Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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Kissed fast the grace that somehow sGps
Still from one's soulless finger-tips.

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Tisa e1a7 oast^ the perfect thing.

From Hand bve once, dead long ago :
Prinoeai-like it wears the ring

To fancy's eye, by which we know
That here at length a master found

His match, a prond lone soul its mate,
As soaring ^nins sank to ground,

And pencil could not emulate
The beauty in this, — how free, how fine
To fear almost I — of the limit^line.
Long ago the god, like me
The worm, learned, each in our degree:
Looked and loved, learned and drew.

Drew and learned and loved again.
While fast the happy minutes flew,

Till beau^ mounted into his bram
And on the finger which outvied

His art he pktoed the ring that 's there,
Still by fancy's eye descried.

In token of a nuuriage rare :
For him on earth, his art's despair.
For him in heaven, his soul's fit bride.

Little girl with the poor coarse hand
I turaed from to a cold dav^ cast —
I have my lesson, understand

The worth of fiesh and blood at last I

Nothing but beautv in a Hand?

Because he could not chance the hue,

Mend the lines and make them true

To this which met his soul*s demand, —

Would Da Vinci turn from you ?
I hear him laugh my woes to scorn —
*' The fool forsooth is all forlorn
Because the beauty, she thinks best.
Lived long ago or was never bom, —
Because no beauty bears the test
In this rouffh peasant Hand 1 Confessed
* Art is nuU and study void 1 '
So sayest thou ? So said not I,
Who threw the faulty pencil by.
And years instead of hours employed.
Learning the veritable use
Of flesh and bone and nerve beneath
Lines and hue of the outer sheath,
If haply I miffht reproduce
One motive of the powers profuse.
Flesh and bone ana nerve that make
The poorest coarsest human hand
An object worthy to be scanned
A whole life lung for their sole sake.
Shall earth and the cramped moment-space
1?ield the heavenlv crowning graee ?
Now the parts and then the whole I
Who art thou, with stinted soul
And stunted body, thus to cry,
' I love, —shall that be life's strait dole ?
I must live beloved or die ! '
This peasant hand that spins the wool
And bakes the bread, why lives it on,
Poor and coarse with beauty gone, —
What use survives the beauty ? " Fool !

Go, little girl with the poor coarse hand I
I have my lesson, shall understand.


lliere is nothing .to remember in me.

Nothing I ever said with a grace,
Nothing I did that you care to see.

Nothing I was that deserves a place
In your mind, now I leave yon, set you free.

Conceded ! In turn, concede to me,
Such things have been as a mutual flame.

Tour soul 's locked fast ; buL love for a key.
Ton might let it loose, till I grew the same

In your eyes, as in mine you stand: strange
plea I

For then, then, what would it matter to me
That I was the harsh, ill-favored one ?

We both should be like as pea and pea ;
It was ever so since the world begun :

So, let me proceed with my reverie.

How strange it were if yon had all me,
As I have all yon in my heart and brain.

Ton, whose least word brought gloom or glee.
Who never lifted the hand in vain —

Will hold mine yet, from over the sea I

Strange, if a face, when you thought of me,
Rose Uke your own face present now.

With eyes as dear in their due degree.
Much such a mouth, and as bright a brow.

Till yon saw yonzselt, while you cried ** T i»
She I"

Well, yon may, you must, set down to me
Love that was life, life that was love ;

A tenure of breath at your lips' decree,
A passion to stand as your thoughts appn

A rapture to fall where your foot mi^t oe.

But did one touch of such love for me
Come in a word or a look of yours,

Whose words and looks will, circling, flee
Round me and round while life endures, —

Could I fancy ** As I feel, thus feels He ; "

Why, fade you might to a thing like me.
And your hair grow these coarse hanks of
Tour skin, thb bark of a gnarled tree, —
Tou might turn myself I— should I know or
When I should be dead of joy, James Lee?



This poem was issued by itself as well as
included later in Dramatis Peraonce^ and si-
multaneously with its appearance in England it
was printed in The Atlantic Monthly, It was
written in Normandy, and in a letter printed in

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Mrs. Orr's L(/e, IL 396, there is an aooount of
the destraetioii of the ohnioh referred to in the

Or, the beftotifal srirl, too white,
Who liyed at Pomio, down by the sea,

Jnst where the sea ana the Loire unite I
And a boasted name in Brittany

She bore, which I will not write.

Too white, for the flower of life is red :
Her flesn was the soft seraphic screen

Of a soul that is meant (her parents said)
To jiwt see earth, and hardly be seen.

And blossom in heayen instead.

Yet earth saw one thing, one how fair I
One grace that grew to its full on earth :

Smiles might be sparse on her cheek so spare.
And her waist want half a gprdle^s girth,

Bot she had her great gold hair.

Hair, sach a wonder of flix and floss.
Freshness and f ramnce — floods of it, too I

Gold, did I say ? Nay, gold 's mere droes :
Here, Life smiled, ^' Think what I meant to
do I"

And LoTe sighed, **Fanoy my loss I "

Scswhen she died, it was scarce more strange
Than that, when delicate evening dies,

And you follow its sjpent snn's naUid ran^.
There 's a shoot of color startles the skies

With sodden, vicdent change, —

That, while the breath was nearly to seek,
As they pnt the little cross to her lips.

She changed ; aspot came out on her chBck,
A spark from her eye in mid-ediose.

And she broke forth, *' I mnst speak I "

** Not my hair I " made the girl her moan —

** All the rest is gone or to go ;
Bnt the last, last grace, my all, my own.

Let it stay in the graye, that the ghosts may
know I
Leaye my poor gdd hair alone ! "

The passion thus yented, dead lay she ;

Her parents sobbed their worst on that ;
All friends joined in, nor observed degree:

For indeed the hair was to wonder at.
As it spread— not flowing free,

Bnt cnried around her brow, like a crown.
And coiled beside her cheeks, like a cap.

And calmed about her neck ~ ay, down
To her breast, pressed flat, without a giq[>

I' the gold, it reached her gown.

AH kissed that face, like a silver wedge
*Mid the yellow wealth, nor disturbed its hair :

EPen the pnest allowed cieath^s privilege.
As he planted the crucifix with care

On her breast, 'twixt edge and edge.

And thus was she buried, inviolate
Of body and scml, in the very space

W thv — fcw r i iMivpu^ aaiawj w f t p

In Pomic church, for her pride of raee.
Pure life and piteous fate.

And in after-time would ^rour fresh tear fidl,
Thou^ your mouth might twitch with a du-
bious smile.

As they told you of gold, both robe and pall.
How she prayed them leave it alone awhile.

So it never was touched at alL

Years flew ; this legend grew at last
The life of the lady ; all she had done.

All been, in the memories fading fast
Of lover and friend, was summed in one

Sentence survivors psssed :

To wit, she was meant for heaven, not earth;

Had turned an angel before the time :
Yet, since she was mortal, in such dearth

Of frailty, all yon could count a crime
Was — she knew her gold hair's worth.

At little pleasant Pomic church.
It chanced, the pavement wanted repair.

Was taken to pieces: left in the lurch,
A certain sacred space lay bare,

And the boys began research.

'T was the space where our sires would lay a

A benefactor, — - a bishop, suppose,
A baron with armor-adornments quaint.

Dame with chased ring and jewelled rose,
Things sanctity saves from taint ;

So we come to flnd them in after^ys
When the corpse is presumed to have done
with gauds
Of use to the living, in many ways :
For the boys get pelf, and the town i^h
And the church deserves the praise.

They grubbed with a wUl: and at length— O
HumanuMy pectora caca^ and the rest I —
They found — no gaud they were prying for.
No rin«, no rose, bnt — who would have
A douole Louis-d*or !

Here was a case for the priest : he heard,

Marked, inwardly digested, laid
Finser on nose, smiled, ** There 's a bird

Chirps in my ear : " then, *' Bring a spade.
Dig deeper I " — he gave the word.

And lo, when they came to the coffin-lid.
Or rotten planks which composed it once,

Why, there lay the ^rPs skull wedged amid
A mint of money, it served for the nonce

To hold in its hair-heaps hid !

Hidthere? Why? Could the girl be wont
(She the stainless soul) to treasure up

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Honey, earth's trash and hearen's affront?

Had a spider found oot the oommomon-cnp,
Wat a toad in the ohristeuinsr-f ont ?

Troth is imth : too tme it was.

Gk»ld ! She hoarded and hugged it first,
Loneed for it, leaned o*er it, loved it — alas —

Tul the humor grew to a head and burst,
And she cried, at the final pass, —

** Talk not of heart is stone I
Nor lover nor f nend — be gold for both I

Gold 1 lack ; and, mj all, my own.
It shall hide in my hair. I scaroe die loth

If they let my hair alone ! "

Louis-d'or, some six times five,

And duly double, every piece.
Now, do you see ? Wiih the priest to shrive.

With parents preventing her soul's release
By kisses that kept alive, —

With heaven's gold gates about to ope.
With f riends^praise, gold-like, lingering still,

An instinct had bidden the girl*> hand grope
For gold, the tme sort — Gold in heaven, if
yon will;

But I keep earth's too, I hope."

Enough I The priest took the grave's grim

The parents, they eyed that price of sin
As if thirtv pieces lay revealed

On the plikce to bury strangers tn.
The hideous Potter's Field.

But the priest bethought him : *' 'Milk that's

— Tou know ihe adage I Watch and pray I
Saints tumble to earth with so slight a tut I

It would build a new altar ; that, we may I "
And the altar therewith was built.

Why I deliver this horrible verse ?

Aa the text of a sermon, which now I preach :
Evil or good may be better or worse

In the human heart, but the mixture of each
Is a marvel and a curse.

The candid incline to surmise of late
That the Christian faith proves false, I find ;

For our Essays-and-Reviews' debate
Begins to tell on the public mind.

And Colenso's words have weight :

I still, to suppose it tme, for ray part, ^
See reasons and reasons : this, to bcwfin:

'T is the faith that launched point-blank her dart
At the head of a lie — taught Original Sin,

The Cormption of Man's Heart.


Wouu> it were I had been false, not yon I
I that am nothing, not you that are all:

I, never the worse for a touch or two
On my speckled hide ; not you, the pride

Of the day, my swan, that a first fleck's fall
On her wonder of white must unswan, undo f

I had dipped in life's struggle and, out again.
Bore specks of it here, were, easy to see.

When I found my swan and the cure was plain ;
The dull turned bright as I caught your white

On my bosom : you saved me — saveoL in vain
If you ruined yourself, and all Uirough me I

Yes, all through the speckled beast that I am.
Who taught you to stoop ; you gave me your-
And bound your soul by the vows that damn :
Since on better thought you break, as yon
Vows — words, no angel set down, some elf
Mistook, — for an oath, an epigram !

Yes, might I judge jron, here were my heart,
AjmI a hundred its like, to treat as you
I choose to be yours, for my proper part.

Yours, leave or take, or mar me or make ;
If I acquiesce, why should you be teased
With the conscience-priok and the memory-

But what will Qod say ? Oh, mjr sweet.
Think, and be sorry you did this thing I

Though earth we^ unworthy to feel your feet.
There's a heaven above may deserve your

Should yon forfeit heaven for a snapt gold ring
And a promise broke, were it just or meet ?

And I to have tempted you I I, who tried
Your soul, no doubt, nil it sank I Unwise,

I loved, and was lowly, loved and aspired,
Loved, grieving or glad, till I made you mad.

And you meant to have hated and despised —
Whereas, you deceived me nor inquired I

She, ruined ? How ? No heaven for her ?

Crowns to give, and none for the brow
That looked Gke marble and smelt like myrrh ?

Shall the robe be worn, and the palm-branch
And she so graceless, she graced now

Beyond afi sainto, as themselves aver ?

Hardly I That must be understood I
The earth is your place of penance, then ;

And what will it prove ? I desire your good.
But, plot as I may, I can find no way

How a dIow should fall, such as falls on men.
Nor prove too much for your womanhood.

It will come, I suspect, at the end of life,
When you walk ^one. and review the past ;

And I, who so long shall have done with strife.
And journeyed my stage and earned my wage

And retired as was right, — I am called at
When the devil stabs you, to lend the knife.

He stabs for the minute of trivial wrong,
Nor the other hours are able to save.

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dTs aliter visum


And my faith is torn to a thonaand soiapa,
And my heart leek iee while my words
breathe flame.

Dear, I look from my hiding^laoe.

Are yon still so fair? Have yon still the eyes?
Be happy I Add bnt the other grace,

BegoodI Why want what the angels Tannt?
I knew yon onoe : bnt in Paradise,

If we meet, I will pass nor tnm my fiu>e.



Stop, let me haTe the tmih of that I

Is that all tme ? Isav, theday
Ten years ago when both of ns

Met on a morning, friends— as thns
We meet this eTemng, frioids or what ? —

Did yon — beeanse I took yonr arm
And silUly smiled^ ** A mass of bra^

That sea looks, blaiong nndemeath I '
While up the oUff-road edged with heath.

We took the tnms nor oame to harm —

Did yon eonsider, *'' Now makes twice
That I have seen her. walked and talked

With this poor pretty thonshtfnl thing.
Whose worth I weigh : she tries to sing ;

Draws, hopes in time the eye grows nice ;

** Reads Terse and thinks she nndcTstands ;

Loves all, at anr rate, that *s great.
Good, beantifnl ; bnt mnoh as we

Down at the bath-honse love the sea.
Who breathe its salt and bmise its sands:

''While . . . do bnt follow the fishmg^^nll
That flaps and floats from waye to cave I

There 's the sea-lover, fair my friend I
What then ? Be patient, mark and mend I

Had yoif the making of your skull ? "

And did yon, when we faced the church
With spire and sad slate roof, aloof

From human fellowship so far.
Where a few graveyard crosses are.

And gariands for the swallows' perch, —

Did you determine, as we stepped
O'er the lone stone fence. Let me get

Her for mvself , and what 's the earth
With all its art, verse, musiCj worth —

Compared with love, found, gamed, and kept ?

'* Schumann *s our music-maker now ;

Has his march-movement youth and mouth I
Ingres 's the modem man that paints ;

Which will lean on me, of his saints ?
Heine for songs ; for kisses, how ? ''

And did yon, when we entered, reached

The votive fri^te, soft aloft
Riding on air this hundred 3rears,

Safe-smiling at old hemes and fears, —
Did yon draw profit while she preached ?

The happy, that lasted my whole life long :
For a promise broke, not for first words spoke.

The true, the only, that turn my gra'
To a blaze of joy and a crash ct soi

Witness beforehand I Off I trip
On a safe path gay through the flowers you

My very name made great by yonr lip.
And my heart aglow with the good 1 know

Of a perfect year when we both were young.
And I tasted the angels' fellowship.

And witness, moreover . . . Ah, but wait I

I spy the loop whence an arrow shoots !
It may be for yourself, when you meditate.
That you grieve— for slain ruth, murdered
''Though falsehood escape in the end, what
How truth would have triumphed ! " — you
sigh too late.

Ay, who would have triumphed like yon, I
Well, it is lost now ; well, you must bear.
Abide and grow fit for a better day :
Yon should hardly grudge, could I be yonr
judge 1
Bnt hash! For yon, can be no despair :
There's amends: 'tisaseeret: h<^aadprayl

For I was tme at least — oh, tme enorngh I
And, Dear, trath ib not as good as it seems I

Commend me to conscience I Idle stuff 1
Much help is in mine, as I mope and pine.

And skulk through daj[, and scowl in my dreams
At my swan's obtaining the crow's rebuff.

Men ten me of tmth now — " False ! " I cry :
Of beauty— "A mask, friendt Look be-

We take our own method, the devil and I,
With pleasant and fair and wise and rare :

And the best we wish to what Uvea, is — death ;
Which even in wishing, perhaps we lie I

Far better commit a fault and have done —
As yon, Dear ! — forever ; and choose the

And look where the healing waters run.
And strive and strain to be good again.

And a place in the other world ensure.
All g^ass and gold, with God for its sun.

Misery 1 What shall I say or do ?

I cannot advise, or, at least, persuade :
Most like, you are glad you deceived me-

No whit of the wrong : you endured too long.
Have done no evil and want no aid.

Will five the old life out and chance the

And your sentence is written all the same.
And I can do nothing, — pray, perhaps:

But somehow the wond pursues its game, —
If I pray, if I curse, —for better or worse :

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ResolTiiig, '* Fools we wise men grow I
Yee, I conld easily blurt oat ouri

Some question that migbt find reply
As prompt in her stopped lips, dropped eye,

And rush of red to cheek and brow :

'* Thus were a match made, sure and fast,
'Mid the blue weed-flowers round the mound

Where, issuing, we shall stand and stay
For one more look at baths and bar.

Sands, sea-gulls, and the old church Lut —

** A match 'twixt me, bent, wigged and lamed,
Famous, however, for verse and woree.

Sure of the Fortieth spare Arm-chair
When gout and glo^^ seat me there.

So, one whose lo?e-freaks pass unblamed, —

** And this young beauty, round and sound
As a monntainhapple, youth and truth

With loves and doves^ all events
With money in the Three per Cents ;

Whose choice of me would seem profound : —

** She might take me as I take her.

Perfect the hour would pass, alas I
Climb high, love high, what matter ? Still,

Feet, feelings, must descend the hill :
An hour's perfection can't recur.

** Then follows Paris and full time
For both to reason: ' Thus with us I '

She 'U sigh, * Thus girls give body and soul

At first word, think they gain the goal,
When 't is the starting-plaoe they climb I

** ' My friend makes vene and gets renown ;

Have they all fiftv years, hb peers ?
He knows the world, firm, quiet and gay ;

Boys will become as much one day :
They're fools; he cheats, with beard less

'** For boys say, XoM fiM or Jcf tie /
He did not say. The truth i«, youth

I want^ who am old and know too much ;
l^d catch youth: lend me sight and touch I

Drop heart* 8 blood where life's wheels grate dry ! '

^ While I should make rejoinder " r- (then

It was no doubt, you ceased that least
Light pressure of my arm in yours) —

* I can conceive of cheaper cures
For a yawning^fit o'er books and men.

'*'What? All I am, was. and might be,
All, books taught, art brought, life's whole

Painful results since precious^ just
Were fitly ezchanffed, in wise disgust.

For two cheeks freshened by youth and sea ?

'* ' All for a nosegay I — what came first ;

With fields on flower, untried each side ;
I rally, need my books and men.

And find a nosegay : ' drop it, then.
No match yet made for best or worst I "

That ended me. Ton judged the porch
We left by, Norman ; took our look

At sea and sky; wondered so few
Find out the place for air and view ;

Remarked the sun began to scorch ;

Descended, soon regained the baths.

And then, good-by 1 Years ten smoe then $
Ten years I We meet : you tell me, now.

By a window-seat for that cliff-brow,
On cariwtFStripes for those sand-paths.

Now I may speak : you fool, for all
Your lore I Who made things plain in vain f

What was the sea for? What, the gray
bad church, that solitary day,

Crosses and graves and swallows' call ?

Was there naught better than to enjoy ?

No feat which, done, would make time break,
And let us pMsnt-up creatures through

Into eternity, our due ?
No forcing earth teach heaven's employ ?

No wise beginning, here and now.
What cannot grow complete (earth's feat)

And heaven must finish, there and then ?
No tasting earth's true food for men.

Its sweet in sad, its sad in sweet ?

No grasping at love, gaining a share

the sole spark from God's life at strife
With death, so, sure of range above

The limits here ? For us and love.
Failure ; but, when God fails, despair.

This yon call wisdom ? Thus you add

Good unto ^^x>d again, in vain ?
You loved, with body worn and weak ;

1 loved, with faculties to seek :
Were botn loves worthless since iU-dad P

Let the mere star-fish in his vault

Crawl in a wash of weed, indeed,
Rose-jaoynth to the finger-tips :

He, whole in body and soul, outstrips
Man, found with either in default.

But what 's whole can increase no more.
Is dwarfed and dies, since here 's its sphere.

The devil laughed atvou in his sleeve I
You know not ? That I well believe ;

Or you had saved two souls : nay, four.

For Stephanie sprained last nierht her wrist.
Ankle or something. *' Pooh," cry yon ?

At any rate she danced, all say.
Vilely ; her vogue has had its day.

Here comes my husband from his whist.


Herk was I with my arm and heart
And brain, all yours for a word, a want

Put into a look — just a look, your part.
While mine, to repay it . .

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Were the womAa, that's dead, aliye to hear.
Had her lover, that *8 lost, loTe*8 proof to
Bat I cannot show it ; von cannot speak

From the ohorchyard neither, miles remoTed,
Thooi^h I feel by a pulse within my cheek,
Which stabs and stops, that the woman I
Needs help in her flrrave and finds none near.
Wants warmth from the heart which sends it

Did I speak once angrily, all the drear days

You lived, you woman I loved so well.
Who married the other ? Blame or praise,

Where was the use then ? Time would teE,
And the end declare what man for you.

What woman for me, was the choice of God.
But, Edith dead ! no donbtinff more I

I osed to sit and look at my life
As it rippled and ran till, right before,

A great stone stopped it : oh, the strife
Of waves at the stone some devil threw

In my lifers midcurrent, thwarting Gk>d !

But either I thought, " They may chnm and

Awhile, my waves which came for their joy
And found this horrible stone full-tide :

Yet I see just a thread escape, deploy
Through the evening'Kwuntry, silent and safe.

And it suffers no more till it finds the sea."
Or else I would think, *^ Perhaps some night

When new things happen, a meteor-ball
May slip through the sky in a line of light.

And earth breathe hard, and landmarks fall.
And my waves no longer champ nor chafe,

Since a stone will have rolled from its place :
let be I"

But. dead I All 's done with : wait who may,

Watch and wear and wonder who will.
Oh, my whole life that ends to-day I

Oh, my soul*s sentence, sounding still,
** The woman is dead that was none of his ;

And the man that was none of hers may go I "
There 's only the past left : worry that I

Wreak, like a bull, on the empty coat,
Ratfe, its late wearer is laughing at I

Tear the collar to rags, having missed his
Strike stupidly on — ** This, this and this.

Where I would that a bosom reoeived the
blow I"

I ought to have done more : once my speech.

And once your answer, and there, the end,
And Edith was henceforth out of reach !

Why, men do more to deserve a friend.
Be ria of a foe, get rich, grow wise.

Nor, folding ueir arms, stare fate in the face.
Why, better even have burst like a thief

And borne you away to a rock for us two.
In a moment's horror, bright, bloody and brief.

Then changed to myself again— '' I slew
Myself in that moment ; a ruffian lies

Somewhere : your slaye, see, bom in his

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