Robert Browning.

The poetical works of Robert Browning online

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" What he considers that he knows to-day,

" Come but to-morrow, he will find misknown ;

" Getting increase of knowledge, since he learns

" Because he lives, which is to be a man,

" Set to instruct himself by his past self:

" First, like the brute, obliged by facts to learn,

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" Next, as man may, obliged by his own mind,
" Bent, habit, nature, knowledge turned to law.
" God's gift was that man should conceive of truth
'* And yearn to gain it, catching at mistake,
* As midway help till he reach fact indeed.
" The statuary ere he mould a shape
" Boasts a like gift, the shape's idea, and next
" The aspiration to produce the same ;
" So, taking clay, he calls his shape thereout,
" Cries ever * Now I have the thing I see' :
" Yet all the while goes changing what was wrought,
" From falsehood like the truth, to truth itself.
" How were it had he cried * I see no face,
" ' No breast, no feet i' the ineffectual clay 7
" Rather commend him that he clapped his hands,
" And laughed * It is my shape and lives again ! '
" Enjoyed the falsehood, touched it on to truth,
" Until yourselves applaud the flesh indeed
" In what is still flesh-imitating clay.
" Right in you, right in him, such way be man's !
" Gk)d only makes the live shape at a jet.
" Will ye renounce this pact of creatureship?
" The pattern on the Mount subsists no more,
" Seemed awhile, then returned to nothingness ;
" But copies, Moses strove to make thereby,
" Serve still and are replaced as time requires :
vn. L

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" By these, make newest vessels, reach the type !

" If ye demur, this judgment on your head,

" Never to reach the ultimate, angels' law,

" Indulging every instinct of the soul

" There where law, life, joy, impulse are one thing I

** Such is the burthen of the latest time.

" I have survived to hear it with my ears,

" Answer it with my lips : does this suffice? f

** For if there be a further woe than such,

" Wherein my brothers struggling need a hand,

" So long as any pulse is left in mine,

" May I be absent even longer yet,

'' Plucking the blind ones back ftova the abyss,

"Though I should tarry a new hundred years ! "

But he was dead ; t was about noon, the day
Somewhat declining : we five buried him
That eve, and then, dividing, went five ways.
And I, disguised, returned to Ephesus.

By this, the cave's mouth must be filled with sand.
Valens is lost, I know not of his trace ;
The Bactrian was but a wild childish man,
And could not write nor speak, but only loved :
So, lest the memory of this go quite.

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Seeing that I to-morrow fight the beasts,
I tell the same to Phoebas, whom believe !
For many look again to find that face,
Beloved John's to whom I ministered,
Somewhere in life about the world ; they err :
Either mistaking what was darkly spoke
At ending of his book, as he relates,
Or misconceiving somewhat of this speech
Scattered firom mouth to mouth, as I suppose.
Believe ye will not see him any more
About the world with his divine regard !
For all was as I say, and now the man
Lies as he lay once, breast to breast with God.

[Cerinthus read and mused ; one added this:

" If Christ, as thou aflSrmest, be of men

" Mere man, the first and best but nothing more»-

" Account Him, for reward of what He was,

" Now and for ever, wretchedest of all.

" For see ; Himself conceived of life as love,

" Conceived of love as what must enter in,

" Fill up, make one with His each soul He loved .

" Thus much for man's joy, all men's joy for Him.

" Well, He is gone, thou sayest, to fit reward.

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" But by this time are many souls set free,

" And very many still retained alive :

" Nay, should His coming be delayed awhile,

" Say, ten years longer (twelve years, some compute)

" See if, for every finger of thy hands,

" There be not found, that day the world shall end,

" Hundreds of souls, each holding by Christ's word

" That He will grow incorporate with all,

" With me as Pamphylax, with him as John,

" Groom for each bride ! Can a mere man do this?

" Yet Christ saith, this He lived and died to do.

" Call Christ, then, the illimitable God,

"Or lost!"

But 't was Cerinthus that is lost.]

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• " Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself."

[Will sprawl, now that the heat of day is best,
Flat on his belly in the pit's much mire,
With elbows wide, fists clenched to prop his chin.
And, while he kicks both feet in the cool slush,
And feels about his spine small eft-things course,
Run in and out each arm, and make him laugh :
And while above his head a pompion-plant,
Coating the cave-top as a brow its eye.
Creeps down to touch and tickle hair and beard.
And now a flower drops with a bee inside,
And now a fruit to snap at, catch and crunch, —
He looks out o'er yon sea which sunbeams cross
And recross till they weave a spider-web
(Meshes of fire, some great fish breaks at times)
And talks to his own self, howe'er he please,
Touching that other, whom his dam called God«

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Because to talk about Him, vexes— ha,
Could He but know ! and time to vex is now,
When talk is safer than in winter-time.
Moreover Prosper and Miranda sleep
In confidence he drudges at their task,
And it is good to cheat the pair, and gibe,
Letting the rank tongue blossom into speech.]

Setebos, Setebos, and Setebos !

Thinketh, He dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon.

Thinketh He made it, with the sun to match,
But not the stars ; the stars came otherwise ;
Only made clouds, winds, meteors, such as that :
Also this isle, what lives and grows thereon,
And snaky sea which rounds and ends the same.

Thinketh, it came of being ill at ease :
He hated that He cannot change His cold,
Nor cure its ache. 'Hath spied an icy fish
That longed to 'scape the rock-stream where she

And thaw herself within the lukewarm brine
O' the lazy sea her stream thrusts far amid,
A crystal spike 'twixt two warm walls of wave ;
Only» she ever sickened, found repulse

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At the Other kind of water, not her life,
(Green-dense and dim-delicious, bred o' the sun)
Flounced back from bliss she was not bom to

And in her old bounds buried her despah,
Hating and loving warmth alike : so He.

Thinketh, He made thereat the sun, this isle,
Trees and the fowls here, beast and creeping thing.
Yon otter, sleek- wet, black, lithe as a leech ;
Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam,
That floats and feeds ; a certain badger brown
He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge

By moonlight ; and the pie with the long tongue
That pricks deep into oakwarts for a worm.
And says a plain word when she finds her prize.
But will not eat the ants ; the ants themselves
That build a wall of seeds and settied stalks
About their hole — He made all these and more,
Made all we see, and us, in, spite : how else?
He could not, Himself, make a second self
To be His mate ; as well have made Himself :
He would not make what he mislikes or slights,
An eyesore to Him, or not worth His pains :
But did, in envy, listlessness or sport,

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Make what Himself would fain, in a manner, be—
Weaker in most points, stronger in a few,
Worthy, and yet mere playthings all the while,
Things He admires and mocks too, — that is it
Because, so brave, so better though they be,
It nothing skills if He begin to plague.
Look now, I melt a gourd-fruit into mash.
Add honeycomb and pods, I have perceived,
Which bite like finches when they bill and kiss, —
Then, when firoth rises bladdery, drink up all.
Quick, quick, till maggots scamper through my brain ;
Last, throw me on my back i' the seeded thyme,
And wanton, wishing I were bom a bird.
Put case, unable to be what I wish,
I yet could make a live bird out of clay :
Would not I take clay, pinch my Caliban
Able to fly? — for, there, see, he hath wings,
And great comb like the hoopoe's to admire^
And there, a sting to do his foes offence,
. There, and I will that he begin to live.
Fly to yon rock-top, nip me off the horns
Of grigs iiigh up that make the merry din.
Saucy through their veined wings, and mind me

In which feat, if his leg snapped, brittle clay,
And he lay stupid-like,— why, I should laugh ;

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And if he, sp3dng me, should fall to weep,
Beseech me to be good, repair his wrong,
Bid his poor leg smart less or grow again, —
Well, as the chance were, this might take or else
Not take my fancy : I might hear his cry,
And give the mankin three sound legs for one,
Or pluck the other off, leave him like an egg,
And lessoned he was mine and merely clay.
Were this no pleasure, lying in the thyme^
Drinking the mash, with brain become alive.
Making and marring clay at will ? So He.

Thinketh, such shows nor right nor wrong in Him,
Nor kind, nor cruel : He is strong and Lord.
'Am strong myself compared to yonder crabs
That march now from the mountain to the sea ,
'Let twenty pass, and stone the twenty-first,
Loving not, hating not, just choosing so.
'Say, the first straggler that boasts purple spots
Shall join the file, one pincer twisted off;
'Say, this bruised fellow shall receive a worm.
And two worms he whose nippers end in red ;
As it likes me each time, I do : so He.

Well then, 'supposeth He is good i' the main.
Placable if His mind and ways were guessed.

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But rougher than His handiwork, be sure !

Oh, He hath made things worthier than HJmselfi

And envieth that, so helped, such things do more

Than He who made them ! What consoles but this?

That they, unless through Him, do nought at all.

And must submit : what other use in things?

'Hath cut a pipe of pithless elder joint

That, blown through, gives exact the scream o' the

When from her wing you twitch the feathers blue:
Sound this, and little birds that hate the jay
Flock within stone's throw, glad their foe is hurt:
Put case such pipe could prattle and boast forsooth
" I catch the birds, I am the crafty thing,
" I make the cry my maker cannot make
" With his great round mouth ; he must blow through

Would not I smash it with my foot? So He.

But wherefore rough, why cold and ill at ease?
Aha, that is a question ! Ask, for that.
What knows, — the something over Setebos
That made Him, or He, may be, found and fought,
Worsted, drove off and did to nothing, perchance.
There may be something quiet o'er His head.
Out of His reach, that feels nor joy nor grie^

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Since both derive from weakness in some way.
I joy because the quails come ; would not joy
Could I bring quails here when I have a mind :
This Quiet, all it hath a mind to, doth.
'Esteemeth stars the outposts of its couch.
But never spends much thought nor care that way.
It may look up, work up, — the worse for those
It works on ! 'Careth but for Setebos
The many-handed as a cuttle-fish,
Who, making Himself feared through what He does,
Looks up, first, and perceives he cannot soar
To what is quiet and hath happy life ;
Next looks down here, and out of very spite
, Makes this a bauble-world to ape yon real.
These good things to match those as hips do grapes.
T is solace making baubles, ay, and sport.
Himself peeped late, eyed Prosper at his books
Careless and lofty, lord now of the isle :
Vexed, 'stitched a book of broad leaves, arrow-shaped,
Wrote thereon, he knows what, prodigious words ;
Has peeled a wand and called it by a name ;
Weareth at whiles for an enchanter's robe
The eyed skin of a supple oncelot ;
And hath an ounce sleeker than youngling mole,
A four-legged serpent he makes cower and couch,
Now snarl, now hold its breath and mind his eye;

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And saith she is Miranda and my wife :
'Keeps for his Ariel a tall pouch-bill crane
He bids go wade for fish and straight disgorge ;
Also a sea-beast, lumpish, which he snared,
BHnded the eyes of, and brought somewhat tame,
And split its toe-webs, and now pens the drudge
In a hole o' the rock and calls him Caliban ;
A bitter heart that bides its time and bites.
'Plays thus at being Prosper in a way,
Taketh his mirth with make-believes : so He.

His dam held that the Quiet made all things
Which Setebos vexed only : 'holds not so.
Who made them weak, meant weakness He might vex.
Had He meant other, while His hand was in.
Why not make homy eyes no thorn could prick,
Or plate my scalp with bone against the snow,
Or overscale my flesh 'neath joint and joint.
Like an ore's armour? Ay, — so spoil His sport!
He is the One now : only He doth alL

'Saith, He may like, perchance, what profits Him.
Ay, himself loves what does him good; but why?
'Gtets good no otherwise. This blinded beast
Loves whoso places flesh-meat on his nose.
But, had he eyes, would want no help, but hate

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Or love, just as it liked him : He hath eyes.
Also it pleaseth Setebos to work,
Use all His hands, and exercise much craft,
By no means for the love of what is worked.
Tasteth, himself, no finer good i' the world
When all goes right, in this safe summer-time,
And he wants little, hungers, aches not much,
Than trying what to do with wit and strength.
Tails to make something : 'piled yon pile of turfs,
And squared and stuck there squares of soft white chalk,
And, with a fish-tooth, scratched a moon on each.
And set up endwise certain spikes of tree.
And crowned the whole with a sloth's skull a-top,
Found dead i' the woods, too hard for one to kill.
No use at all i' the work, for work's sole sake ;
'Shall some day knock it down again : so He.

'Saith He is terrible : watch His feats in proof I
One hurricane will spoil six good months' hope.
He hath a spite against me, that I know.
Just as He favours Prosper, who knows why?
So it is, all the same, as well I find.
'Wove wattles half the winter, fenced them firm
With stone and stake to stop she-tortoises
Crawling to lay their eggs here : well, one wave,
Feeling the foot of Him upon its neck,



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Gaped as a snake does, lolled out its large tongue,
And licked the whole labour flat : so much for spite.
'Saw a ball flame down late (yonder it lies)
Where, half an hour before, I slept i* the shade :
Often they scatter sparkles : there is force !
'Dug up a newt He may have envied once
And turned to stone, shut up inside a stone.
Please Him and hinder this? — What Prosper does?
Aha, if He would tell me how ! Not He !
There is the sport : discover how or die !
All need not die, for of the things o' the isle
Some flee afar, some dive, some run up trees ;
Those at His mercy, — why, they please Him most
When . . when . . well, never try the same way twice J
Repeat what act has pleased, He may grow wroth.
You must not know His ways, and play Him ofl",
Sure of the issue. 'Doth the like himself :
'Spareth a squirrel that it nothing fears
But steals the nut from underneath my thumb,
And when I threat, bites stoutly in defence :
'Spareth an urchin that contrariwise,
Curls up into a ball, pretending death
For fright at my approach : the two ways please.
But what would move my choler more than this.
That either creature counted on its life
To-morrow and next day and all days to come,

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Saying, forsooth, in the inmost of its heart,

" Because he did so yesterday with me,

" And otherwise with such another brute,

" So must he do henceforth and always." — Ay?

Would teach the reasoning couple what "must" means !

'Doth as he likes, or wherefore Lord? So He.

'Conceiveth all things will continue thus,

And we shall have to live in fear of Him

So long as He lives, keeps His strength : no change,

If He have done His best, make no new world

To please Him more, so leave off watching this, —

If He surprise not even the Quiet's self

Some strange day,— or, suppose, grow into it

As grubs grow butterflies : else, here are we.

And there is He, and nowhere help at all

'Believeth with the life, the pain shall stop.
His dam held different, that after death
He both plagued enemies and feasted friends :
Idly ! He doth His worst in this our life.
Giving just respite lest we die through pain,
Saving last pain for worst,— with which, an end.
Meanwhile, the best way to escape His ire
Is, not to seem too happy. 'Sees, himself.
Yonder two flies, with purple films and pink,

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Bask on the pompion-bell above : kUls both.
'Sees two black painful beetles roll their ball
On head and tail as if to save their lives :
Moves them the stick away they strive to clear.

Even so, 'would have Him misconceive, suppose
This Caliban strives hard and ails no less,
And always, above all else, envies Him ;
Wherefore he mainly dances on dark nights,
Moans in the sun, gets under holes to laugh.
And never speaks his mind save housed as now :
Outside, 'groans, curses. If He caught me here.
Overheard this speech, and asked " What chucklest at ?■
'Would, to appease Him, cut a finger off.
Or of my three kid yearlings bum the best,
Or let the toothsome apples rot on tree^
Or push my tame beast for the ore to taste :
While myself lit a fire, and made a song
l^id sung it, ** What I hate^ be consecrate
!" To akbrate Thee and Thy staU, no mate
" For Thee; what see for envy in poor meV
' Hoping the while, since evils sometimes mend,
Warts rub away and sores are cured with slime,
That some strange day, will either the Quiet catch
And conquer Setebos, or likelier He
Decrepit may doze, doze, as good as die.

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[What, what ? A curtain o*er the world at once !

Crickets stop hissing ; not a bird — or, yes,

There scuds His raven that has told Him all !

It was fooFs play, this prattling ! Ha 1 The wind

Shoulders the pillared dust, death's house o' the move,

And fast invading fires begin I White blaze —

A tree's head snaps — ^and there, there, there, there;,

His thunder follows ! Fool to gibe at Him !
Lo ! 'Lieth flat and loveth Setebos !
'Maketh his teeth meet through his upper lip.
Will let those quails fly, will not eat this month
One little mess of whelks, so he may 'scape ! j


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What is he buzzing in my ears?

" Now that I come to die,
" Do I view the world as a vale of tears?"

Ah, reverend sir, not I !


What I viewed there once, what I view again

Where the physic bottles stand
On the table's edge, — is a suburb lane.

With a wall to my bedside hand.


That lane sloped, much as the bottles do.

From a house you could descry
O'er the garden- wall : is the curtain blue

Or green to a healthy eye ?

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To mine, it serves for the old June weather

Blue above lane and wall ;
A;id that farthest bottle labelled " Ether*

Is the house overtopping all


At a terrace, somewhere near the stopper,
There watched for me, one June,

A girl : I know, sir, it 's improper,
My poor mind 's out of tune.


Only, there was a way . . . you crept

Close by the side, to dodge
Eyes in the house, two eyes except :

They styled their house " The Lodge."


What right had a lounger up their lane ?

But, by creeping very close.
With the good walFs help,— their eyes might strain

And stretch themselves to Oes,

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Yet never catch her and me together,

As she left the attic, there,
By the rim of the bottle labelled " Ether,"

And stole from stair to stair,


And stood by the rose-wreathed gate. Alas,

We loved, sir — ^used to meet :
How sad and bad and mad it was —

But then, how it was sweet !

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I WISH that when you died last May,
Charles, there had died along with you

Three parts of spring's delightful things ;
Ay, and, for me, the fourth part too.


A foolish thought, and worse, perhaps !

There must be many a pair of friends
Who, arm in arm, deserve the warm

Moon-births and the long evening-ends.


So, for their sake, be May still May !

Let their new time, as mine of old,
Do all it did for me : I bid

Sweet sights and sounds throng manifold.

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Only, one little sight, one plant.
Woods have in May, that starts up green

Save a sole streak which, so to speak.
Is spring's blood, spilt its leaves between,-


That, they might spare ; a certain wood
Might miss the plant ; their loss were small :

But I, — whene'er the leaf grows there,
Its drop comes from my heart, that 's alL

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Only the prism's obstruction shows aright
The secret of a sunbeam, breaks its light
Into the jewelled bow from blankest white ,

So may a glory from defect arise :
Only by Deafriess may the vexed Love wreak
Its insuppressive sense on brow and cheek,
Only by Dumbness adequately speak

As favoured mouth could never, through the eyes.

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Fear death ?— to feel the fog in my throat,

The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote

I am nearing the place.
The power of the night, the press of the storm,

The post of the foe ;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,

Yet the strong man must go :
For the journey is done and the summit attained,

And the barriers fall,
Though a battle 's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,

The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so — one fight more.

The best and the last !
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes, and forbore,

And bade me creep past.
No ! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers

The heroes of old,

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Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears

Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,

The black minute 's at end.
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave.

Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain.

Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul ! I shall clasp thee again,

And with God be the rest 1

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But give them me, the mouth, the eyes, the brow !
Let them once more absorb me ! One look now

Will lap me round for ever, not to pass
Out of its light, though darkness lie beyond :
Hold me but safe again within the bond

Of one immortal look ! All woe that was,
Forgotten, and all terror that may be,
Defied, — no past is mine, no future : look at me !

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It once might have been, once only :
We lodged in a street together,

You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
L a lone she-bird of his feather.


Your trade was with sticks and day.
You thumbed, thrust, patted and polished.

Then laughed " They will see some day
'* Smith made, and Gibson demol]3hed."


My business was song, song, song ;

I chirped, cheeped, trilled and twittered,
" Kate Brown 's on the boards ere long,

** And Grisi's existence embittered ! "

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I earned no more by a warble
Than you by a sketch in plaster;

You wanted a piece of marble,
I needed a music-master.

We studied hard in our styles,
Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,

For air looked out on the tiles,
For fun watched each other's windows.


You lounged, like a boy of the South,
Cap and blouse— nay, a bit of beard too ;

Or you got it, rubbing your mouth
With fingers the clay adhered to.


And I — soon managed to find

Weak points in the flower-fence facing.
Was forced to put up a blind

And be safe in my corset-lacing.

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No harm ! It was not my fault
If you never turned your eye's tail up

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