Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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same place.
With an outburst blackening still the old ltd

fighting-face :
But the son crouched all »-tremble like «j

lamb new-yeaned.

When he went to the burial, some one's staffbe

borrowed, — tottered and leaned.
But his lips were loose, not locked, — keptmt-

tenn|r, mumbling. " There !
At his cursing and swearing I " the yonos^en

cried: but the elders thought ''h

A boy threw stones : he picked them up td

stored them in his Test.

So tottered, muttraed, mumUed he, tiD k

died, perhaps f oimd rest.
** Is there a reason in nature for these bn

hearts?" OLear,
That a reason out of nature must ton then

soft, seems clear I

ivAn ivAnovitch

*• They tell me, your carpenters," quoth I to

my friend the Russ,
" Make a simple hatchet serve as a tool-bax

serres with us.
Arm but each man with lus axe, 'tis a Imnoer

and saw and plane
And chisel, and — what know I else ? We

should imitate in yiun
The mastery wherewithal, by a flourish of j^

the adze, ,

He deayes, clamps, doyetails in, — no need a

our nails and brads, —
The manageable pine : 't is said he ooold sbn

himself .

With the axe, — so all adroit, now a gisot aid

now an elf.
Does he work and play at once I "

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ivAn ivAnovitch


Quoth my friend the Rodb to me,
^ Ay, that and more beside on occaeion I It

scarce maybe
Yoa noTer heard tell a tale told children, time

ont of mind,
By father and mother and nurse, for a moral

that *8 behind.
Which children qnickly seize. If the incident

happcooed at all.
We place it in Peters time when hearts were

great not small.
GJermiuiized, Frenchified. I wager 't is old to

As the story of Adam and Etc, and possibly

qnite as tme.'*

In the deep of oar land, 't is said, a Tillage

from out the woods
Emerged on the great main-road 'twixt two

great solitudes.
Through forestry right and left, black yerst

and verst of pine,
From Tillage to Tillage runs the road's long

wide Dare line.
Clearance and clearance break the else-uncon-

quered growth
Of pine and all that breeds and broods there,

leaTing loth
Man's inch of masterdom, — spot of life, spirt

of fixe, —
To star the dark and dread, lest right and rule

Throughout the monstrous wild, a-hungered to

Its ancient sway, suck back the world into its

Defrauded by man's craft which doTe from

North to South
This highway broad and straight e'en from the

NeTa's mouth
To Moscow's gates of gold. So, spot of life

and spirt
Of fire aforesaid, bum, each Tillage death-

By wall and wall of inne — unprobed un-
dreamed abyss.

£arly one winter mom, in such a Tillage as

Snow-whitened CTcrywhere except the middle

loe-ronghed by track of sledge, there worked

bT his abode
Jvkik lyanoTitchj the carpenter, emjiloyed
On a huge shipmast trunk; his axe now

trimmed and toyed
With branch and twig, and now some chop

athwart the bole
Changed bole to billets, bared at once the sap

About him, watched the work his neighbors

sheepskin-clad ;
bearded month pi
eye twinkled glad

Each bearded month pufped steam, each gray

To see ^tte sturdy arm which, ncTer sti^ping

Prored strong man's blood stiU boils, feeexa

winter as he may.
Sudden, a burst of beUs. Out of the road, on

Of the hamlet — horse's hods galloping.

*''' How, a sledge ?
What's here?" cried all as — in, up to tha

open space,
Workyard and market^ground, folk's common

meeting-place, —
Stumbled on, till he fell, in one last bound for

A horse: and, at his heels, a sledge held —

"Dmitri's wife I
Back without Dmitri too t and children-^

where are they ?
Only a froxen corpse 1 "

TheT drew it forth: then— "Nay,
Not dead, though like to die I Gone hence a

month ago:
Home again, this rough jaunt — alone through

night and snow —
What can the cause be? Hark — Droug, old

horse, how he groans :
EBs da^ 's done I Chafe away, keep chafing,

for she moans:
She 's coining to I QiTC here : see, motherkin,

your mends I
Cheer up, all safe at home! Warm inside

makes amends
For outside cold, — sup quick I Don't look as

we were bears !
What is it startles yon? What strange ad-

Tenture stares
Up at us in your face ? You know friends—

which is which ?
I 'm ViMsiU, he 's Sergei, lyka iTlUiOTitch " —

At the word, the woman's eyes, slow-wander-
ing till they neared
The blue eyes o'er the bush of honey-colored

Took in fuU light and sense and — torn to rags,

some draam
Which hid the naked truth— O loud and long

the scream
She gaTc, as if all power of Toioe within her

Poured itself wild away to waste in one dread

note I
Then followed gasps and sobs, and then the

steady flow
Of kindly tears : the brain was saTed, a man

might know.
Down fell her face upon the good friend's

propping knee ;
His broad naMS smoothed her head, as fain to

brush it free
From fancies, swarms that stung like bees

unhiTed. He soothed —
<* Loukdria, Lohscha I " — stiU he, fondling,

smoothed and smoothed.
At last her lips formed speech.

" iTJm, dear — tou indeed I
You, just the same dear you I While I . . . Oh,

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Sweet Mother, with tlij Son Almighty ~ let his

Bring yesterday once more, nndo all done last

night I
Bnt this time yesterday, Ivim, I sat like you,
A child on either knee, and, dearer than the

A babe inside my arms, dose to my heart —

that's lost
In moisels o'er the snow I Father, Son, Holy

Cannot yon bring again my blessed yesterday ? "

When no more tears wonld flow, she told her
tale: this way.

*^ Maybe, a month ago, — was it not ? — news

came here.
They wanted, deeper down, good workmen fit

to rear
A chnroh and roof it in. ^ We'll go,* my

husband siud :
* None understands like me to melt and mould

their lead.'
So, friends here helped us off — Ivkn, dear,

you the first I
How gay we jingled forth, all fiye — (my heart

will burst) —
While Dmitri shook the reins, urged Droug

upon his track !

** Well, soon the month ran out, we just were

coming back.
When yesterday — behold, the Tillage was on

Fire ran from house to house. What help, as,

nigh and nigher.
The flsmes came furious ? * Haste,' cried

DmHri, * men must do
The little good man may.: to sledge and in with

You and our three ! We check the fire by

Each buildmg in its path, — I needs must stay

for that, —
Bnt yon ... no time for talk I Wrap round

you everr rug,
Gorer the couple dose, — you '11 haye the babe

to hug.
No care to guide old Droug, he knows his way,

by guess.
Once start him on the road : but chirrup, none

the lees !
The snow lies glib as glass and hard as steel,

and soon
You 11 have rise, fine and full, a marvel of a

Hold straight up. all the same, this U^ted

twist of pitch I
Once home and with our friend Irka Iviknovitch,
All 's safe : I haye my pay in pouch, all 's right

with me.
So I but find as safe you and our precious

Off, Droug!'— because the flames had reached

us, and the men
Shouted *But lend a hand, Dmitri— as good

as ten!'

"So, in we bundled —I, and those God gave

me once ;
Old Droug, that 's stiff at first, seemed youth-
ful for the nonce :
He understood the case, gaUoping straight

Out came the moon : my twist soon dwindled,

feebly red
In that unnatural day — yes, daylight, bred

Moonlight and snow-light, lamped tlioae grotkh

depths which screen
Such devib from God's eye. Al»^ pines, hov

straight yon grow.
Nor bend one pitying branch, tme breed of

brutal snow !
Some underSTowth had served to keep the

devils blind
While we escaped outside their border 1

"Was that— wind?
Anyhow, Droug starts, stops, back go his eaa,

he snuffs.
Snorts, — never such a snort I then plongm,

knows the sough 's
Only the wind: yet, no — oar breath goes up

too straight 1
Still the low sound, — less low, loud, louder, at

a rate
There 's no mistaking more t Shall I lean cot

— look — leam
The truth whatever it be? Pad, pad! At

last, I turn —

" 'T is the regular pad of the wolves in pnisait

of the fife in the sledge !
An army they are: dose-packed they p roos Kkc

the thrust of a wedge :
They increase as they hunt : for I see, through

the pine-trunks ranged each side.
Slip f ordi new fiend and &nd, make wider and

still more wide
The four-footed steady advance. Hie fore-
most — none may pass :
They are elders and lead the line, eye and eye

— green-glowing brass I
But a long way distant still. Drong, satc ns I

He does nis best :
Yet they gain on us, gain, till they reach, —

one reaches . • • How utter the rest f
O that Satan-faced first of the band ! How ha

lolls out the length of his tongue.
How he laughs and lets gleam his white teeth!

He is on me, his paws pry among
The wraps and the rugs I O my pair, my twin-
pigeons, lie still and seem dead !

I, ne shall never have you for a iiieal,^

here 's your mother instead I
No, he will not be counselled — must cry, poor

Sti^pka, BO foolish I though first
Of my boy-brood, he was not the best : nay,

neignbors have called him the worst :
He was puny, an undersized slip, — a <l«i-lt "y to

me, all the same !

But little there was to be praised in the boy,

and a plen^ to blame.
I loved him with heart and soul, yes — but,

deal him a blow for a &nlt.

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ivAn ivAnovitch


He woald sulk for whole dajB. * Fooliah boy I

lie stall or the villain will yanlt.
Will snatch yon from orer my head I No use I

he ories, screams, — who can hold
Fast a boy in a frenzy of fear t It follows — as

I foretold 1
The Satan-face snatched and snapped: I

tngged, I tore — and then
Kb brouer too needs mnst shriek I If one

must go, *tismen
The Tsar needs, so we hear, not ailing boys I

My hands relaxed their grasp, got tangled in

the wraps:
God, he was gone 1 I. looked : there tumbled

the onrsed crew,
Each fighting for a share : toobnsyto pnxsnel
That 's so far gain at least : Droug, gallop an-
other verst
Or two, or three — God sends we beat them,

arriye the first I
A mother who boasts two boys was ever ao-

oonnted rich :
Some haye not a boy : some haye, bat lose him,

— Qod knows which
Is worse: how piiifal to see yonr weakling

And pale and pass away I Strong brats, this

pair of mine!

** O misery ! for while I settle to what near

Content, I am 'ware again of the tramp, and

again there gleams —
Point and point — the line, eyes, leyelled

green brassy fire I
So soon is resumed your chase ? Will nothing

appease, naught tire

appease. L„
The fnnes? And yet I think — I am certain

the race is slack.
And the numbers are nothing like. Not a quar-
ter of the pack !
Feasters and those full-fed are staying behind

. . .Ah, why?
We'll sorrow for that too soon I Now, — gallop,

reach home, and die.
Nor eyer again leave house, to trust our life in

the trap
For life — we call a sledge ! Teri^seha, in my

Yes, I 'll lie down upon you, tight-tie you with

the strings
Here — of my heart I No fear, this time, your

mother flings . . •
Flings? I flunff? Neverl But thinki — a

woman, alter all,
Contending with a wolf ! Save you I must and


** How now ? What, you stUl head the race,
Your eyes and tongue and teeth crave fresh

food, Satan-face?
There and there I Plain I struck green fire

out! Flash again?
All a poor fist can do to damage eyes proves

My fist — why not crunch that ? He is wanton

f or . . . O Qod,

Why give this wolf his taste ? Common wolves

scrape and prod
The earth till out they scratch some ooipse —

mere putrid flesh I
Why must this glutton leave the faded, choose

the fresh?
TerentB — Qod, feel I— his neck keeps ftist

thy bag
Of holy things, saints' bones, this Satan-faoe

will drag
Forth, and devour along with him, our Pope

The relics were to save from danger I

*' Spumed, not spared I

'T was through my arms, crossed arms, he-
nuzzling now with snout.

Now ripping, tooth and claw — plucked, pulled
TerentB out,

A prize indeed ! I saw — how could I else but
see? —

My precious one — I bit to hold back — pulled
from me I

Up came the others, fell to dancing — did the
imps! —

Skipped as they scampered round. There 's
one is gray, and bmps :

Who knows but old bad Mlirpha — she always
owed me spite

And envied me my births — skulks out of
doors at night

And turns into a wdf , and joins the sisterhood,

And laps the youthful life, then slinks from
out the wood.

Squats down at door by dawn, spins there de-
mure as erst

— No strength, old crone, — not she I — to
crawl forth half a verst I

"Wen, I escaped with one: 'twixt one and

none there lies
The space 'twixt heaven and hell. And see, a

rose-light dyes
The endmost snow: 'tis dawn, 'tis day, 'tis

safe at home 1
We have outwitted you I Ay, monsters, snarl

and foam.
Fight each the other fiend, disputing for a

share, —
Forgetful, in your greed, our finest off we bear.
Tough Droug andX — my babe, my boy that

shall be man.
My man that shaU be more, do all a hunter can
To trace and follow and find and catcli and

Wolves, woukins, all your crew ! A thousand

deaths shall die
The whimperingest cub that ever squeezed the

teat I
* Take that ! ' we '11 stab yon with, — 'the ten-
derness we met
When, wretches* you danced round, — not this,

thank God — not this!
Hellhounds, we balk you I '

" But — Ah, God above !— Bliss, bliss,—
Not the band, no ! And yet — yes,, for Droug
knows him I One —

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This only of them all has said * She saves a

His fellows dishelieve saoh look : bat he be-
He lets them pick the boneSf.langh at him in

their sleeves :
He 's off and after ns, — one speck, one spot,

one ball
Grows bigeer, boond on bonnd, — one wolf as

Oh, but I know the trick I Have at the snaky

That 's the right way with wolves I Go, teU

yoor mates I wrong
The panting morael oat, left yoa to howl yoar

worst I
Now for it— now! Ah me! I know him —

Satan-face, — him to the end my foe !

" All fi^t 's in vain :
This time the peen htam points pierce to my

very bram.
I fall— fall as I ought — quite on the babe I

I oveispread with fiesh the whole of him. Too

To die this way, torn nieoemeal ? Move hence ?

Not I — one inch I
Gnaw throng me, throurii and through : flat

thus I lie nor flinohl

God. the feel of the fang furrowing my

shoulder ! — see!
It grinds — it grates the bone. O E^rill under

Could I do more ? Besides he knew wdLTs way

to win:

1 clung, dosed round like wax: yet in he

wedged and in.
Past my neck, past my breasts, my heart, until

. • . how f eek
The onion-bulb your knife parts, pushing

through its peels,
TUl out vou scoop its dove wherdn lie stalk

and leaf
And bloom and seed unborn ?

** That slew me : yeSj in brief,
I died then, dead I lay doubtlessly till Droug

Here, I suppose. I come to life, I find me

Thus, — how or when or why — I know not.

Tell me, friends,
All was a dream : laugh quick and say the

nightmare ends I
Soon I shall find my house : 't is over there : in



Save tor that chimney heaped with snow,

you *d see the roof
Which holds my three ^ my two — my one —

not one ?

** Life *s mixed
With misery, yet we live — must live. The

Satan fixed
His face on mine so ftist, I took its print as


Takes what it cods beneath. Iv4n Iviaoritek,
'T is you nnharden me, you thaw, diqmse th»

Only keep looking kind, the horror wiU sot

Your face smooths fast away eadi print dt

Satan. Tears
—What good they do! Life 's sweet, and all

its after-vears,
Ivlm IvIUiovitoh, I owe you ! Yours am I !
May God reward you, dear 1 "

Down she sank. SokuiBly
Ivim rose, raised his axe, — for fitly, ai lU

Her head lay : well-i^>art, each side, her torn

hung, — dealt
Lightning-swift thundep«trong one Uow— bo

needof mOTel
Headless she kndt on still : that pine wm

sound at core
(Neis^bors were used to say) — oast-iron-ka-

ndled — which
Taxed for a second stroke Ivkn Iv^novitelL

The man was scant of words as strokes. ^It

had to be:
I could no other: God it was, bade *Aetfer

Then stooping, peering round — whatisitnov

he lacks?
A proper strip of bark wherewith to wipe Ui

Which done, he turns, goes in^ doses the door

The others mute remain, watching the Uood*

snake wind
Into a hiding-place among the q[»linter4ieapi.

At length, still mute, all move: one lifii-

nom where it steeps
Redder each ruddy rag of pine — the head:

two more
Take up the dripinng body : then, mute atiD

as before,
Move in a sort of march, maidi on till maidt-

ing <^d<y
Opposite to the church ; where halting, —vbo

Bv its long hair, the thing, depodts in its vlaee
The piteous head: once more the bodyaoovs

no trace
Of harm done : there lies whole the Ldnda,

maid and wife
And mother, loved until this latest of her fife.
Tlien all sit on the'bank of snow which bouKb

Kept free before the porch of judgment: jst

the place I

Presently all the souls, man, woman, ciiiU.

which make
The village up, are found assembling for tk

Of what is to be done. The very Jeira ai«

A Gypsy-troop, though bound with horaei vf

the Fair,

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Squats with the rest. Each heart with its oon-

oeption seethes
And simmers, but no tongue speaks : one may

say, — none breathes.

Anon from out the church totters the Pope —

the priest —
Hardly alive, so old, a hundred years at least.
With nim, the Commune's head, a hoary senior

St&rosta, that 's his style, —like Equity Judge

withjrou, —
Natural Jurisoonsult : then, fenced about with

Pomeschik, — Lord of the Land, who wields — -

and none demurs —
A power of life and death. They stoop, surrey

the corpse.


on his staff , the Stiirosta —

tne tnorpe's

Sogacionsest old man — hears what you just
have heard.

From Droug's first inrush, all, up to Ivkn's
last word —

** Qod bade me act for him : I dared not dis-
obey I"

SUenoe— the Pomesohik broke with** A wild

wrong way
Of righting wrong — if wrong there were, such

wrath to rouse I
Why was not Uiw obaerred ? What article

Whoso may please to play the judge, and, judg-
ment dealt.
Play executioner, as promptly as we pelt
To death, without appeal, the Termin whose

sole fault
Has been — it dared to leaye the darkness of its

Intrude upon our day I Too sudden and too

rash I
What was this woman's crime ? Suppose the

church should crash
Down where I stand, your lord : bound are my

serfs to dare
Their utmost that I 'scape: yet, if the crashiDg

My children — as you are, — if sons fly, one and

Lieaye father to his &te, — poor cowards though

The runaways, I pause before I daim their life
Because they prized it more than mine. I would

Died for her husband's sake, each son to save

hissire :
'T is glory, I applaud — scarce dutr, I require.
iTkn Ivknoritoh has done a deed that 's named
Murder bv law and me: who doubts, may

speak unblamed I "

All turned to the old Pope. ** Ay, children, I

am old —
How old, mvself haye got to know no longer.

Quite round, my orb of life, from infancy to age.

Seems passing back again to youth. A certain
At leasti reach, or dream I reach, where I dia-

Truer truths, laws behold more lawHke than we

When first we set our foot to tread the coarse I

With man to guide my steps : who leads me

now is Qod.
^ Your young men shall see visions : ' and in my

youth I saw
And paid obedience to man's visionary law :

* Your old men shall dream dreams: ' and, in

my age, a hand
Conducts me through the doud round law to

where I stand
Fitm on its base, — know cause, who, before,

knew effect.

'^ The worid lies under me : and nowhere I detect
So great a gift as this — (3od's own — of human

* Shall the dead praise thee?' No! *The

whole Kve world is rife,
Qod, with thy glory,' rather! Life then, Qod's

For what shallman exchange? For life —when

so he shifts
The weight and turns the scale, lets life for life

Qod's balance, sacrifice the lees to gain tha

Substitute — for low life, another's or his own —
Life large and liker Qod's who gave it : thus

May life extmguishlife that Hfe may trailer be I
How low this law descends on earui, is not for

To trace : complexed becomes the simple, intri-
Hie plain, when I pursue law's winding. 'T is

the straight
Outflow of law I know and name: to law, the

Fresh from Qod's footstool, friends, follow while

I remount.

" A mother bears a child: perfection is com-
So far m such a birth. Enabled to repeat ^
The miracle of life, — herself was bom so just
A type of womankind, that Qod sees fit to trust
Her with the holy task of giving life in turn.
Crowned by this crowning pride, how say you,

should she spurn
Regality — discrowned, unchilded, by her chmoe
Of banenness exchanged for fruit which made

Creation, though life's self were lost in giving

To life more fresh and fit to glorify Qod's earth ?
How say you, diould the hand Qod trusted with

lifers torch
Kindled to light the world — aware of sparks

that scorch.
Let fall the same ? Forsooth, her flesh a fire

flake stings:

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The mother droM the child I Amoii^ what

monatrous things
Shall she be classed ? Because of motherhood,

each male
Yields to his partner place, sinks proudly in the

His strength owned weakness, wit — folly, and

courage — fear.
Beside the female proved male's mistress—

onlv here.
The foz-oam, hnnger-idned, will slay the felon

Who dares assault her whelp: the beaver,

stretched on fire.
Will die without a groan: no pang avails to

Her young from where they hide — her sanctu-

What 's here then ? Answer me, thou dead one,

as, I trow.
Standing at God's own bar, he bids thee answer

now I
Thrice crowned wast thou — each crown of

pride, a child — thy charge I
Where are they? Lost? Enough: no need

that thou enlarge
On how or why the loss : life left to utter * lost '
Condemns itself beyond appeaL The soldier's

Ghiards from the foe's attack the camp he senti-
That he no traitor proved, this and this only

Over the corpse of him trod foe to foe's success.
Yet — one by one thy crowns torn from thee —

thou no less
To scare the world, shame God, — livedst I I

hold he saw
The unexampled sin, ordained the novel law.
Whereof first instrument was first intelligence
Found lojral here. I hold that, failing human

The very earth had oped, sky fallen, to efface

Humanity's new wrong, motherhood's first dis-

Earth oped not, neither fell the sky, for prompt
was found

A man and man enough, head-sober and heart-

Ready to hear God's voice, resolute to obey.

Iv4n Iv4novitch, I hold, has done, this day.

No otherwise than did, in ages long ago,

Moses when he made known the purport of that

Of fire athwart the law's twain-tables I I pro-

Ivkn Iviuiovitch God's servant I "

At which name
Uprose that creepy whisper from out the crowd,

is wont.
To swell and surge and sink when fellow-men

A punishment that falls on feUow flesh and

Appallingly beheld — shndderingly understood.
No less, to be the right, the just, the mercifuL
*' God's servant I " hissed the crowd.


When the Amen grew dull

And died away and left acquittal plain ad-

''Amen P' last sighed the lord,
none shall say I grudged

Escape from punishment in such a novel case.

Deferring to old ase and holy life, — be grace

Granted! say I. No less, sorupleB might shake

Firmer than X boast mine. Law 's law, and

Of breach therein lies plain, — blood-red-bright,
— all may see !

Yet all absolve the deed: absolved the deed

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 173 of 198)