Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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quickening farther than it knew —
Treasure oft was disembosomed, scent all

strange and unguessed hue.
Disembosomed, re-embosomed, — must one

memory suffice^
Prove I knew an Alpime-rose which all beside

named Edelweiss ?

Rare thing, red or white, you rest now : two
di^ slumbered through ; and since

One day more will see me rid! of this same scene
whereat I wince,

Tetchy at all sights and sounds and pettish at
each idle charm

Proffered me who pace now singly where we
two went arm in arm, —

I have turned upon my weaniess : asked, ** And
what, forsooth, prevents

That, this latest day allowed me, I fulfil of
her intents

One she had the most at heart — that we should
thus again survey

From Sal^ve Mont Blanc together? " There-
fore, — dared and done to-day

Climbing, — here I stand : but you — where ?

If a spirit of the place
Broke the silence, bade me question, promised

answer, — what disfipnce
Did I stipulate "Provided answer suit my

hopes, not fears ! "
Would I shrink to learn my lifetime's limit —

days, weeks, months or years ?
Would I shirk assurance on each point whereat
/ I can but guess —

" Does the soul survive the body ? Is there

€k>d's self, no or yes ? "
If I know my mood, 't were constant — come

in whatsoe'er uncouth
Shape it should, nay, formidable — so the

answer were but truth.

Wen, and wherefore shall it daunt me, when

'tis I myself am tasked.
When, by weakness weakness questioned,

weakly answers — weakly asked ?
Weakness never needs be falseness: truth is

truth in each degree

— Thundei>-pealed by God to Nature, whis-

pered bv my soul to me.

Nay, the weakness turns to strength and tri-
umphs in a truth beyond :

** Mine is but man's truest answer — how were
it did God respond?"

I shall no more dare to mimic such response in
futile speech.

Pass off human lisp as echo of the sphere-song
out of reach.

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Than, — becanse it well may happen yonder,

where the far snows blanch
Mate Mont Blano, that who stands near them

sees and hears an avalanehe, —
I shall pick a clod and throw, — cry, "Sneh

the siffht and such the sound I
What thongn I nor see nor hear them ? Others

do, the proofo abound I "
Can I make my eye an eaglets, sharpen ear to

Sound o'er league and league of silence ? Can

I know, who but surmise ?
If I dared no self-deception when, a week

since, I and you
Walked and talked along the grass-path, pass-
ing lightly in review
What seemed hits and what seemed misses in a

certain fence-play, — strife
Sundry minds of mark engaged in **0n the

Soul and Future Life," —
If I yentured estimating what was come of par-
ried thrust.
Subtle stroke, andj rightly, wrongly, estimat-
ing could be just
— Just^ though life so seemed abundant in the

form which moved by mine,
I might well have pjayed at feigping, fooling,

— laughed " What need opme
Pleasure must succeed to pleasure, else past

pleasure turns to pain,
And this first life claims a second, else I count

its good no gain ? " —
Much less have 1 heart to palter when the

matter to decide
Now becomes *^ Was ending ending once and

always, when you died ? "
Did the face, the form I lifted as it lay, reveal

the loss
Not alone of life but soul ? A tribute to yon

flowers and moss,
What of you remains beside? A memory!

Easjy to attest
**Certainfy from out the world that one be-
lieves who knew her best
Such was good in her, such fair, which fair

and good were great perchance
Had but fortune favored, bidden each shy

faculty advance ;
After all — who knows another ? Only as I

know, I speak."
So much of you lives within me while I live

my year or week.
Then my fellow takes the tale up, not unwilling

to aver
Duly in his turn, " I knew him best of all, as he

knew her:
Such he was, and such he was not, and such

other might have been
But that somehow every actor, somewhere in

this earthly scene,
Faib." And so both memories dwindle, yours

and mine together linked.
Till there is but left for comfort, when the

last spark proves extinct.
This — that somewhere new existence led by

men and women new
Possibly attains perfection ooveted by me and


While ourselves, the only witness to what work

our life evolved.
Only to ourselves proposing problems proper to

be solved
By ourselves alone, — who working ne'er shall

know if work bear fruit
Others reap and gamer, heedless how produced

by stalk and root, —
We who, darkling, timed the day's Inrth,—

struggling, testified to peace, —
Earned, by dint of failure, triumph, — we, era*

ative thought, must cease
In created word, thous^t's echo, due to impulse

lon^ since sped I
Why repme ? There 's ever some cme lives

although ourselves be dead !

Well, what ngnifies repugnance? Tmtli m

truth however it strike.
Fair or foul the lot apportioned life on earth, we

bear alike.
Stalwart body idly yoked to stunted sjarit,

powers, that f am
Else would soar, condemned to grorel, gronnd-

ling9 through the fleshly chain. —
Help that hinders, hindrance proved but help

diBgiused when all too late, —
Hindrance is the fact acknowledged, howsoe'er

explained as Fate,
Fortune, Providence : we bear, own life a bur-
den more or less.
Life thus owned unhappy, is there supplemental

Posrible and probable in life to come ? or most

we count
Life a curse and not a blessing, siimined-'iip ia

its whole amount,
Help and hindrance, jov and sorrow ?

Why should I want courage here ?
I will ask and have an answer, —with no favor,

with no fear, —
From myself. How much, how little, do I in*

wardly believe
True that controverted doctrine ? Is it fact to

which I cleave,^
Is it fancy I but cherish, when I take upon my

Phrase the solemn Tuscan fashioned, and de-
clare the soul's edinse
Not the sonPs extinction? take his ^*I believe

and I declare —
Certain am I — from this life I pass into a bet-
ter, there
Where that lady livee of whom enamored was

my soul " — where this
Other lady, my companion dear and tme, she

also is?

I have questioned and am answered. Ques-
tion, answer presuppose

Two points : that the thm^ itself which ques-
tions, answers, — 1>, it knows :

As it also knows the thing peroeived outside it-
self, — a force

Actual ere its own beginning, operstivt
through its course,

Unaffected by its end, — that this tiling like-
wise needs must be ;

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Call this — Qod, then, eall thst — soul, and

both — the only tacts for me.
Proye them facts ? that they o'erpaas my power

of proving, proTes them snch :
Fact it is I know I know not something which

is fact as much.
What before cansed all the causes, what effect

of all effects
Haply foUowB, — these are fancy. Ask the

msh if it suspects
Whence and how the stream which floats it had

a rise, and where and how
Falls or flows on still I What answer makes the

rosh except that now
Certainly it floats and is, and, no less certain

than itself,
1$ the eyeryway external stream that now

through shoal and shelf
Floats it onward, leayes it — maybe — wrecked

at last, or lands on shore
There to root again and grow and flourish sta-
ble evermore.
— Maybe ! mere surmise not knowledge : much

conjecture styled belief.
What the rush oonoeiyes the stream means

through the voyage blind and brief.
Why, because I doubtless am, shall I as doubt-
less be ? '' Because
God seems good and wise.** Yet under this our

life's apparent laws
Reigns a wrong which, righted once, would give

quite otner laws to life.
** He seems potent." Potent here, then : why

are right and wrong at strife ?
Has in life the wrong the better ? Happily life

ends so soon I
Right predominates in life? Then why two

hves and double boon ?
** Anyhow, we want it : wherefore want ? **

Because, without the want.
Life, now human, would be brutish : just that

hope, however scant.
Makes the actual life worth leading ; take the

hope therein away.
All we have to do is surely not endure another

This life has its hopes for this life, hopes that

promise joy : life done —
Ont of all the hopes, how many had complete

fulfilment? None.
** But the soul is not the body : *' and the breath

is not the flute ;
Both together make the music : either marred

and all is mute.
Truce to such old sad contention whence, ac-
cording as we shape
Most of hope or most of fear, we issue in a half-
** We believe ** is sighed. I take the cup of

comfort proffered thus.
Taste and try each soft ingredient, sweet infu-
^^ sion. and discuss
What their blending may accomplish for the

cure of doubt, till — slow.
Sorrowful, but how decided I needs must I o*er-

tumit — so I
Cttose before, effect behind me — blanks ! The

midway point I am,

Caused, itself — itself efficient : in that narrow

space must cram
All experience — out of which there crowds con-
jecture manifold.
But, as knowledge, this comes only — things

may be as Ibehold,
Or may not be, but, without me and above me,

things there are ;
Imyself am whati know not — ignorance which

proves no bar
To the knowled^ that I am, and, since I am,

can recognize
What to me is pain and pleasure : this is sure,

the rest — surmise.
If my fellows are or are not, what may please

them and what pain, —
Mere surmise : my own experience — that is

knowledge, once again I

I have lived, then, done and suffered, loved and
hated, learnt and taught

This — there is no reconciling wisdom with a
world distraught,

CkK>dness with triumphant evil, power Tf ith fail-
ure in the aim.

If — (to my own sense, remember I though none
other feel the same !)

If you bar me from assuming earth to be a pu-
pil's place.

And liie, time — with all their chances, changes
— just probation-space,

Mine, for me. But those apparent other mor-
tals — theirs, for them ?

Knowledge stands on my experience : all outside
its narrow hem.

Free surmise may sport and welcome I Pleas-
ures, pains affect mankind

Just as thev affect myself? Why, here *s my
neighbor color-blind.

Eyes like mine to all appearance : " green as
grass " do I affirm ?

** Red as grass " he contradicts me; — which
employs the proper term ?

Were we two the eartn*s sole tenants, with no
third for referee,^

How should I distinguish ? Just so, God must
judge 'twixt man and me.

To each mortal peradventure earth becomes a
new machine.

Pain and pleasure no more tally in our sense
than red and green ;

Still, without what seems such mortal's plea-
sure, pain, my life were lost

— Life, my whole sole chance to prove — al-
though at man's apparent cost —

What is beauteous and what ugly, right to strive
for, right to shun.

Fit to help and fit to hinder, — prove my forces
every one,

€k>od and evil, — leam life's lesson, hate of evil,
love of good.

As 'tis set me, understand so much as may be
understood —

Solve the problem : '* From thine apprehended
scheme of things, deduce

Praise or blame of its contriver, shown a niggard
or profuse

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In eaeb good or evil iasne I nor miscalcnlate

Countinfir one the other in the final balanoe,

-which to strike.
Sonl was bom and life allotted : ay, the show

of things unfurled
For thj summing-up and judgment, — thine,

no other mortiu^s world I ^

oufi^h fane

Comdex and immense
-— •* His own world for every mortal ? " Postu-
late omnipotence I
limit power, and simple grows the complex:

shrunk to atom size,
That which loomed immense to fancy low before

my reason lies, —
I survey it and pronounce it work like other

work : success
Here and there, the workman's glory, — here

and there, his shame no less.
Failure as conspicuous. Taunt not ** Human

work ape work divine ? "
As the power, expect performance I Qod's be

God's as mine is mine !
God whose power made man and made man's

wants, and made, to meet those wants.
Heaven and earth which, through the body,

prove the spirit's ministrants,
ExoeUentlsr all, — did he lack power or was the

will in fault
When he let blue heaven be shrouded o'er by

vapors of the vault.
Gay earth drop her garlands shrivelled at the

first infectinf^ breath
Of the serpent pains which herald, swarming

in, the dragon death ?
What, no way but this that man may learn and

lay to heart how rife
Life were with delights would only death allow

their taste to life ?
Must the rose sigh ** Pluck — I perish ! " must

the eve weep ** Gaze — I fade I "
— Every sweet warn ** 'Ware my bitter I "

every shine bid ** Wait my shade " ?
Can we love but on condition, that the thing we

love must die ?
Needs there groan a world in anguish just to

teach us sympathy —
Multitudinously wretched that we, wretched

too, may guess
What a preferable state were universal hap-
Hardly do I so conceive the outcome of that

power which went
To the making of the worm there in yon clod

its tenement.
Any more than I distingniah aught of that

which, wise and good.
Framed the leaf, its plain of pasture, dropped

the dew, its finelesB fooa.
Nay, were fancj fact, were earth and all it

holds illusion mere.
Only a machine for teaching love and hate and

hope and fear
To myself.

. the sole existence, single truth 'mid
falsehood, — well I

If the harsh throes of the prelude die not off

into the swell
Of that perfect piece they sting me to become

a-strain for, — if
Rou^iness of the long rock-damber lead not to

the last of cliff.
First of level country where is sward my

pilgrim-foot can prize, —
PUunher 1 if this life's conception new life imi

to realize, —
Though earth burst and proved a bubble gUas-

ing hues of hell, one huge
Reflex of the devil's doings — God's work by

no subterfuge —
(So death's kindfy touch informed me as it

broke the glamour, gave
Soul and body both release from life's loQg

nightmare in the grave) —
Still, — with no more Kature, no more Man as

riddle to be read.
Only my own joys and sorrows now to reckon

real instead, —
I must say — or choke in silence — ^' Howsoever

came my fate.
Sorrow did and joy did nowise — life wdl

weighed — preponderate."
By necessity ordained thus ? I shall bear as

beet I can ;
By a cause idl-good, all-wise, all-potent ? No,

Such were God : and was it goodness tlkat the

eood within my range
Or haa evil in admixture or grew evil'a self by

Wisdom — that becoming wise meant inahing

slow and sure advance
Frran a knowledge proved in error to i

ledged ipiorance ?
Power! 't is just the n

just the i PMii assump^on reasoa

most revolts at 1 power
Unavailing for beetowment on its creature of

an hour,
Man, of so much proper action rightly

and reaching aim.
So much passion, — no defect there, no <

but still the same. —
As what constitutes exutence, pure perfectico

bright as brief
For yon worm, man's fellow-creature, on yon

happier world — its leaf I
No, as I am man, I mourn the poTerty I most

impute :
Goodness, wisdom, power, all bounded, eaeh a

human attribute I

But, O world outspread beneath me I only for

myself I speak.
Nowise dare to play the spokesman for my

brothers stronpr and weak.
Full and empty, wise and foolish, good aad

bad, in every age.
Every clime, I turn my eyes from, as in one or

other stage
Of a torture writhe thesr, Job-like coached oo

dung and crazed with blains
—Wherefore? whereto? ask the whirlwind

what the dread voice thence explains I

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I shall ** Tindieate no waj ci God's to

nor stand apart,
** Langh, be candid," while I watoh it tr arers in g

the human heart !
Trayened heart mmt tell its story onoommented

on: no less
Mine results in, ** Only grant a second life ; I

Li this present life asf ailure, count misfortune's

worst assaults
Ttinmph, not defeat, assured that loss so much

the more exalts
Gain about to be. For at i^iat moment did I

so advance
Near to knowledge as when fmatrato of escape

from ignorance ?
Did not beauty proye most precious when its

opposito obtained
Bole, and truth seem more than eyer potent

because falsehood reigned ?
While for loye — Oh how but, losing loye, does

whoso loyes succeed
By the death^nang to the birth-throe — learning

what is love indeed ?
Only grant my soul m&j carry high through

aeath her cup unspilled.
Brimming though it be with knowledge, life's

loss drop by drop distilled,
I ahall boast it mine —the balram, bless each

kindly wrench that wrung
From life's tree its inmost virtue, tapped the

root whence pleasure sprung.
Barked the bole, and broke the bough, and

bruised the berry, left all mae
Ashes in death's stem alembic, loosed eUzir in

its pkuje ! "

Witness, Dear and TVue, how little I was 'ware

of — not your worth
— That I knew, my heart assures me — but of

what a shade on earth
Would the passve from my presence of the

tall wnito ^niro throw
O'er the ways we walked together ! Somewhat

narrow, somewhat slow.
Used to seem the ways, the walking: narrow

ways are well to tread
When there 's moss beneath the footstep,

honeysuckle overhead :
Walking slow to beating bosom surest solace

soonest gives,
Liberates the bram o'erloaded — beet of all

Nay, do I forget the open vast where soon or

late converged
Ways Uiough winding ? — world-wide heaven-
high sea where music slept or surged
As the angel had ascendant, luid Beethoven's

Titan mace
Smote the immense to storm, Mozart would by

a finger's lifting chase ?
Yes, I knew — but not with knowledge such as

thrills me while I view
Yonder precinct which henceforward holds and

hides the Dear and True.
Grant me (once again) assurance we shall each

meet each some day.

Walk —but with how bold a footstep ! on a

way — but what a way I
— Wont were best, defeat were triumph, utter

loss were utmost gain.
Can it be, and must, and will it ?

Silence I Out of &ef s domain*
Just surmise prepared to mutter hope, and also

fear — dispute
Fact* s inexorable ruling, *^ Outside imet, surmise

be mute 1 "
Ay, well and best, if &ct's self I may force

the answer horn. I
T is surmise I stop the mouth of ! Not above

in yonder dome
All a nwture with ito rose-glow, — not around,

where pile and peak
Strainingly await the sun's fall, — not beneath,

where crickets creak.
Birds assemble for tiieir bedtime, soft the tree-
top swell subsides, —
No, nor yet within my deepest sentient self the

knowledge hides.
Aspiration, reminiscence, plausibilities of trust
— Now the ready **Man were wronged else,"

now the rash **" and God unjust^' —
None of these I need. Take thou, my soul, thy

solitary stand.
Umpire to the champions Fancy, Reason, as on

either hand
Amicable war they wage and play the foe in thy

behoof I
Fancy thrust and Reason parry I Thine the

priae who stand aloof !

I concede the thing refused : henceforth no

certainty more i>lain
Than this mere surmise that after body dies

soul lives again.
Two, the only facts acknowledged late, are now

^ increased to three —
God is, and the soul is, and, as certain, after

death shall be.
Put this third to use in life, the time for using



Find it nromises advantage, coupled with the

other two.
Life to come will be improvement on the life

that 's now ; destroy
Body's thwartings, there 's no longer screen

betwixt soul and soul's jo^.
Why should we expect new mndrance, novel

tether ? In this first
Life, I see the good of evil, why our world

began at worst :
Since time means amelioration, tardily enough

Yet a mainly onward moving, never wholly

We know more though we know little, we grow

stronger though still weak.

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Partly see though all too purblind, stammer
though we oamu>t 8i>eak.

There is no snoh emdge in God as soared the
ancient Gh«eK, no fresh

Substitute of trap for drag-net, onoe a break-
age in the mesh.

Dragons were, and serpents are, and blindworms
will be : ne'er emerged

Any new-oreated python for man's plague sinoe
earth was purged.

Failing proof, then, of invented trouble to re-
place the old.

O'er this life the next presents adyantage
much and manifold :

Which adyantage — in the absence of a fourth
and farther fact

Now conceivably surmised, of harm to follow
from the act —

I pronounce for man's obtaining at this mo-
ment. Why delay f

Is he happy? happiness will change : antici-
pate the day I

Is he sad ? there % ready refuge : of all sadness
death 's prompt cure I

Is he both, in mingled measure ? cease a bur-
den to endure I

Pains with sorry compensations, pleasures
stinted in the dole,

Power that sinks and pettiness that soars, all
halved and nothing whole,

Idle hopes that lure man 6nward, forced back
by as idle fears —

What a load he stumbles under through his
glad sad seventy years,

When a touch sets right the turmoil, lifts his
spirit where, flesh-freed,

Knowledge shall be rightiy named so, all that
seems be truth indeed !

Grant his forces no accession, nay, no faculty's

Only let what now exists continue, let him
prove in peace

Power whereof the interrupted unperf ected
play enticed

Man through darkness, which to lighten any
spark of hope sufficed, —

What snail then deter his djring out of darkness
into light ?

Death itself perchance, brief pain that 's pang,
condensed and infinite ?

But at worst, he needs must brave it one day,
while, at best, he laughs —

Drops a drop within his chalice, sleep not
death his science quaffs I

Any moment claims more courage, when, by
crossing cold and gloom,

Manfully man quits discomfort, makes for the
provided room

Where the old friends want their fellow, where
the new acquaintance wait.

Probably for talk assembled, possibly to sup in
state I

I affirm and reaffirm it therefore : only make
as plun

As that man now lives, that, after dying, man
will live again, —

Make as plain the absence, also, of a law to con-

Voluntary passage from this life to thai by

dumge of scene, —
And I bid him — at suspidmi of first doad

athwart his sky,
flower's departure, frosfs arrival — bovw

hesitate, but die I


Then I double my oonoesnon: grant, akog

with new life sure
^Diis same law found lacking now: ordain fliat,

whether rich or poor
Present life is judged in aught man eoanls

advantage — be it hope,
Be it fear that brightens, blackens moat cr

least his horosoom, —
He, by absolute compulsion such as made him

live at all.
Go on living to the fated end of life whate'er

« befall.
What though, as on earth he darkling grfrnk^

man descry the sphere.
Next life's — call it, heaven of freedom, dcse

above and crystal-dear ?
He shall find — say, hell to punish who in aa|^

curtails the term.
Fain would act the butterfly before he hai

played out the worm I
Gk>d, soul, earthj heaven, heU, — five Caeti

now: what IS to desiderate ?

Nothinsr I Henceforth man's existenoe bows to

the monition " Wait 1
Take the joys and bear the sorrows — neiywr

with extreme concern !
Living here means nescience simply : 't is next

life that helps to learn.
Shut those eyes, next life will open, — stop

those ears, next life will teach
Hearing's office, — close those lips, next fife

will give the power of speech !
Or, if action more amuse thee than the paashe

Bravelv bustie through thy being, busy thee

for ill or good.
Reap this life's success or failure I Soon siball

things be unperplexed
And the right and wrong, now tangled, lie un-
ravelled in the next."

Not so fast ! Still more concession I not alone

do I declare
Life must needs be borne, — I also -will that

man become aware
life has worth incalculable, every inomewt

that he spends
So much gain or loss for that next Kfe vrhioh oa

this life depends.
Good, done here, be there rewarded, — evil,

worked here, there amerced I
1^ facts now, and all established, plain to mas

the last as first.


There was good and evil, then, defined to mas
by this decree?

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Wa» — for at its promulgation both alike have

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 168 of 198)