Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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The preferable plague : how sure they probe, —
These jades, the sensitivest soft of man 1
The long black hair was wound now in a wisp.
Crowned sorrow better than the wild web late :
No more soiled dress, 'tis trimness triumphs

now.
For how should malice go witfi negligence ?
The framed silk looked the frwher for her

spite I
There was an end to sprin^ng out of bed,
Pravinff me. with face buned on my feet.
Be ninderea^ of my pastime, — so an end
To my rejoinder, What, on the ground at

Vanquished in fight, a supplicant for life ?
What if I raise you ? 'Ware the casting down
When next you fight mel" Then, she lay

there, mine :
Now, mine she is if I please wring her neck, —
A moment of disquiet, working eyes.
Protruding tongue, a long sigh, then no more, —
As if one killea the horse one could not ride I
Had I enjoined "Cut off the hair 1"— why,

snap
The scissors, and at once a yard or so
Had fluttered in black serpents to the floor :
But till I did enjoin it, how she combs.
Uncurls and draws out to the complete length.
Plaits, places the insulting rope on head
To be an eyesore past dishevelment I



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Isalldoiie? Then sit ttin again and tUie I
I adrise — no one think to bear that look
Of steady WTong, endured as steadilj
— Throogh what snstainment of deluding hope?
Who is the friend i' the backgronnd that notes

all?
Who maj oome presently and close aocoonts ?
Hus sel^poBsession to the uttermost.
How does it differ in aught, save degree,
IVom the terrible patience of Ood ?

^^ All which just means,
Sba did not lore you I" Again the word is

launched
And the fact fronts me I What, you try the

wards
With the true key and the dead lock flies oi>e ?
No, it sticks fast and leaves you fumbling still !
Ton hare some fifty serrant^ Cardinal, —
Which of them loves yon ? Which subordinate
But makes parade of such officiousness
That — if there 's no love prompts it — love, tfie



Does twice the service done by love, the true.
God bless us liars, where 's one touch of truth ?
In what we tell the world, or world tells us ,
Of how we love each other ? All the same.
We calculate on word and deed, nor err, —
Bid such a man do such a loving act.
Sure of effect and negligent of cause.
Jnst as we bid a horse, with duck ox tongue.
Stretch his legs arch-wise, crouch his saddled

back
To foot-reach of the stirrup— all for love.
And some for memory of the smart of switch
On the inside of the foreleg — what care we ?
Yet where 's the bond obliges horse to man
like that which binds fast wife to husband ?

God
Laid down the law : gave man the brawnv arm
And ball of fist — woman the beardless cheek
And proper place to suffer in the side :
^noe it IS he can strike, let her obey !
Can she feel no love ? Let her show the more,
Sham the worse, danm herself praise worthily I
Who *s that soprano, Rome went mad about
Last week while I lay rotting in my straw ?
The very jailer gossiped in his praise —
How, — dressed up like Armida, though a man ;
And painted to look pretty, though a fright, —
He stall made love so that the ladies swooned.
Being an eunuch. ** Ah, Rinaldo mine !
But to breathe by thee while Jove slasrs us

both I "
All the poor bloodless creature never felt,
iSt, do^ re, mi^ fa, squeak and squall — for

what?
Two gold zeochines the evening. Here 's my

slave,
Whose body and soul depend upon my nod.
Can't falter out the first note in the scale
For her life I Why blaraemeif I take the life ?
All women cannot gi^e men love, forsooth t
No, nor all pullets lay the henwiie eggs —
Whereat she bids them remedy the fault.
Brood on a chalk-ball: soon the nest is

stocked —
Otherwise, to the plucking and the spit I
This wife of mine was (^ another mood —



Would not begin the lie that ends vrith truth.
Nor feign tfie love that brings real love about :
Wherefore I jndged, sentenced, and punished

her.
But why particularise, defend the deed f
Say that 1 hated her for no one cause
Beyond my pleasure so to do, — what then f
Just on as much incitement acts the world.
All of you I Look and like I You btvor one.
Browbeat another, leave alone a third, —
Why should you master natural caprice ?
Pure nature I Try : plant elm by ash in file ;
Both unexceptionable trees enough.
They ought to overlean each other, pair
At top, and arch across the avenue
The whole path to the pleasaunce : do tfiey so —
Or loathe. Be off abhorrent each from each ?
Lay the unit elsewhere : since we must have

faults.
Mine shall have been — seeing there 's ill in the

end
Come of my course — that I fare somehow

worse
For the way I took : my fanlt ... as God *s

my judge,
I see not where my fault lies, that 's the truth I
I ought ... oh, ought in my own interest
Have let the whole adventure go untried.
This chance by marria^, — or else, trying it.
Ought to have turned it to account, some one
O' the hundred otherwises ? Ay, my friend,
Easy to say, easy to do : step right
Now yon 've stepped left and stumbled on the

thing,
— The red thing I Doubt I any more than you
That practice makes man perfect ? Give again
The chance, — same marriage and no other

wife.
Be sure I 'll edify yon I That 's because
I 'm practised, grown fit guide for Guide's self.
You proffered guidance, — I know, none so

well,—
You laid down law and rolled decorum out,
From pulpit-comer on the gospel-side, —
Wanted to make your great experience mine.
Save me the personal search and pains so:

Take vour word on life's use ? When I take

his —
The muzzled ox that treadeth out the com.
Gone blind in padding round and round one

path,—
As to the taste of green grass in the field I
What do yon know o' the world that 's trodden

flat
And salted sterile with your daily dung.
Leavened into a lump oi loathsomeness ?
Take jour opinion of the modes of life,
The aims of life, life's triumph or defeat.
How to feel, how to scheme, and how to do
Or else leave undone ? You preached long and

loud
On high-days. **' Take our doctrine upon trust 1
Into the nml-nouse with you I Gbina our com.
Relish our chaff, and let the green grass grow I "
I tried chaff, found I famished on such fare.
So made this mad rush at the mill-house-door.
Buried my head up to tfie ears in dew.



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586



THE RING AND THE BOOK



Biowsed on the best : for which yoa brain me,

Sirs!
Be it so. I oonoeiyed of life that way.
And still declare — life, without absolnte use
Of the aotnal sweet therein, is death, not life.
CKyc me, — pay down, — not promise, which is

air,—
Something that 's out of life and better still.
Make sore reward, make certain punishment,
Entice me, scare me, — I 'U forego this life |
Otherwise, no! — the less that words, mere wmd,
Wonld cheat me of some minutes while they

plague.
Balk fulness of reyengehere, — blame your-
selves
For this eruption of the pentp-up soul
Ton prisoned first and played with afterward !
** Deny myself " meant simply pleasure you.
The sacred and su|>erior, save the mark !
Ton, — whose stupidity and insolence
I must defer to, soothe at every turn, —
Whose swine-like snuffling greed and grunting

lust
I had to wink at or help gratify, —
While the same passions, — dared they perk in

me.
Me, the immeasurably marked, by Qod,
Master of the whole world of such as you, —
I, boast such passions ? *T was,' ^* Suppress

them straip:ht !
Or stay, we 'U pick and choose before destroy.
Here 's wrath in you, a serviceable sword, —
Beat it into a ploughshare ! What 's this long
Lance-like ambition ? Forge a pruniug-hook.
May be of service when our vines grow tall !
But — sword used swordwise, spear thrust out

as spear?
Anathema ! Suppreerion is the word ! "
My nature, when the outrage was too gross.
Widened itself an outlet over^wide
By way of answer, sought its own relief
With more of fire and brimstone than you

wished.
All your own doing: preachers, blame your-
selves!

'Tis I preach while the hourglass runs and



!

God keep me patient ! All I sav just means —
My wife proved, whether by her rault or mine, —
That 's immaterial, — a true stumbling-block
I' the wav of me her husband. I but plied
The hatcnet yourselves use to clear a path,
Waspolitic, played the game you warrant wins.
Plucked at law's robe a-rustle through the

courts,
Bowed down to kiss divinity's buckled shoe
Cushioned i' the church : efforts all wide the

aim!
Procedures to no purpose I Then flashed truth.
The letter kills, the spirit keeps alive
In law and gospel : there be nods and winks
Instruct a wise man to assist himself
In certain matters, nor seek aid at all.
** Ask money of me," -— quoth the clownish

saw, —
**And take my purse! But, — speaking with

respect,—



Need you a solaoe for the troubled nose f

Let everybody wipe his own himself ! "

Sirs, t^ me free and fair ! Had things gone

well
At the wayside inn : had I surprised asleep
The runaways, as was so probable.
And pinned them each to other partridge-wise,
Hirough back and breast to breast ana back,

then bade
Bvstanders witness if the n>it, my sword.
Were loaded with unlawful game for once —
Would you have interposed to damp the glow
Applauding me on everjr husband's cheek ?
Would you have checked the cry, "A judg-
ment, see I
A warning, note! Be henceforth chaste, ye

wives.
Nor stray beyond your iiroper precinct,

priests!"
If you had, then your house aeainst itself
Divides, nor stands your kingoom any more.
Oh why, why was it not orduned just so ?
Why fell not things out so nor otherwise ?
Ask that particular devil whose task it is
To trip the all-bnt-at perfection, — slur
The line o' the painter just where paint leaves off
And life begins, — put ice into the ode
O' the poet while he cries ** Next stanza — fire I "
Inscribe all human effort with one word.
Artistry 's haunting curse, the Incomplete !
.Being incomplete, my act escaped success.
Easv to blame now ! Everv fool can swear
To hole in net that held ana slipped the fish.
But, treat my act with fair unjaundioed eye,
What was there wanting to a masterpiece
Except the luck that lies beyond a man ?
My way with the woman, now proved grossly



Just missed of being gravely grandly right
And making mouths laugh on the other side.
Do, for the poor obstructed artist's sake,
Qo with him over that spoiled work once more I
Take only its first flower, the ended act
Now in the dus^ pod, diy and defunct I
I inarch to the V iUa, and my men with me.
That evening, and we reach the door and stand.
I say ... no, it shoots through me lightning-
like
While I pause, breathe, my hand upon the latch,
** Let me forebode 1 Thus far, too much success :
I want the natural failure — find it where ?
Which thread will have to break and leave a

loop
I' the meshy combination, my brain's loom
Wove this long while, and now next minute

tests?
Of three that are to catch, two should go free.
One must : all three surprised, — impossible I
Beside, I seek three and may chance on six. —
This neighbor, t' other gossip, — the bane's

birth
Brings such to fireside, and folks give tfaem

wine, —
'T is late : but when I break in presentiy
One will be found outlingering the rest
For promise of a posset, — one whose shout
Would nuse the dead down in the catacombs.
Much more the city-watch that goes its round.



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\^lien did I ever turn adroitly up

To son some briok embedded in the soil.

And witb one blow onuh all three soorpioDS

there?
Or Pietro or Yiolante shambles off —
It cannot be but I surprise my wife —
If only she is stopped and stamped on, good I
That shall suffice : more is improbable.
Now I may knock 1 " And this once for my

sake
The impossible was effected : I called king,
Queen and knaye in a sequence, and cards

came.
All three, three only ! So, I had my way,
Did my deed : so. nnbrokenly lay bare
Each t»nia that had sucked me dijr of juice.
At last outside me, not an inch of xing
Left now to writhe about and root itself
I' the heart all powerless for revenge I Hence-

torth
I might thrive : these were drawn and dead and

damned.
Oh, Cardinal, the deep lon^ si^h you heave
VHien the load 's off you, nngmg as it runs
All the way down the serpent-stair to hell I
No doubt tne fine delirium flustered me.
Turned my brain with the influx of success
As if the sole need now were to wave wand
And find doors fly wide, — wish and have my

will, —
The rest o' the scheme would care for itself :

escape?
Easy enough were that, and poor beside !
It all but proved so. — ought to quite have

proved.
Since, naif the chances had sufficed, set free
Any one, with his senses at command.
From thxiee the danger of my flight. But,

drunk.
Redundantly triumphant, — some reverse
Was sure to follow I There 's no other wav
Accounts for such prompt perfect failure then
And there on the instant. Any day o' the week,
A ducat slid discreetly into palm
O' the muto poet-master, while you whisper

hiwi —

How you the Count and certain four your

knaves,
Have just been manling who was malapert.
Suspect the kindred may prove troublesome,
Thwef ore, want horses m a hurry, — that
And nothing more securesyou any day
The pick o' the stable ! Yet I try the trick.
Double the bribe, call myself Duke for Count,
And say the dead man only was a Jew,
And for my pains find I am dealing just
With the one scrupulous fellow in all Rome —
Just this immaculate official stares,^
Sees I want hat on head and sword in sheath,
Ajn splayed with other sort of wet than wine,
Shrugs shoulder, pute my hand by, gold and all.
Stands on the strictness of the rule o' the road !
*' Where's the Permission?" Where's the

wretched rag
With the due seal and sign of Rome's Police,
To be had for asking, hiJf an hour ago ?
*' Qone ? G^t another, or no horses hence I "
He dazes not stop me, we five s^are too grim.



But hindeiB, — hacks and hamstrings sure

enough.
Gives me some twenty miles of miry road
More to march in the middle of that night
Whereckf the rough beginning taxed the strength
O' the youngsters, much more mine, both soul

and flesh,
Who had to think as well as act : dead-beat,
We gave in ere we reached the boundary
And safe spot out of this irrational Rome, —
Where, on dismounting from our steeds next

day.
We had snapped our fingers at yon, safe and

sound,
Tuscans once more in blessed Tuscany,
Where laws make wise allowance, understand
Civilized life and do its champions right I
Witness the sentence of the Koto there,
Arezzo uttered, the G^randuke oonfirmed.
One week before I acted on its hint, —



Giving friend Guillichini, for his love,
The ^dleys, and my wife your saint



saint, Rome's



Rome manufactures sainte enough to know, —
Seclusion at the Stinche for her life.
All this, that all but was, might all have been,
Tet was not I balked by just a scrupulous Imave
Whose palm was horn through handling horses'

hoofe
And could not close upon my proffered g^ !
What say you to the spite ot fortune ? Well,
The worst ^s in store : thus hindered, haled this

way
To Rome agmn by hangdogs, whom find I
Here, still to fight with, but my pale frail wife ?
— Riddled wiUi wounds by one not like to

waste
The blows he dealt, — knowing anatomy, —
(I think I told you) bound to pick and onoose
The vital parts ! ^ 'T was learning all in vain I
She too must shimmer through the gloom o'

the grave.
Come and confront me — not at judgment-seat
Where I could twist her soul, as erst her flesh.
And turn her truth into a lie, — but there,
O' the death-bed, with God's hand between U8

both.
Striking me dumb, and helping her to speak.
Tell her own story her own way, and turn
My plausibility to nothingness]
Four whole days did Pompilia keep alive.
With the beet surgei^ of Rome i^pe
At the miracle, — this cut, the other slash.
And yet the life refusing to dislod^.
Four whole extravagant impossible days.
Till she had time to finish and persuade
Every man, every woman, eveiy child
In Rome, of what she would : the selfsame she
Who, but a year ago, had wruns: her hands.
Reddened her eyes and beat her breasts, re-

heaned
The whole game at Arezzo, nor availed
Thereby to move one heart or raise one hand t
When destiny intends you cards like these.
What good of skill and preconcerted play ?
Had she been found dead, as I left her dead,
I should have told a tale brooked no reply :
You scarcely will suppose me found at fault



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THE RING AND THE BOOK



With that advantage ! *' What brings me to

Rome?
Neoewity to claim and take mj wife :
Better, to ohum and take my new-bom babe, —
Steong in paternity a fortnight old,
When 't 18 at stron^t : warily I work.
Knowing the nuushinationfl of mr foe ;
I haye oompanionship and use tne night:
I seek my wife and child, — I find — no child
But wife, in the embraces of that priest
Who oanaed her to elope from me. These two.
Backed by the pander-pair who watch the

while.
Spring on me like so many tiger-cats.
Glad of the chance to end the intmder. I —
What should I do but stand on my defence.
Strike right, strike left, strike thick and three-
fold. sUy,
Not all — oecanse the coward priest escapes.
Last, I escape, in fear of eyil tongues.
And having had my taste of Roman law."
What 's disputable, refutable here ? —
Save by just this one ghost-thing half on earth,
Half out of it, — as if she held God's hand
While she leamt back and looked her Umt at

^ me.
Forgiving me (here monks begin to weep)
Oh, from her very soul, commending mme
To heavenly mercies which are infinite, —
While fixing fast my head beneath ^our knife !
'Tis fate, not fortune. All is of a piece !
When was it chance inf om^ me of my yonths ?
My rustic four o' the famil v, soft swams.
What sweet surprise had they in store tor me,
Those of my ve^ household, — what did Law
Twist with ner raok-and-oord-oontrivance late
From out their bones and marrow ? What but

this —
Had no one of these several stumbling-blocks
Stopped me, they yet were cherishing a scheme.
All of their honest country homespun wit.
To quietly next day at crow of cock
Cut my own throat too, for their own behoof.
Seeing I had forgot to clear accounts
O' the instant, nowise slackened speed for

that,—
And somehow never might find memory.
Once safe back in Arezzo, where things change.
And a court-lord needs mind no country lout.
Well, being the arch-offender, I die last. —
May, ere my head falls, have my eyesight free.
Nor miss them dan jgling high on either hand, ^
Like scarecrows m a hemp-field, for their
pains!

And then my^ Trial, — 't is my Trial that bites
Like a corrosive, so the cards are packed.
Dice loaded, and my life-stake tricked away I
Look at my lawvers, lacked they grace of law,
Latin or logic? Were not they fools to the

height.
Fools to the depth, foob to the level between,
O* the foolishness set to decide the case ?
They feign, they flatter ; nowise does it skill,
Evervthing goes against me : deal each judge
His dole of flattery and feigning, — why, ^
He turns and tries and snuffs and savors it.
As some old fly the sugar-grain, your gift ;



Then eyes your thumb and finger, bmshefl



The absurd old head of him, and whisks away.
Leaving your thumb and finger dirty. Fangn I

And finally, after this long-drawn range
Of affront and failure, failure and affront. —
This path, 'twixt crosses leading to a skull.
Paced by me barefoot, bloodied by my
From the entry to the end, — there 's
length.



:ht at



A crannv of escape : appeal may be
To the Old man, to the father, to the Pope,
For a little life — from one whose life is spent,
A little pity*- from pity's source and seat,
A little maulgence to rank, privilenge.



From one who is tiie thing persomu^Tu,
Rank, privilege, indulgence, grown beyond
Earth's bearing, even, ask Jansenius else I
Still the same answer, still no other tune
From the cicala perched at the tree-top
Than crickets noisy round Uie root, — 'tis

"Diel»'
Bids Law — ''Be damned!" adds Gospel,—

nay.
No word so frank, — 't is rather, *' Save your-
self!"
The Pope subjoins — "Confess and be ab-
solved I
So shall my credit countervail your shame.
And the world see I have not lost the knack
Of trying all the spirits : yours, my son,
Wants but a fiery washing to emerge
In clarity I Come, cleanse you, ease the ache
Of these old bones, refresh our bowels, boy ! '*
Do I mistake your mission from the Pope ?
Then, bear his Holiness the mind of me !
I do get strength from being thrust to walL
Successively wrenched from pillar and rrom

post
By this tenacious hate of fortune, hate
Of all things in, under, and above earth.
Warfare, begun this mean unmanly mode.
Does best to end so, — gives earth spectacle
Of a brave fighter who succumbs to odds
That turn defeat to victory. Stab, I fold
My mantle round me I Rome approves m^ aet :
Applauds the blow which costs me life bnt

keeps
My honor spotless : Rome would praise no more
Had I fallen, say, some fifteen ^ears ago,
Helping Vienna when our Aretmes
Flocked to Duke Charles and fought Turk

Mustafa ;
Nor would you two be trembling o*er my corpse
With all this exquisite solicitude.
Why is it that I make such suit to live ?
The popular sympathy that *s round me now
Would break like bubble that o'er-domes a

fly-
Solid enough while he lies quiet there,
Bnt let him want the air and pljr the wing.
Why, it breaks and bespatters him, what else ?
Cardinal, if the Pope had pardoned me.
And I walked out of prison through the crowd,
It would not be your ann I should dare press I
Then, if I got sale to my place again.
How sad and sapless were the years to come!



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Igo m^r old ways and find thinn grown gray ;
You priests leer at me, old m^ds look as-
kance;
The mob 's in loye, I 'U wager, toa man.
With my poor yonng good beaiiteons mnrdered

wife :
For hearts require instmotion bow to beat.
And eyes, on warrant of the story, wax
Wanton at portraiture in white and black
Of dead Pompilia gradng ballad-sheet.
Which eyes, fiyed she unmurdered and unsung.
Would never turn though she paced street as

bare
As the mad penitent ladies do in France.
My brothers quietly would edge me out
Of use and management of thmgs called mine :
Do I command ? ** You stretched command

before ! "
Show anger ? ** Anger little helped you once I *'
Advise ? ^* How managed jjron affairs of old ? "
My very mother, all the wmle they gird.
Turns eye up, gives confirmatory groan ;
For unsuooesB, explain it how you will,
Disoualifies you, makes you doubt yourself,
— Much more, is found dedsive by your friends.
Beside, am I not fifty years of age r
What new le^ would a life take, checked like

mine
I' the spring at outset ? Where 's my second

chance?
Ay, but the babe ... I had forgot my son,
My heir ! Now for a burst of gratitude I
There 's some appropriate service to intone.
Some gaudeamus and thanksgiving-psakn !
Old, I renew my youth in him, and poor
Possess a treasure, — is not that the phrase ?
Only I must wait patient twenty years —
Nourishing all the while, as father ought.
The excrescence with my daily blood of Ufe.
Does it respond to hope, such sacrifice, —
Grows the wen plump while I myself grow

lean?
Why, here *s my son and heir in evidence.
Who stronger, wiser, handsomer than I
By fifty years, relieves ma of each load, —
Tames my hot horse, carries mv heavy gun.
Courts my coy mistress, — has his apt advice
On house-economy, expenditure,
And whatnot? All which good gifts and great

growth.
Because of my decline, he brings to bear
On Ghiido, but half apprehensive how
He cumbers earth, crosses the brisk young

Count,
Who civilly would thrust him from the scene.
Oontrariwise, does the blood-offering fail ?
There 's an ineptitude, one blank the more
Added to earth in semblance of my child ?
Then, this has been a costly piece of work,
My^ life exchanged for his 1 — why he, not I,
JBnjoy the world, if no more grace accrue ?
Dwm me, what giant have you made of him ?
I do not dread the disobedient son —
I know how to suppress rebellion there,
JBeing not quite the fool ray father was.
But grant the medium measure of a man.
The usual compronuse 'twixt fool and sage,
— You know— the tolerably-obstinate,



The not-so-muoh-perverse but you may train.



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 117 of 198)