Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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From hope or part or care in human kind.^
As life wanes, all its care and strife and toil
Seem strangely valueless, while the old trees^
Which grew by our youth's home, the waving

Of climbing plants heavy with bloom and dew.
The morning swallows with their songs like

All these seem clear and only worth oux

So, aught connected with my early life,
My rude songs or my wild imafrimngs,
How I look on them — most distinct amid
The fever and the stir of after years !

I ne'er had ventured e'en to hope for this.
Had not the glow I felt at His award.
Assured me ail was not extinct within :

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His whom all honor, whose renown springs np
Like sunlight which will visit all the world.
So that e*en they who sneered at him at first,
Come oat to it, as some dark spider crawls
From his foul nets which some lit torch inTades,
Yet spinning still new films for his retreat.
Thou didst smile, poet, hut can we forgive ?

Snn-treader, life and light he thine forever ! ^
Thou art gone from us ; years ppo hy and spring
Gladdens and the young earth is beautiful,
Yet thy songs come not, other bards arise,
But none like thee : they stand, thy majesties.
Like mighty works which tell some spirit there
Hath sat r^iardless of neglect and scorn.
Till, its long task completed, it hath risen
And left us, never to return, and all
Kuah in to peer and praise when all in vain.
The air seems bright with thy past presence yet.
But thou art still for me as thou hast been
When I have stood with thee as on a throne
With all thy dim creations gathered round
Like mountains, and I felt of mould like them.
And with them creatures of my own were

Like things half-lived, catching and giving life.
But thou art still for me who hiave adored
Though single, panting but to hear thy name
Which I b^eved a spell to me alone,
Scarce deeming thou wast as a star to men !
As one should worship long a sacred si>ring
Scarce worth a moth's flitting, which long

grasses cross.
And one small tree embowers droopingly —
Jo3ring to see some wandering insect won
To live in its few rushes, or some locust
To pasture on its boughs, or some wild bird
Stoop for its freshness from the trackless air :
And then should find it but the fountain-head.
Long lost, of some ^peat river washing towns
And towers, and seemg old woods which will live
But by its bfmks untrod of human foot, ^
Which, when the great sun sinks, lie quivering
In light as some thing lieth half of life
Before God's foot, waiting a wondrous change ;
Then girt with rocks which seek to turn or stay
Its course in vain, for it does ever spread
Like a sea's ann as it goes rolling on.
Being the pulse of some great country — so
Wast thou to me, and art thou to the world I
And L perchance, half feel a strange regret
That I am not what I have been to thee :
Like a girl one has silently loved long
In her nrst loneliness in some retreat.
When, late emerged, all gaze and glow to view
Her fresh eyes and soft hair and lips which

Like a mountain berry : doubtless it is sweet
To see her thus adored, but there have been
Moments when all the world was in our praise.
Sweeter than any pride of after hours.
Yet, sun-treader, all hail] From my hearths

I bid thee hail ! E'en in my wildest dreams,
Iproudly feel I would have thrown to dust
The wreaths of fame which seemed o'erhanging

To see thee for a moment as thou art.

And if thou livest, if thou lovest, spirit I
Remember me who set this final seal
To wandering thought — that one so pure as thoa
Could never die. Kemember me wno flung
All honor from my soul, yet paused and said,
** There is one spark of love remaining yet.
For I have naught in conunon with hun, diapes
Which followed him avoid me, and foul forms
Seek me, which ne'er could fasten on his mind ;
And though I feel how low I am to him.
Yet I aim not even to catch a tone
Of harmonies he called profusely up ;
So, one gleam still remains, alUiough the last."
Remember me who praise tnee e'en with tears,
For never more shall I walk calm with thee ;
Thy sweet imaginings are as an air,
A melodv some wondrous singer sings,
Which, though it haunt men oft inthe still eve,
They dream not to essay ; yet it no less
But more is honored. I was thine in shame.
And now when all thy proud renown is out,
I am a watcher whose eyes have grown dim
With looking for some star which oreaks on him
Altered and worn and weak and ftdl of tears.

Autunm has come like spring returned to us.

Won from her girlishness ; like one returned

A friend that was a lover, nor forgets

The first warm love, but full of soher thoughts

Of fading vears ; whose soft mouth quivers ^et

With the old smue, butyet so changea and still I

And here am I the scotter, who have probed

Life's vanity, won by a word again ^

Into my own life — by one little word

Of this sweet friend who lives in loving me.

Lives strangely on my thoughts and looks and

As fathoms down some nameless ocean thing
Its silent course of quietness and joy.

dearest, if indeed I tell the past,
May'st thou forget it as a sad sick dream I
Or if it linger — my lost soul too soon
Sinks to itself and whispers we shall be

But closer linked, two creatures whom the earth
Bears singlv, witn strange feelings unrevealed
Save to each other ; or two lonely things
Created by some power whose reien is done,
Having no part in God or his bri^nt world.

1 am to sing whilst ebbing day dies sofL
As a lean scholar dies worn o'er his book,
And in the heaven stars steal out one by one
As hunted men steal to their mountain watch.
I must not think, lest this new impulse die

In which I trust ; I have no oonfiaence :
So, I will sing on fast as fancies come ;
Rudely, the verse being as the mood it paints.

I strip my mind bare, whose first elements
I shall unveil — not as they struggle forth
In infancy, nor as they now exist,
When I am grown above them and can rule -•
But in that middle stage when they were full
Yet ere I had disposed them to my will ;
And Uien I shall show how these elements
Produced my present state, and what it is.

I am made up of an intensest life.
Of a most clear idea of consciousness

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Of self, dktiiiet from all its qualities,

Fxom all affeetioDS, pMsions, f eeliu^ powers ;

And thus far it ejosts, if tracked, in all :

Bnt linked, in me, to self-sopremaoy,

Ezisiing as a centre to all things.

Moat potent to create and rule and call

Upon all things to minist4^r to it ;

Aiftd to a principle of restlessness

Which would be alU have, see, know, taste,

This is myself ; and I shonld thus hare been
Thon^ gifted lower than the meanest souL

And of my powers, one springs np to save
From ntter death a soul with sucn desire
Confined to clay — of powers the only one
Which marks me — an imagination which
Has been a very angel, commg not
In fitful visions, but beside me ever
And never failing me ; so, though my mind
F<Hvet8 not, not a shred of life forgets.
Yet I can take a secret pride in oaUing
Hie dark past up to quell it regally.

A mind like this must diauDate itself,

Bnt I have always had one lodestar ; now,

As I look back, I see that I have halted

Or hastened as I looked towards that star —

A need, a trust, a yearning after God :

A feeling I have analyzed out late.

But it existed, and was reconciled

WiUi a neglect of all I deemed his laws.

Which yet, when seen in others, I abhorred.

I felt as one beloved, and so shut in

From fear : and thence I date my trust in signs

And omens, for I saw God ever^here ;

And I can only lay it to the fruit

Of a sad afteMme that I could doubt

Even his being — e*en the while I felt

His presenoei never acted from myself,

Still trusted m a hand to lead me through

All danger ; and this feeling ever fought

Against my weakest reason and resolve.

And I can love nothing — and this dull truth
Has oome the last : bnt sense supplies a love
Encircling me and mingling with my life.

These make myself : I have long sought in vain
To trace how thev were formed by circumstance,
Tet ever found tnem mould my wildest youth
Where they alone displayed tnemselves, con-
An objects to their use : now see their course I

Thc^ came tb me in my first dawn of life
Which passed alone with wisest ancient books
All halo-girt with fancies of my own ;
And I myself went with the tale — a god
Wandering after beauty, or a giant
Standing vast in the sunset — an old hunter
Taking with gods, or a high-crested chief
Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos.
I tell you, naught has ever been so clear
As the place, the time, the fashion of those

I had not seen a work of lofty art,
Xor woman's beauty nor sweet nature's face.

Tet, I saj, never mom broke dear as those
On the dim clustered isles in the blue sea.
The deep groves and white temples and wel

And nothing ever will surprise me now —
Who stood beside the naked Swift-footed,
Who bound my forehead with Proserpine's hair.

And strange it is that I who could so dream
Should e'er have stooped to aim at aught be*

neath —
Aught low or painful ; bnt I never doubted:
Soi as I grew, i rudely shaped my life
To my immeoiate wants ; yet strong beneath
Was a vague sense of power though folded up ^>
A sense that, though those shades and times

were past.
Their spirit dwelt in me, with them should rule.

Hien came a pause, and long restraint chained

My soul till it was changed. I lost myself.
And were it not that I so loathe that loss,
I could recall how first I learned to turn
My mind against itself ; and the effects
In deeds for which remorse were vain as for
The wanderings of delirious dream ; yet thence
Came cunning, envy, falsehood, all world's

That spotted me : at length I cleansed my soul.
Yet long world's influence remained; and

But the still life I led, apart once more.
Which left me free to seek soul's old delights.
Could e'er have brought me thus far back to


As peace returned, I sought out some pursuit ;
And son^ rose, no new impulse bnt the one
With wmch all others best could be combined.
Mv life has not been that of those whose heaven
Was lampless save where poesy shone out ;
But as a clime where glittering mountain-tops
And fi^lanoing sea and forests steeped in light
Give back reflected the far-flashing sun ;
For music (which is earnest of a heaven,
Seeing we know emotions stoinge by it,
Not else to be revealed,) is like a voice,
A low voice calling f ancnr, as a friend.
To the green woods in the ^fay summer time:
And she fiUs all the way with dancing shapes
Which have made piunters p^e, and they go on
Till stars look at them and winds call to them
As they leave life's path for the twilight worid
Where the dead gather. This was not at first,
For I scarce knew what I would do. I had
An impulse but no yearning — only sang.

And first I sang as I in dream have seen
Music wait on a lyrist for some thought.
Yet singing to herself until it came.
I turned to those old times and scenes where all
That 's beautiful had birth for me, and made
Rude verses on them all ; and then I paused —
I had done nothing, so I sought to know
What other minds achieved. No fear outbroke
As on the works of mighty bards I gazed,
In the first joy at finding my own thoughts

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Becorded, my own fanoies jiutified.

And their aspirings but m v very own.

With them 1 first explored passicm and mind, —

All to begin afresh I I rather sought

To rival what I wondered at than form

Creations of mv own ; if mnoh was light

Lent by the others, mnoh was yet my own.

I paused agun : a change was coming — came:
I was no more a boy, the past was breaking
Before the future and like fever worked.
I thought on my new self, and all my powers
Burst out. I dreamed not of restraint, but

On all things: schemes and systems went and

And I was proud (being vainest of the weak)
In wandering o'er thought's world to seek some

To be my prize, as if you wandered o*er
The White Way for a star.

And my choice fell
Not so much on a system as a man —
On one, whom praise of mine shall not ofiPend,
Who was as caun as beauty, being such
Unto mankind as thou to me, Pauline, —
Believing in them and devoting all^
His sours strength to their winning back to

Who sent forth hopes and longings for their sake,
Olothed in all nassion's melodies : such first
Caught me ana set me, slave of a sweet task.
To disentangle, gather sense from song :
Since, song-mwoven, lurked there words which

A key to a new world, the muttering
Of angels, something yet unmiessed Dy man.
How my heart leapt as still I sought and found
Much there, I felt my own soul had conceived,
But there living and burning ! Soon the orb
Of his conceptions dawned on me ; its praise
Lives in the tongues of men, men's brows are

When his name means a triumph and a pride,
■So, my weak voice may well forbear to shame
What seemed decreed my fate : I threw myself
To meet it, I was vowed to liberty.
Men were to be as gods and earth as heaven,
And I — ah, what a life was mine to prove !
My whole soul rose to meet it. Now, Pauline,
I shall go mad, if I recall that time !

Oh let me look back ere I leave forever
The time which was an hour one fondly waits
For a fair girl that comes a withered hsLg 1
And I was lonely, far from woods and fields.
And amid dullest sights, who should be loose
As a stag ; yet I was full of bliss, who lived
With Plato and who had the key to life ;
And I had dimly shaped my first attemnt.
And manj a thought did I build up on tnonght,
As the wild bee hangs cell to cell ; in vain,
For I must still advance, no rest for mind.

^ was in my plan to look on real life,

The life all new to me ; my theories

Were firm, so them I left, to look and learn

Mankind, its cares, hopes, fears, its woes and joys;
And, as I pondered on their ways, I sought
How best life's end might be attained — an end
Comprising every joy. I deeply mused.

And suddenly without heart-wreck I awoke
As from a dieam : I said, *' 'T was beautiful,
Tet but a dream, and so adieu to it I "
As some world-wanderer sees in a fiir meadow
Strange towers and high-walled gardens thick

with trees.
Where song takes shelter and delicious mirth
From laughing fairy creatures peeping over,
And on the marrow when he comes to lie
Forever 'neath those giwden-trees fruit-flushed
Sung round by fairies, all his search is vain.
First went m^ hopes of perfecting mankind.
Next ~ faith m them, and then in freedom's self
And virtue's self, then my own motives, ends
And urns and loves, and human love went last.
I felt this no decay, because new powers
Rose as old feelings left — wit, mockery,
Li^ht-heartedness ; for I had oft been sad,
Mistrusting my resolves, but now I cast
Hone joyously away : I laughed and stud,
**No more of this!" I must not think: at

I looked agiun to see if all went well.

My powers were greater : as some temple seemed
My soul, where naught is changed and incense

Around the altar, only God is gone
And some dark spirit sittoth in his seat.
So, I passed through the temple and to me
Knelt troops of shadows, and they cried, ** Hail,

We serve thee now and thou shalt serve no

Call on us. provd us, let us worship thee ! "
And I said, * Are ye strong ? Let fancy bear me
Far from the past I " And I was borne away.
As Arab birds float sleeping in the wind,
O'er deserts, towers and forests, I being calm.
And I said, ** I have nursed up energies.
They will prey on me." And a band knelt low
And cried, '*^Lord, we are here and we will

Safe way for thee in thine appointed life !
But look on us 1 " And I said, ^* Te will worship
Me ; should my heart not worship too ? " They

"Thyself, thou art our kmg!" So, I stood

Smiling — oh, vanity of vanities I ,
For buoyant and rejoicing was the spirit
With which I looked out now to end my course ;
I felt once more mvself , my powers — all mine ;
I knew while youtn and health so lifted me
That, spite of all life's nothingness, no grief
Came mgh me, I must ever be light-hearted ;
And that this knowledge was the only veil
Betwixt joy and despair: so, if age came,
I should be left — a wreck linked to a soul
Tet fluttering, or mind-broken and aware
Of my decay. So a long summer mom
Found me ; and ere noon came, I had resolved
No age should come on me ere youth was spenty

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Feed his fame rather from my heart's best blood.
Wither uoseeu that he may flourish still."

Pauline, my sonl^s friend, thon dost pity yet
How this mood swayed me when that soul f ouid

When I haa set myself to live this life,
Defying all past glory. Ere thoa camest
I seemed d^ant, sweet, for old delights
Had flocked like birds again ; mnsic, my life.
Nourished me more than ever ; then the lore
Loved for itself and all it shows — that king
Treading the purple calmly to his death,
While round nim, like the clouds of eve, all

The giant shades of fate, silently flitting,
Pile die dim outline of the coming doom ;
And him sitting alone in blood while friends
Are hunting far in the sunshine ; and the bo^
With his white breast and brow and olustenng

Streaked with his mother^s blood, but striying

To tell his story ere his reason goes.
And when I loved thee as love seemed so oft,
Thou lovedst me indeed : I wondering searched
My heart to find some feeling like such love,
Believing I was still much I nad been.
Too soon I found all faith had gone from me.
And the late glow of life, like change on clouds^
Proved not the mom-blush widening into day,
But eve faint-oolored by the dving sun
While darkness hastens quickly. I will tell
My state as though 'twere none of mine —

Cannot oome near us — this it is, my state.

Souls alter not, and mine must still advance ;
Strange that I knew not, when I flung away
My youth's chief aims, their loss might lead to

Of what few I retained, and no resource
Be left me : for behold how changed is all 1
I cannot chain my soul : it will not rest
In its clay prison, this most narrow sphere :
It has strange impulse, tendency, desire,
Which nowise I account for nor explain,
But cannot stifle, being bound to trust
All feelings equally, to hear all sides :
How can my uf e inaulge them ? yet they live,
Referring to some state of life unknown.

My selfishness is satiated not.

It wears me like a flame ; my hunger for

All pleasure, howsoever minute, grows pain ;

I envy — how I envy him whose soul

Turns its whole energies to some one end.

To elevate an aim, pursue success

However mean ! So, my still baffled hope^

Seeks out abstractions ; I would have one joy,

But one in life, so it were wholly mine.

One rapture all my soul could fill : and this

Wild ^ling places me in dream afar

In some vast oountrv where the eye can see

No end to die far huls and dales bestrewn

With shining towers and towns, till I grow

Well-nigh, to know not one abode but holds

For I would wear myself out, like that mom
Which wasted not a sunbeam ; every hour *
I would make mine, and die.

And thus I sought
To chain my n>irit down which erst I freed
For flints to fame : I said, *^ The troubled life
Of gemus, seen so gay when working forth
Some trnsted end, grows sad whea all proves
• yain —

How sid when men have parted with troth's

For falsest fancy's sake, which waited first
As an obedient spirit when delight
Came without fancy's call : but alters soon.
Comes darkened, seldom, hastens to depart,
Leaving a heavy darkness and warm tears.
But I sliall never lose her ; she will live
Dearer for such seclusion. I but catch
A hue, a ^ance of what I sing : so, pain
Is linked with pleasure, for I ne'er may tell
Half the bright si^ts which dazzle me ; but

Mine shall be all the radiance : let them fade
Untold — others shall rise as fair, as fast I
And when all 's done, the few dim gleams trans-
CPor a new thought sprang up how well it were,
i^searding shadowy hope, to weave such lays
As straight encircle men with praise and love.
So, I should not die utterly, — should bring^
Oi»e branch from the gold forest, like the knight
Of old tales, witnessing I had been there) —
**And when all's done, how vain seems e'en

success —
The vaunted influence poets have o'er men 1
'TIS a fine thin^ that one weak as myself
Should sit in his lone room, knowing the words
He utters in his solitude shall move
Men like a swift wind — that though dead and

New eves shall glisten when his beauteous

Of loye oome trae in happier frames than his.
Ay, the still night brings thoughts like these,

but mom
Comes and the mockcoy afnin laughs out
At hollow praises, smiles allied to sneers ;
And my soul's idol ever whispers me
To dw^ with him and his unhonored song :
And I foreknow my spirit, that would press
First in the struggle, laU again to make
All bow enslaved^ and I again should sink.

** And then know that this curse will come on us.
To see our idols perish ; we may wither.
No marvel, we are clay, but our low fate
Should not extend to tluise whom trustingly
We sent before into time's yawning gulf
To fuee what dread may lurk in darkness there.
To find the painter's glory pass, and feel
Mosio can move us not as once, or^ worst,
To weep decaying wits ere the fnul body
Decays I Naught makes me trust some love is

But the delist of the contented lowness
With which I gaze on him I keep forever
Above me ; I to rise and rival hun ?

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Some pleasure, while my soul conld grasp the

But most remain this vile form's slave. I look
With hope to age at last, which quenching much.
May let me concentrate what sparks it spares.

This restlessness of passion meets in me
A craving after knowledge : the sole proof
Of yet commanding will is in that power
Repressed ; for I beheld it in its dawn,
The sleepless haipy with just-budding wings,
And I considered whether to forego
All happy ignorant hopes and fears, to live,
Finding a recompense m its wild eyes.
And when I found that I should perish so,
I bade its wild eyes dose from me forever,
And I am left alone with old delights :
2See I it lies in me a chained thing, still prompt
To serve me if I loose its slightest bond :
I cannot but be proud of my bright slave.

How should this earth's life prove my only

Can I so narrow sense but that in life
Soul still exceeds it ? In their elements
My love outsoars my reason ; but since love
Perforce receives its object from thb earth
While reason wanders chainless, the few truths
•Caught from its wanderings have sufficed to

Love chained below ; then what were love, set

Which, with the object it demands, would pass
Reason companioning the seraphim ?
No, what I leel mav pass all human love
Tet fall far short ot what my love should be.
And vet I seem more warped in this than aught.
Myself stands out more hideously : of old
I could forget myself in friendship, fame.
Liberty, nay, in love of mightier souls ;
But I begin to know what thing hate is —
To sicken and to quiver and grow white —
And I myself have furnished its first prey.
Hate of the weak and ever-wavering will.
The selfishness, the stiU-decaying frame . . .
But I must never grieve whom wing can waft
Far from such thoughts — as now. Andromeda !
And she b with me : years roll, I shall ohai^.
But change can touch her not — so beautiful
With her fixed eyes, earnest and still, and hair
Lifted and spread by the salt-sweeping breeze^
And one red beam, all the storm leaves m

Resting upon her eyes and hair, such hair.
As she awaits the snake on the wet beach
By the dark rock and the white wave just

At her feet ; quite naked and alone ; a thing
I doubt not. nor fear for, secure some god
To save will come in thunder from the stars.
Let it pass I Soul requires another change.
I will be gifted with a wondrous mind,
Yet sunk by error to men's sympathy.
And in the wane of life, yet only so
As to call up their fears ; and there shall come
A time requiring youth's best energies :
And lo, I fling age, sorrow, sickness on.
And rise triumphant, triumph through decay.

And thus it is that I supply the chasm
*'Twixt what I am and all I fain would be :

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 4 of 198)