Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 120 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 120 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

And disenmesh the fame o' the martyr, — mark
How all those means, the unfriended one pur-

To keep the treasure trusted to her breast^
Each stmgsrle in the flisrht from death to life.
How all, by proenration of the powers
Of darkness, are transformed. — no sinfi^ ray.
Shot forth to show and save the inmost star.
Bnt, passed as through hell's prism, proceeding

To the world that hates white : as ye watch, I

Till dusk and such defacement grow edipse

Bv -^marrellous perrersity of man I —

The inadequacy and inaptitude

Of that selname machine, that rery law

Han Taunts, derised to dissipate the gloom.

Rescue the drowning orb from calumny,

— Hear law, appointed to defend the just.

Submit, for best defence, that wickedness

Was bred of flesh and innate with the bone

Borne by Pompilia's spirit for a space.

And no mere chance fault, passiodate and

Finally, when ye find, — after this touch
Of man^s protection which intends to mar
The last pm-point of light and damn the disc. —
One wave of the hand of God amid the worlds
Bid vapor vanish, darkness flee away,
And let the vexed star culminate in peace
Approachable no more by earthly mist —
What I call Qod*s hand, — you, perhaps, —

mere chance
Of the true instinct of an old good man
Who happens to hate darkness and love liprht, —
In whom too was the eye that saw, not dmi.
The natural force to do the thing he saw.
Nowise abated, — both by miracle, —
All this well pondered, — I demand assent
To the enunciation of my text
In face of one proof more that * God is true
And every man a liar ' — that who trusts
To human testimony for a fact
Gets this sole fact — himself is proved a fool ;
Man's speech being false, if but by consequence
That only strengtn is true I while man is weaJc,
And, since truth seem reserved for heaven not

Plagued here by earth's prerogatire of lies.
Should learn to love and long for what, one

Approved by life's probation, he may speak.

**For me, the weary and worn, who haply

To mirth or pity, as I move the mood, —
A friar who glides unnoticed to the grave,
With these bare feet, coarse robe and rope-girt

waist, —
Ihaye long since renounced your world, ye

Yet what forbids I weigh the prixe foregone.
The worldly worth ? i dare, as I were dead,

Disinterestedly judge this and that

Good ^e account ^[ood : bnt God tries the heart.

Still, if you question me of my content

At having put each human pleasure by,

I answer, at the urgency of truth :

As this world seems, I dare not say I know

— Apart from Christ's assurance which de-

cides —
Whether I have not failed to taste much joy.
For manv a doubt will fain perturb my choice —
Many a dream of life spent otherwise —
How human love, in varied shapes, might work
As glory, or as rapture, or as grace :
How conversancy with the books that teach.
The arts that help, — how, to grow good and

Rather than simplv good, and bring thereby
Goodness to breathe and live, nor bom, i' the

Die there, — how these and many another gift
Of life are precious though abjurad by me.
But, for one prize, best meed of mightiest man.
Arch-object of ambition, — earthly praise.
Repute o' the world, the flourish of loud trump.
The softer social fluting, — Oh, for these,

— No, my friends ! Fame, — that bubble which,

Each blows and bids his neighbor lend a breath.
That so he haply may behold thereon
One more enlarged distorted false f ool's^faee.
Until some glany nothing p:rown as big
Send by a touch the imperishable to suds, —
No, in renouncing fame, my loss was light.
Choosing obscurity, my chance was well I ''

Didst ever touch such ampollosity

As the monk's own bubble, let alone its spite ?

What's his speech for, bnt just the fame he

How he dares reprehend both high and low.
Nor stoops to turn the sentence " God is true
And every man a liar— save the Pope
Happily reigning — my respectn to him ! "
And so round off the period. Molinism
Simple and pure ! To what pitch get we next ?
I find that, tor first pleasant conseouence,
Gomez, who had intended to appeal
From Ihe absurd decision of the Court.
Declines, though plain enough his privilege.
To call on help from lawyers any more —
Resolves earth's liars may possess the world,
TiU God have had sufficiency of both :
So may I whistle for my job and fee !

But, for this virulent and rabid monk, —
If law be an inadequate machine.
And advocacy, froth and impotence.
We shall soon nee, my blatant brother ! That 's
Exactly what I hope to show your sort t
For, by a veritable piece of luck.
The providence, you monks round period with.
All maybe gloriously retrieved. Perpend I
That Monastery of the Convertites
Whereto the^ Court consigned Porapilia first,
— Observe, if convertite, why. sinner then.
Or what 's the pertinency of award ? —
And whither she was late returned to die.

Digitized by




— Still in their jniisdiotioii, mark again ! —

That thrifty Sisterhood, for perquisite,

Claims every piece whereof may die possessed

Each sinner in the dronit of its walls.

Now, this Pompilia seeing that, by death

O' the coui>le, all their wealth deTolved on her,

Straight utilized the respite ere decease,

By regular conveyance of the goods

She thought her own, to will and to devise, —

Gave all to friends, Tighetti and the like,

In trust for him she held her son and heir,

Gaetano, — trust which ends with infancy :

So willinpr and devising, since assured

The justice of the court would presently

Connrm her in her rights and exculpate,

Re-integrate and rehabilitate —

Place her as, through my pleading, now she

But here 's the capital mistake : the Court
Found Guido guilty, — but pronounced no word
About the innocency of his wife :
I grounded charge on broader base, I hope I
No matter whether wife be true or false.
The husband must not push aside the law.
And punish of a sudden : that 's the point :
Gather from out my speech the contrary I
It foUows that Pompifia, unrelieved
By formal sentence from imputed fault.
Remains unfit to have and to dispose
Of property which law provides snail lapse :
Wherefore the Monastery claims its due.
Andwhose,pra^, whosetine office, but the Fisc's?
Who but I institute procedure next
Against the person of dishonest life,
Pompilia, whom last week I sainted so ?
I it is teach the monk what scripture means,
And that the tongue should prove a two-edged

No axe sharp one side, blunt the other way.
Like what amused the town at Guide's cost I
Astrcea redux ! I 've a second chance
Before the selfsame Court o' the Governor
Who soon shall see volte-face and chop, change

Accordingly, I charge you on your life,
Send me with all dispatch the judgment late
O' the Florence Rota Court, confirmative
O' the prior judgment at Arezzo, clenched
Again by the Granducal signature,
Wnerein Pompilia is convicted, doomed.
And only destined to escape through flight
The proper punishment. Send me the piece, —
I'll work it! And this foul-mouthed friar

shall find
His Noah's-dove that brought the olive back
Turn into quite the other sootv scout.
The raven, r^oah first put forth the ark,
Which never came back, but ate carcasses !
No adequate machinery in law ?
No power of life and death i' the learned

Methinks 1 am already at my speech.
Startle the world with ** Thou, Pompilia, thus?
How is the fine gold of the Temple aim I "
And so forth. But the courier bids me dose,
And clip away one joke that runs through

Bide by side with the sermon which I send.

How like the heardessneas of the old hnnka
Arcan^li ! GUs Count is hardly cold.
The chent whom his blunders sacrificed,
When somebody musts needs describe the

How the procesdon ended at the church

That boasts the famous relic : quoth our brute,

'' Why, that 's just Martial's phrase for 'make

an end' —
Ad umbilicum nc perventum est!^^
The callous dog, — let who will cut off head.
He cuts a joke, and cares no more than so t
I think my speech shall modifv his mirth:
** How is the fine gold dim I " — but send the

piece I

Alack, Bottini. what is my next word
But death to all that hope ? The Instrument
Is plain before me, print that ends my Book
With the definitive verdict of the Court,
Dated September, six months afterward,
(Such trouble and so long the old Pope gave I)

In restitution of the p^eot fame
Of dead Pompilia, quondam Guide's wife,
And warrant to her representative
Domenico Tiriietti, iMured hereby,
While doing dul^ in his guardianship.
From all molesting, all disquietude,
Each perturbation and vexation brought
Or threatened to be brought against the heir
Bjr the Most Venerable Convent called
Saint Mary Magdalen o' the Convertites
I' the Cono."

Justice done a second time I
Well judged. Marc Antony, Locum-leneru
O' the Governor, a Venturini too I
For which I save thy name, — last of the list 1

Next year but one, conopleting his nine years
Of rule in Rome* died Innocent my Pope
— By some account, on his accession-day.
If he thought doubt would do the next age

'T is i>ity he died unapprised what birth
His reign may boast of, be remembered by —
Terrible Pope, too, of a kind, — Voltaire.

And so an end of all i' the story. Strain

Never so much my eyes, I miss the mark

If lived or died that Gaetano, child

Of Guido and Pompilia : oulv find.

Immediately upon his father^s death,

A record, in the annals of the town —

That Porzia, sister of our Guido, moved

The Priors of Arezzo and their head

Its Gonfalonier to give loyally

A public attestation of the right

O' the Franceschini to all reverence —

Apparently because of the incident

O' the murder, — there 's no mention made o*

the crime.
But what else could have caused such urgency
To cure the mob, just then, of greediness
For scandal, love of lying vanity.
And appetite to swallow crude reports
That bring annoyance to their betters ? — bane
Which, here, was promptlv met by antidote.
1 like and shall translate the eloqu

Digitized by




Of Dearly the wont Latin eyer writ :

" Sinoe antique time whereof the memory

Holds the bennningr, to this present hour, .

The Franoeechini ever ahone, and shine

Still i' the primary rank, sapreme amid

The lustres of Arexio, prona to own

In this great family, the fla^bearer,^

Ghiide ox her steps and gnaniian against foe, —

As in the first beginning^ so to-day I "

There, would you disbelieve the annalist.

Go rather bv the babble of a bard ?

I thought, Arezzo, thou hadst fitter souls,

Petrarch, — nay, Buonarroti at a pinch.

To do thee credit as vexUlifer !

Was it mere mirth the Patavinian meant.

Making thee out, in his yeracious page.

Founded by Janus of the Double Face ?

Well, proving of such perfect parentage.
Our Qaetano, bom of love ana hate.
Did the babe live or die ? I fain would find I
YHiat were his fancies if he grew a man ?
Was he proud, — a true scion of the stock
Which bore the blazon, shall make bright my

Shield, Azure, on a Trinle Mountain, Or,
A Palm-tree, Proper, wnereunto is tied
A Greyhound, Rampant, striving in the slips ?
Or did he love his mother, the base-born.
And fight i' the ranks, unnoticed by the
world ?

Sndi, then, the final state o' the story. So

Did the Star Wormwood in a blazing fall

Frighten awhile the waters and lie lost.

So did this old woe fade from memory :

Till after, in the fulness of the days,

I needs must find an ember yet unquenched.

And, breathing, blow the spark to flame. It

If precious be thesoul of man to man.

So, British Public, who may like me yet,
(Marry and amen I) learn one lesson hence
Of many which whatever lives should teach :
This lesson, that our human speech is naught.
Our human testimony false, our fame
And human estimation words and wind.
Why take the artistic way to prove so much ?
Because, it is the glory and good of Art,
That Art remains the one way possible
Of speaking truth, to mouths like mine at least.
How look a brother in the face imd say,
*' Thy right is wrong, eyes hast thou jret art

blind ;
Thine ears are 8tu£Ped and stopped, despite their

And, oh, the foolishness thou oountest faith I "
Say this as silverly as tongue can troll —
The anger of the man may be endured.

The shrug, the disappointed eves of him
Are not so bad to bear — but nere *s the plague
That all this trouble comes of telling truth.
Which truth, by when it reaches nim, looks

Seems to be just the thing it would supplant.
Nor recognizable by whom it left :
While falsehood would have done the work of

But Art, — wherein man nowise speaks to men,
OnljT to mankind, — Art mav tell a truth
Obhquely, do the thins: shall breed the thought.
Nor wrong the thought, missing the mediate

So may you paint your picture, twice show

Beyond mere imagery on the wall, —
So, note by note, bring music from your mind.
Deeper than ever e*en Beethoven dived. —
So write a book shall mean beyond the facts.
Suffice the eye and save the soul beside.

If this intent save mine, —
rounded to a ring,
ich good ring should do,
succeed in guardianship, —
outside thine. Lyric Love,
of verse (the poet praised)
id to his Italy 1


Written at the request of the Earl of Duff erin
and Clandeboye, who had built a tower to the
memory of his mother, Helen, Countess of
CKffard, on a rock on his estate at Clandeboye,
Ireland, and printed in the PdU Mall Gazette of
December 28, 1883.

Who hears of Helen's Tower, may dream per-
How the (}reek Beauty from the Sc»an Gktte
Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,

Death-doom'd because of her fair countenance.

Hearts would leap otherwise, at thy advance.
Lady, to whom this Tower is consecrate !
Like ners, thy face once made all eyes elate,

Tet, unlike hers, was blessed by every glance.

The Tower of Hate is outworn, far and strange :
A transitory shame of long ago.
It dies into the sand from which it sprang ;
But tiiine, Love's rock-built Tower, shall fear
no change :
God's self laid stable earth's foundation so.

When all the moming-Btars together sang.
^i>n/ 26, 1870.

Digitized by







*' Our Euripides, the Human,

With his droppings of warm tears,
And his touches of things common
Till they rose to touch the spheres.'*


If I mention the simple truth, that this poem ahsolutely owes its ezistenoe to yon, —
who not only snggrestedf bat imposed on me as a task, what has proved the most deliffht-
fol of May-month amusements, — I shall seem honest, indeed, but hardly prudent ; for,
how good and beautiful ought such a poem to be I

Euripides might fear little ; but I, also, haye an interest in the performance ; and what
wonder if I beg you to suffer that it make, in another and far easier sense, its nearest
possible approach to those Greek qualities of goodness and beauty, by laying itself grate-
fully at your feet P R. B.

LoHDOH, July 23, 1871.

Afteb the publication of the fourth volume
of The Ring and the Book in February, 1869,
Browning published nothing until March, 1871,
when he printed Hervi Bid in the CornhiU
Magcuine^ afterward including it in his first
new volume of collected poems. In August of
the same year appeared the first of his larger
ventures in the field of Greek life. This poem
was followed four years later by Aristophanes

About that strangest^ saddest, sweetest song
I, when a girl, hesffd m E[ameiroe once,
And, after, saved my life by ? Oh, so glad
To tell you the adventure !

PhuBis, Gharop^, Chrusion I Tou must know,
This ** after " fell in that unhappy time
When poor reluctant Nikias, pushed by fate,
Went zalteringly against Syracuse ;
And there shamed Athens, lost her ships and

And gained a grave, or death without a grave.
I was at Rhodes — the isle, not Rhodes the

Mine was Kameiros — when the news arrived :
Our people rose in tumult, cried, ** No more
Dutv to Athens, let us join the League
And side with Sparta, share the spoil, — at

Abjure a headship that will ruin Greece ! '*
And so, they sent to Knidos for a fleet
To come and help revolters. Ere help came, —
Girl as I was, and never out of Rhodes
The whole of jay^ first fourteen years of life,
But nourished with IHssian motnerVmilk, —
I passionately cried to who would hear

Apology^ and it is so intimately connected with
Balaustion*8 Adventure that in this edition it is
made to follow it, though the chronological
sequence was broken, as will be seen, by the
composition and publication of other considera-
ble works. The motto at the head of the
poem is from Mrs. Browning, and in the last
lines of the poem Browning couples her with his
friend Sir Frederick Leighton.

And those who loved me at Kameiros — **" No I

Never throw Athens off for Sparta's sake —

Never disloval to the life and light

Of the whole world worth calling world at all !

Rather go die at Athens, lie outstretched

For feet to trample on, before the gate

Of Diomedes or the Hippadai,

Before the temples ana among the tombs.

Than tolerate the grim felicity

Of harsh Lakonia I Ours the fasts and feasts,

Cho^ and Chutroi : ours the sacred grove,

Agora^Dikasteria, Poikil^,

Pnux, Keramikos ; Salamis in sight,

Psuttiilia, Marathon itself, not far I

Ours tilie p^reat Dionusiac theatre.

And tragic triad of immortal fames,

Aischulos, Sophokles, Euripides I

To Athens, aU of us that have a soul,

Follow meP' And I wrought so with my

That certain of my kinsfolk crossed the strait
And found a ship at Kaunos ; well-disposed
Because the Captain — where did ne draw

first but within Psnttalia ? Thither fled
A few like-minded as ourselves. We turned

Digitized by




Hie i^ad prow westward, soon were out at sea,
Poahinflr, oraye ship with the Termilion cheek,
Proud for our heart's true harbor. But a wind
Laj ambnsbed by Point Malea of bad fame.
And leapt out, bent as from our oonrse. Next

Broke stormless, so broke next blue day and

** But whither boond in this white waste ? "

The inlot^s old experience : ** Cos or Crete ? *'
Becanse he promised us the land ahead.
While we strained eyes to share in what he saw.
The Captain's shout startled us; round we

What hnngr behind us but a pirate-ship
Panthigr for the good prize 1 ** Row I harder

row I
Row for dear life I " the Captain cried : ** 't is

Friendly Crete looming large there I Beat this

That 's but a keles, one-benchedpirate-bark,
liokrian, or that bad breed off Thessaly I
Only, so cruel are such water^thieyes.
No man of you, no woman, child, or slaye.
But faUs their prey, onoe let them board our

So, furiouslT our oarsmen rowed and rowed :
And when tne oars flagged somewhat, dash and

As we approached the coast and safe^, so
That we could hear behind us plain the threats
And curses of the pirate panting up
In one more throe and paarion of pursuit,—
Seeing our oars flag in the rise and fall,
I sprang upon the altar by the mast
Anid sang aloft — some genius prompting me —
That song of ours which sayed at Salamis :
** O sons of Qreeks. go, set your country free.
Free your wiyes, me your children, free the

C the Qods, your fathers founded, — sep-
They sleep in I Or saye all, or all be lost 1 "
Then, in a frenzy, so the noble oars
Churned the black water white, that well away
We drew, soon saw land rise, saw hiUs grow

Saw spread itself a sea-wide town with towers,
Not fifty stadia distant ; and, betwixt
A large bay and a small, the islet-bar,
£yen Ortugia's self — oh, luckless we I
For here was Sicily and Syracuse :
We ran npon the hon from the wolf.
"Exe we drew breath, took counsel, out there

A galley, hailed us. " Who asks entry here
In war-time? Are you Sparta's mend or

** Kaimians,*' — our Captain judged his best

** The mainland-seaport that belongs to Rhodes ;
Rhodes that casts in her lot now with the

Forsaking Athens, — yon haye heard belike ! "
** Ay, but we heaid aD Athens in one ode
Just now I we heard her in that Aischulos !

Ton bring a boatful of Athenians here,
Kaunians although you be : and prudence bids.
For Kaunos' sake, why, carry them unhurt
To Kannos, if you will : for Athens' sake.
Back must you, though ten pirates blocked the

bay I
We want no ooloinr from Athens here.
With memories of Salamis, forsooth.
To spirit up our captiyes, that |»ale crowd
I' the quarry, whom the daily pint of com
Keeps m good order and submissiyeness."
Then the gray Captain prayed them by the

And by their own knees, and their fathers'

They should not wickedly thmst suppUants

But saye the innocent on traffic bound —
Or, maybe, some Athenian family
Perishing of desire to die at home,—
From that yile foe still lying on its oars.
Waiting the issue in the distance. Vain I
Words to the wind I And we were just about
To turn and face the foe, as some tired bird
Barbarians pelt at, driye with shouts away
From shelter in what rocks, howeyer rude.
She makes for, to escape the kindled eye.
Split beak, orook'd claw o' the creature, coimo-

Or oosif rage, that, hardly baffled, hangs
Afloat i' the foam, to take her if she turn.
So were we at destruction's yery edge.
When those o' the galley, as they had discussed
A point, a question raised by somebody^
A matter mooted in a moment, — ^* Wait I "
Cried they (and wait we did, you may be sure).
** That song was yeritable Aischulos,
Familiar to the mouth of man and boy.
Old glory: how about Euripides ?
The newer and not yet so famous bard.
He that was bom upon the batUe-day
While that song ana the salpinx sounded him
Into the world, first sound, at Salamis —
Mig^t yon know any of his yerses too ? "

Now, some one of the Oods inspired this speech :
Since ourselyes knew what happened but last

year —
How, when Gulippos gained his yictory
Oyer poor Nikias, poor Demosthenes,
And Syracuse condemned the conquered force
To dig and starye i' the quarry, branded

them —
Freeborn Athenians, brute-like in the front
With horse-head brands, — ah, ** Region of

the Steed'; I —
Of all these men immened in misery,
It was found none had been advantaged so
By aught in the past life he used to prize
And pride himself concerning, — no rich man
By riches, no wise man by wisdom, no
Wiser man still (as who loyed more the Muse)
By storing, at brain's edge and tip of tongue.
Old glory, great p]a,ya that had long ago
Made themselyes wings to fly about the

world, —
Not one suon man was helped so at his need
As certain few that (wisest they of all)

Digitized by




Had, at fint summons, oped heart, flung door

At the new knocking of Euripides,
Nor drawn the bcdt with who cried "Deca-
dence I
And, after Sophokles, be nature dumb I "
Snoh, — and isee in it Qod Baochos' boon
To sonls that recognized his latest child.
He who himself, bom latest of the Gods,
Was stontljT held impostor by mankind, —
Snch were m safety : any who could speak
A chorus to the end, or prologize.
Roll out a rhesis. wield some golden length
Stiffened by wisdom out into a line,
^ thrust and parry in bright monostich.
Teaching Euripides to Syracuse —
Any such happ^ man had promnt reward :
If he lay bleedinpr on the battleneld
They stanched his wounds and gave him drink

and food;
If he were slave i* the house, for reverence
They rose up, bowed to who proved master

And bade nim ^ free, thank Euripides I
Ay, and such did so: many such, he said.
Returning home to Athens, sought him out,
The old bard in the solitary house.
And thanked him ere they went to sacrifice.
I say, we knew that story of last year I

Therefore, at mention of Euripides,

The Captain crowed out, *^ Euoi, praise the

Oop, boys, bring our owl-shield to the fore !
Out with our Sacred Anchor I Here she

Balaustiou I Strangers, greet the lyric girl !
Euripides I Babai I what a word there ^scaped
Tour teeth's enclosure, quoth my grandsire's

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 120 of 198)