Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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leon III. as instanced in her poems nnqnea-
tionably gave distinctness to Browning's own
refiections. The motto is from the HerculeM
Furens of Euripides, w. 1276-1280, and the
translation is presumably by Browning. Tliere
is a palace Hohen-Schwangan, built by the
Bavarian mad king Ludwig.



ToiT have seen better days, dear? So have

I-
And worse too, for they brought no such bndr

month ^
As yours to lisp ** Ton wish yon knew me ! ''

Well,
Wise men, 'tis said, have sometimes wished

the same,
And wished and had their trouble for their

pains.
Suppose my (Edipus should lurk at last
Under a pork-pie hat and crinoline.
And, latish, pounce on Sphinx in Leicester

S9uare?



Jealous that the good trick whidi served the

turn
Have justice rendered it, nor class one day
With friend Home's stilts and tongs and

medium-ware, —
What if the once redoubted Sphinx, I say,
(Because night draws on, and the sands in-



And desert-whispers grow a prophecy,)

Tell all to Corintn of her own accord,

Bright Corinth, not dull Thebes, for Lau'

sake,
Who finds me hardlv ^y, and likes my nose.
And thinks a man of sixty at the prime ?
Good I It shall be I Revealment of myself !
But listen^ for we must cooperate ;
I don't dnnk tea : permit me the cigar !

First, how to make the matter plain, of

course —
What was the law by which I lived. Let 's

Ay, we must take one instant of my life
Spent sitting by your side in this neat room :
Watch well the way I use it, and don't laugh I
Here 's paper on the table, pen and ink :
Give roe tne soiled bit — not the pretty rose I
See I having sat an hour, I 'm rested now.
Therefore want work : and spy no better work
For eye and hand and mind that guides them

both,
During this instant, than to draw my pen
From blot One — thus — up, up to blot Two —

thus —
Whkh I at last reach, thus, and here 's my Hne



Five inches long and tolerably straight:
Better to draw than leave undrawn, I think,
fitter to do than let alone, I hold.
Though better, fitter, by but one degree.
Therefore it was that, rather than sit still
Simplv, my right-hand drew it while my left
Pullea smooth and pinched the moustache to a
point.

Now I permit your plump lips to unpurse :
** So far, one possibly may understand
Without recourse to witchcraft I " True, mj

dear.
Thus folks begin with Euclid, — finish, how ?
Tnring to square the circle I — at any rate.
Solving abstmser problems than this first,
** How find the nearest way 'twixt point and

point."
Deal but with moral mathematics so —
Master one merest moment's work of mine.
Even this praotiBing with pen and ink, —
Demonstrate why I rather plied the quill
Than left the space a blank, — you gain a £aet.
And Gk>d knows what a fact 's worth ! So pro-
ceed
By inference from just this moral fact
— I don't say, to tluit plaguy quadrature,
** What the whole man meant, whom you wish

you knew,"
Bnty what meant certain things he did of old.
Which puzzled Europe, — why, you 'U find

them plain.
This way, not otherwise : I guarantee.
Understand one, you comprdiend Uie rest.
Rajrs from all round converge to any point :
Study^ the point then ere you track uie rays I
The size o'^the circle 's nothing ; subdivide
Earth, and earth's smallest grain of mustard*

seed,
Ton count as many parts, small matching large.
If you can use the mind's eye : otherwise.
Material optics, beine gross at best.
Prefer the large and leave our mind the small —
And pray how manv folk have minds can see ?
Certainly you — and somebody in Thrace
Whose name escapes me at the moment. Yon —
Lend me your mind then I Analyze with me
This instance of the line 'twixt blot and blot
I rather chose to draw than leave a blank.
Things else being equal. You .are tanght

thereby
That 't is my nature, when I am at ease.



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Rather than idle out my life too long,
To want to do a thing — to put a thought.
Whether a great thought or a little one,
Into an act, as nearly as may be.
Make what is absolately new — I oan\
Mar what is made already well enough —
I won't : but turn to best acoount the thing
That 's half-made — that I can. Two blots, yon

saw
I knew how to extend into a line
Symmetric on the sheet they blurred before —
Such little act sufficed, this time, such thought.

Now, we 'U extend ravs, widen out the verge,
Describe a larger circle ; leave this first
Clod of an instance we began with, rise
To the complete world many dods effect.
Only continue patient while I throw,
Delver-like, spadeful after spadeful up.
Just as truths come, the subsoil of me, mould
Whence roring my moods: your object, — just

to find.
Alike from handlift and from barrow-load.
What salts and silts may constitute the earth —
If it be proper stuff to blow man glass.
Or bake him pottery, bear him oaks or wheat—
What 's bom of me, in brief ; whidi found,

all 's known.
If it were senius did the digging-job.
Logic would speedily sift its product smooth
And leaye the crude truths bJfire for poetry ;
But I 'm no poet, and am stiff i* the oack.
What one spread fails to bring, another may.
In goes the shoYcl and out comes scoop— as

here I

I liye to please myself. I recognize

Power passing mine, immeasurable, God —

Above me, whom he made, as heaven beyond

Earth — to use figures which assist our sense.

I know that he is there as I am here.

By the same proof, which seems no proof at all.

It so exceeds familiar forms of proof.

Why ** there," not " here " ? Because, when

Isay "there"
I treat the feeling with distincter shape
That space exists between us : I, — not he, —
Live, think, do human work here — no machine,
His will moves, but a being by myself.
His, and not he who made me for a work.
Watches my working, judges its effect.
But does not interpose.^ He did^ so once.
And probably will again some time — not now.
Life bein^ the minute of mankind, not God's,
In a certain sense, like time before and time
After man's earthlv life, so far as man
Needs apprehend the matter. Am I clear ?
Suppose I bid a courier take to-ni^ht —
(. . Once for all, let me talk as if I smoked
Yet in the Residenz, a personage :
I must still represent the thing I was,
Galvanicallv make dead muscle play.
Or how shall I illustrate muscle's use ?)
I could then, last July, bid courier take
Message for me, post-haste, a thousand mUes.
I bid mm, since I have the right to bid.
And, my part done so far, his part begins ;
He starts with due equipment, will and power.



Means he majr use, misuse, not use at all.
At his diKretion, at his peril too.
I leave him to himself : but, journey done,
I count the minutes, call for the result
In quickness and the courier quality.
Weigh its worth, and then pumsh or reward
According to proved service ; not before.
Meantime, he sleeps through noontide, rides till

dawn.
Sticks to the straight road, tries the crooked

path.
Measures and manages resource, trusts, doubts
Advisers by the wayside, does his best
At his diBoretion, lags or launches forth,
(He knows and I know) at his peril too.
xou see ? Exactly thus men stand to Gk>d :
I with my courier, God with me. Just so
I have his bidding to perform ; but mind
And body, all of me, though made and meant
For that sole service, must consult, concert
With my own self and nobodv beside.
How to effect the same : God helps not else.
'Tis I who, with my stock of craft and strength.
Choose the directer cut across the hedge.
Or keep the foot-track that respects a crop.
Lie down and rest, rise up and run, — live spare.
Feed free, — all that 's my business : but, ar-
rive.
Deliver message, bring the answer back.
And make my bow, I must: then God will

speak,
Praiee me or haply blame as service proves.
To other men, to each and every one.
Another law ! what likelier ? God, perchance,
Grants each new man, bv some as new a mode.
Intercommunication with himself.
Wreaking on finiteness infinitude ;
By such a series of effects, gives each
Last his own imprint : old yet ever new
The process : 'tis the way of Deity.
How it succeeds, he knows : I only know
That varied modes of creatureship abound.
Implying just as varied intercourse
For each with the creator of them all.
Each has his own mind and no other's mode.
What mode may yours be ? I shall sympathize !
No doubt, you, good young lady that you are.
Despite a natural naughtiness or two.
Turn eyes up like a P^adier Ma^alen
And see an outspread providentuil hand
Above the owl's-wing aigrette— gruard and

guide —
Visibly o'er your path, about ^rour bed.
Through all your practisings with London-town.
It points, you go ; it stays fixed, and you stop ;
Tou quicken its procedure by a word
Sp oken, a thought in silence, prayer and praise.
Well, I believe that such a hand may stoop.
And such appeals to it may stave off harm.
Pacify the grim guardian of this Square,
And stand you in good stead on quarter-day :
Quite possible in your case ; not in mine.

Ah, out I choose to make the difference.
Find the emancipation ? " No. I hope !
If I deceive myself, take noon tor night,
Please to become determinedly blind
To the true ordinance of human life.
Through mere presumption — that is my affair.



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And trnljr a graye one ; bat as grave I think
Your affair, vootb, the speoiaUjr obserred, —
Each f ayorea person that peroeives his path
Pointed him, ineh by inoh, and looks aboYe
For sniidanoe, throns^ the maies of this world.
In what we call its m eanes t life-career
— Not how to manage Europe properly,
But how keep open shop, and yet pay rent.
Rear household, and make botb ends meet, the



I say, such man is no less tasked than I

To duly take th^ path appmnted him

By whatsoever sign he recospuze.

Our insincerity on both our heads I

No matter what the object of a life.

Small work or large, — the making thriye a

shop.
Or seeing that an empire take no harm, —
There are known fnuts to judge obedience by.
YouVe read a ton's weight, now, of news-
paper—
Liyes of me, gabble about the kind of prince —
You know my work i' the rough ; I ask you,

then.
Do I appear subofdinated less
To hand-impulsion, one prime pnrii for all,
Than little uves of men, the multitude
That cried out, every quarter of an hour,
For fresh instructions, did or did not work.
And praised in the odd minutes ?

£b, my dear ?
Such is the reason why I acquiesced
In doing what seemed best for me to do.
So as to please myself on the great scale.
Haying regard to immortality
No less than life — did that which head and

heart
Prescribed my hand, in measure with its means
Of doing — used my special stock of power —
Not from the aforesaid head and heart alone.
But every sort of helpful circumstance.
Some problematic and some nondescript :
All regulated by the single care
I* the last resort — that Imade thoroughly serve
The when and how, toiled where was need, re-
posed
As resolutely at the proper point.
Braved sorrow, courted joy, to just one end :
Namely^ that just the creature 1 was bound
To be, 1 should become, nor thwart at all
God's purpose in creation. I conceive
No other autv possible to man, —
Highest mind, lowest mind, — no other law
By which to judge life failure or success :
What folk call being saved or cast away.

Such was my rule of life; I worked my best.
Subject to ultimate judgment, God's not man's.



Wefl then, this settled, — take ^our tea, I beg,
And meditate the fact, 'twixt np and sip, —
This settled —why I pleased myself, you
B V turning blot and blot into a line,
O^ the little scale, — we'll try now (as



tongue
Tries the concluding
To please me most o'

just now.



your



p) what 's meant

le great scale. Why,



With nothing else to do within my reach.

Did I prefer making two blots one line

To wiAinif yet another separate

Third blot, and leaving those I found unlinked f

It meant, I like to use the thing I find.

Rather than strive at unfound novelty : '

I make the best of the old, nor try for new.

Such will to act, such choice of action's way.

Constitute — when at work on the great scale.

Driven to their farthest natural consequence

By all the help from all the means — my own

Particular faculty of serving God,

Instinct for putting power to exercise

Upon some wish ana want o' the time, I prove

Possible to mankind as best I may.

This constitutes my mission, — grant the

Namely, to rule men — men within my roaeh,

To order, influence and dispose them so

As render solid and stabiliiy

Mankind in particles, the light and loose.

For their good and my pleasure in the act.

Such good accomplished proves twice good te

me —
Good for its own sake, as the just and right.
And, in the effecting also, good again
To me its agent, tasked as suits my taste.

Is this much easy to be understood

At first glance ? Now begin the steady gaae !



My rank — (if I must tell you simple truth —
Telling were else not worth the whiff o* the

weed
I lose for the tale's sake)— dear, my rank i'

the world
Is hard to know and name precisely : err
I may, but scarcely overestmiate
My style and title. Do I class with mem
Most useful to their fellows ? Possibly, —
Therefore, in some sort, best ; but, |

And rarest nature ? Evidently no.

A conservator, call me, if you please.

Not a creator nor destroyer: one

Who keeps the world safe. I profess to 1

The broken drele of society,

Dim actual order, I can redescribe

Not only where some segment rilveMrue

Stays dear, but where the breaks of

commence
Baffling you all who want the eye to probe —
As I miake out yon problematic thin
White paring of your thumb-nail outside theie^
Above the plaster-monarch on his steed —
See an inch, name an ell, and prophesy
O' the rest that ought to follow, the round

moon
Now hiding in the night of things: that round,
I labor to demonstrate moon enough
For the month's purpose, — that society.
Render efficient for the age's need :
Preserving you in either ease the old.
Nor aiming at a new and greater thi^g,
A sun for moon, a future to be made
By first abolishing the present law :
No such proud tadc for me by any means !
History shows you mem whoee masterHoodi



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Not BO maoh modifies as makes anew :
Minds that transmute nor need restore at aU.
A breath of Gk>d made manifest in flesh
Sabjeots the world to ohange, from time to

time.
Alters the whole conditions of onr raoe
Abruptly, not b j nnperoeived desrrees
Nor piaj of elements already there,
Bat anite new learen, leayening the lump.
And liker, so, the natoral prooess. See 1
Where winter reigned for ages — by a turn
r Uie time, some star-change, (ask geologists,)
The ice-tracts split, clash, splinter and disperse,
And there 's an end of immobility,
Silenee, and all that tinted pa^[eant, base
To pinnade, one flash from fairyland
Dead-asleep and deserted somewhere, — see I —
As a fresh son, wave, spring and joy oatbarst.
Or else the earth it is. tmie starts from trance,
Her mountains tremble into fire, her plains
HeaTC blinded by confusion : what resolt ?
New teeming erowth, surprises of strange life
Impossible before, a world broke up
And re-made, order gained by law destroyed.
Not otherwise, in our society
F<dlow like portents, all as absolute
Regenerations: they have birth at rare
Uncertain unexpected intervals
C the world, by ministry impossible
Before and after fulness of the days :
Some denrish desert-spectre, swordsman, saint.
Lawgiver, lyrist, — oh, we know the names I
Quite other these than I. Our time requires
No such strange potentate, — who else would

dawn, — •
No fresh force till the old have spent itself.
Such seems the natural economy.
To shoot a beam into the dark, aisistB :
To make that beam do fuller service, spread
And utilize such bountv to the height.
That aarists also, — ana that work is mine.
I recognize, contemplate, and approve
The general compact of society.
Not simply as I see effected good.
But good i' the germ, each chance that *s possi-
ble
I' the plan traced so far : all results, in short.
For better or worse of the operation due
To those exceptional natures, unlike mine.
Who, helping, thwarting, conscious, unaware,
Did somehow manage to so far describe
This diagram left ready to my hand,
WaitinsT my turn of trial. I see success.
See failure, see what makes or mars through-
out.
How shall I else but help complete this plan -
Of which I know the purpose and approve,
By letting stay therein what seems to stand.
And addmg good thereto of easier reach
To-day than yesterday ?

So much, no more I
Whereon, ^ No more than that ? " — inquire

aggrieved
Half of my critics : ** nothing new at all ?
The old plan saved, instead of a sponged slate
And h^sn-drawn figure ? "

as that?"



- while, ^ So much



Object their fellows of the other faith :
''*' Leave uneffaced the orasy labyrinth
Of alteratioQ and amendment, lines
Which every dabster felt in duty bound
To siffnalise his power of pen and ink



B^ adding to a plan once plain enough f
keep each
and blur



^1^



keep each fool's beqneathment, serateh



Which overscrawl and underscore the piece —
Nay, strengthen them by touches of your
own?"

Well, that 's my mission, so I serve the world,
Firare as man o* the moment, — in default
Of somebody inspired to strike sudi change
Into society — from round to square.
The ellipsis to the rhomboid, how vou please.
As suits the size and shape o' tne w^d ne

finds.
But this I cauj — and nobodv my peer, —
Do the best with the least cnange possible :
Garry the incompleteness on, a stage.
Make what was crooked straight, and rough;-

ness smooth.
And wea knes s strong : wherein if I succeed.
It will not prove the worst achievement, sui«.
In the eyes at least of one man, one I look
Nowise to catch in critic company :
To wit, the man inspired, the genius' self
Destined to come and change things thoroughly.
He, at least, finds his business simplified.
Distinguishes the done from undone, reads
Plainly what meant and did not mean this

time
We live in, and I work on. and transmit
To such successor : he will operate
On good hard substance, not mere shade and

shine.
Let all my critics, bom to idleness
And impotency, get their good, and have
Their hooting at the ^ver : I am deaf —
Who find great good m this societv.
Great gain, the purchase of great labor. Touch
The work I may and must, but — reverent
In every fall o' the finser-tip, no doubt.
Perhaps I find all good there 's warrant for
I' the world as yet : nay, to the end of time, —
Since evil never means part company
With mankind, only shift side and chango

shape.
I find advance i' the main, and notablv
The Present an improvement on the Past,
And promise for the Future — which shall

prove
Only the Present with its roug^ made smooth.
Its mdistinctness emphasized ; I hope
No better, nothing newer for mankind,
But something equably smoothed everywhere,.
Good, reconciled with iiardlv-<|uite-a8-good,
Instead of good and bad each jostling each.
** And tlUkt 's all ? " Ay, and quite enough for

me I
We have toiled so long to gain what gain I find
r the Present, — let us keep it I Weshalltoil
So long before we gain — if gain Gk>d grant —
A Futare with one touch of difference
I* the heart of things, and not their outnde

face, —



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Let ns not risk the whiff of my cigar

For Fourier, Gomte, and all that ends in smoke I

Hiis I see clearest probably of men

With power to act and influence, now alive :

Jnster than they to the true state of things ;

In consequence, more tolerant that, side

By side, shall co-exist and thrive alike

In the age, the various sorts of happiness

Moral, mark I — not material — moods o* the

mind
Suited to man and man his opposite :
Say, minor modes of movement — hence to

there.
Or thence to here, or simply round about —
So long as each toe spares its neighbor's kibe.
Nor si^nls the major march and main advance.
The love of peace, care for the family.
Contentment with what 's bad but might be

worse -^
Good movements these! and good, too, dis-
content.
So kmg as tnat spurs good, which might be

best,^
Into becoming better, anyhow :
Good — pride of country, putting hearth and

home
I' the background, out of undue prominence :
Good — yearning after change, strife, victory*
And tnnmph. Each shall have its ormt

marked.
But no more, — none impede the other's path
In this wide world, — though each and all

alike,
Save for me, hdn. would spread itself through

space
And leave its fellow not an inch of way.
I rule and regulate the course, excite.
Restrain: because the whole machine should

march
Impelled by those diversely-moving parts.
Each blind to aught beside its little bent.
Out of the turning round and round inside.
Comes that straightforward world-advance, I

want.
And none of them suppones Gk>d wants too
And gets through just their hindrance and my

help.
I think that to have held the balance straight
For twenty years, say, weighing claim and

claim
And giving each its due, no less no more.
This was good service to humanity.
Right usage of my power in head and heart.
And reasonable piety beside.
Keep those three pomts in mind while judging

me!
Tou stand, perhaps, for some one man, not

men, —
Represent this or the other interest.
Nor mind the general welfare, —so, iihpugn
My practice and dispute my value : why ?
Tou man of faith, I did not tread the world
Into a paste, and thereof make a smooth
Uniform mound whereon to plant your flag.
The lily-white, above the blood and brains !
Nor 3ret did I, you man of faithlessness,
So roll things to the level which you love,



That you could sl^uid at ease there and survey
The universal Nothing undisenioed
By pert obtrusion of some old church-spire
r tne distance! Neither friend would I ooa-

tent.
Nor, as the world were simply meant for him«
Thrust out his fellow and mend God's mistake.
Why, you two fook, — my dear friends all the

same. —
Is it some cnange o' the world and nothing else
Contents you ? Should whatever was, not be ?
How thanklessly you view things I There's

the root
Of the evil, source of the entire mistake :
Tou see no worth i' the world, nature and life.
Unless we change what is to what may be.
Which means, — may be, i' the brain of one of

you!
" Reject what is ? "— all capabilities—^
Nay, you may style them chances if yoa

choose —
All chances, then, of lumpiness that lie
Open to anybody that is bom.
Tumbles into tms life and out again, —
All that may happen, good and evil too,
I' the siMice between, to each adventurer
Upon this 'sixty. Anno Domini:
A life to live — and such a life ! a world
To learn, one's lifetime in, — and sooli a

world I
How did the foolish ever pass for wise
By calling life a burden, man a fly
Or worm or what 's most insignificant ?
** O littleness of man ! " deplores the bard ;
And then, for fear the Powers should poiuah

him,
** O grandeur of the visible universe
Our human littleness contrasts withal !

sun, O moon, ve mountains and thou sea.
Thou emblem of immensity, thou this.
That and the other, — what impertinence
In man to eat and drink and walk about
And have his little notions of his own.

The while some wave sheds foam upon the

shore ! "
First of all, 't is a lie some three-times thick :
The bard, — this sort of speech being poetry^ —
The bard puts mankind well outside hiroself
And then begins instructing them : ** This -way

1 and my friend the sea conceive of you !
What would you give to think such thoughts

as ours
Of you and the sea together ? " Down they go
On the humbled knees of them : at once Hmj

draw
Distinction, reco^piize no mate of theirs
In one, despite his mock humility,
So plain a match for what he olays with. Next,
The turn of the great ooean-piashfellow.
When the bard, leaving Bond Street veiy far
From ear-shot, cares not to ventriloquize.
But tells the sea its home-trut^ : Ton, my

match?
Tou, all this terror and immensity
And what not? Shall I tell you what yon are?
Just fit to hitch into a stanza, so
Wake up and set in motion who 's asleep
O' the other side of you in £^land, else



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Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 136 of 198)