Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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Worship not him, the very key who keeps
Of Aphrodite, when

She closes up her dearest chamber-portaJa :
— Love, when he comes to mortals,
Wide-wastine, through thoee deeps at woes be*

yond the deep!



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MARTIN RELPH



875



DRAMATIC IDYLS



FIRST SERIES



Thb Dramatic IdyU^ a group of poems which
indicated a return to Browuing's earlier manner,
famished the title for two snooessiye yolumes,
the first series published in 1879, the second the
year following. The poena in the first series
were composed while Browning and his sister

MARTIN RELPH

My graruffather says he remembers he saw^ when
a younqster long ago^

On a bright May day^ a strange old man^ with a
beard as white as snow^

Stand on the hill outside our town like a monu-
ment qfuH>e»

Andy striking his bare bald head the whiles sob out
the reason — so !

If I last as long as Methuselah I shall never for-

give myself:
But — Qod forgive me, that I pray, unhappy

Martin Relph,
As coward, coward I call him — him, yes, him 1

Away from me !
Qei you behind the man I am now, you man

that I used to be I

What can have sewed my mouth up, set me

a^tare, all eyes^o ton^e ?
People have urged, '* You visit a scare too hard

on a lad so young !
You were taken aback, poor bo^,'' they urge,

** no time to regain your wits :
Besides it had mavbe cost your life." Ay, there

is the cap which fits 1

So, cap me, the coward, — thus I No fear ! A

cufp on the brow does good :
The feel of it hinders a worm inside which bores

at the brain for food.
See now, there certainlv seems excuse: for a

moment, I trust, dear friends.
The fault was but folly, no fault of mine,^or if

mine, I have made amends I

For, every day that is first of May, on the hill-
top, here stand I,

Martin Kelph, and I strike my brow, and pub-
lish the reason why.

When there gathers a crowd to mock the f ooL
No fool, friends, since the bite

Of a worm inside is worse to bear : pray Qod I
have balked him quite I

I '11 tell you. Certainly much excuse I It came
of the way they cooped

Us peasantry up in a ring just here, close hud-
dling because tightrhooped

By the red-coats round us villagers all: they
meant we should see the sight



were sojourning in a mountain hotel near the
summit of the Spliigen Pass in the summer of
1878. So stimulated was Browning by the moun-
tain air that he composed with extraordinary
raindity, even for him, bringing down upon him-
self his sister's determined caution.

And take the example, — see, not speak, for
speech was the Ci^tain's right.

** You clowns on the slope, beware I " cried he :
" This woman about to die

Gives by her fate fair warning to such acquaint-
ance as play the spy.

Henceforth who meddle with matters of state
above them perhaps will learn

That peasants should stick to their plough-
tail, leave to the King the King's con-
cern.

" Here 's a quarrel that sets the land on fire, be-
tween King Qeom and his foes:

What call has a man of your kind — much less,
a woman — to interpose ?

Yet you needs must be meddling, folk like you,
not foes — so much the worse I

The many and loyal should keep themselves
unmixed with the few perverse.

*^ Is the counsel hard to follow ? I gave it you

plainly a month ago.
And where was the gMxl? The rebels have

learned just all that the^ need to know.
Not a month since in we qmetly marched: a

week, and they had the news,
From a list complete of our rank and file to a

note of our caps and shoes.

** All about all we did and all we were ddng

and like to do !
Only, I catch a letter by luck, and capture who

wrote it, too.
Some of you men look black enough, but the

mi&-white face demure
Betokens the finger foul with ink : 't is a woman

who writes, be sure !

*^ Is it * Dearie, how much I miss your mouth I '

— i[ood natural stuff, she pens ?
Some si>nnkle of that, for a bund, of course :

with talk about cocks and hens.
How * robin has built on the apple-tree, and our

creeper which came to gnef
Through the frost, we feared, is twining afresh

round casement in famous leaf.'

*^ But all for a blind! She soon glides frank
into *' Horrid the place is grown

With Officers here and Privates there, no nook
we may call our own :



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876



DRAMATIC IDYLS



And Fanner Giles has a tribe to house, and

lodging will be to seek
For the second ComnanT sore to oome Ctis

whispered) on Monday week.'

** And so to the end of the cluster I There I

'The murder, you see, was out :
Easy to guess how the change of mind in the

rebels was brought about !
Safe in the trap would they now lie snug, had

treachery made no sign :
But treachery meets a just reward, no matter

if fools malign 1

** That traitors had played us false, was proTed

— sent news whidi fell so pat :
And the murder was out — this letter of Ioyo,

the sender of this sent that I
'Tis an uglv job, though, all the same — a

hateful, to haye to deal
With a case of the kind, when a woman 's

in fault: we soldiers need nerres of

steell

*' So, I gaye her a chance, despatched post-haste

a message to Vincent Parkes
Whom she wrote to ; easy to find he was, since

one of the King's own clerks,
Ay, keut by the King's own gold in the town

close by where the rebels camp :
A sort of a lawyer, just the man to betray our

sort — the scamp I

** * If her writing is sim^e and honest and only

the lovei^uke stuff it looks.
And if you yourself are a loyalist, nor down in

the rebels'^ books.
Come quick,' said I, * and in person proye you

are each of you clear of crime,
Or martial law must take its course : this day

next week 's the time ! '

'*Nezt week is now : does he come ? Not he !

Glean gone, our clerk, in a trice !
He has left nis sweetheart here in the lurch :

no need of a warning twice !
"Bm own neck free, but his partner's fast in the

noose still, here she stands
To pay iof her fault. 'T is an ugly job : but

soldiers obey commands.

** And hearken wherefore I make a speech I

Should any acquaintance share
The folly that led to the fault that is now to be

punished, let fools beware I
Look olack, if you please, but keep hands

white : and, aboye all else, keep wiyes —
Or sweethearts or what they may oe— from

ink I Not a word now, on your liyes ! "

Black ? but the Pit's own pitch was white to
the Captain's face — the brute

With the bloated cheeks and the bulgy nose
and the bloodshot e^es to suit !

He was muddled with wine, they say: more
like, he was out of his wits with fear ;



He had but a handful of men, that 'a tme, — a
riot might cost him dear.

And all that time stood Rosamund Pacre« ^rith

pinioned arms and face
Bandaged about, on the turf marked out for

the party's firing-place.
I hope she was wholly with God: I hope *t was

his angel stretdied a hand
To steady her so. like the sht^ of stone yoa

see in our church-aisle stand.

I hope there was no yain fancy pierced the
bandage to yez her eyes,

No &oe within which she missed witliavit, no
questions and no replies —

"Why did you leave me to die?" — ** Be-
cause" . . . Oh, fiends, too scxm yoa
grin

At merely a moment of heD, like that — sack
heayen as hell ended in I

Let mine end too ! He gaye the word, up went

the guns in a line.
Those hei^>ed on the hill were blind as dumb,

— for, of all eyes, only mine
Looked oyer the heads of the foremoet rank.

Some fell on their knees in pr a y e r.
Some sank to the earth, but all shut eyea, wi&

a sole exception there.

That was myself, who had stolen up last, had

ndled behind the group :
I am highest of all on the hill-top, there stand

fixed while the others stoop I
From head to foot in a serpent's twine am I

tightened: J touch ground ?
No more than a gibbet's rigid coipae whiidi the

fetters rust around !

Can I speak, can I breathe, can I burst — aq^

else but see, see, only see ?
And see I do — for there comes in flight — a

man, it sure must be ! —
Who staggeringly, stumblingly^ rises, falla, rises,

at random flings his weight
On and on, anyhow onward — a man ihat%

mad he arriyes too late I

Else why does he waye a something white hig^

flourished aboye his head ?
Why does not he call, cry, — curse the fool I—

why throw up his arms instead ?
O take tnis fist in your own face, fool ! Wkj

does not yourself shout ** Stay I
Here 's a man comes rushing, might and main,

with something he 's miad to say " ?

And a minute^ only a moment, to haTe heD-fiit

boil up m your brain.
And ere you can judge things right, ehooii

heayen, — time 's oyer, repentance yais!
They leyel : a yolley, a smoke and the okanng

of smoke : I see no more
Of the man smoke hid, nor his frantie aznii,Bii

the something white he bore.



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PHEIDIPPIDES



877



But stretched on the field, some half-mile off,

is an object. Surelv dumb,
Deaf, blind were we struck, that nobody heard,

not one of us saw him come I
Has he fainted throujB^ fright ? One may well

believe I What is it he holds so fast ?
Tun him oyer, examine the face ! Heyday I

What, Vincent Parkee at last ?

Dead I dead as she. by the selfeame shot : one

bullet has ended both,
Her in the body and him in the souL They

laugh at our plighted troth.
''Till death us do part?" Till death us do

join past parting— that sounds like
Betrothal indeed 1 O Vincent Parkes, what

need has my fist to strike ?

I helped tou: thus were you dead and wed:

one bound, and your soul reached hers I
There is clenchea in your hand the thing, signed,

sealed, the j>aper which plain avers
She is innocent, mnocent, plain as print, with

the King's Arms broad engraved :
No one can hear, but if any one high on the hill

can see, she 's saved I

And torn his garb and bloody his lips with

heart-break — plain it grew
How the week's delav had been brought about :

each guess at the end proved true.
It was hard^ to fpt at the folk in power : such

waste of tinm I and then
Such pleading and prapng, with, all the while,

his lamb in the hons^ den I

And at length when he wrung their pardon out,

no end to the stupid forms —
The license and leave: I make no doubt —

what wonder if passion warms
The pulse in a man if vou play with his heart ?

— he was something hasty in speech ;
Anyhow, none would quicken the work: he

had to beseech, beseech 1

And the thing once signed, sealed, safe in his

grasp, — what followed but fresh delays ?
For the floods were out, he was f oroed to take

such a roundabout of wkjb I
And 't was ** Halt there ! *' at every turn of

the road, since he had to cross the thick
Of the red-coats : what did tiiey care for him

and his '' Quick, for God's sake, quick ! "

Horse? but he had one: had it how long? till

the first knave smirked ** You brag
Tourself a friend of the Eling's ? then lend to a

King's friend here your nag I "
Money to buy another ? Why, piece by piece

ihey^ plundered him still,
"With their "Wait you must, —no help: if

aught can help you, a guinea will I "

And a borough there was — I forget the name

— whose Mayor must have die bench
Of Justices ranged to clear a doubt : for

" Vincent," thinks he, sounds Fr^ich 1



It well may have driven him daft, God knows I

all man can certainly know
Is — rushing and falling and rising, at last he

arrived in a horror — so I

When a word, cry, gasp, would have rescued

both I Ay, bite me I The worm begins
At his work once more. Had cowardice proved

— that only — mv sin of sins I
Friends, look you here I Suppose . . . suppose

. . . But mad I am, needs must be f
Judas the Damned would never have dared

such a sin as I dream t For, see 1

Suppose I had sneakingly loved her myself, my

wretched self, and dreamed
In the heart of me " She were better dead than

happy and his I " — while gleamed
A light mm hell as I spied the pair in a per-

fectest embrace,
He the savior and she the saved, — Uiss bom

of the very murder-place I

No t Sav I was scared, friends I Gall me fool

and coward, but nothing worse I
Jeer at the fool and gibe at the coward I 'T was

ever the coward's curse
That fear breeds fancies in such : such take

their shadow for substance still,
—A fiend at their back. I liked poor Parkes,

—loved Vincent, if you will I

And her— why, I said " Good morrow " to her,

" Good even," and nothing more :
The neighborlv way I She was just to me as

fifty had been before.
So, coward it is and coward shall be I There 's

a friend, now 1 Thanks I A drink
Of water I wanted : and now I can walk, get

home by myself, I think.



PHEIDIPPIDES
Xotprrv, MfCM/MV.

F1B8T I salute this soil of the blessed, river and

rock!
Gods of my birthplace, dnmons and heroes,

honor to all I
Then I name thee, claim thee for our patron,

ooHBqual in praise
— Ay, with Zeus the Defender, with Her of

the fegis and spear I
Also, ye of the bow and the buskin, pnused be



your peer.
Now, ne



lenceforth and forever, — O latest to

whom I upraise
Hand and heart and voice t For Athens, leave

pasture and flock I
Present to help, potent to save. Pan — patron

IcaUI

Arohons of Athens, topped by the tettix, see, I

return!
See, 'tis myself here standing alive, no spectre

that speaks!



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878



DRAMATIC IDYLS



Crowned -with the myrtle, did you oommand

me. Athens and yon,
*^ Built Pneidippides, nm and race, reach Sparta

tor aid I
Persia has come, we are here, where is She ? "

Your oommand I obeyed.
Ran and raced : like stubble, some field which

a fire runs through.
Was the space between ci<y and city: two

days, two nights did I Dum
Over the hills, under the dales, down pits and

up peaks.

Into their midst I broke : breath served but for

** Persia has come !
Persia bids Athens proffer slayes'-tribute, water

and earth;
Razed to the ground is Eretria— but Athens,

shall Athens sink.
Drop into dust and die — the flower of Hellas

utterly die.
Die, with the wide world spitting at Sparta,

the stupid, the stander-by ?
Answer me quick, what help^ what hand do

you stretch o'er destruction's brink ?
How, — when? No care for my limbs! —

there 's lightning in all and some —
Freah and fit your message to bear, once lips

give it birth r*

O my Athens — Sparta love thee ? Did Sparta

respond?
Every face of her leered in a furrow of envy,

mistrust,
Malice, — each eye of her gave me its glitter

of gratified hate !
Gravely tney turned to take counsel, to cast for

excuses. I stood
Quivering, — the Umbs of me fretting as fire

frets, an inch from dry wood :
** Persia has come, Athens asks aid, and still

they debate ?
Thunder, thou Zeus ! Athene, are Spartans a

qutarv beyond
Swing of thy spear? Phoibos and Artemis,

dang them * Ye must ' I "

No bolt launched from Olumpos! Lo, their
answer at last !

" Has Persia come, — does Athens ask aid, —
may Siuirta befriend ?

Nowise precipitate Judgment — too weighty
the issue at stake !

Count we no time lost time which lags through
respect to the gods !

Ponder that precept of old, ^ No warfare, what-
ever the odds

In your favor, so lone as the moon, half-orbed,
is unable to take

Full-circle her state in the sky I * Already she
rounds to it fast :

Athens must wait, patient as we — who judg-
ment suspend."

Athens, — except for tliat sparkle, — thy name,

I had mouldered to ash I
That sent a blaze through my blood; off, off

and away was I ba^



— Not one word to waste, one look to kiae ca
the false and the vile !

Yet'^0 eods of my landl" Icried, as each
hillock and plain,

Wood and stream, I knew, I named,
past them a^rain,

^* Have ye kept faith, proved mindful of 1
we paid vou erewhile ?

Vain was the filleted victim, the fulsome liba-
tion ! Too rash

Love in its choice, paid you so largely aervin
so slack I

" Oak and olive and bay, — I bid yon cease to

enwreathe
Brows made bold by your leaf I Fade at the

Persian's foot.
You that, our patrons were pledged, ahoald

never adorn a slave !
Rather I hail thee, Pames, — trust to thy wild

waste tract!
Treeless, herbless, lifeless mountain ! Whal

matter if slacked
My speed may hardly be, for homage to crag

and to cave
No deity deigns to drape with verdue ? at

least I can breathe.
Fear in thee no fraud trom the Uind, no lie

from the mute ! "

Such mv cry as, rapid, I ran over Faraet'

ridfl»;
Gully ana gap I clambered and cleared tiU,

sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, bkxk-

ing the way.
Right I for I minded the hollow to travene,

the fissure across :
*' Where I could enter; there I depart by!

Night in the fosse?
Athens to aid ? Though the dive were throv^

Erebos, thus I obey —
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravdy

arise I No bridge
Better I " —when — ha I what was it I came on,

of wonders that are ?

There, in the cool of a deft, sat he — majestaeal

Pan I
Ivy drooped wanton, kissed his bead, men

cushioned his hoof :
All the great god was good in the eyes grave-

kmdly — the curl
Carved on the bearded cheek, amosed at s

mortal's awe.
As, under the human trunk, the goat-ihig^

grand I saw.
" Halt, Pheidippides I " -halt I did, my luiii

of a whirl:
" Hither tome I Why pale in my presenee?"

he gracious began :
** How is It, —Athens, only in Hellas, holds om

aloof?

** Athens, she only, rears me no &ne, nakei

me no feast I
Wherefore? ThanI what godship to Aihea

more helpful of old ?



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HALBERT AND HOB



879



Ay, and still, and foreyer her friend I Test

Pan, trust me I
Go, bid Atiiens take heart, laugh Persia to

scorn, have faith
In the temples and tombs I Go, say to Athens,

' The GoatrGod saith :
When Persia — so much as strews not the soil

— is oast in the sea.
Then praise Pan who f ought in the ranks with

your most and least ^
Goat-thigh to fireared-thigh, made one cause

with the free and the bold V

** Say Pan saith : * Let this, foreshowing the

place, be the plecLcei;'^ ^, ^ ^ ^
(Gay, the liberal hand held out this herbage I

bear
— Fennel — I grasped it a-tremble with dew —

whatcTcr it bode) , . _.

** While, as for thee " . . .. But enough I He

was gone. If I ran hitherto —
Be snre that, the rest of my journey, I ran no

longer, but flew.
Pames to AtheiM— earth no more, the air was

my road :
Here am I back. Pnuse Pan, we stand no

more on the raxor*s edge I
Pan for Athens, Pan for me I I too have a

guerdon rare !

Then spoke Miltiades. ** And thee, best run-
ner of Greece,
Whose limbs did dut^ indeed, — what gift is

pronused thyself ?
Tell it us straightway, — Athens the mother

demands of her son I '*
Rosily blushed the youth : he paused: but,

lifting at length
His eyes mm the ground, it seemed as he

gathered the rest of his strength
Into the utterance — '* Pan spoke thus : * For

what thou hast done
Goniit on a worthy reward! Henceforth be

allowed thee release
from the racer*s toil, no Tulgar reward in

praise or in pelf I '

** I am bold to belieye. Pan means reward the

most to my mina I
Figrht I shall, with our foremost, whererer this

fennel may ^prow, —
Pound — Pan helping us — Peisia to dust, and,

under the deep.

Whelm her away foreyer; and then, — no

Athens to save, —
Marry a certain maid, I know keeps faith to

the brave, —
Hie to my house and home: and, when my

children shall creep
Close to my knees, —recount how the God was

awful yet kind,
Promised their sire reward to the full— re-
warding him — sol*'

Dnf oreseeine one ! Yes, he fought on the Marsr

thon day :
80, ^hen Persia was dust, all cried ** To Akro-

polisl



Run, Pheidippides, one race more 1 the meed is

thy due !
'Athens is saved, thank Pan,' go shout I*' He

flung down his shield.
Ran like hre once more : and the space 'twizt

the Fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a

fire runs through.
Till in he broke : ** Rejoice, we conquer I "

Like wine through c2a;r,
Joy in his blood bursting his heart, he died —

theblisst

So, to this day, when friend meets friend, the

word of salute
Is still "' Rejoice 1 " — his word which brought

rejoicing indeed.
So is Pheidippides happy foreyer, — the noble

strongman
Who could race like a god, bear the face of a

god, whom a god loved so well :
He saw the land saved he had helped to saye,

and was suffered to tell
Such tidings, yet neyer decline, but, gloriously

as he b^^an.
So to end glOTiously — once to shout, thereafter

be mute:
'* Athens is sayed ! *' —Pheidippides dies in the

shout for his meed^



HALBERT AND HOB

Hbbb is a thing that happened. like wild

bcHBsts whelped, for den.
In a wild part of North England, there lived

once two wild men
Inhabiting one homestead, neither a hoyel nor

hut,
Time out of mind their birthright : father and

son, these — but —
Such a son, such a father ! Most wildnees by

Softens away : yet, last of their line, the wild-
est and worst were these.

Criminals, then ? Why, no : they did not mur-
der and rob ;

But, give them a word, they returned a blow —
old Halbert as young Hob :

Harsh and fierce of word, rough and sayage of
deed.

Hated or feared the more — who knows ? — the
genuine wild-beast breed.

Thus were they found by the few sparse folk of

the countryside ;
But how fared each with other? E'en beasts

couch, hide bv hide.
In a growling, grudged agreement : so, father

and son aye curled
The doselier up in their den because the last of

their kind in the world.

StiU, beast irks beast on occamon. One Christ-
mas night of snow.

Came father and son to words — such words 1
more cruel because the blow



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DRAMATIC IDYLS



To crown each word was wantmg, while taunt

matched gibe, and curse
Competed with oath in wager, like pastime in

heU, — nay, worse :
For pastime tnrned to earnest, as up there

sprang at last
The son at tke throat of the father, seized him

and held him fast.

'* Oat of this house yon go ! '* (there followed a

hideous oath) —
**Thi8 OTen where now we hake, too hot to

hold us both !
If there 's snow outside, there 's coolness : out

with you, bide a spell
In the drift and saye the sexton the charge of a

parish sheUI"

Now, the old trunk was tough, was solid as

stump of oak
Untouched at the core by a thousand years:

much less had its seventy hroke
One whipcord nerre in the musdy mass from

neck to shoulder-blade
Of the mountainous man, whereon his child's

rash hand like a feather weighed.

Kerertheless at once did the mammoth shut his

Drop chin to breast, drop hands to sides, stand

stiffened — arms and thighs
All of a piece — struck mute, much as a sentry

stands.
Patient to take the enemy's fixe : his captain so

commands.

Whereat the son's wrath flew to fury at such

sheer scorn
Of his punv strength by the giant eld thus act-

ii^ tne babe new-bom :
And ** Neither will this turn serre I " yelled he.

"Out with you! Trundle, log!
If you cannot tramp and trudge like a man, try

allrfouiBlikeadogI"

Still the old man stood mute. So, logwise, —

down to floor
Pulled from his fireside place, dragged on from

hearth to door, —
Was he pushed, a yeiy log, staircase along,

A certain turn in the steps was reached, a yard
from the house-door-silL

Then the^ father o^ned eyes — each spark of
their rage eztmot , ^

Temples, late black, dead-blanched, — right-
hand with left-hand linked, —

He &oed his son submisstye ; when slow the
accents came.

They were stran^ly mild though his son's rash
hand on his neck lay all the same.

" Hob, on just such a night of a Christmas long

For suSi a cause, with such a gesture, did I
drag — so —



My father down thus far : but, softening here,

I heard
A Toice in my heart, and stopped : you wait for

an outer word,

** For your own sake, not mine, soften yoa tool

Untrod
Leaye this last step we reach, nor brsre tk

finger of God I
I dared not pass its liftang: I did welL Iior

blame
Nor praise you. I stopped here : and. Hob, do

you the same 1 *^

Straightway the son relaxed his hold of tk

father's throat.
They mounted, side by side, to the room agan :

no note
Took ^ther of each, no sign made eaeh to

either: last
As first, in absolute silence, their ChiiitiDif'

night they passed.

At dawn, the father sate cm, dead, in thenlf*



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 172 of 198)