Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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The case was just as he foresaw : he wrote.
She spoke."

Sirs, that first simile serves still, —
That falsehood of a scorpion hatched, I say.
Nowhere i' the world but in Madonna's mouth.
Go on I Suppose, that falsehood foiled, next

eve
Pictured Madonna raised her painted hand,
Fixed the face Rafael bent above the Babe^
On my face as I flung me at her feet :
Such miracle vouchwif ed and manifest.
Would that prove the first lying tale was true ?
Pompilia spoke, and I at once received.
Accepted my own fact, my miracle
Self-«uthorized and seli-explained, —she chose
To summon me and signify her choice.
Afterward, — oh 1 I gave a passing glance
To a certain ugly cloud-shape, goblin-shred
Of hell-smoke nurr3ring past the splendid moon
Out now to tolerate no darkness more,
And saw right through the thing that tried to

pass
For truth and solid, not an empty lie :
** So, he not only forged the words for her'
But words for me, imule letters he called mine :
What I sent, he retained, gave these in place.
All by the mistress-messenger 1 As I
Recognized her, at potency of truth.
So she, by the crystalline soul, knew me.



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498



THE RING AND THE BOOK



Never miitook the sigiis. Enoug^h of thb —
Let the wnith go to nothingnewi again.
Here la the orb, have only tnonght for ner ! "

*'Tlioiight ? *' nay. Sirs, what shall follow was

not thoof^t :
I have thought sometimeB, and thought long

and hard.
I have stood before, ^one roond a serioos thin^.
Tasked my whole mind to tonoh and clasp it

dose.
As I stretch forth mv arm to tonch this bar.
God and man, and what duty I owe both, —
I dare to say 1 have confronted these
In thought : but no such faculty helped here.
I put forth no thought, — powerless, all that

night
I paced uie city : it was the first Spring.
By the invasion I lay paasire to.
In rushed new thines, the old were rapt away ;
Alike abolished — the imprisonment
Of the outside air, the inside weight o' the

world
lliat pulled me down. Death meant, to spurn

the ground.
Soar to the sky. — die well and you do that.
The very immolation made the bliss :
Death was the heart of life, and all the harm
My folly had crouched to avoid, now proved a

veil
Hi^ng all gain my wisdom strove to grasp:
As if the intense centre of the flame
Should turn a heaven to that devoted fly
Which hitherto, sophist alike and sage.
Saint Thomas with his sober gray goose-quiU,
And sinner Plato by Cei>lusian reed.
Would fain, pretending just the insect's good.
Whisk off, drive back, consign to shade again.
Into another state, under new rule
I knew myself was passing swift and sure ;
Whereof the initiatory panfiT approached.
Felicitous annoy, as bittersweet
As when the virgin-band, the victors chaste.
Feel at the end the earthly garments drop.
And rise with something of a rosy shame
Into immortal nakedness: sol
Lay, and let come the proper throe would thrill
Into the ecstasy and outthrob pain.

I* the gray of dawn it was I found myself
Facing the pillared front o' the Pieve — mine,
My church : it seemed to say for the first time,
** But am not I the Bride, the mvstic love
O' the Lamb, who took tny plighted troth, my

pnest.
To fold thy warm heart on my heart of stone
And freeze thee nor unfasten any more ?
This is a fleshly woman, — let the free
Bestow their life-blood, thou art pulseless

now I"
See 1 Day by day I had risen and left this

church
At the signal waved me by some foolish fan,
With hau a curse and half a pil^jring smile
For the monk I stumbled over m my haste.
Prostrate and corpse-like at the altar-foot
Intent on his corona: then the chnroh
Was ready with her quip, if word conduced,



To quicken my pace nor stop for prating —

"There!
Be thankful yon are no such ninnjy, go
Rather to teach a black-eyed novice cards
Than gabble Latin and protrude that noee
Smooth to a sheep's through no brains and much

faithl"
That sort of incentive I Now the chnroh

changed tone —
Now, when I found out first that life and

death
Are means to an end, that passion uses bothr
Indisputably mistress of the man
Whose form of worship is self-sacrifice :
Now, from the stone lungs sighed the scrannel

voice,
** Leave that live passion, come be dead with

mel" ^^

As if, i' the fabled garden, I had gone
On great adventure, plucked in ignorance
Hedge-fruit, and feasted to satiety,
Lanehing at such hi^ fame for hips and hawa,
Andsoomed the achievement: then come all at

once
O* the prize o* the place, the thing of perfect

gold.
The apple's self : and^ scarce my eye on that.
Was Vare as well o' the seven-fold d



watch.



dragon's



Sin, I obeved. Obedience was too strange, —
This new thing that had been struck into me
By the look o'^the lady, — to dare disobey
The first authoritative word. 'T was God's.
I had been lifted to the level of her,
Could take such sounds into my sense. I said,
** We two are cognizant o' the Master now ;
She it is bids me bow the head : how true,
I am a priest 1 I see the function here ;
I thought the other way self-sacrifice :
This is the true, seals up the perfect sum.
I pay it, sit down, silently obey."

So, I went home. Dawn broke, noon broadened,

I sat stone-still, let time run over me.
The sun slanted into my room, had reached
The west. I opened book, — Aquinas blazed
With one black name only on the white page.
I looked up, saw the sunset : vespers rang :
** She counts the minutes till I keep mpr word
And come sa^ all is ready. I am a pnest.
Duty to God is duty to her : I think
God, who created her, will save her too
Some new way, by one miracle the more.
Without me. Then, prater m^ avail pexhape."
I went to my own place i' the Pieve, read
The office : I was iMick at home again
Sitting i' the dark. ** Ck>uld she but know —

out know
That, were there good in this distinct from

Really good as it reached her, though procured
By a sin of mine, — I should sin : &od forgives.
She knows it is no fear withholds me : f ear ?
Of what ? Suspense here is the terrible thing.
If she should, as she counts the minutes, come
On the fantastic notion that I fear



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499



The world now, fear the Archbishop, fear

perhaps
Count Onido, he who, haTinff forjred the lies,
Haj wait the work, attend the effect, — I fear
The sword of Onido I Let God see to that —
Hating lies, let not her beliere a lie I "

As:ain the monmu? fonnd me. ** I will work,
Tvd down mr foolish thongihts. Thank God so

farl
I haTe sayed her from a scandal, stoi^>ed the

tongues
Had broken else into a cackle and hiss
Around the noUe name. Duty is stUl
Wisdom: I hare been wise.'' So the day wore.

At evening — ** But, achiering yiotory,
I must not blink the priest's peculiar pvart.
Nor shrink to counsel, comfort: priest and

friend —
How do we discontinue to be friends ?
I will go minister, advise her seek
Help at the source, — above all, not despair :
Tlicve maj be other hamiier help at haoMl.
I hope it, — wherefore then neglect to say ? "

There she stood — leaned there, for the second

time.
Over the terrace, looked at me, then spoke :
** WhjT is it you have suffered me to stay
Breaking my heart two days more than was

need?
Why delay help, your own heart yearns to

give?
Tou are again here, in the sel&ame mind,
I see here, steadfast in the face of yon, —
Ton grudge to do no <Mie thiitf that I ask.
Why then is nothing done? Tou know my

need.
Still, through God's mty on me, there is time
And one day more : sluul I be saved or no ? "
I answered— ** Lady, waste no thought, no

word
Even to forgive me ! Care for what I care —
Only 1 Now follow me as I were fate I
Leave this house in the dark to-morrow night.
Just before daybreak : — there 's new moon

this eve —
It sets, and then begins the solid Uaok.
J>esoend, proceed to the Torrione, step
Over the low dilapidated wall,
Take San Clemente, there 's no other gate
Unguarded at the hour: some paces thence
An mn stands ; cross to it ; I shall be there."

6he answered, ** If I can but find the way.
But I shall find it. Gonowl"

I did go.
Took rapidly the route mvself prescribed.
Stopped at Torrione, climoed the mined place.
Proved that the gate was practicable, reached
The inn, no eye, despite the dark, could miss.
Knocked there and entered, made the host se-
cure:
**' With Caponsacchi it is ask and have ;
I know my betters. Are yon bound for Rome ?
I get swift hone and trusty man," said he.



Then I retraced my steps, was found once more
In my own house for tJie last time : there lay



'Summa."



*Shut his



The broad pale opened '

book.

There 's other showing I 'T was a Thomas too
Obtained — more ^Tored than his namesake

here —
A fi^ tied fsith fast, foiled the tug of doubt, —
Our Lady's girdle ; down he saw it drop
As she ascended into heaven, they say :
He kept that safe and bade all doubt adieu.
I too have seen a lady and hold a grace."

I know not how the night passed: morning

broke.
Presently came my servant. ** Sir, this eve >-
Do you forget ? " I started. *' How forget ?
What is it vou know ? " " With due submis-
sion. Sir,
Tlus bein^ last Monday in the month but one.
And a vigiL since to-morrow is Saint Geoige,
And feastHiay, and moreover day for copes.
And Canon Cmiti now away a month.
And Canon Crispi sour beouise, forsooth,
Tou let him sulk in stall and bear the brunt
Of the octavo . . . Well, Sir, 'tis important ! "

'*Tniel
Hearken, I have to start for Rome this night.
No word, lest Crispi overboil and burst 1
Provide me with a laic dress 1 Throw dust
I' the Canon's eye, stop his tongue's scandal so 1
See there 's a sword in case of accident."
I knew the knave, the knave knew me.

And thus
Through each familiar hindrance of the day
Did I make steadily for its hour and end, —
Felt time's old barriei^f[rowth of right and fit
Give way through all its twines, and let me

Use and wont recojrnixed the excepted man.
Let speed the special seryice, — and I sped
Till, at the dead between midnight ana mom.
There was I at the goal, before the gate.
With a tune in the ears, low leading up to loud,
A li^t in the eyes, famt that would soon be

flare,
Ever some spiritual witness new and new
In faster frequence, crowding solitude
To watch the way o' the warfare, — till, at last.
When the ecstatic minute must bring birth.
Began a whiteness in the distance, waxed
Whiter and whiter, near grew and more near.
Till it was she : there did Pompilia come :
The white I saw shine through her was her

soul's.
Certainly, for the body was one black.
Black from head down to foot. She did not

speak.
Glided mto the carriage. — so a cloud
Gathers the moon up. '* By San Spirito,
To Rome, as if the road burned underneath 1
Reach Rome, then hold my head in pledge, I

pay

The run and the risk to heart's content 1"

Just that,
I said, — then, in another tick of time,
Sprang, was beside her, she and I alone.



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500



THE RING AND THE BOOK



So it beffan, our flight through dusk to dear.
Through day and night and dav again to night
Onoe more, and to last dreadfnl dawn of alL
Sirs, how should I lie quiet in my eraye
Unless ^ou suffer me wring, drop by drop,
Mv bram dry. make a ridoanee of the dreneh
Oi minutes with a memory in each.
Recorded motion, breath or look of hen.
Which poured forth would present you one pure

glass,
Mirror you plain — as God's sea, glassed in eold.
His saints — the perfect soul Pompilia ? Men.
Ton must know that a man gets drunk with

truth
Stagnant inside him I Oh, they Ve killed her,

Sizsl
Canlbecalm?

Calmly I Each incident
ProYes, I maintain, that action of the flight
For the true tlung it was. The first ftunt scratch
O' the stone will test its nature, teach its worth
To idiots vrho name Parian — ooprolite.
After all, I shall giro no glare — at best
Only display you certain scattered lights
Lamping the rush and roll of the abyss:
Nothing but heie and theie a fireixnnt pricks
WareletfromwaYelet: well I

For the first hour
We both were silent in the night, I know :
Sometimes I did not see nor undeistand.
Blackness ensulf ed me, — partial stupor, say —
Then I would break way, breathe through the



And be aware again, and see who sat
In the dark rest with the white faee and hands.
I said to myself — ** I hare caught it, I con-
ceive
Hie mind o' the mystery : 't is the way they

wake
And wait, two martyrs somewhere in a tomb
Each hj each as their blesnng was to die ;
Some signal they are promised and expect, —
When to arise before the trumpet scares:
So, throuprh the whole course m the world they

wait
The last day, but so fearless and so safe 1
No otherwise, in safety and not fear,
I lie, because she lies too by my side."
Ton know this is not loye. Sirs. — it is faith.
The feeling that there's God, he reigns and

rules
Out of this low world : that is all ; no harm I
At times she drew a soft sigh — music seemed
Always to borer just above her lips.
Not settle, — break a silence music too.

In the determined morning, I first found
Her head erect, her face turned full to me.
Her soul intent on mine through two wide eyes.
I answered them. " Ton are saved hitherto.
We have passed Perugia, — gone round by the

wood.
Not through, I seem to think, — and opponte
IknowAsaifi; this is holy mund."
Tlien she resumed. " How long since we both

left
Arezzo ? " — ** Tears — and certain hours be-
side."



It was at ... ah, but I forget the names !
'T is a mere post-house and a hovel or two ;
I left the carriage and got bread and wine
And brought it her. — ^' Does it detain to eat ? "
" — They stay perforce, change horses, — thm-

foreeatl
We lose no minute : we arrive, be sure I "
This was — I know not where — Uiere 's a great

hill
Close over^ and the stream has lost its bridge.
One fords it. She began — ** I have heard say
Of some sick body that my mother knew,
'Twas no ^ood sign when m a limb diseased
All the pam suddenly departs, — as if
The guimiian angel aiscondnued pain
Because the hope of cure was ^one at last :
The limb will not again exert itself.
It needs be pained no longer: so with me,
— My soul whence all the pain is past at once :
All pain must be to work some good in the end.
True, this I feel now, this may be that good.
Pain was because of, ~ otherwise, I fear I "

She said. — a long while later in the day.
When I had let the silence be, — abrupt —
*'Have you a mother?" '^She died, I was

bom."
"A sister then?" "Nosister." "Who was

it—
What woman were you used to serve this way,
Be kind to, till I called you and you came ? ''
I did not like that word. Soon afterward —
" Tell me, are men unhappy, in some kind
Of mere unhappiness at being men.
As women suffer, being womanish ?
Have you. now, some unhappiness, I mean.
Bom of what may be man's strength overmuch.
To match the undue susoeptibili^,
The sense at every pore wnen hate is dose ?
It hurts us if a baby hides its face
Or child strikes at us punily, calls names
Or makes a mouth, — much more if stranger

men
Laugh or frown, — just as that were much to

bear 1
Yet rocks split, — and the blow-ball does no

more.
Quivers to feathery nothing at a touch ;
And strength may have its drawback, weakness

'scapes."

Once she asked, "What is it that made yon

smile.
At the great gate with the eagles and the

snakes.
Where the company entered, 't is a long tiine

since?" ,

" — Forgive — I think you would not under-
stand:
Ah, but you ask me, — therefore, it was this.
That was a certain bishop's villargate,
I knew it by the eagles, — - and at onoe
Remember this same bishop was just he
People of old were wont to bid me please
If Iwould catch preferment : so, I smiled
Because an impube came to me, a Vhim —
What if I prayed the prelate leave to speak,
Began upon him in his presence^iall



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GIUSEPPE CAPONSACCHI



501



— * What, still at work so gray and obsolete ?
Still looheted and mitred more or less ?
Don't yon feel all that ont of fashion now ?
I find out when the day of things is done I * "

At ere we heard the angelus : she turned —

** I told you I can neither read nor write.

My life stopped with the play-time ; I will

learn,
If I begin to live again : but you —
Who are a priest — wherefore do you not read
The serrice at this hour ? Read Gabriel's song,
The lesson, and then read the little prayer
To Raphael, proper for us travellers I "
I did not like that, neither, but I read.

When we stcmped at Foligno it was dark.

The people 01 the post came out with lights :

The drirer said, **This time to-morrow, may

Saints only help, relays continue good.

Nor robb^ hinder, we arrive at Rome.

I urged, — ** Why tax your strength a second

night?
Trust me, alight here and take brief repose I
We are out of harm's reach, past pursuit : go

sleep
If but an hour I I keep watoh« gmad the while
Here in the doorway." But ner whole face

changed,
The misery grew again about her mouth.
The eirea burned up from faintness, like the

lawn's
Tired to death in the thicket, when she feels
The probing spear o' the huntsman. *^ Oh, no

stayT"
She cried, in the fawn's cry, ** On to Rome, en,

on —
Unless 't is you who fear, — which cannot

be I "

We did go on all night ; but at its dose

She was troubled, restless, moaned low, talked

at whiles
To herself, her brow on quiver with the dream :
Once, wide awake, she menaced, at arms'

length
Waved away something— "Never again with

you!
Hy soul is mine,^ mv body is my soul's :
Ton and I are divided ever more
In soul and body : get vou gone I " Then I ^—
** Wh^, in my whole life I have never nrayed !
Oh, if the God, that only can, would help I
Am I his priest with power to cast out fiends ?
Let God arise and all his enemies
Be scattered I " By mom, there was peace, no

sigh
Ont of the deep sleep.

When she woke at last,
I answered the first look — ** Scarce twelve

hours more.
Then, Rome I There probably was no pursuit.
There cannot now be peril : bear up brave I
Jnst some twelve hours to press through to the

prize:
Then, no more of the terrible journey ! "

"Then,



No more o' the journey : if it might but last !
Alwavs, my life long, thus to journey still 1
It is the interruption that I droad, —
With no dread, ever to be here and thus !
Never to see a face nor hear a voice I
Tours is no voice ; you speak when you are

dumb ;
Nor &u)e, I see it in the dark. I want
No face nor voice that change and grow

unkind."
That I liked, that was the best thing she said.

In the broad day, I dared entreat, " Descend I "

I told a woman, at the ^^arden-gate

By the post-house, white and pleasant in the

sun,
" It is my sister, — talk with her i^Murt I
She is married and unhappy, you perceive ;
I take her home because her head is hurt ;
Comfort her as you women understand ! "
So, there 1 left them by the garden-wall.
Paced the road, then bade put the horses to.
Came back, and there she sat: dose to her

knee,
A black-eyed child still hdd the bowl of milk.
Wondered to see how littie she could drink.
And in her arms the woman's infant lay.
She smiled at me, " How much good this has

done I
This is a whole night's rest and how much

morel
I can proceed now, though I wish to stay.
How do you call that tree with the thick top
That holds in all its leafy green and gold
The sun now like an immense egg of fire ? "
(It was a million-leaved mimosa.; "Ti^e
The babe away from me and let me go 1 "
And in the carriage, " Still a day, my friend 1
And perhaps halfa night, the woman fears.
Ipray it finish since it cannot last.
There may be more nusf ortune at the dose.
And where will you be? God suffice me

then I"
And presently— for there was a roadside-
shrine —
" When I was taken firat to my own church
Lorenzo in Lncina, beinsr a ^1,
And bid confess my faults, I interposed
* But teach me what fault to confess and

know I'
So, the priest said — * Ton should bethink

yourself:
Each human being needs must have done

wrong! '
Now, be you candid and no priest but friend -^
Were I surprised and killed here on the spot,
A runaway from husband and his home.
Do vou account it were in sin I died ?
My nusband used to seem to harm me, not . . •
Not on pretence he pumshed sin of mine.
Nor for sin's sake and lust of cruelty.
But as I heard him bid a farming-man
At the villa take a lamb once to the wood
And there ill-treat it, meaning that the wolf
Should hear its cries, and so come, quick be

caught.
Enticed to the trap : he practised thus with me
That so, whatever were his gain thereby,



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Othen than I mi^ht become prej and spoil.
Had it beeo only between our two selTee, —
Hit i^eAsare and m j pain, — wh j, pleasure him



B J aymg, nor snch need to make a ooil I
Bot this was worth an effort, that my pain
Sbonld not become a snare, prove pam three-
fold
To other people — stransers — or nnbom —
How shoold I know? 1 son^t release from

that—
I think, or else from, — dare I say, some canse
Soch as is pot into a tree^ which tnms
Away from the north wmd with what nest it

holds,—
Hie woman said that trees so torn: now,

friend,
Tell me, becaose I cannot tmst myself !
Ton are a man : what have I done amiss ? "
Yon most conceive m v answer, — I forget —
Taken np wholly witn the thooriit, peniaps.
This time she might have said, —might, did

not say —
*' Ton are a priest" She said, '' my friend.*'

Day wore.
We passed the places, somehow the calm went,
Agam the restless eyes began to rove
In new fear of the foe mine could not see.
She wandered in her mind, — addressed me

once
**' Gaetano I *' — that is not my name : whose



I grew alarmed, my head seemed turning too.
I quickened pace with promise now, now

threat:
Bade drive and drive; nor any stopping more.
** Too deep i' the thick of the struggle, struggle

through I
Then drench her in repose though death's self

pour
The plenitude of quiet, —help us, Qod,
Whom the winds carry I "

Suddenly I saw
Tlie old tower, and the little white-walled

clump
Of buildings and the cypress-tree or two, —
** Already Castelnnovo — Rome! " I cried,
** As good as Rome, — Rome is the next stage,

think I
This is where travellers' hearts are wont to

beat.
Say you are saved, sweet lady!" Up she

woke.
The sky was fierce with color from the sun
Setting.^ She screamed out, "No, I must not

Take me no farther, I should die : stay here !
I have more life to save than mine I "

She swooned.
We seemed safe : what was it foreboded so ?
Out of the coach into the inn I bore
The motionless and breathless pure and pole
Pompilia, — bore her throueh a pitying group
And laid her on a oouoh, still calm ana ourea
By deep sleep of all woes at once. The host
Was urgent, " Let her stay an hour or two I
Leave her to ns^ all will be right by mom ! "
Oh, my f orebodmg I But I could not choose.



I IMused the passage, kept watch all night long.
I listened, — not one movement, not one sigh.
" Fear not : she sleeps so sound ! " they said :

but I
Feared, all the same, kept fearing more and

more.
Found myself throb with fear from head to foot.
Filled with a sense of such impending woe.
That, at first pause of night, pretence of gray,
I made my mind up it was mom. — *^Keadli

Rome,
Lest hell reach her ! A dozen miles to make.
Another long breath, and we emerge 1 " I stood
I' the courtyard, roused the sleepy grooms.

** Have out
Carriage and horse, give haste, take gold I "

said I.
While they made ready in the doubtful mom, —
'T was the last minute, — needs must I ascend
And break her sleep ; I turned to go.

And there
Faced me Count Ouido, there posed the mean



As master, — took the field, encamped his

rights.
Challenged the world: there leered new tri-
umph, there
Scowled the old malice in the visage bad
And black o' the scamp. Soon triumph suppled

the tongue
A little, malice glued to his dry throat,
And he part howled, part hissed ... oh, how

he kept
Well out o' the way, at arm's length and to

spare! —
** My salutation to your priestship ! What ?
Matutinal, busy with book so soon
Of an April day that 's damp as tears that now
Deluge Arezzo at its darling^s flight ? —
'T is unfair, wrongs feminity at large.



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 99 of 198)