Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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the knack
Of fitting thoughts to words, you peradyenture

Enyy me not the chance, yourselyes more for-
tunate!

Many the loaded ship self-sunk through treas-
ure freight.

Many the pregnant brain brought neyer child
to birth.

Many the great heart broke beneath its girdle-
girthl

Be mine the priyilege to supplement defect,

Giye dumbness yoioe, and let the laboring in-
tellect

Find utterance in word, or posmbly in deed !



What though I seem to go before ? 't is you that

lead!
I follow what I see so plain — the general mind
Projected pillar^wise, flame kindled by the

kind.
Which dwarfs the unit — me — to insignifi-



Halt you, I stem forthwith, —proceed, I too ad-

■vAnnA ? *'



yanoe!



Ay, that's the way to take with men you

wish to lead,
Instruct and benefit. Small prospect yon suc-
ceed
With women so ! Be all that's great and good

and wise,
August^ sublime— swell out your frog the

right ox-size —
He 's buoyed like a balloon, to soar, not bursty

you 'U see !
The more you proye yourself, less fear the

prize will nee
The captor. Here you start after no pompoai

stag
Who condescends be snared, with toss of horn,

and brag
Of bray, and ramp of hoof ; yon haye not to

subdue
The foe through letting him imf^gin^ he snaies

you!
'T is rather with . . .

Lxxyiii

Ah, thanks ! quick — where the dipmng disk
Shows red against the rise and fall o^the fin I

there firisk
In shoal the — porpcnses ? Dolphins, they shall

and must
Cut through the freshening clear — d<^luiiB,

my instance just !
'T 18 fable, therefore truth : who has to do with

these.
Needs neyer practice trick of going hands and

knees
As beasts require. Art fain the fish to aqiti-

yate?
Gather thy greatness round. Anon I Stand in

state.
As when the banqueting thrilled conscioiis —

like a rose
Throughout its hundred leayes at that approsidi

it knows
Of music in the bird —while Corinth grew one

breast
A-throb for song and thee; nay, Periander

pressed
The MethymnsMin hand, and felt a king indeed^

andgruessed
How Phoebus' self might giye that great month

of the prods
Such a magnificence of song I The pillar nods.
Rocks roof, and trembles door, gigantic, post

and jamb.
As harp and yoice rend air — the shattering

dithyramb!
So stand thou, and assume the robe that tingks

yet



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FIFINE AT THE FAIR



721



With trimnph; strike the harp, whose eyery
golden fret

Still smonlders with the fladtte, was late at
fineers' end —

So, standing on the bench o' the ship, let ymce
expend

Thy som, sing, unalloyed by meaner mode,
thine own.

The Orthian lay ; then leap from mnsio's lofty
throne

Into the lowest surge, make fearlessly thy
launch !

Whateyer storm may threat, some dolphin wiU
be stanch I

Whateyer roughness rage, some exquisite sea-
thing

Will surely rise to saye, wiU bear — palpita-
ting-
One proud humility of loye beneath its load —

Stem tide, part waye, till both roll on, thy
jewell'd road

Of triumph, and the grim o' the guH grow
wonder-white

I' the phosphorescent wake ; and still the ex-
quisite

Sea-thmg stems on, sayee still, palpitatingly
thus.

Lands safe at length its load of loye at Tssnarus,

True woman-creature !

LXXIX

Man ? Ah. would ^ou proye what power
Marks man, — what fruit his tree may yield,

beyond the sour
And stinted crab, he calls loye-i4>ple, which

remains
After you toil and moil your utmost, — aU, We

gains
By lavishing manure? — try quite the other

plan I
And, to obtain the strong true product of a



Set him to hate a little ! Leaye cherishing his
root.

And rather prune his branch, nip off the petti-
est shoot

Superfluous on his bough! I promise, you
shall leam

By what grace came the goat, of all beasts else,
to earn

Such favor with the god o' the grape : 't was
only he

Who, browsing on its tops, first stung fertility

Into the stock's heart, stayed mudi growth of
tendril-twine.

Some faintish flower, perhaps, but gained the
indignant wine.

Wrath of the red press I Catch the puniest of
the kind —

Man-animalcule, starved bodv, stunted mind.

And, as yon nip the blotch 'twixt Uiumb and
^ finger-nail.

Admire now heaven above and earth below
avail

I^o jot to soothe the mite, sore at God's prime
offence

In making mites at aU, — coax from its impo-
tence



One virile drop of thought, or word, or deed, by
strain

To propagate for onoe — which nature rendered
vain.

Who lets nrst failure stay, yet cares not to re-
cord

Mistake that seems to oast opprobrium on the
Lord!

Such were the gain from love's best pains I
But let the elf

Be touched with hate, because some real man
bears himself

Manlike in body and soul, and, since he lives,
must thwart

And furify and set arfizz this counterpart

O' the pismire that's surprised to efferves-
cence, if.

By chance, black bottle come in contact with
chalk cliff.

Add with alkali ! Then thrice the bulk, out
blows

Our insect, does its kind, and cuckoo-spits some
rose!



No — 't is ungainly work, the ruling men, at

best!
The graceful instinct's ri^t: 'tis women

stand confessed
Auxiliary, the gain that never goes away.
Takes nothing and gives all : Elvire, Fifine,

't is thev
Convince, — ii little, much, no matter I — one

degree
The more, at least, convince unreasonable me
That I am, anyhow, a truth, though all else seem
And be not: if I dream, at least I know I

dream.
The faUitv, beside, is fleeting: I cah stand
Still, and let truth come back, — your steady-
ing touch of hand
Assists me to remain self-centred, fixed amid
All on the move. Believe in me, at once you

bid ^
Myself believe that, since one soul has disen-



Mine m>m the shows of things, so much is fact:
I waged

No foolish warfare, then, with shades, myself a
shade,

Here in the world — may hope my pains will be
repaid!

How false things are, I judge : how change-
able, I leam :

When, where, and how it is I shall see truth
return.

That I expect to know, because Hfine knows
me! —

How much more, if Elvire }

LXXXI

" And why not, only she ?
Since there can be for each, one Best, no more,

such Best,
For body and mind of hiin, abolishes the rest
O' the simply Good and Better. You please

^ select Elvire
To give you this belief in truth, dispel the fear



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722



FIFINE AT THE FAIR



Younelf are, after all, as false as what sor-

romids ;
And why not be content? When we two

watched the rounds
The boatman made, 'twixt shoal and sandbank,

yesterday.
As, at dead slack of tide, he chose to posh his

way,
With oar and pde, across the creek, and reach

the isle
After a world of pains — my word proroked

your smile.
Yet none the less deserred reply: *'Twere

wiser wait
The tnm o' the tide, and find conyeyanoe for

his freight —
How easily — within the ship to purpose

moored,
Managed by sails, not oars I But no, — the

man 's allured
6^ liking for the new and hard in his exploit I
Fvst come shall serve I He makes — coura-
geous and adroit —
The merest ¥rilbw-leaf of boat do duty, bear
His merchandise across : once over, needs he

care
If folk arrive by ship, six hours hence, fresh

and gay f '
Ko: he scorns commonplace, affects the un-
usual way;
And good Elvire is moored, with not a breath

to flap
The yards of her, no lift of npple to o'erlap
Keel, much lees, prow. What care? since

here 's a cockle-shell,
fifine, that 's taut and crank, and carries just

as well
Such seamanship as yours I "



Alack, our life is lent.
From first to last, the whole, for this experi-
ment
Of proving what I say — that we ourselyes are

true I
I would there were one voyage, and then no

more to do
But tread the firm-land, tempt the uncertain

sea no more
I vrould we might dispense with change of

shore for shore
To evidence our sldll, demonstrate — in no

dream
It was, we tided o'er the trouble of the stream.
I would the steady voyage, and not the fitful

trip, —
Elvire, and not Fifine, — might test our sea-
manship.
But why expend one's breath to tell you,

change of boat
Means chimge of tactics too? Come see the

same afloat
To-morrow, all the change, new stowage fore

andikft
O* the cargo; then, to cross requires new

sailor-cnift I
To-da:r« one step from stem to bow keeps boat

in trim:



Tomorrow, some big stone — <w woe to boat

and him I —
Must ballast botk That man stands for Mind,

paramount
Throughout the adventure: ay, howe'er you

make account^
'Tis mind that navigates,— skips over, twists

between
The bales i' the boat, — now gives importance

to the mean.
And now abates the pride of life, accepts all

fact.
Discards all fiction, —- steers Fifine, and cries, i'

the act.
" Thou art so bad, and yet so delicate a brown !
Wouldst tell no end of lies : I talk to amile or

frown I
Wouldst rob me: do men blame a squirrel,

lithe and sly.
For pilfering the nut she adds to hoard ? Nor

Elvire is true, as truth, honest^s self, alack I
The worse I too safe the ship, the transport

there and back
Too certain! one may loll and lounge and

leave the helm.
Let wind and tide do work : no fear that

waves overwhelm
The steady-going bark, as sure to feel her

wav
Blindfold across, reach land, next year as yes-
terday!
How can I but suspect, the true feat wen to

slin
Down side, transfer myself to oookle-flhell from

ship.
And try if, trusting to sea-traokleasness, I

class
With those around whose breast grew oak and

triple brass :
Who dreaded no degree of death, but, with, dry

eyes,
Surveyed the turgid main and its moostrosa-

ties —
And rendered futile so, the prudent Power*s

decree
Of separate earth and disassooiatins^ sea ;
Since, how is it observed, if impious vesaeb

lei^
Across, and tempt a thing they should not

touch — the deep ?
(See Horace to the boat, wherein, for Athens

bound.
When Virgil must embark— Jove ke^i 1dm

safe and sound ! —
The poet bade his friend start on the -watery

road.
Much resssured by this so comfortable odej

LXXXIII

Then, never grudge my poor Fifine her oom-

pliment I
The rakish craft could slip her mooringa in the

tent.
And, hoisong every stitch of spangled canvas.



Through diyers rocks and shoals, — in fine, de-
posit here



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FIFINE AT THE FAIR



723



Your Viigil of a spouae, in Attioa: yea, thrid
The mob of men, select the special virtae hid
In him, forsooth, and say — or rather, smile so

sweet,
** Of all the multitude, yoo — I prefer to cheat I
Are yon for Athens boond ? I can perform the

trip.
Shore little pinnace off, while yon superior

ship.
The Elvire, refits in port 1 " So, off we push

from beaoh
Of Pomic town, and lo, ere eye can wink, we

reach
The Long Walls, and I proye that Athens is no

dr^un.
For there the temples rise! they are, they

nowise seem I
Earth is not all one lie, this truth attests me

truel
Thanks therefore to Flfine I Elyire, I 'm back

with you I
Share in the memories I Embark I trust we

shaU
Together some fine day, and so, for good and

all.
Bid Pernio Town adieu, — then, just the strait

to cross.
And we reach harbor, safe, in lostephanos I



How quickly night comes I Lo, already 't is

the land
Turns sea-like ; orererept by gray, the plains

expand.
Assume significant ; while ocean dwindles,

shrinks
Into a pettier bound: its plash and plaint,

methinks.
Six steps away, how both retire, as if their

part
Were played, another force were free to prore

her art,
Protaeonist in turn I Are you imterrified ?
An false, all fleeting too I And nowhere things

abide.
And erersrwhere we strain that things should

stay, — the one
Troth, that ourselyes are true I

LXXXV

A word, and I haye done.
Is it not just our hate of falsehood, fleeting-



And the mere part, things play, that constitutes

express
The inmost charm of this Fifine and all her

tribe?
Actors I We also act, but only they inscribe
Their style and title so. and preface, only they.
Performance with ** A lie is all we do or say."
Wherein but there can be the attraction.

Falsehood's bribe.
That wins so surely o'er to Fifine and her

tribe
The liking, nay the loye of who hate Falsehood

most,
Ebccept that these alone of mankind make their

boast



*' Franklv, we simulate 1 " To feign, means —

to naye grace
And so set gratitude I This ruler of the race.
Crowned, sceptred, stoled to suit, — *t is not

that you detect
The cobbler in the king, but that he makea

effect
By seeming the reyerse of what you know to

be
The man, the mind, whole form, fashion, and



Mistake his false for true, one minute, — there 's

an end
Of the admiration I Truth, we grieye at or

rejoice:
'T is only falsehood, plain in gesture, look and

yoice,
That brings the praise desired, since profit

comes thereby.
The histrionic truth is in the natural lie.
Because the man who wept the tears was, all

the time,
Happy enough ; because the other man, argrime
With guilt was, at the least, as white as I and

you;
Because the timid type of bashful maidhood,

who
Starts at her own pure shade, already numbers

seyen
Bom babes and, in a month, will turn their

odd to eyen ;
Because the saucy prince would proye, could

you unfurl
Some yards of wrap, a meek and meritorious

girl-
Precisely as you see success attained by each
O' the mimes, do yon approye, not foolishly

impeach
Thefals&oodI

LXXXVI

That's the first o' the truths found : all

thinirs, slow

''ck 1* the r*"
rou know !
Each has a false outside, whereby a truth is

forced
To issue from within: truth, falsehood, are

diyorced
By the excepted eye, at the rare season, for
The happy moment. life means — learning to

abhor
The false, and loye the true, truth treasured

snatch by snatdi,
Waifs counted at their worth. And when with

strays they match
I' the particolored world, — when, under foul,

sninee fair.
And truth, displayed i' the point, flashes forth

eyerywhere
I* the circle, manifest to soul, though hid from



Or quick i* the passage, come at last to that,



And no obstruction more affects this confi-
dence, —

When faith ia ripe for sight, — why, reason-
ably, then

Comes the great dearing-up. Wait threescore
years and ten !



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724



FIFINE AT THE FAIR



Therefore I prize stage -play, the honest

oheatiiig'2 thenoe
The impulse pnoked, when fife and dram bade

Bab commence.
To bid yon trip and skip, link arm in arm with

me,
Like husband and like wife, and so together

see
The tumbling-troop arrayed, the strollers on

their stage
Drawn up and under arms, and ready to en-

And if I started thenoe upon abstruser

themes . . .
Well, 't was a dream, pricked too I

LXXXVIII

A poet never dreams :
We prose-folk always do : we miss the proper

duct
For thoudits on things unseen, which stagnate

and obstruct
The system, therefore ; mind, sound in a body

sane,
Keeps thoughts apart from facts, and to one

flowing yein
Confines its sense of that which is not, but

mis^tbe.
And leayes the rest alone. What ghosts do

poetssee?
What demons fear ? what man or thing misap-
prehend?
Unchecked, the channel 's flush, the fancy 's

free to spend
Its special seu arifi^t in manner, time and

place.
Nerer belieye that who create the busy race
O' the brain, bring poetry to birth, such act

performed.
Feel trouble them, the same, such residue as



My prosy blood, this morn, — intrusiye fancies,

meant
For outbreak and escape by quite another

yentl
Whence follows that, asleep, my dreamings oft

exceed
The bound. But yon shall hear.

LXXXIX

I smoked. The webs o' the weed,
With many a break i' the mesh, were floating

tore-form
Cupola-wise aboye: chased thither by soft

warm
Inflow of air without; since I — of mind to

muse, to clench
The gain ox soul and body, got by their noon-
day drench
In sun and sea— had flung both frames o' the

window wide.
To soak my body stall and let soul soar beside.
In came tne country sounds and sights and

smells — that £uie
Sharp needle in the nose from our fermenting

winel



In came a dragon-fly with whir and stir, tlieo

out,
Off and away : in came, —kept coming, rather,

— pout
Succeeding smile, and take-«waj stall close on

give,—
One loose long oreepep-branch, tremblingly aen-

sitive
To risks, which blooms and leayes, — each leaf

tongue-broad, each bloom
Midfinger-deep, — must run by prying in the

room
Of one who loves and grasps and spoils and

speculates.
All so lar plain enough to sight and sense :

but, weights.
Measures and numbers, — ah, could one apply

such test
To other visitants that came at no request
Of who kept open house, — to fancies manifold
From this four-cornered worid, the memories

new and old.
The antenatal prime experience — what know

The initiatory love preparing us to die —
Such were a crowd to count, a sight to see, a

prize
To turn to profit, were but fleshly eara and

eyes
Able to cope with those o' the spirit I

xc

Therefore, — aiiies
Thought hankers after speech, while no speech

mav evince
Feeling like music, — mine, o*erburdened with

each gift
From every visitant, at last resolved to shift
Its burden to the back of some musician dead
And gone, who feeling once what I feel now,

instead
Of words, sought sounds, and saved forever, in

the same.
Truth that escapes prose, — nay, puts poetry to



I read the note, I strike the key, I bid rteord
The instrument, — thanks greet the veritable

word I
And not in vain I urge : *' O dead and gone

•way,
Assist who struggles yet, thy strength beocmie

my stay,
Thy record serve as well to register — - 1 felt
And knew thus much of truth I With ms,

must knowledge melt
Into surmise and doubt and disbelief, unlww
Thy music reassure — I gave no idle guess.
But gained a certitude, I^t may haraly keep I
What care ? since romid is piled a monumental

heap
Of music that conserves the assurance, thon as

well
Wast certain of the same ! thou, master of the

spell,
Mad*st moonbeams marble, didst record what

other men
Feel only to forget I" Who was it helped ma,

then?



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FIFINE AT THE FAIR



725



What master^s work firat came responsiye to

my call, *

Foimd my eye, fixed my ohoioe ?



Whj, Schmmum'B " Carnival " !
My ohoioe chimed m, yon see, exactly with the

sounds
And sights of yesterere, when, going on my

rounds.
Where both roads join the bridge, I heard

across the dnsk
Creak a slow oarayan. and saw arriye the hnsk
O* the spice-nut, which peeled off this morning,

and displayed,
TTwixt tree and tree, a tent whence the red

pennon made
Its yiyid reach for home and ocean-idleness —
And where, my heart surmised, at that same

moment, — yes, —
Tugging her tricot on — yet tenderly, lest stitch
Announce the crack of doom, reyeal disaster

which
Our Pomic's modest stook of merceries in yain
Were ransacked to letrieye, — there, cautiously



(My heart surmised) must crouch in that tent's

comer, onryed
Like Spring-month's russet moon, some giii by

tate rcoo ryed
To giye me onoe again the electric snap and

spark
Which proye, when finger finds out finger in

the dark
C the world^ there 's fire and life and truth

there. Imk but handi
And pass the secret on. Lo, link by link, ex-

|MHlds

The cnde, lengthens out the chain, till one

embrace
Of his^ with low is found uniting the wh<de

race.
Not simply you and me and our Fifine, but all
The worla: the Fair ex " "



expands into the Cami-
ah, bat that 's my



▼al,
AndCamiyal again to
dream I

XCII

I somehow played the piece: remarked on

each old theme
V the new dress : saw how food o' the soul, the

stuff that 's made
To furnish man with thought and feeling, is

puryeyed
Substantially the same from age to age, with

change
Of the outside only for sucoessiye feasters.

Range
The banquet-room o' the world, from the dim

farthest head
O' the table, to its foot, for you and me be-
spread.
This mernr mom, we find sufficient fare, I trow.
But, noyel? Serape away the sauce ; and taste,

below,
The yerity o' the yiand, —-you shall peroeiye

there went



To board-head just the dish which other condi-
ment
Makes palatable now : guests came, sat down,

feltio;
Rose up, wiped mouth, went way, — liyed,

died, — and never knew
That generations yet should, seeking sustenance,
Still find the selname tee, with somewhat to

enhance
Its flavor, in the kind of cooking. As with hates
And loves and feais and hopes, so with what

emulates
The same, expresses hates, loves, fears, and

hopes in Art :
The forms, the themes — no one without its

counterpart
Ages ago ; no one but, mumbled the due time
I* the mouth of the eater, needs be cooked

again in rhyme.
Dished up anew m punt, sauee-smothered fresh

in sound.
To suit the wisdom-tooth, just out, of the age,

that 's found
With gums obtuse to gust and smack which

relished so
The meat o' the meal folk made some fifty

years ago.
But don't suppose the new was able to efface
The old without a struggle, a pang 1 The

Still dung about his heart, long after all the rest
C the natural man, at eye and ear, was caught,

confessed
The charm of change, although wry lip and

wrinkled nose
Owned andent virtue more oooduetve to repose
Than modem nothings roused to somethings by

some shred
Of pungency, perchance garlic in amber's stead.
And so on, till one day, another age, by due
Rotation, pries, sniffs, smacks, discovers old is

And sauce, our sires pronounced insipid, proves

again
Sole piquant, may resume its titillating reign -^
With music, most of all the arts, since change is

there
The law, and not the lapse : the precious means

the rare.
And not the absolute in all good save surprise.
80 1 remarked upon our Schumann's victories
Over the commonplace, how faded phrase grew

fine,
And palled perfection — inqued, up-startled by

that brine.
His pickle — bit the mouth and burnt the



toiu^e aright.
Beyond the merely good no ion^r exaui
Then took things as 1 found, and thaiuced with-



'' good no longer exquisite :



out demur



The pretty piece — played through that move-
ment, you prefer

Where dance and shuffle past, — he soolding
while she pouts.

She cantmg while he calms, — in those eternal
bouts

Of age, the dog— with youth, the oat— by
rose-festoon



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726



FIFINE AT THE FAIR



Tied teasiiigly enong'h -— Columbine, Pantaloon :
She, toe-tips and staccaiOy — legato^ shakes his

poll
And shambles in pnisnit, the senior. Ft la

foUe!
Lie to him! get his gold and pay its price!

begin
Tonr trade betimes, nor wait till yon Ve wed

Harlequin
And need, at the week's end, to play the dn-

teons wife,
And swear you still loye slaps and leapings

more than life I
Pretly ! I say.

XCIIl

And so, I somehow-nohow played
Tlie whole o' the i>retty piece ; and then . . .

whaterer weighed
My eyes down, furled the films about my wits ?

8upi>08e,
The moming^bath, — the sweet monotony of

those
Ihree keys, flat, flat and flat, neyer a sharp at

all.—
Or else the brain's &tigue, forced even here to

faU
Into the same old track, and recognize the

shift
From old to new, and back to old again, and, —

swift
Or slow, no matter, — still the certainty of

change,
CSonyiction we shidl find the false, where'er we



In art no less than nature: or what if wrist were

numb,
And over-tense the muscle, abductor of the

thumb,
Taxed by those tenths' and twelfths' uncon-
scionable stretch ?
Howe'er it came to pass, I soon was far to

fetch-
Gone o£E in company with Music I

XCIV

Whither bound
Except for Venice? She it was, by instinct

found
Camiyal-country proper, who far below the

perch
Where I was pinnacled, showed, opposite,

Mark's Church,
And, underneath, MarVs Square, with those

two lines of street,
ProcumttiMdes, each leading to ray feet —
Since from aboye I gazed, howeyer I got there.



And what I gazed upon was a prodigious Fair,
Concourse immense of men and women, crowned

orcasqued,
Turbaned or tiar'd, wreathed, plumed, hatted

or wigged, but masked —
Always masked, — only, how ? No faoe^hape,

beast or bird,
Nay, fish and reptile even, but some one had

preferred,



From out its frontispiece, feathered or Ktkd



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 143 of 198)