Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 193 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 193 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

To sunset ? Ocean and immensity :
North, stare till Danube stops you : South, see

The Desert and the earth-upholding Mount.
Well may the poet-people each with each
Vie in his praise, our oompany of swans,
Virgil and Uorace^ingers — in their way —
Nearly as good as V anus, though less famed :
Well may they cry, *' No mortal, phunly God ! "

Thus to myself myself said, while I walked :
Or would have said, could thought attain to

Clean baffled by enormity of bliss
The while I strove to scale its heights and

Its depths — this masterdom o'er all the world
Of one who was but bom — like von, like me,
Like all the world he owns — of neeh and blood.
But he — how grasp, how gauge his own conceit
Of bliss to me near inconceivable ?
Or, since such flight too much makes reel the

Let's sink — and so take refuge, as it were.
From life's excessive altitude — to life's

Digitized by




Breatliable wayside shelter at its base I

If looms thus large this CflBsar to myself

— Of senatorial rank and somebody —

How must he strike the vulgar nameless crowd,

Innumerons swarm that 's nobodv at all ?

Why, — for an instance, — much as yon gold

Crowned, sceptred, on the temple opposite —
Fulgurant Jupiter — must daze the sense
Of — say, yon outcast begginfi: from its step I
** What, Anti-GsBsar, monarch in the mud.
As he is pinnacled above thy pate ?
Ay, beg awav I thy lot contrasts full well
With his whose bounty yields thee this sup-
port —
Our Holy and Inviolable One,
OsBsar, whose bountv built the fane above !
Dost read my thought ? Thy garb, alack, dis-
Sore usage truly in each rent and stain —
Faugh I Wash though in Snburrat 'Ware

the dogs
Who may not so disdain a meal on thee t
What, stretchest forth a palm to catch my


Aha, why yes : I must appear — who knows ? —

I, in my toga, to thv rags and thee —

QusBstor — nay, .^Idile, Censor — Pol I perhaps

The very City-Prsetor's noble self t

As to me Csssar, so to thee am I ?

Good : nor in vain shall prove thy quest, poor
rogue I

Hither — hold palm out — take this quarter-

And who did take it ? As he raised his head,

giy gesture was a trifle — well — abrupt.)
ack fell the broad flap of the peasantVnat,

The homespun doak that muffled half lus

Dropped somewhat, and I had a glimpse —
just one I

One was enough. Whose — whose might be
the face?

That unkempt careless hair— brown, yellow-
ish —

Those sparkling eyes beneath their eyebrows'

(Each meets each, and the hawk-nose rules

— That was enough, no glimpse was needed

And terrifyin^ly into my mind
Came that qmok-hushed report was whispered

'^ Theyao say, once a year in sordid garb
He ^lasrs the mendicant, sits all day long.
Asking and taking alms of who may pass.
And so averting, if submission help.
Fate's envy, the dread chance ana change of

When Fortune — for a word, a look, a

naught —
Turns spiteful and — the petted lioness — .
Strikes with her sudden paw, and prone falls

Who patted late her neck superiorly,

Or trifled with those claw -tips velvet-

sheathed '
'*He's God!"* shouts Lucius Varina Rnfns:

And woma'-meat any moment I " mntteza low
Some Power, admoniuiing the mortal-bom.

Ay, do yon mind ? There '• meaning in the

That whoso conquers, triumphs, enters Romer
Climbing the Caintolian, soaring thus
To glory's summit, — Publius, do :^oa mark —
Ever the same attendant who, behind,
Above the Conqueror's head supports the crovn
All-too-demonstrative for human wear,
— One hand's employment — all the while re-

Its fellow, backward flung, to point how, dose
Appended from the car, beneath the foot
Oi the up-bome exulting Conqueror,
Frown — half-descried — the instramentB of

The malefactor's due. Crown, now — Cross,


Who stands secure ? Are even Gods ao safe ?
Jupiter that just now is dominant —
Aro not there ancient dismal tales how once
A predecessor reined ere Saturn came.
And who can say if Jupiter be last ?
Was it for notlung the gray Sibyl wrote
" CsBsar Aucmstus regnant, shafi be Ixnii
In blind Judsa " — one to master him,
Blm and the universe ? An old-wife's tale f

Bath-drudge ! Here, slave I No cheating!

Our turn next.
No loitering, or be sure you taste the lash !
Two strigils, two oil-drippers, each a sponge 1


Mt Father was a scholar and knew Greek.
When I was five years old, I asked him once
'* What do you read about?" •

"The siege of Troy."
" What is a siege, and what is Troy f "

He piled up chairs and tables for a town.
Set me a-tc^ for Priam, called our cat

— Helen, enticed away from home Oie said)
By wicked Paris, who couched somewhere

Under the footstool, being cowardly.
But whom — since she was worth the pains,

poor puss —
Towzer ana Tray, — our dogs, the Atieidai, —

By taking Troy to get possession of

— Always when gvat Achilles ceased to sulk,
(My pony in the stable) — forth would pranoe
And put to flight Hector — our page-boy's self.
This tiMight me who was who and what was

what :
So far I rightly understood the case
At five years old ; a huge delight it proved

Digitized by




And still proves — thanks to that instmotor

My Father, who knew better than tnm straight
Learning's full flare on weak-eyed ignorance,
Or, worse Tet, leave weak eyes to grow sand-

Content with darkness and vaonity.

It happened, two or three years afterward,
*Iliat — I and playmates playing at Troy's

Siege —
My Father came upon our make-believe.
** How would yon like to read yourself the tale
Properly told, of which I gave you first
Merely such notion as a boy could bear ?
Pope, now, would give vou the precise account
Of what, some day, by dint of scnolarship.
You 'U hear — who knows? — from Homer's

very mouth.
Learn Greek by all means, read the * Blind Old

Sweetest of Singers' — (tip^as which means

* blind,'
Hedistos which means * sweetest.' Time

enough !
Try. anyhow, to master him some day ;
Until when, take what serves for substitute.
Head Pope, by all means ! "

So I ran through Pope,
Enjoyed the tale — what history so true ?
Also attacked my Primer, duly drudged,
€br9w fitter thus for what was promised next —
The very thing itself, the actual words,
When I could turn — say, Buttmann to account.

Time passed, I ripened somewhat: one fine

** Quite ready for the Iliad, nothing less ?
There 's Heine, where the big books block the

Don't skip a word, thumb well the Lexicon I "

I thumbed well and skipped nowise till I

Who was who, what was what, from Homer's

And there an end of learning. Had you asked
The all-acoomplished scholar, twelve years old,
"Who was it wrote the Iliad?" — what a

laugh !
** Why, Homer, all the world knows : of his

Doubtless some facts exist : it 's everywhere :
We have not settled, though, lus place of birth :
He begged, for certain, and was blind beside :
Seven cities claimed him — Scio, with best

Thinks Byron. What he wrote? Those

Hymns we have.
Then there 's the * Battle of the Frogs and

That's all - unless they dig 'Margites' up
(I 'd like that) nothing more remains to kiu>w."

Thus did youth spend a comfortable time ;
Unta— '' What ^s this the Germans say in fact
That Wolf found out first? It's unpleasant

Their chop and change, unsettling one's be-
All the same, where we live, we learn, that 's

So, I bent brow o'er Prolegomena.
And after Wolf, a dozen dt his like
Proved there was never any Troy at all.
Neither Besiegers nor Besieged, — nay,

No actual Homer, no authentic text,
No warrant for the fiction I, as fact.
Had treasured in my heart and soul so long —
Ay, mark you I and as fact held still, still

Spite of new knowledge, in my heart of hearts
And soul of souls, niot's essence freed and

From accidental fancy's guardian sheath.
Assuredly thenceforward -^ thank my stars t —
However it got there, deprive who could —
Wring from the shrine my precious tenantry,
Helen, Ulysses. Hector and his Spouse,
Achilles and his Friend ? — though Wolf —ah.

Wolf I
Why must he needs oome doubting, spoil a


But then, ** No dream 's worth waking " —

Browning says :•
And here 's the reason why I tell thus much.
I, now mature man, you anticipate,
May blame my Father justifiably
For lettins^ me dream out my nonage thus.
And onlj by such slow and sure degrees
Pennitting me to sift the grain from chaff,
Get truth and falsehood Known and named as

Why did he ever let me dream at all,
Not bid me taste the story in its strength ?
Suppose my childhood was scarce qualified
To rightly understand mythology,
Silence at least was in his power to keep :
I might have — somehow — correspondingly —
Well, who knows by what method, gained my

Been taught, by forthrights not meanderings.
My aim uiould be to loathe, like Peleus' son,
A lie as Hell's Gate, love my wedded wife.
Like Hector, and so on with all the rest.
Could not I have excogitated this
Without believing su<m man really were ?
That is — he might have put into my hand
The ** Ethics " ? In translation, if you please,
Exact, no pretty lying that improves.
To suit the modem taste : no more, no less —
The '' Ethics: " 't is a treatise I find hard
To read aright now that my hair is gray.
And I can manage the originaL
At five yean old — how illhad fared its leaves I
Now, growing double o'er the Stagirite,
At least I sou no page with bread and milk,
Nor crumple, dogs-ear and deface — boys' way.


Suggested by a very early recollection of a
prose story by the noble woman and imagina-

Digitized by




tive writer, Jane Taylor, of Norwich, [more
oorreotly, of Ongar]. R. B.

How I lired, ere my human life beg:an
In this world of yours, — like you, made man, —
When my home was the Star of my God Re-

Gome then around me, close ahout,
World-wearr earth-horn ones ! Darkest donht
Or deepest despondency keeps yon out ?

Nowise I Before a word I speak.

Let my circle embrace your worn, vonr weak.

Brow-furrowed old age, youth's hoUow cheek —

Diseased in the body, sick in soul.

Pinched poverty, satiate wealth, — your whole

Array of despairs 1 Have I read the roll ?

All here? Attend, perpend I OStar
Of my God Rephan, what wonders are
In thy brilliance fugitive, faint and far I

Far from me, native to thy realm.

Who shared its perfections which o'erwhelm

Mind to conceive. Let drift the helm,

Let drive the sail, dare unoonfined
Embark for the vastitnde, O Mind,
Of an absolute bUss 1 Leave earth behind 1

Here, by extremes, at a mean yon guess :
There, all 's at most — not more, not less :
Nowhere deficiency nor excess.

No want — whatever should be, is now :

No growth — that *s change, and change comes

— how
To royalty bom with crown on brow ?

Nothing begins — so needs to end :
Where fell it short at first ? Extend
Only the same, no change can mend I

I use your language : mine — no word

Of its wealth would help who spoke, who heard.

To a gleam of intelligence. None inef erred.

None felt distaste when better and worse
Were uncontrastable : bless or curse
What — in that uniform universe ?

Can your world's phrase, your sense of things
Forth-figure the Star of my Qod ? No springs.
No winters throughout its space. Time brings

No hope, no fear : as to-day, shall be
To-morrow : advance or retreat need we
At our stand-still through eternity ?

AU happy : needs must we so have been,
Since who could be otherwise ? All serene :
What dark was to banish, what light to screen?

Earth's rose is a bud that 's checked or grows
As beams may encourage or blasts oppose :
Our lives leapt f ortii, each a full-orbed rose —

Each rose sole rose in a sphere that spread
Above and below and around — rose-red:
No fellowship, eadi for itself instead.

One better than I — would prove I lacked
Somewhat : one worse were a jarring fact
Disturbing my faultlessly exact.

How did it come to pass there lurked
Somehow a seed of change that worked
Obscure in my heart till perfection irked ?~

Till out of its peace at length grew strife —
Hopes, fears, loves, hates, — obscurely rife, *
My life grown a-tremble to turn your life t

Was it Thou, above all lisrhts that are.
Prime Potency, did Thv hand unbar
The prison-gate of Rephan my Star ?

In me did such potency wake a pulse
Could trouble tranquiUity that fuUs
Not lashes inertion tiU throes convulse

Soul's quietude into diwxmtent ?

As when the completed rose bursts, rent

By ardors till forth from its orb are sent

New petals that mar — unmake the disk —
Spoil rondure : what in it ran brave risk.
Changed apathy's calm to strife, bright, brifk*

Pushed simple to compound, spmoK and qmsd
Till, fresh-tormed, faceted, floreted.
The flower that slept woke a star instead ?

No mimic of Star Rephan t How long
I stagnated there where weak and strong.
The wise and the foolish, right and wrong,

Are merged alike in a neutral Best,

Can I tefl? No more than at whose behest

The passion arose in my passive breast,

And I yearned for no sameness but difference
In thing and thing, that should shock mv eenie
y^th a want of worth in them all, and tbenee

Startle me up, by an Infinite
Discovered above and below me — height
And depth alike to attract my flight.

Repel my descent : by hate taught love.
Oh, gain were indeed to see above
Supremacy ever — to move, remove.

Not reach — aspire yet never attain

To the object aimed at I Scarce in vain,—

As each stage I left nor touched agun.

To suffer, did pangs bring^ the loved one bK*
Wring knowledge from ignorance, — jos^ »<"

this —
To add one drop to a love-abyss !

Enough : for you doubt, you hope, men.
You ^ar, you agonize, die : what then ?
Is an end to your life*s work out of ken?

Digitized by




Have 700 no aasniaiioe tliat. earth at end.
Wrong: will proTe right? Who made shall mend
In the higher sphere to which yearnings tend ?

Why should I speak ? Ton divine the test.
When the tronble grew in my pre^fnant breast
A Toiee said, *^ So wouldst thou strive, not rest ?

•' Bum and not smoulder, win by worth,
Not rest content with a wealth that *8 dearth ?
Thou art past Rephan, thy place be Earthl "


I KKOW there shall dawn a day
— Is it here on homely earth?

Is it yonder, worids away,
Where the strange and new have birth.

That Power oomes fuH in play ?

Is it here, with grass about,

Under befriending trees.
When shy buds venture out.

And the air by mild degrees
Puts winter's death past doubt ?

Is it up amid whiri and roar

Of tae elemental flame
Which stai^ecks heaven's dark floor.

That, new yet still the aatg^,
Full in play oomes Power (^«oe more ?

Somewhere, below, above.

Shall a day dawn — this I know —
When Power, which vainly strove

My weakness to overthrow.
Shall triumph. I breathe, I move,

I truly am^ at last I

For a ved is rent between
Me and the truth which nassed

Fitful, half-guessed, half-seen,
(Grasped at — not gained, held fast.

I for my race and me

Shall apprehend life's law:
In the legend of man shall see

Writ large what small I saw
In my life's; tale both agree.

As the record from youth to age
Of my own, the single soul —

So the world's wide book : one page
Deciphered explains the whole

Of our common heritage.

How but from near to far

Should knowledge proceed, increase ?
Try the clod ere test the star 1

Bring our inside strife to peace
Ere we wage, on the outside, war I

So, my annals thus begin :

tVita body, to life awoke
Soul, the immortal twin

Of body which bore soul's yoke
Since mortal and not akin. ^

By means of the flesh, grown fit.

Mind, in surview of things,
Now soared, anon alit

To treasure its gatherings
From the ranged expanse— to-wit.

Nature, — earth's, heaven's wide show
Which taught all hope, all fear :

Acquainted with joy and woe,
I could say, ** Thus much is clear,

Doubt annulled thus much : Iknow.

* All is effect of <

As it would, has willed and done
Power: and my mind's applause

Qoes, paiwing laws each one.
To Omnipotence, lord of laws."

Head praises, but heart refrains
From loving's acknowledgment.

Whole losses outweigh half-gains :
Earth's good is with evil blent :

Qood struggles but evil reigns. \

Yet rince Earth's good proved good -

Worth loving — I understood

How evil — did mind descry
Power's object to end porsued —

Were haply as dond $

Gk>od's orb, no orb itself :
Mere mind — were it found at loss

Did it play the tricksy elf
And from life's gold purge the dross ?^

Power is known infinite :
Good struggles to be — at best

Seems — scanned by the human sight,.
Tried by the senses' test —

Good palpably: but with right

Therefore to mind's award
Of loving, as power daims praise ?

Power — which finds naught too hard.
Fulfilling itself all ways

Unchecked, unchanged : while barred.

Baffled, what good began

Ends evil on every side.
To Power submissive man

Breathes, '' E'en as Thou art, abide I "
While to good *^ Late-found, long-sought,

* Would Power to a plenitude

But liberate, but enlarge
Gktod's strait confine, — renewed

Were ever the heart's discharge
Of loving I " Else doubts intrude.

For you dominate, stars all I

For a sense informs you — bruta« 1
Bird, woini, fiy, great and small, ^

Each with your attribute
Or low or majestical I

Thou earth that embosomest
0£bpring of land and sea —

Digitized by




How thy hills first sank to rest,

How thy vales brad herb and tree
Which dizen thy mother-breast —

Do I ask ? *^ Be ignorant

Ever 1 " the answer clangs:
Whereas if I plead world's want.

Soul's sorrows and body's pangs,
PUy the human applicant, —

Is a remedy far to seek ?

I question and find response :
I — all men, strong or weak.

Conceive and declare at once
For each want its cure. ** Power, speak I

** Stop change, avert decay

Fix life fast, bamsh death.
Eclipse from the star bid stay.

Abridge of no moment*s breath
Onecreatura ! Hence, Nig^t, hail. Day I *'

What need to confess asain

No problem this to solve
By impotence ? Power, once plain

Proved Power — let on Power dev<dve
Good's right to co-equal reign I

Past mind's conception — Power!

Do I seek how star, earth, beast.
Bird, worm, fly, gain their dower

For life's use, most and least ?
Back from the search I cower.

Do I seek what heals all harm.

Nay, hinders the harm at first.
Saves earth ? Speak, Power, the charm I

Keep the life thera unameroed
By chance, change, death's alarm I

As promptly as mind conceives.

Let Power in its turn declaro
Some law which wrong retrieves,

Abolishes evervwhero
What thwarts, what irks, what grieves I

Never to be! and yet

How easy it seems — to sense
like man's — if somehow met

Power with its match — immense
Love, limitless, unbeset

By hindrance on every side !

Conjectured, nowise known.
Such may be : could man eonnde

Such would match— wera Love but shown
Stript of the veils that hide —

Power's self now manifest !

So reads my record: thine,
O world, how runs it ? Qnessed

Wera the purport of ihat prime line.
Prophetic of all the rest !

" la a beginning Qod

Made heaven and earth." Forth flashed
Einowledge: from star to dod

Man knew things : doubt abashed
Closed its long period.

Knowledge obtained Power praise.

Had Good been manifest,
Broke out in cloudless blaze,

Unoheciuered as unrepressed.
In all things Good at best —

Then praise — all praise, no blame —

Had hailed the perfection. No !
As Power's display, the same

Be Good|s — praise forth shall flow
Unisonous in acclaim !

^ven as the world its life,

So have I lived my own —
Power seen with Love at strife.

That sure, this dimljr shown,
— Good raro and evil nfe.

Whereof the effect be — faith

That, some far day, were found
Ripeness in thinss now rathe,

WroufiT righted, each chain unbound,
/Renewal bom out of scathe.

Why faith — but to lift the load,
To leaven the lump, where lies

Mind prostrate through knowledge owed
J To the loveler '« Power it tries
iTo withstand, kow vain l\ In flowed

Ever resistless fact :

No more than the passive clay
Disputes the potter's act.

Could the whelmed mind disobey
Knowledge the cataract.

But, perfect in every part.

Has the potter's moulded shape.
Leap of man's quickened heart.

Throe of his thought's escape,
iStings of his soul which dart

\Through the barrier of flesh, till keen
She climbs from the calm and dear.
Through turbidity all between.

From the known to iJie unknown here.
Heaven's ''ShaU be," from Earth's *'Ha8

Th^ life is — to wake not sleep,

Rise and not rest, but press
From^ earth's level whera blindly creep

Things perfected, more or less.
To the neaven's height, far and steep.

Where, amid what strifes and storms

May wait the adventurous quest.
Power is Love — transports, transiorms

Who aspired from worst to best,
- ^Sought the soul's world, spumed the worms'.

I have futh such end shall be :

From the first. Power was — I knew.
Life has made clear to me

Digitized by




That, Btriye but for closer Tiew, ^

Loye were as plain to see.

When see ? When there dawns a day.

If not on the homely earth,
Then yonder, worlds away,

Where the strange and new have hirth.
And Power oomes rail in play.


In regard to the third yerse of this poem the
PaU Mall Oaxette of Febroaiy 1, 1890, related
this incident: "One eyening, jnst before his
death'^Uness, the poet was reading this from a
proof to his danghternn-law and sister. He
said : * It almost looks like bragging to say this,
and as if I ought to cancel it ; but it 's the sim-
ple tmth ; and as it 's tnie, it shall stand.' "

At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time,

When you set your fancies free.
Will they pass to where— by deiwtb, fools think,
imprisoned —

Low he lies who once so loyed yon, whom yon

— Pity me?

Oh to loye so, be so loyed, yet so mistaken I

What had I on earth to do
With the slothfol, with the mawkish, the un-
manly f
like ihe aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I driyel
— Being — wnor

One who neyer turned his back but marched
breast forward,
Neyer doubted clouds would break,
Neyer dreamed, though right were wonted,

wrong would triumph.
Held we faU to rise, are baffled to fight better,
Sleep to wake.

No. at noonday in the busUe of man's work-time
Greet the unseen with a cheer I

Bid him forward, breast and back as either

should be,
*'Striyeand thriyel" cry ''Speed, — fifl^t on,

fare oyer

There as here I"

Digitized by




' reierrea vo, uiac n seems oestj uuu*
s this Essay is the only distiiiot piece of
I firowning's writiiigs, toprint it here in
pendix to his Complete Noetic and Dra-

Ings, The paper was written in
regnest of Mr. Mozon, the pub-

r the oiroomstanoes named in the

Shbllkt's influence on Browning is so fre-
quently referred to, that it seems best, inas-

mnehas this "* *- '^*- '- ^'-^ — ^ '

prose in

the Appei

matte Writings.
1852 at the \
lisher, under

first paragraph of the Essay, Before the book
was aotniuly published ^ it was disooyered to be
a fabrication and was immediately suppressed.
A yery few copies only escaped the publish-
er's hands ; apparenU^, those only which went
to the depositories of copyright matter. The
present copy is taken from the one issued in
1888 by the Shelley Society. London, under the
editorship of W. Tyas Harden.

Ax opportunity haying presented itself for
the acquisition of a series ot imedited letters by
Shelley, all more or less directly^ supplementary
to and illustradye of the collection already pub-
lished by Mr. Mozon, thatgentleman has de-
cided on securii^ them. They will proye an
acceptable addition to a body of correspond-
ence, the yalue of which, towards a riffht un-
derstanding of its authors purpose and work,
may be said to exceed that of any similar con-

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 193 of 198)