool men yet perceive men find them

Vexed that a titter gains the gravest mouth, —
O' the sudden jon must needs reintroduce
Solemnity, straight sober undue mirth ^
By a blow dealt me ^onr boon companion here.
Who, using the old hcense, dreamed of harm
No more than snow in harvest : yet it falls 1
You check the merriment effectually
By pushing your abrupt machine i' the midst.
Making me Kome's example : blood for wine I
The general good needs that you chop and

change I
I mav dislike the hocus-pocus, — Rome,
The laughter-loving people, won't they stare
Chapfallen I — while serious natures sermonize,
*^ The magistrate, he beareth not the sword
In vain ; who sins mav taste its edge, we see 1 "
Why my sin, drunkaros ? Where have I abused
liberty, scandalized you all so much ?
Who called me, who crooked finger till I came,
Fool that I was, to join companionship ?
I knew my own mind, meatit to live my life.
Elude your envy, or else make a stand,
Take my ownpart and sell you my life dear.
But it was " Fie I No prejudice in the world
To the proper manly instinct I Cast your lot
Into our lap, one genius ruled our births.
We 'U compass joy by concert ; take with us
The regular irregular way i' the wood ;
You '11 miss no game through riding breast by

In this preserve, the Church's park and pale.
Rather than outside where the world lies

Come, if you said not that, did yon say this ?
Give plain and terrible warning, ** Live, enjoy I
Such life begins in death and ends in hell !
Dare vou bid us assist your sins, us priests
Who nurry sin and sinners from the earth ?

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 115 of 198)