Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 128 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 128 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Beath^s rapid line had dosed a life's aooonnt,
And cot off, left unalterably clear
Tlie snmmed-np ralne of EoriiHdes.

**Well,itmightbetheTha8ianI Certainly

There sang snggestiye music in my ears ;

And, through — what sophists s^le — we wall

of sense
My eyes pierced: death seemed life and life

seemed death.
Envisaged that way, now, which I, before,
Conoeiyed was just a moon-struck mood.

Quite plain
There re-insisted, — ay, each prim stiff phrase
Of each old play, my snll-new laughingnrtock.
Had meaning, well worth poefs pains to state.
Should life prove half true life's term, — death,

the rest.
As for the other question, late so large.
Now all at once so little, — he or I, —
Which better comprehended playwright

craft, —
There, too, old admonition took fresh pmnt.
As clear recurred our last word-interchange
Two years nnce, when I tried with * Ploutos.'

*VainI'
Saluted me the cold grave-bearded bard —
* Vain, this late triid, Aristophanes !
None balks the genius with mipunity I
Tou know what Kind 's the nobler, what makes

grave
Or what makes grin : there 's yet a nobler stilL
Possibly, — what makes wise, not grave, — and

Not grinnmg: whereby laughter joins with

tears,
Tragic and Comic Poet prove one power,
AndT Aristophanes becomes our Fourth —
Nay, neatest ! Never needs the Art stand still.
But tnose Art leans on lag, and none like you.
Her strongest of supports, whose step aside
Undoes the march : defection checks advance
Too bite adventured I See the ''Ploutos"

here!
This step decides your foot from old to new —
Ptoves you relinquish song and dance and jest.
Discard the beast, and, rising from all-fours.
Fain would paint, manlike, actual human lite.
Make veritable men think, say and do.
Here 's the conception : which to execute.
Where 's force ? Spent I Ere the race began,

was breath



O* the runner squandered on eadi friendly

fool-
Wit^^ireworks fined off while day craved no

flame:
How should the night receive her due of fire
Flared out in Wasps and Hones, Ckrads and

Biids,
Ptodigionslva-erackle? RestoontentI
The new adventure for the novel man
Born to that next su c c e s s myself foresee
In right of where I readi before I rest.
At end of a long course, straight all the way.
Well may there tremble somewhat into ken
The nntzod path, donds veiled from earlier

gaxel
None may live two fires : I have lived mine



Die idiere Ifixst stand stilL Yon letxogiade.
I leave m^ life's work. / compete with yoo.
My last wttii your last, my ^ Antiope " —
''Phoinissai'^ — with this*' Plootos"? No, I

thinki
Ever shall great and awful Vietocy
Accompany my life — in Maketis
If not Athenai. Take my farewell, friend !
Friend, — for from no consummate exeellenee
Like yours, whatever fault may oountervi^
Do I prof ess estrangement : murk the marsh,
Tet where a solitary marble Uock
Blanches the gloom, there let the om^ perdi !
Ton show — what splinters of Penteukoe,
Islanded by what ordure I Bagks fly.
Rest on the right plaee, thenee depart as free ;
But 'wttre man's footstep, would it traverse

mire
Untainted! Mire is safe for wonns that

crawL'

" Balaustion I Here are very manr words.
All to portray one moment's rush 01 thought, —
And much thev do it I Still, yon understand.
The Arohon, the Feast-master, read theb snm
And substance, judged the banquet^g^ow ex-
tinct.
So rose, discreetly if abmptiy, crowned
The parting cup, — * To the Good Genius,
thenP

*' Up starts you^ Strattis for a final flash :
' Ay, the Qood Grenius ! To the Comic Muse,
She who evolves superiority.
Triumph and joy from sorrow, unsuccess
And all that 's incomplete in human life ;
Who proves such actual failure transient wrong,
Since out of body uncouth, halt and maimed —
Since out of soul grotesque, corrupt or blank —
Fancy, uplifted by the Muse, can flit
To soul and body, reinstate them Man :
Beside which perfect man, how clear we see
Divergency from type was earth's effect I
Escapmg whence by laughter, — Faney^s

feat, —
We right man's wrong, establish tme far

fuse, —
Above misshapen body, uncouth soul.
Reach the fine form, the dear intelligenee—
Above unseemliness, reach decent law, —
By laughter : attestation of the Muse



Digitized by



Google



THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION



641



That low-and-ugsome is not signed and sealed
InoontroTertibly man's portion herOj
Or, if here, —why, still nigh-and-fair exists
In that ethereal realm where laughs onr sool
Lift by the Muse. Hail thou her mimstrant I
Hail who accepted no deformity
In man as normal and remediless,
Bat rather pushed it to such gross extreme
That, outraged, we protest by eye*s recoil
The opposite proves somewhere rule and law I
Hul wno implied, by limning Lama cho e,
Plenty and pastime wait on peace, not war I
Philokleon — better bear a wrong than plead,
Plav the Uti^ous fool to stuff the mouth
Of oikast with the due three-obol fee I
The Paphlagonian — stick to the old swaT
Of few and wise, not rabble-gOTemment I
Trugaios. I^sthetairos, Strepsiades, —
Why multiply examples ? Hail, in fine.
The hero oi each pamted monster — so
'^ " : the nnpictured perfect shape I

A laugh to Aristophanes P

** * Stay, my fine Strattis ' —and I stopped mp-

plause —
'To the Good Genius— but the Tragic Muse!
She who instructs her poet, bids man's soul
Play man's part merelr nor attempt the gods*
lU-giMssed of t Task humanity to height.
Put passion to prime use, urge wHl, unshamed
When will's last effort breaks in impotence I
No power forego, elude : no weakness, — plied
Fairly by power and will, — renounce, deny I
Acknowledge, in such miscalled weakness,

strength
Latent : and substitute thus things for words I
Make man run life's race fainy, — legs and

feet,
CriMing no false wings to o'erfly its length I
Trust on, trust ever, trust to end — in truth I
By truth of extreme passion, utmost wiH,
Shame back all false display of either force —
Burier about such strenuous heat and glow.
That cowardice shall shirk contending, — cant,
Pretensioii, shriyel at truth's first approach I
Pour to the Tragic Muse's ministrant
WhOf as he pictured pure Hippolutos,
Abolished our earth's blot Anphrades ;
Who, as he drew Bellerophon the bold,
Proclaimed Kleonumos incredible ;
Who, as his Theseus towered up man once more.
Made Alkibiades shrink boy again 1
A tear — no woman's tribute, weak exchange
For action, water spent and heart's-blood

sayed —
So man's regret for greatness gone, unsraced
Perchance by even that poor meed, man's

praise —
Bat some god's superabundance of desire,
Teaming of will to 'scape necesn^ —
Ijoye's oyerbrimming for self-sacnfice.
Whence good might be, which never else may be.
By power displayed, forbidden this strait

sphere, —
Effort expressible one only wa^ —
Sooh tear from me iaJl to Eunpides I '

'* The Thaman ! — All, the Thasiap, I account I



** Whereupon outburst the whole company
Into applanse and — laughter, would you Uiink f

** * The unrivalled one I How, never at a kws.

He turns the TVagic on its Comic side

Else imperceptible ! Here 's death itself —

Death of a rival, of an enemy, —

Scaree seen as Comic till the masteMouch

Made it acknowledge Aristophanes I

Lo, that Euripidean laurel-tree

Struck to the neart by lightning ! Sokrates

Would question us, with buan of ** how " and

"why,"
Wherefore the bend's virtue, the bloom's vice.
Till we all wished mm quiet with his friend ;
Agathon would compose an elegy.
Lyric bewailment fit to move a strae.
And, stones responsiye, we might winee, 't is

like;
Nay, with most cause of all to weep the least,
Sophokles ordains mourning for his sake
While we confess to a remorseful twinge : —
Suddenly, who but Aristophanes,
Prompt to the rescue, puts forth solemn hand.
Singles us out the tragic tree's best branch.
Persuades it groundward and, at tip, appends,
For votive-visor. Faun's |||oatjgrinniiig race I
Back it flies, evermore with jest a-top.
And we recover the true mood, and laiigh I '

" I felt as when some Nikias, — ninny-like
Troubled by sunspot-portent, moon-eclipse, —
At fault a httle, sees no choice but sound
Retreat from foeman ; and his troops mistake
The signal, and hail onset in the blast.
And at tholr joyous answer, alaU^
Back the old courage brings the scattered wits ;
He wonders what his doubt meant, quick con-
firms
The hapi>y error, blows the charge amain.
So I repaired things.

** ' Both be praised,' thanked I.
* Ton who have lauded with Aristophanes,
Ton who wept rather with the Lord of Tears f
Priest, do thou, president alike o'er each.
Tragic and Comic function of the god.
Help with libation to the blended twain I
Esther of which who serving, only serves —
Proclaims himself disqualified to pour
To that Good Genius — complex Poetry,
Uniting each god-grace, including both :
Which, operant for body as for soul.
Masters alike the laughter and the tears.
Supreme in lowliest earth, sublimest skj.
Who dares disjoin these, — whether he ignores
Body or soul, whichever half destroys, —
Maims the else perfect manhood, perpetrates
Again the inexpiable crime we curse —
Hacks at the Hermai, halves each guardian

shape
Combining, nowise vainly, prominence
Of august head and enthroned intelleot.
With homelier symbol of asserted sense, —
Nature's prime impulse, earthly appetite.
For, when our folly ventures on the freak.
Would ftan abolish joy and fmitfulness.
Mutilate nature — what avails the Head



Digitized by



Google



642



ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY



Left aolitarily predominant, —

Unbodied 80iil| — not Hermes, both in one ?

I, no mure than our City, acquiesce

In snch a desecration, but defend

Man^s doable nature — ay, wert thou its foe I

Could I once more, thou cold Enrioides,

Encounter thee, in naught would I abate

My warfare, nor subdue my worst attack

On thee whose life-work pi^eached "" Raise soul,

sink sense !
Evirate Hermes ! " — would avenge the god,
And justify myself. Once face to face.
Thou, the argute and tricksy, shouldst not wrap,
As thine old fashion was, in silent scorn
The breast that quickened at the sting of truth.
Nor turn from me. as, if the tale be true.
From Lais when she met thee in thv walks.
And questioned why she had no rights as thou.
Not so ^ouldst thou betake thee, be assured.
To book and pencil, deign me no reply !
I would extract an answer from those lips
bo dosed and cold, were mine the garden-chance I
Gone from the world I Does none remain to

take
Thy part and ply me with thy soplust-skill ?
No sun makes proof of his whole potency
For gold and purple in that orb we -view :
The apparent orb does little but leave blind
The audacious, and confused the worshipping ;
But, close on orb's departure, must succeed
The serviceable cloud, — must intervene,
Induce expenditure of rose and blue,
Reveal what lay in him was lost to us.
80, friends, what hinders, as we homeward go.
If, privileged by triumph gained to-day.
We clasp that cloud our sun left saturate,
The Rhodian rosy with Euripides ?
Not of my audience on my triumph-day.
She nor her husband I AFter the night's news
Neither will sle^p but watch ; I know the mood.
Accompany 1 my crown dedazes my right I '

'* And here you stand with those wann golden
eyes!

'* In honest language, I am scarce too sure
Whether I really felt, indeed expressed
Then, in that presence, things I now repeat:
Nor half, nor any one word. — will that do ?
Maybe, such eyes must strike conviction, turn
One's nature bottom upwards, show the base —
The live rock latent under wave and foam :
Superimposure these I Tet solid stuff
Will ever and anon, obeying star,
(And what star reaches rock-nerve like an eye ?)
bwiro up to surface, spout or mud or flame.
And find no more to ao than sink as fast.

" Anvhow, I have followed happily

The impulse, pledged mv Gemus with effect.

Since, come to see you, I am shown— mjrseli I "

I answered:

** One of us declared for both
'Welcome the glory of Aristophanes.'
The other adds : and, — if that glonr last.
Nor marsh-bom vapor creep to veil the same, —



Once entered, share in our solenmity I
Commemorate, as we, Euripides 1 "

''What? " he looked round, " I darken the

bright house ?
Profane the temple of your deity ?
That 's true ! Else wherefore does he stand

portrayed?
What Rhodian paint and pencil saved so much«
Beard, freckled face, brow — all but breath, I

nope!
Come, that 's unfair : myvelf am somebody.
Yet my pictorial fame 's just potter's work, —
I merely flRore on men's driuking-mugs I
I and the flat-nose, Sophroniskos' son.
Oft make a pair. But what 's this lies be-
low?
His table-book and eraver, playwright's tool !
And lo, the sweet ps^terion, strung and screwed.
Whereon he tried those l e ^ ■ ^ ■ ^ s
And ke^^-i^ and turns and trills.
Lovely lark's tirrarlirra, lad's delight I
Aischulos' bronze-throat eagle-bark aJb blood
Has somehow spoiled my taste for twitterings I
With . . . what, and cud he leave you ' Her-

akles'?
The * Frenzied Hero,' one unfractured sheet.
No pine-wood tablets smeared with treacherous

wax —
Papuros perfect as e'er tempted pen !
This sacrod twist of bay-leaves dead and sere
Must be that crowp Uie fine work failed to

catch,—
No wonder ! This might crown * Antiope.'

* Herakles ' triumph ? In your heart perhaps I
But elsewhere? Come now, I'll explain the

case.
Show you the main mistake. Give me the
sheet!"

I interrupted :

" Aristophanes I
The stranger-woman sues in her abode —

* Be honored as our guest! ' But, call it—

shrine^
Then *' No dishonor to the Dumon ! ' bids
The priestess * or expect dishonor's due I '
Ton enter fresh from your worst infamy,
Last instance of long outrage ; yet I pause.
Withhold the word a-tremble on my lip.
Incline me, rather, yearn to reverence, —
So you but suffer that I see the blaze
And not the bolt, — the splendid fancy-fling.
Not the cold iron malice, the launched lie
Whence heayenly fire has withered ; impotent,
Tet execrable, leave it 'neatb the look
Of yon impassive presence ! What he scorned.
His Uf e long, need I touch, offend my foot.
To proye that malice missed its mark, that lie
Cumbers Uie ground, returns to whence it came ?
I marvel, I deplore, — the rest be mute J
But, throw off hate's celestiality, —
Show me, apart from song-flash and wit-flame,
A mere man's hand ignobly clenched against
Ton supreme calmness, — and I inteipose.
Such as you see me I l^lk breaks Ughtning^

blow I"



Digitized by



Google



THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION



643



He seemed to soaroe so muoh as notioe me,
Aught I had spoken, save the final phrase :
Ai^ted there.

** Euripides grown calm !
Calmness supreme means dead and therefore

safe,"
He muttered; then more audibly began —

** Dead I Such must die I Gould people com-
prehend I
There s the unfairness of it I So obtuse
Are all : from Solon downward with his saw,
^Let none revile the dead, — no, though the

son.
Nay, far descendant, should revile thyself 1 ' —
To nim who made Elektra, in the act
Of wreaking vengeance on her worst of foes.
Scruple to blame, since speech that blames

insults
Too much the very villain life-released*
Now, 1 sajr, only after death, begins
That formidable claim, — immunity
Of faultiness from fault's due punishment f
The living, who defame me. — why, they live :
Fools, — I beet prove them loolish by their life,
Will they but wcatk on, lay their work by mine.
And wait a little, one Oljrmpiad, say !
Then, where 's the vital force, mine froze

beside?
The sturdy fibre, shamed my brittle stuff?
The sehool^eorrectneas, sure of wise award
When my vagaries cease to tickle taste ?
Where 's censure that must sink me, judgment

big
Awaiting just the word posterity
Pants to pronounce ? Time's wave breaks,

buries — whom^
Fools, when myself oonhonts you four years

hence ?
But die, ere next Lenaia. — safely so
Tou 'scape me, slink with all your ignorance.
Stupidity and malice, to that hole
O'er which survivors croak * Respect the

dead!'
Ay, for I needs must ! But allow me dutch
Only a carrion-handful, lend it sense,
(Mine, not its own, or could it answer me ?)
And question, * Tou, I pluck from hiding-place.
Whose cant was, certain vears ago, m.j *^ Clouds ''
Might last until the swallows came with Spring —
Whose chatter, ** Birds " are unintelligible.
Mere psychologic puzzling : poetry ?
List, the true Lay to rock a cradle with I
O man ofMituUn^, wondrous wise ! '
— Would not I rub each face in its own filth
To tune <^ * Now that years have come and

How does the fact stand? What's demon-
strable
By time, that tries things? — your own test,

not mine
Who think men are, were, ever will be fools.
Though somehow fools confute fools, — as these,

you I
Don't mumble to the sheepish twos and threes
Yon cornered and called ^* audience 1 '* face this
me



Who know, and can, and — helped by fifty

vea» —
Do pulverize you pygmies, then as now I '

** Ay, now as then, I pulverize the brood,
Balaustion I Mindful, from the first, where foe
Would hide head safe when hand had fiung its

stone,
I did not turn cheek and take pleasantry.
But flogged while skin could purple and fiesh

start.
To teach foob whom they tried conclusions

with.
First face a-splutter at me prot such splotch
Of prompt slab mud as, fillmg mouth to maw.
Made its concern thenceforwiud not so much
To criticise me as go cleanse itself.
The only drawback to which huge delight, —
(He saw it, how he saw it, that calm cold
Sasaeity vou call Euripides I)
— Why, 't is that, make a muckheap of a man.
There, pillared by your prowess, he remains.
Immortally immerded. Not so ne I
Men pelted him but got no pellet back.
He reasoned, I '11 engage, — * Acquaint the

world
Certain minuteness butted at my knee ?
Dogface Eruzis, the small satirist, —
What better would the manikin desire
Than to strut forth on tiptoe, notable
As who so far up fouled me in the flank ? '
So dealt he with the dwarfe : we giants, too.
Why must we emulate their pin-point play ?
Render imperishable — impotence.
For mud throw mountains ? Zeus, by mud un-
reached, —
Well, 't was no dwarf he heaved Olumpos at I "

My heart burned up within me to my tongue.

'* And why must men remember, ages hence.
Who it was rolled down rocks, but refuse too —
Strattis might steal from I mixture-monument.
Recording what ? *' I, Aristophanes,
Who boast me much inventive in my art.
Against Euripides thus volleyed muck
Because^ in art, he too extended bounds.
I — patriot, loving peace and hating war, — -
Chooeing the rule of few, but wise and good.
Rather than mobNliotatnre, fools and knaves
However multiplied their mastery, —
Despising most of all the demagogue,

g~ Noisome air-bubble, buoyed up, borne along
y kindred breath of knave ana fool below.
Whose hearts swell proudly as each pnfBng face
Grows bi^, reflected in that glassy ball,
Vacuity, just bellied out to break
And righteously bespatter friends the first,)
I loathing, — beyond less puissant speech
Than my own god-grand language to declare, —
The fawning, cozenage and calumny
Wherewith such favorite feeds the populace ■
That fan and set him fiying for reward : —
I who, detecting what vice underlies
Thought's superstructure, — fancy's sludge

and slime
'Twixt fact's sound floor and thought's mere

surface-growth



Digitized by



Google



644



ARISTOPHANES' APOLOGY



Of hopes and iean wluoh root no deenUer down
Than where all saeh mere fungi breed and

bloat —
Namely, man's misconception of the God : —
L loving, hating, wishful from my soul
That ^th should triumph, falsehood haye

defeat,
— Why, all my soul's su^macy of power
Did I pour out in voUev just on him
Who, his whole life long, championed every



I called my heart's cause, loving as I loved.
Hating my hates, spumed falsehood, championed

truth, —
Chaminoned truth not by flagellatinp^ foe
With simple rose and lily, gibe and jeer,
SJi y wink of boon-compamon o'er the bowze
Who, while he blames the liquor, smacks the

lip.
Blames, doubtless, but leers condonation too, —
Ko, the balled Bst broke brow like thunder^

bolt.
Battered till brain flew ! Seeing which descent.
None Questioned that was first acquaintance-
ship.
The avenger's with the vice he crashed through

bone.
Still, he dimleaaed me ; and I turned from foe
To fellow-oghter, flung much stone, more

mud, —
But missed him, since he Hves aloof, I see.'
Pah I stop more shame, deep-cutting glory

throii|:h,
Nor add, this poet, learned, — found no taunt
Tell like 'That other poet studies booksl'
Wise, — cried 'At each attempt to move our

hearts.
He uses the mere phrase of daily life I '
Witty, — ' HiB mother was a herb-w<»nan ! '
Veraciom, honest, loyal, fair and good, —
' It was Kephisophon who helped him write I '

'* Whence, — oh the tragic end of Comedy ! —

Balanstion pities Aristcphanes.

For, who believed him? Those who laughed

so loud?
They heard him call the sun Sicilian cheese I
Hadhe called true cheese — curd, would musdc

move?
What made them laugh but the enormous lie ?
* Kephisophon wrote ^ Herakles " ? ha, ha.
What can have stirred the wine-dregs, soured

the soul.
And set arlying Aristophanes ?
Some accident at which he took o£Eence I
The Tra^c Master in a moodv muse
Passed him unhaiHng, and it hurts — it hurts I
Beside, there's license for the Wine-lees-

songl'"

Blood burnt the cheekbone, each black eye
flashed fierce.

** But this exceeds our license I Stay awhile —
That 's the solution ! both are foreigners,
The fresh-come Rhodian lady, and her spouse
Hie man of Phokis : newly resident.
Nowise instructed — that explains it all I



No bom and bred Athenian but would smile.
Unless frown seemed more fit for ignorance.
These strangers have a privilege !

"Youbhime"
(Presently he resumed with milder mien)
'' Both theory and practice — Comedy :
Blame her from altitudes the Tragic friend
Rose to, and upraised friends along with him.
No matter how. Once there, all's cold and

Passionless, rational ; our world beneath
Shows (should you condescend to grace so much
As glance at poor Athenai) grimly gross —
A population which^ mere flesh and blood.
Eats, drinks, and kisses, falls to fisticnfb.
Then hugs as hugely : speaks too as it acts.
Prodigiously talks nonsense, — townsmen needa
Must parley in their town's vernacular.
Such world has, of two courses, one to choose :
Unworld itself, — or else go blackening off
To its crow-kindred, leave philosophy
Her heights serene, fit perch for owls like you.
Now, since the world demurs to either course.
Permit me, — in default of boy or girl.
So the:r be reared Athenian, good and true« —
To praise what you most blaine I Hear Art^s

defence 1
I 'U prove our institution. Comedy,
Coeval with the birth of freedom, matched
So nice with our Republic, that its growth
Measures each greatness, just as its decline
Would signalize the dowmall of the pair.
Our Art began when Bacchos . . . never

mind I
You and your master don't acknowledge gods :
* They are not, no, they are not I * well, — began
When the rude instinct of our race outspoke.
Found, — on recurrence of f estivitv
Occasioned by black mother-earth^s good will
To children, as they took her vintag^ifts, —
Found — not the least of many benefits —
That wine unlocked the stiff est lip, and loosed
The tongue late dry and reticent of joke.
Through custom's gripe which gladness thrusts

aside.
So, emulating liberalities.
Heaven join^ with earth for that god's day at

least.
Renewed man's privilege, grown obsolete.
Of telling troth nor dreaoing punishment.
Whereon the joyous band disguised their forms
With skins, beast-fashion, daubed each phiz

with dregs,
Then hollaed * Xieighbor, you are fool, yon —

knave,
You — hard to serve, vou — stingy to reward ! '
The guiltiess crowed, the guilty sunk their

crest.
And good folk guned thereby, 't was evident.
Whence^ by degrees, a birth of bumpier thought.
The notion came — not simply this to say.
But this to do — prove, put m evidence.
And act the fool, the knave, the harsh, the

hunks.
Who did prate, cheat, shake fist, draw pmae

string tight,
As crowd might see, which only heard befora



Digitized by



Google



THE LAST ADVENTURE OF BALAUSTION



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 128 of 198)