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Dramatic Romances by Robert Browning

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Is a little after I took my station
To breathe the fresh air from the balcony,
And, having in those days a falcon eye,
To follow the hunt thro' the open country,
From where the bushes thinlier crested
The hillocks, to a plain where's not one tree. 510
When, in a moment, my ear was arrested
By--was it singing, or was it saying,
Or a strange musical instrument playing
In the chamber?--and to be certain
I pushed the lattice, pulled the curtain,
And there lay Jacynth asleep,
Yet as if a watch she tried to keep,
In a rosy sleep along the floor
With her head against the door;
While in the midst, on the seat of state, 520
Was a queen-the Gipsy woman late,
With head and face downbent
On the lady's head and face intent:
For, coiled at her feet like a child at ease,
The lady sat between her knees
And o'er them the lady's clasped hands met,
And on those hands her chin was set,
And her upturned face met the face of the crone
Wherein the eyes had grown and grown
As if she could double and quadruple 530
At pleasure the play of either pupil
--Very like, by her hands' slow fanning,
As up and down like a gor-crow's flappers
They moved to measure, or bell-clappers.
I said, "Is it blessing, is it banning,
Do they applaud you or burlesque you--
Those hands and fingers with no flesh on?"
But, just as I thought to spring in to the rescue,
At once I was stopped by the lady's expression:
For it was life her eyes were drinking 540
>From the crone's wide pair above unwinking,
--Life's pure fire received without shrinking,
Into the heart and breast whose heaving
Told you no single drop they were leaving,
--Life, that filling her, passed redundant
Into her very hair, back swerving
Over each shoulder, loose and abundant,
As her head thrown back showed the white throat curving;
And the very tresses shared in the pleasure,
Moving to the mystic measure, 550
Bounding as the bosom bounded.
I stopped short, more and more confounded,
As still her cheeks burned and eyes glistened,
As she listened and she listened:
When all at once a hand detained me,
The selfsame contagion gained me,
And I kept time to the wondrous chime,
Making out words and prose and rhyme,
Till it seemed that the music furled
Its wings like a task fulfilled, and dropped 560
From under the words it first had propped,
And left them midway in the world:
Word took word as hand takes hand
I could hear at last, and understand,
And when I held the unbroken thread,
The Gipsy said:
"And so at last we find my tribe.
And so I set thee in the midst,
And to one and all of them describe
What thou saidst and what thou didst, 570
Our long and terrible journey through,
And all thou art ready to say and do
In the trials that remain:
I trace them the vein and the other vein
That meet on thy brow and part again,
Making our rapid mystic mark;
And I bid my people prove and probe
Each eye's profound and glorious globe
Till they detect the kindred spark
In those depths so dear and dark, 580
Like the spots that snap and burst and flee,
Circling over the midnight sea.
And on that round young cheek of thine
I make them recognize the tinge,
As when of the costly scarlet wine
They drip so much as will impinge
And spread in a thinnest scale afloat
One thick gold drop from the olive's coat
Over a silver plate whose sheen
Still thro' the mixture shall be seen. 590
For so I prove thee, to one and all,
Fit, when my people ope their breast,
To see the sign, and hear the call,
And take the vow, and stand the test
Which adds one more child to the rest--
When the breast is bare and the arms are wide,
And the world is left outside.

For there is probation to decree,
And many and long must the trials be
Thou shalt victoriously endure, 600
If that brow is true and those eyes are sure;
Like a jewel-finder's fierce assay
Of the prize he dug from its mountain tomb--
Let once the vindicating ray
Leap out amid the anxious gloom,
And steel and fire have done their part
And the prize falls on its finder's heart;
So, trial after trial past,
Wilt thou fall at the very last
Breathless, half in trance 610
With the thrill of the great deliverance,
Into our arms for evermore;
And thou shalt know, those arms once curled
About thee, what we knew before,
How love is the only good in the world.
Henceforth be loved as heart can love,
Or brain devise, or hand approve!
Stand up, look below,
It is our life at thy feet we throw
To step with into light and joy; 620
Not a power of life but we employ
To satisfy thy nature's want;
Art thou the tree that props the plant,
Or the climbing plant that seeks the tree--
Canst thou help us, must we help thee?
If any two creatures grew into one,
They would do more than the world has done:
Though each apart were never so weak,
Ye vainly through the world should seek
For the knowledge and the might 630
Which in such union grew their right:
So, to approach at least that end,
And blend,--as much as may be, blend
Thee with us or us with thee--
As climbing plant or propping tree,
Shall some one deck thee, over and down,
Up and about, with blossoms and leaves?
Fix his heart's fruit for thy garland-crown,
Cling with his soul as the gourd-vine cleaves,
Die on thy boughs and disappear 640
While not a leaf of thine is sere?
Or is the other fate in store,
And art thou fitted to adore,
To give thy wondrous self away,
And take a stronger nature's sway?
I foresee and could foretell
Thy future portion, sure and well:
But those passionate eyes speak true, speak true,
Let them say what thou shalt do!
Only be sure thy daily life, 650
In its peace or in its strife,
Never shall be unobserved;
We pursue thy whole career,
And hope for it, or doubt, or fear--
Lo, hast thou kept thy path or swerved,
We are beside thee in all thy ways,
With our blame, with our praise,
Our shame to feel, our pride to show,
Glad, angry--but indifferent, no!
Whether it be thy lot to go, 660
For the good of us all, where the haters meet
In the crowded city's horrible street;
Or thou step alone through the morass
Where never sound yet was
Save the dry quick clap of the stork's bill,
For the air is still, and the water still,
When the blue breast of the dipping coot
Dives under, and all is mute.
So, at the last shall come old age,
Decrepit as befits that stage; 670
How else wouldst thou retire apart
With the hoarded memories of thy heart,
And gather all to the very least
Of the fragments of life's earlier feast,
Let fall through eagerness to find
The crowning dainties yet behind?
Ponder on the entire past
Laid together thus at last,
When the twilight helps to fuse
The first fresh with the faded hues, 680
And the outline of the whole,
As round eve's shades their framework roll,
Grandly fronts for once thy soul.
And then as, 'mid the dark, a gleam
Of yet another morning breaks,
And like the hand which ends a dream,
Death, with the might of his sunbeam,
Touches the flesh and the soul awakes,
Ay, then indeed something would happen!
But what? For here her voice changed like a bird's; 690
There grew more of the music and less of the words;
Had Jacynth only been by me to clap pen
To paper and put you down every syllable
With those clever clerkly fingers,
All I've forgotten as well as what lingers
In this old brain of mine that's but ill able
To give you even this poor version
Of the speech I spoil, as it were, with stammering
--More fault of those who had the hammering
Of prosody into me and syntax 700
And did it, not with hobnails but tintacks!

But to return from this excursion--
Just, do you mark, when the song was sweetest,
The peace most deep and the charm completest,
There came, shall I say, a snap--
And the charm vanished!
And my sense returned, so strangely banished,
And, starting as from a nap,
I knew the crone was bewitching my lady,
With Jacynth asleep; and but one spring made I 710
Down from the casement, round to the portal,
Another minute and I had entered--
When the door opened, and more than mortal
Stood, with a face where to my mind centred
All beauties I ever saw or shall see,
The Duchess: I stopped as if struck by palsy.
She was so different, happy and beautiful,
I felt at once that all was best,
And that I had nothing to do, for the rest
But wait her commands, obey and be dutiful. 720
Not that, in fact, there was any commanding;
I saw the glory of her eye,
And the brow's height and the breast's expanding,
And I was hers to live or to die.
As for finding what she wanted,
You know God Almighty granted
Such little signs should serve wild creatures
To tell one another all their desires,
So that each knows what his friend requires,
And does its bidding without teachers. 730
I preceded her; the crone
Followed silent and alone;
I spoke to her, but she merely jabbered
In the old style; both her eyes had slunk
Back to their pits; her stature shrunk;
In short, the soul in its body sunk
Like a blade sent home to its scabbard.
We descended, I preceding;
Crossed the court with nobody heeding;
All the world was at the chase, 740
The courtyard like a desert-place,
The stable emptied of its small fry;
I saddled myself the very palfrey
I remember patting while it carried her,
The day she arrived and the Duke married her.
And, do you know, though it's easy deceiving
Oneself in such matters, I can't help believing
The lady had not forgotten it either,
And knew the poor devil so much beneath her
Would have been only too glad for her service 750
To dance on hot ploughshares like a Turk dervise,
But, unable to pay proper duty where owing
Was reduced to that pitiful method of showing it:
For though the moment I began setting
His saddle on my own nag of Berold's begetting,
(Not that I meant to be obtrusive)
She stopped me, while his rug was shifting,
By a single rapid finger's lifting,
And, with a gesture kind but conclusive,
And a little shake of the head, refused me-- 760
I say, although she never used me,
Yet when she was mounted, the Gipsy behind her,
And I ventured to remind her
I suppose with a voice of less steadiness
Than usual, for my feeling exceeded me,
--Something to the effect that I was in readiness
Whenever God should please she needed me--
Then, do you know, her face looked down on me
With a look that placed a crown on me,
And she felt in her bosom--mark, her bosom-- 770
And, as a flower-tree drops its blossom,
Dropped me . . . ah, had it been a purse
Of silver, my friend, or gold that's worse,
Why, you see, as soon as I found myself
So understood,--that a true heart so may gain
Such a reward,--I should have gone home again,
Kissed Jacynth, and soberly drowned myself!
It was a little plait of hair
Such as friends in a convent make
To wear, each for the other's sake-- 780
This, see, which at my breast I wear,
Ever did (rather to Jacynth's grudgment),
And ever shall, till the Day of Judgment.
And then-and then--to cut short--this is idle,
These are feelings it is not good to foster--
I pushed the gate wide, she shook the bridle,
And the palfrey bounded--and so we lost her.


When the liquor's out why clink the cannikin?
I did think to describe you the panic in
The redoubtable breast of our master the mannikin, 790
And what was the pitch of his mother's yellowness,
How she turned as a shark to snap the spare-rib
Clean off, sailors say, from a pearl-diving Carib,
When she heard, what she called the flight of the feloness
--But it seems such child's play,
What they said and did with the lady away!
And to dance on, when we've lost the music,
Always made me--and no doubt makes you--sick.
Nay, to my mind, the world's face looked so stern
As that sweet form disappeared through the postern, 800
She that kept it in constant good humour,
It ought to have stopped; there seemed nothing to do more.
But the world thought otherwise and went on,
And my head's one that its spite was spent on:
Thirty years are fled since that morning,
And with them all my head's adorning.
Nor did the old Duchess die outright,
As you expect, of suppressed spite,
The natural end of every adder
Not suffered to empty its poison-bladder: 810
But she and her son agreed, I take it,
That no one should touch on the story to wake it,
For the wound in the Duke's pride rankled fiery,
So, they made no search and small inquiry--
And when fresh Gipsies have paid us a visit, I've
Notice the couple were never inquisitive,
But told them they're folks the Duke don't want here,
And bade them make haste and cross the frontier.
Brief, the Duchess was gone and the Duke was glad of it,
And the old one was in the young one's stead, 820
And took, in her place, the household's head,
And a blessed time the household had of it!
And were I not, as a man may say, cautious
How I trench, more than needs, on the nauseous,
I could favour you with sundry touches
Of the paint-smutches with which the Duchess
Heightened the mellowness of her cheek's yellowness
(To get on faster) until at last her
Cheek grew to be one master-plaster
Of mucus and fucus from mere use of ceruse: 830
In short, she grew from scalp to udder
Just the object to make you shudder.


You're my friend--
What a thing friendship is, world without end!
How it gives the heart and soul a stir-up
As if somebody broached you a glorious runlet,
And poured out, all lovelily, sparklingly, sunlit,
Our green Moldavia, the streaky syrup,
Cotnar as old as the time of the Druids--
Friendship may match with that monarch of fluids; 840
Each supples a dry brain, fills you its ins-and-outs,
Gives your life's hour-glass a shake when the thin sand doubts
Whether to run on or stop short, and guarantees
Age is not all made of stark sloth and arrant ease.
I have seen my little lady once more,
Jacynth, the Gipsy, Berold, and the rest of it,
For to me spoke the Duke, as I told you before;
I always wanted to make a clean breast of it:
And now it is made-why, my heart's blood, that went trickle,
Trickle, but anon, in such muddy driblets, 850
Is pumped up brisk now, through the main ventricle,
And genially floats me about the giblets.

I'll tell you what I intend to do:
I must see this fellow his sad life through--
He is our Duke, after all,
And I, as he says, but a serf and thrall.
My father was born here, and I inherit
His fame, a chain he bound his son with;
Could I pay in a lump I should prefer it,
But there's no mine to blow up and get done with: 860
So, I must stay till the end of the chapter.
For, as to our middle-age-manners-adapter,
Be it a thing to be glad on or sorry on,
Some day or other, his head in a morion
And breast in a hauberk, his heels he'll kick up,
Slain by an onslaught fierce of hiccup.
And then, when red doth the sword of our Duke rust,
And its leathern sheath lie o'ergrown with a blue crust,
Then I shall scrape together my earnings;
For, you see, in the churchyard Jacynth reposes, 870
And our children all went the way of the roses:
It's a long lane that knows no turnings.
One needs but little tackle to travel in;
So, just one stout cloak shall I indue:
And for a staff, what beats the javelin
With which his boars my father pinned you?
And then, for a purpose you shall hear presently,
Taking some Cotnar, a tight plump skinful,
I shall go journeying, who but I, pleasantly!
Sorrow is vain and despondency sinful. 880
What's a man's age? He must hurry more, that's all;
Cram in a day, what his youth took a year to hold:
When we mind labour, then only, we're too old--
What age had Methusalem when he begat Saul?
And at last, as its haven some buffeted ship sees,
(Come all the way from the north-parts with sperm oil)
I hope to get safely out of the turmoil
And arrive one day at the land of the Gipsies,
And find my lady, or hear the last news of her
>From some old thief and son of Lucifer, 890
His forehead chapleted green with wreathy hop,
Sunburned all over like an AEthiop.
And when my Cotnar begins to operate
And the tongue of the rogue to run at a proper rate,
And our wine-skin, tight once, shows each flaccid dent,
I shall drop in with--as if by accident--
"You never knew, then, how it all ended,
What fortune good or bad attended
The little lady your Queen befriended?"
--And when that's told me, what's remaining? 900
This world's too hard for my explaining.
The same wise judge of matters equine
Who still preferred some slim four-year-old
To the big-boned stock of mighty Berold
And, for strong Cotnar, drank French weak wine,
He also must be such a lady's scorner!
Smooth Jacob still robs homely Esau:
Now up, now down, the world's one see-saw.
--So, I shall find out some snug corner
Under a hedge, like Orson the wood-knight, 910
Turn myself round and bid the world good night;
And sleep a sound sleep till the trumpet blowing
Wakes me (unless priests cheat us laymen)
To a world where will be no further throwing
Pearls before swine that can't value them. Amen!

"The Flight of the Duchess." A story of the triumph of a
free and loving life over a cold and conventional one.
The duke's huntsman frees his mind to his friend as to his
part in the escape of the gladsome, ardent young duchess
from the blighting yoke of a husband whose life consisted
in imitating defunct mediaeval customs. An old gipsy is
the agency that awakens her to the joy and freedom of
love. Her mystic chant and charm claim the duchess as
the true heir of gipsy blood, thrill her with life, half-hypnotize
the huntsman, too, and seem to transform the gipsy
crone herself into an Eastern queen. He helps them off,
and looks for no better future, when the duke's death releases
him, than to travel to the land of the gipsies and hear the last
news of his lady.

The poem grew from the fancies aroused in the poet's
heart by the snatch of a woman's song he overheard when
a boy--"Following the Queen of the Gipsies, O!"


Let us begin and carry up this corpse,
Singing together.
Leave we the common crofts, the vulgar thorpes
Each in its tether
Sleeping safe on the bosom of the plain,
Cared-for till cock-crow:
Look out if yonder be not day again
Rimming the rock-row!
That's the appropriate country; there, man's thought,
Rarer, intenser, 10
Self-gathered for an outbreak, as it ought,
Chafes in the censer.
Leave we the unlettered plain its herd and crop;
Seek we sepulture
On a tall mountain, citied to the top,
Crowded with culture!
All the peaks soar, but one the rest excels;
Clouds overcome it;
No! Yonder sparkle is the citadel's
Circling its summit. 20
Thither our path lies; wind we up the heights:
Wait ye the warning?
Our low life was the level's and the night's;
He's for the morning.
Step to a tune, square chests, erect each head,
'Ware the beholders!
This is our master, famous calm and dead,
Borne on our shoulders.

Sleep, crop and herd! sleep, darkling thorpe and croft,
Safe from the weather! 30
He, whom we convoy to his grave aloft,
Singing together,
He was a man born with thy face and throat,
Lyric Apollo!

Long he lived nameless: how should spring take note
Winter would follow?
Till lo, the little touch, and youth was gone!
Cramped and diminished,
Moaned he, " New measures, other feet anon!
My dance is finished?" 40
No, that's the world's way: (keep the mountain-side,
Make for the city!)
He knew the signal, and stepped on with pride
Over men's pity;
Left play for work, and grappled with the world
Bent on escaping:
"What's in the scroll," quoth he, "thou keepest furled?
Show me their shaping
Theirs who most studied man, the bard and sage,
Give!"--So, he gowned him, 50
Straight got by heart that book to its last page:
Learned, we found him.
Yea, but we found him bald too, eyes like lead,
Accents uncertain:
"Time to taste life," another would have said,
"Up with the curtain!"
This man said rather, "Actual life comes next?
Patience a moment!
Grant I have mastered learning's crabbed text,
Still there's the comment. 60
Let me know all ! Prate not of most or least,
Painful or easy!
Even to the crumbs I'd fain eat up the feast,
Ay, nor feel queasy."
Oh, such a life as he resolved to live,
When he had learned it,
When he had gathered all books had to give!
Sooner, he spurned it.
Image the whole, then execute the parts--
Fancy the fabric 70
Quite, ere you build, ere steel strike fire from quartz,
Ere mortar dab brick!

(Here's the town-gate reached: there's the market-place
Gaping before us.)
Yea, this in him was the peculiar grace
(Hearten our chorus!)
That before living he'd learn how to live--
No end to learning:
Earn the means first-God surely will contrive
Use for our earning. 80
Others mistrust and say, "But time escapes:
Live now or never!"
He said, " What's time? Leave Now for dogs and apes!
Man has Forever."
Back to his book then: deeper drooped his head:
Calculus racked him:

Leaden before, his eyes grew dross of lead:
Tussis attacked him.
"Now, master, take a little rest!"--not he!
(Caution redoubled, 90
Step two abreast, the way winds narrowly!)
Not a whit troubled
Back to his studies, fresher than at first,
Fierce as a dragon
He (soul-hydroptic with a sacred thirst)
Sucked at the flagon.
Oh, if we draw a circle premature,
Heedless of far gain,
Greedy for quick returns of profit, sure
Bad is our bargain! 100
Was it not great? did not he throw on God,
(He loves the burthen)
God's task to make the heavenly period
Perfect the earthen?
Did not he magnify the mind, show clear
Just what it all meant?
He would not discount life, as fools do here,
Paid by instalment.
He ventured neck or nothing-heaven's success
Found, or earth's failure: 110
"Wilt thou trust death or not?" He answered "Yes:
Hence with life's pale lure!"
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it:
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
His hundred's soon hit:
This high man, aiming at a million,
Misses an unit. 120
That, has the world here-should he need the next,
Let the world mind him!
This, throws himself on God, and unperplexed
Seeking shall find him.
So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro' the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
While he could stammer
He settled Hoti's business--let it be!--
Properly based Oun-- 130
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
Dead from the waist down.
Well, here's the platform, here's the proper place:
Hail to your purlieus,
All ye highfliers of the feathered race,
Swallows and curlews!
Here's the top-peak; the multitude below
Live, for they can, there:

This man decided not to Live but Know--
Bury this man there? 140
Here--here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects:
Loftily Iying,
Leave him--still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.

"A Grammarian's Funeral" is an elegy of a typical pioneer
scholar of the Renaissance period, sung by the leader of
the chorus of disciples, and interspersed with parenthetical
directions to them, while they all bear the body of
their master to its appropriate burial-place on the highest
mountain-peak. A humorous sense of disproportion in
the labors of devoted scholarship to its results heightens
their exaltation of the dead humanist's indomitable trust
in the supremacy of the immaterial.

86. Calculus: the stone.

88. Tussis: a cough.

95. Hydroptic: dropsical.

129. Hoti: Greek particle, conjunction, that.

130. Oun: Greek particle, then, now then.

131. Enclitic De: Greek , concerning which Browning
wrote to the Editor of The News, London, Nov. 21,
1874: "In a clever article you speak of 'the doctrine of
the enclitic De--which, with all deference to Mr.
Browning, in point of fact, does not exist.' No, not to
Mr. Browning, but pray defer to Herr Buttmann, whose
fifth list of 'enclitics' ends with the inseparable De,'--
or to Curtius, whose fifth list ends also with De (meaning
'towards' and as a demonstrative appendage).
That this is not to be confounded with the accentuated
'De, meaning but,' was the 'Doctrine' which the Grammarian
bequeathed to those capable of receiving it."


ERAM, Jessides.

(It would seem to be a glimpse from the burning
of Jacques du Bourg-Molay, at Paris, A.D. 1314,
as distorted by the refraction from Flemish brain to brain,
during the course of a couple of centuries.)

[Molay was Grand Master of the Templars
when that order was suppressed in 1312.]



The Lord, we look to once for all,
Is the Lord we should look at, all at once:
He knows not to vary, saith Saint Paul,
Nor the shadow of turning, for the nonce.
See him no other than as he is!
Give both the infinitudes their due--
Infinite mercy, but, I wis,
As infinite a justice too.

[Organ: plagal-cadence.]

As infinite a justice too.


John, Master of the Temple of God, 10
Falling to sin the Unknown Sin,
What he bought of Emperor Aldabrod,
He sold it to Sultan Saladin:
Till, caught by Pope Clement, a-buzzing there,
Hornet-prince of the mad wasps' hive,
And clipt of his wings in Paris square,
They bring him now to be burned alive.
[And wanteth there grace of lute or
clavicithern, ye shall say to
confirm him who singeth--
We bring John now to be burned alive.


In the midst is a goodly gallows built;
'Twixt fork and fork, a stake is stuck; 20
But first they set divers tumbrils a-tilt,
Make a trench all round with the city muck;
Inside they pile log upon log, good store;
Faggots no few, blocks great and small,
Reach a man's mid-thigh, no less, no more,--
For they mean he should roast in the sight of all.


We mean he should roast in the sight of all.


Good sappy bavins that kindle forthwith;
Billets that blaze substantial and slow;
Pine-stump split deftly, dry as pith; 30
Larch-heart that chars to a chalk-white glow:
They up they hoist me John in a chafe,
Sling him fast like a hog to scorch,
Spit in his face, then leap back safe,
Sing "Laudes " and bid clap-to the torch.


Laus deo--who bids clap-to the torch.


John of the Temple, whose fame so bragged,
Is burning alive in Paris square!
How can he curse, if his mouth is gagged?
Or wriggIe his neck, with a collar there? 40
Or heave his chest, which a band goes round?
Or threat with his fist, since his arms are spliced?
Or kick with his feet, now his legs are bound?
--Thinks John, I will call upon Jesus Christ.
[Here one crosseth himself.]


Jesus Christ--John had bought and sold,
Jesus Christ--John had eaten and drunk;
To him, the Flesh meant silver and gold.
(Salva reverentia.)
Now it was," Saviour, bountiful lamb,
"I have roasted thee Turks, though men roast me! 50
"See thy servant, the plight wherein I am!
"Art thou a saviour? Save thou me!"


'Tis John the mocker cries, "Save thou me!"


Who maketh God's menace an idle word?
--Saith, it no more means what it proclaims,
Than a damsel's threat to her wanton bird?
For she too prattles of ugly names.
--Saith, he knoweth but one thing--what he knows?
That God is good and the rest is breath;
Why else is the same styled Sharon's rose? 60
Once a rose, ever a rose, he saith.


O, John shall yet find a rose, he saith!


Alack, there be roses and roses, John!
Some, honied of taste like your leman's tongue:
Some, bitter; for why? (roast gaily on!)
Their tree struck root in devil's-dung.
When Paul once reasoned of righteousness
And of temperance and of judgment to come,
Good Felix trembled, he could no less:
John, snickering, crook'd his wicked thumb. 70


What cometh to John of the wicked thumb?


Ha ha, John plucketh now at his rose
To rid himself of a sorrow at heart!
Lo,--petal on petal, fierce rays unclose;
Anther on anther, sharp spikes outstart;
And with blood for dew, the bosom boils;
And a gust of sulphur is all its smell;
And lo, he is horribly in the toils
Of a coal-black giant flower of hell!


What maketh heaven, That maketh hell. 80


So, as John called now, through the fire amain,
On the Name, he had cursed with, all his life--
To the Person, he bought and sold again--
For the Face, with his daily buffets rife--
Feature by feature It took its place:
And his voice, like a mad dog's choking bark,
At the steady whole of the Judge's face--
Died. Forth John's soul flared into the dark.


God help all poor souls lost in the dark!

"The Heretic's Tragedy" is an Interlude imagined in the
manner of the Middle Ages, and typically representing
this period of human development in its quaint piety and
prejudice, its childish delight in cruelty, and its cumulative
legend-making during the course of two centuries as reflected
through the Flemish nature. It is supposed to be
sung by an abbot, a choir-singer, and a chorus, in celebration
of the burning of Jacques du Bourg-Molay, last
Grand Master of the wealthy and powerful secular order
of Knights Templar, which came into rivalry with the
Church after the Crusades and was finally suppressed by
Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V, Molay's
burning at Paris in 1314 being a final scene in their
discomfiture and the Church's triumph.

8. Plagal-cadence: a closing progression of chords in
which the sub-dominant or chord on the fourth degree of
the scale precedes the tonic or chord on the first degree
of the scale. The name arises from the modes used in
early church music called Plagal Modes, which were a
transposition of the authentic modes beginning on the
fourth degree of the authentic modes.

12. Bought of . . . Aldabrod, etc.: Clement's arraignment
of Jacques or John being that the riches won piously
by the order during the Crusades, he had not scrupled to
sell again to Saladin, the Sultan, who is portrayed by
Scott in "The Talisman.''

14. Pope Clement: the fifth Clement (1305-1314).

18. Clavicithern: a cithern with keys like a harpsichord.

25. Sing "Laudes": Sing the seven Psalms of praise
making up the service of the Church called Lauds.

48. Salv, etc. the bidding to greet here with a reverence,
according to custom, the Host, or Christ's flesh,
which had been mentioned.

60. Sharon's rose: Solomon's Song 2.1.



[" Now was come about Holy-Cross Day, and now must my lord
preach his first sermon to the Jews: as it was of old cared for in the
merciful bowels of the Church, that, so to speak, a crumb at least
from her conspicuous table here in Rome should be, though but once
yearly, cast to the famishing dogs, under-trampled and bespitten-upon
beneath the feet of the guests. And a moving sight in truth, this, of
so many of the besotted blind restif and ready-to-perish Hebrews! now
maternally brought-nay (for He saith, 'Compel them to come in') haled,
as it were, by the head and hair, and against their obstinate hearts,
to partake of the heavenly grace. What awakening, what striving with
tears, what working of a yeasty conscience! Nor was my lord wanting
to himself on so apt an occasion; witness the abundance of conversions
which did incontinently reward him: though not to my lord be
altogether the glory."-Diary by the Bishop's Secretary, 1600.]

What the Jews really said, on thus being driven to church, was rather
to this effect:-


Fee, faw, fum! bubble and squeak!
Blessedest Thursday's the fat of the week.
Rumble and tumble, sleek and rough,
Stinking and savoury, smug and gruff,
Take the church-road, for the bell's due chime
Gives us the summons--'tis sermon-time!


Boh, here's Barnabas! Job, that's you?
Up stumps Solomon--bustling too?
Shame, man! greedy beyond your years
To handsel the bishop's shaving-shears?
Fair play's a jewel! Leave friends in the lurch? 10
Stand on a line ere you start for the church!


Higgledy piggledy, packed we lie,
Rats in a hamper, swine in a stye,
Wasps in a bottle, frogs in a sieve,
Worms in a carcase, fleas in a sleeve.
Hist! square shoulders, settle your thumbs
And buzz for the bishop--here he comes.


Bow, wow, wow--a bone for the dog!
I liken his Grace to an acorned hog. 20
What, a boy at his side, with the bloom of a lass,
To help and handle my lord's hour-glass!
Didst ever behold so lithe a chine?
His cheek hath laps like a fresh-singed swine.


Aaron's asleep--shove hip to haunch,
Or somebody deal him a dig in the paunch!
Look at the purse with the tassel and knob
And the gown with the angel and thingumbob!
What's he at, quotha? reading his text!
Now you've his curtsey--and what comes next? 30


See to our converts--you doomed black dozen--
No stealing away--nor cog nor cozen!
You five, that were thieves, deserve it fairly;
You seven, that were beggars, will live less sparely;
You took your turn and dipped in the hat,
Got fortune--and fortune gets you; mind that!


Give your first groan--compunction's at work
And soft! from a Jew you mount to a Turk.
Lo, Micah,--the selfsame beard on chin
He was four times already converted in! 40
Here's a knife, clip quick--it's a sign of grace--
Or he ruins us all with his hanging-face.


Whom now is the bishop a-leering at?
I know a point where his text falls pat.
I'll tell him to-morrow, a word just now
Went to my heart and made me vow
I meddle no more with the worst of trades--
Let somebody else pay his serenades.


Groan all together now, whee-hee-hee!
It's a-work, it's a-work, ah, woe is me! 50
It began, when a herd of us, picked and placed,
Were spurred through the Corso, stripped to the waist;
Jew brutes, with sweat and blood well spent
To usher in worthily Christian Lent.


It grew, when the hangman entered our bounds,
Yelled, pricked us out to his church like hounds:
It got to a pitch, when the hand indeed
Which gutted my purse would throttle my creed:
And it overflows when, to even the odd,
Men I helped to their sins help me to their God. 60


But now, while the scapegoats leave our flock,
And the rest sit silent and count the clock,
Since forced to muse the appointed time
On these precious facts and truths sublime,
Let us fitly employ it, under our breath,
In saying Ben Ezra's Song of Death.


For Rabbi Ben Ezra, the night he died,
Called sons and sons' sons to his side,
And spoke, "This world has been harsh and strange;
Something is wrong: there needeth change. 70
But what, or where? at the last or first?
In one point only we sinned, at worst.


"The Lord will have mercy on Jacob yet,
And again in his border see Israel set.
When Judah beholds Jerusalem,
The stranger-seed shall be joined to them:
To Jacob's House shall the Gentiles cleave.
So the Prophet saith and his sons believe.


"Ay, the children of the chosen race
Shall carry and bring them to their place: 80
In the land of the Lord shall lead the same
Bondsmen and handmaids. Who shall blame,
When the slaves enslave, the oppressed ones o'er
The oppressor triumph for evermore?


"God spoke, and gave us the word to keep,
Bade never fold the hands nor sleep
'Mid a faithless world, at watch and ward,
Till Christ at the end relieve our guard.
By His servant Moses the watch was set:
Though near upon cock-crow, we keep it yet. 90


"Thou! if thou wast He, who at mid-watch came,
By the starlight, naming a dubious name!
And if, too heavy with sleep--too rash
With fear--O Thou, if that martyr-gash
Fell on Thee coming to take thine own,
And we gave the Cross, when we owed the Throne--


"Thou art the Judge. We are bruised thus.
But, the Judgment over, join sides with us!
Thine too is the cause! and not more thine
Than ours, is the work of these dogs and swine, 100
Whose life laughs through and spits at their creed!
Who maintain Thee in word, and defy Thee in deed!


"We withstood Christ then? Be mindful how
At least we withstand Barabbas now!
Was our outrage sore? But the worst we spared,
To have called these--Christians, had we dared!
Let defiance to them pay mistrust of Thee,
And Rome make amends for Calvary!


"By the torture, prolonged from age to age,
By the infamy, Israel's heritage, 110
By the Ghetto's plague, by the garb's disgrace,
By the badge of shame, by the felon's place,
By the branding-tool, the bloody whip,
And the summons to Christian fellowship,--


"We boast our proof that at least the Jew
Would wrest Christ's name from the Devil's crew.
Thy face took never so deep a shade
But we fought them in it, God our aid!
A trophy to bear, as we march, thy band,
South, East, and on to the Pleasant Land!" 120

[Pope Gregory XVI abolished this bad business of the Sermon.
--R. B.]

"Holy-Cross Day" reflects the attitude of the corrupt mediaeval
Christians and Jews toward each other. The prose
preceding the poem gives the point of view of an imaginary
Bishop's Secretary, who congratulates himself upon
the good work the Church is doing in forcing its doctrine
on the Jews in the Holy-Cross Day sermon, and effecting
many conversions. The poem shows that the Jews regard
this solicitude on the part of the Christians with hatred
and scorn, and that their conversions are in derision of
their would-be converters. The sarcasm of the speaker
reaches a pinnacle of bitterness when he accuses the
Christian bishops of being men he had helped to their sins
and who now help him to their God. From scorn toward
such followers of Christ, he passes, in the contemplation
of Rabbi Ben Ezra's death song, to a defence of Christ
against these followers who profess but do not act his
precepts, and a hope that if the Jews were mistaken in
not accepting Christ, the tortures they now suffer will be
received as expiation for their sin.

Holy-Cross Day is September 14. The discovery of the
true cross by Saint Helen inaugurated the festival, celebrated
both by Latins and Greeks as early as the fifth or
sixth century, under the title of the Exaltation of the
Cross and later in commemoration of the alleged miraculous
appearance of the Cross to Constantine in the sky
at midday. Though the particular incidents of the poem
are not historical, it is a fact (see Milman's "History of the
Jews'') that, by a Papal Bull issued by Gregory XIII in
1584, all Jews above the age of twelve years were compelled
to listen every week to a sermon from a Christian

52. Corso: a street in Rome

67. Rabbi Ben Ezra: or Ibn Ezra, a mediaeval Jewish
writer and thinker, born in Toledo, near the end of the
eleventh century.

III. Ghetto: the Jew's quarter. Pope Paul IV first
shut the Jews up in the Ghetto, and prohibited them from
leaving it after sunset.


Among these latter busts we count by scores,
Half-emperors and quarter-emperors,
Each with his bay-leaf fillet, loose-thonged vest,
Loric and low-browed Gorgon on the breast,
One loves a baby face, with violets there,
Violets instead of laurel in the hair,
As those were all the little locks could bear.

Now, read here. "Protus ends a period
Of empery beginning with a god;
Born in the porphyry chamber at Byzant, 10
Queens by his cradle, proud and ministrant:
And if he quickened breath there, 'twould like fire
Pantingly through the dim vast realm transpire.
A fame that he was missing spread afar:
The world from its four corners, rose in war,
Till he was borne out on a balcony
To pacify the world when it should see.
The captains ranged before him, one, his hand
Made baby points at, gained the chief command.
And day by day more beautiful he grew 20
In shape, all said, in feature and in hue,
While young Greek sculptors, gazing on the child,
Became with old Greek sculpture reconciled.
Already sages laboured to condense
In easy tomes a life's experience:
And artists took grave counsel to impart
In one breath and one hand-sweep, all their art,
To make his graces prompt as blossoming
Of plentifully-watered palms in spring:
Since well beseems it, whoso mounts the throne, 30
For beauty, knowledge, strength, should stand alone,
And mortals love the letters of his name."

--Stop! Have you turned two pages? Still the same.
New reign, same date. The scribe goes on to say
How that same year, on such a month and day,
"John the Pannonian, groundedly believed
A blacksmith's bastard, whose hard hand reprieved
The Empire from its fate the year before,
Came, had a mind to take the crown, and wore
The same for six years (during which the Huns 40
Kept off their fingers from us), till his sons
Put something in his liquor"--and so forth.
Then a new reign. Stay--"Take at its just worth"
(Subjoins an annotator) "what I give
As hearsay. Some think, John let Protus live
And slip away. 'Tis said, he reached man's age
At some blind northern court; made, first a page,
Then tutor to the children; last, of use
About the hunting-stables. I deduce
He wrote the little tract 'On worming dogs,' 50
Whereof the name in sundry catalogues
Is extant yet. A Protus of the race
Is rumoured to have died a monk in Thrace,
And if the same, he reached senility."

Here's John the Smith's rough-hammered head. Great eye,
Gross jaw and griped lips do what granite can
To give you the crown-grasper. What a man!

"Protus" sets in contrast the representations by artist and
annalist of the two busts and the two lives of Protus, the
baby emperor of Byzantium, born in the purple, gently
nurtured and cherished, yet fated to obscurity, and of John,
the blacksmith's bastard, predestined to usurp his throne
and save the empire with his harder hand.


There's a palace in Florence, the world knows well,
And a statue watches it from the square,
And this story of both do our townsmen tell.

Ages ago, a lady there,
At the farthest window facing the East
Asked, "Who rides by with the royal air?"

The bridesmaids' prattle around her ceased;
She leaned forth, one on either hand;
They saw how the blush of the bride increased--

They felt by its beats her heart expand-- 10
As one at each ear and both in a breath
Whispered, "The Great-Duke Ferdinand."

That self-same instant, underneath,
The Duke rode past in his idle way,
Empty and fine like a swordless sheath.

Gay he rode, with a friend as gay,
Till he threw his head back--"Who is she?"
"A bride the Riccardi brings home to-day."

Hair in heaps lay heavily
Over a pale brow spirit-pure-- 20
Carved like the heart of a coal-black tree,

Crisped like a war-steed's encolure--
And vainly sought to dissemble her eyes
Of the blackest black our eyes endure.

And lo, a blade for a knight's emprise
Filled the fine empty sheath of a man--
The Duke grew straightway brave and wise.

He looked at her, as a lover can;
She looked at him, as one who awakes:
The past was a sleep, and her life began. 30

Now, love so ordered for both their sakes,
A feast was held that selfsame night
In the pile which the mighty shadow makes.

(For Via Larga is three-parts light,
But the palace overshadows one,
Because of a crime which may God requite!

To Florence and God the wrong was done,
Through the first republic's murder there
By Cosimo and his cursed son.)

The Duke (with the statue's face in the square) 40
Turned in the midst of his multitude
At the bright approach of the bridal pair.

Face to face the lovers stood
A single minute and no more,
While the bridegroom bent as a man subdued--

Bowed till his bonnet brushed the floor--
For the Duke on the lady a kiss conferred,
As the courtly custom was of yore.

In a minute can lovers exchange a word?
If a word did pass, which I do not think, 50
Only one out of the thousand heard.

That was the bridegroom. At day's brink
He and his bride were alone at last
In a bedchamber by a taper's blink.

Calmly he said that her lot was cast,
That the door she had passed was shut on her
Till the final catafalk repassed.

The world meanwhile, its noise and stir,
Through a certain window facing the East,
She could watch like a convent's chronicler. 60

Since passing the door might lead to a feast
And a feast might lead to so much beside,
He, of many evils, chose the least.

"Freely I choose too," said the bride--
"Your window and its world suffice,"
Replied the tongue, while the heart replied--

"If I spend the night with that devil twice,
May his window serve as my loop of hell
Whence a damned soul looks on paradise!

"I fly to the Duke who loves me well, 70
Sit by his side and laugh at sorrow!
Ere I count another ave-bell,

"'Tis only the coat of a page to borrow,
And tie my hair in a horse-boy's trim,
And I save my soul--but not to-morrow"--

(She checked herself and her eye grew dim)
"My father tarries to bless my state:
I must keep it one day more for him.

"Is one day more so long to wait?
Moreover the Duke rides past, I know; 80
We shall see each other, sure as fate."

She turned on her side and slept. Just so!
So we resolve on a thing and sleep:
So did the lady, ages ago.

That night the Duke said, "Dear or cheap
As the cost of this cup of bliss may prove
To body or soul, I will drain it deep."

And on the morrow, bold with love,
He beckoned the bridegroom (close on call,
As his duty bade, by the Duke's alcove) 90

And smiled, "'Twas a very funeral,
Your lady will think, this feast of ours,
A shame to efface, whate'er befall!

"What if we break from the Arno bowers,
And try if Petraja, cool and green,
Cure last night's fault with this morning's flowers?"

The bridegroom, not a thought to be seen
On his steady brow and quiet mouth,
Said, "Too much favour for me so mean!

"But, alas! my lady leaves the South; 100
Each wind that comes from the Apennine
Is a menace to her tender youth:

"Nor a way exists, the wise opine,
If she quits her palace twice this year,
To avert the flower of life's decline."

Quoth the Duke, "A sage and a kindly fear.
Moreover Petraja is cold this spring:
Be our feast to-night as usual here!"

And then to himself--"Which night shall bring
Thy bride to her lover's embraces, fool-- 110
Or I am the fool, and thou art the king!

"Yet my passion must wait a night, nor cool--
For to-night the Envoy arrives from France
Whose heart I unlock with thyself my tool.

"I need thee still and might miss perchance.
To-day is not wholly lost, beside,
With its hope of my lady's countenance:

"For I ride--what should I do but ride?
And passing her palace, if I list,
May glance at its window-well betide!" 120

So said, so done: nor the lady missed
One ray that broke from the ardent brow,
Nor a curl of the lips where the spirit kissed.

Be sure that each renewed the vow,
No morrow's sun should arise and set
And leave them then as it left them now.

But next day passed, and next day yet,
With still fresh cause to wait one day more
Ere each leaped over the parapet.

And still, as love's brief morning wore, 130
With a gentle start, half smile, half sigh,
They found love not as it seemed before.

They thought it would work infallibly,
But not in despite of heaven and earth:
The rose would blow when the storm passed by.

Meantime they could profit in winter's dearth
By store of fruits that supplant the rose:
The world and its ways have a certain worth:

And to press a point while these oppose
Were simple policy; better wait: 140
We lose no friends and we gain no foes.

Meantime, worse fates than a lover's fate
Who daily may ride and pass and look
Where his lady watches behind the grate!

And she--she watched the square like a book
Holding one picture and only one,
Which daily to find she undertook:

When the picture was reached the book was done,
And she turned from the picture at night to scheme
Of tearing it out for herself next sun. 150

So weeks grew months, years; gleam by gleam
The glory dropped from their youth and love,
And both perceived they had dreamed a dream;

Which hovered as dreams do, still above:
But who can take a dream for a truth?
Oh, hide our eyes from the next remove!

One day as the lady saw her youth
Depart, and the silver thread that streaked
Her hair, and, worn by the serpent's tooth,

The brow so puckered, the chin so peaked, 160
And wondered who the woman was,
Hollow-eyed and haggard-cheeked,

Fronting her silent in the glass--
"Summon here," she suddenly said,
"Before the rest of my old self pass,

"Him, the Carver, a hand to aid,
Who fashions the clay no love will change
And fixes a beauty never to fade.

"Let Robbia's craft so apt and strange
Arrest the remains of young and fair, 170
And rivet them while the seasons range.

"Make me a face on the window there,
Waiting as ever, mute the while,
My love to pass below in the square!

"And let me think that it may beguile
Dreary days which the dead must spend
Down in their darkness under the aisle,

"To say, 'What matters it at the end?
'I did no more while my heart was warm
Than does that image, my pale-faced friend.' 180

"Where is the use of the lip's red charm,
The heaven of hair, the pride of the brow,
And the blood that blues the inside arm--

"Unless we turn, as the soul knows how,
The earthly gift to an end divine?
A lady of clay is as good, I trow."

But long ere Robbia's cornice, fine,
With flowers and fruits which leaves enlace,
Was set where now is the empty shrine--

(And, leaning out of a bright blue space, 190
As a ghost might lean from a chink of sky,
The passionate pale lady's face--

Eyeing ever, with earnest eye
And quick-turned neck at its breathless stretch,
Some one who ever is passing by)

The Duke had sighed like the simplest wretch
In Florence, "Youth--my dream escapes!
Will its record stay?" And he bade them fetch

Some subtle moulder of brazen shapes--
"Can the soul, the will, die out of a man 200
Ere his body find the grave that gapes?

"John of Douay shall effect my plan,
Set me on horseback here aloft,
Alive, as the crafty sculptor can,

"In the very square I have crossed so oft:
That men may admire, when future suns
Shall touch the eyes to a purpose soft,

"While the mouth and the brow stay brave in bronze--
Admire and say, 'When he was alive
How he would take his pleasure once!' 210

"And it shall go hard but I contrive
To listen the while, and laugh in my tomb
At idleness which aspires to strive."


So! While these wait the trump of doom,
How do their spirits pass, I wonder,
Nights and days in the narrow room?

Still, I suppose, they sit and ponder
What a gift life was, ages ago,
Six steps out of the chapel yonder.

Only they see not God, I know, 220
Nor all that chivalry of his,
The soldier-saints who, row on row,

Burn upward each to his point of bliss--
Since, the end of life being manifest,
He had burned his way thro' the world to this.

I hear you reproach, "But delay was best,
For their end was a crime." Oh, a crime will do
As well, I reply, to serve for a test,

As a virtue golden through and through,
Sufficient to vindicate itself 230
And prove its worth at a moment's view!

Must a game be played for the sake of pelf
Where a button goes, 'twere an epigram
To offer the stamp of the very Guelph.

The true has no value beyond the sham:
As well the counter as coin, I submit,
When your table's a hat, and your prize a dram.

Stake your counter as boldly every whit,
Venture as warily, use the same skill,
Do your best, whether winning or losing it, 240

If you choose to play!--is my principle.
Let a man contend to the uttermost
For his life's set prize, be it what it will!

The counter our lovers staked was lost
As surely as if it were lawful coin:
And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost

Is--the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin,
Though the end in sight was a vice, I say.
You of the virtue (we issue join)
How strive you? De te, fabula! 250

"The Statue and the Bust" creates the characters and the situation, and dramatically represents a story which is based
on a Florentine tradition that Duke Ferdinand I placed
his equestrian statue in the Piazza dell' Annunziata so that
he might gaze forever towards the old Riccardi Palace,
where a lady he loved was imprisoned by her jealous husband.
The bride and her ducal lover are seen exchanging
their first looks, through which they perceive the genuineness
of their love; and the temporizing of each is presented,
through which, for the sake of petty conveniences,
they submit to be thwarted by the wary husband, and to
have the end they count supreme delayed until love and
youth have gone, and the best left them is the artificial
gaze interchanged by a bronze statue in the square and a
clay face at the window. The closing stanzas point the
moral against the palsy of the will, whose strenuous exercise
is life's main gift.

I. There's a palace in Florence: refers to the old
Riccardi Palace, now the Palazzo Antinori, in the square
of the Annunziata, where the statue still stands.

22. encolure: neck and shoulder of a horse

33. The pile which the mighty shadow makes: refers to
another palace in the Via Larga where the duke (not the
lady) lived, and which is to-day known as the Riccardi
Palace. Cooke's "Browning Guide Book" and Berdoe's
"Browning Cyclopaedia" both confuse the two, attributing
error to Browning in spite of his letter about it. This
confusion was cleared up by Harriet Ford (Poet-lore, Dec.
1891, vol. iii. p. 648, "Browning right about the Riccardi Palace'').

36. Because of a crime, etc.: refers to the destroying of
the liberties of the Florentine republic by Cosimo dei
Medici and his grandson, Lorenzo, who lived in the then
Medici (now Riccardi) Palace, whose darkening of the
street with its bulk symbolizes the crime which took the
light from Florence.

57. catafalk: the stage or scaffolding for a coffin whilst in the church

94. Arno bowers: the palace by the Arno, the river
flowing through Florence.

95. Petraja: a Florentine suburb.

169. Robbia's craft: the Robbia family were skilled in
shaping the bisque known as Della Robbia ware which
was long one of the Florentine manufactures, and traces
of which, when Browning wrote, still adorned the outer
cornice of the palace.

202. John of Douay [Giovanni of Bologna], sculptor (1524-1608). The statue is one of his finest works.

250.. De te, fabula! Concerning thee, this fable!


The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form 10
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair, 20
Murmuring how she loved me--she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain. 30

Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around, 40
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore 50
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word! 60

"Porphyria's Lover" relates how, by strangling Porphyria
with her own yellow hair, the lover seized and preserved
the moment of perfect love when, pure and good, Porphyria
left the world she could not forego for his sake,
and came to him, for once conquered by her love. A
latent misgiving as to his action is intimated in the closing
line of the poem.
Remarking upon the fact that Browning removed the
original title, "Madhouse Cells," which headed this poem,
and "Johannes Agricola in Meditation," Mrs. Orr says:
"Such a crime might be committed in a momentary
aberration, or even intense excitement of feeling. It is
characterized here by a matter-of-fact simplicity, which is
its sign of madness. The distinction, however, is subtle;
and we can easily guess why this and its companion poem
did not retain their title. A madness which is fit for
dramatic treatment is not sufficiently removed from


(See Edgar's song in "LEAR.")


My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.


What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there, 10
And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,


If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried
So much as gladness that some end might be.


For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro' years, my hope 20
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.


As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside ("since all is o'er," he saith,
"And the blow fallen no grieving can amend"); 30


While some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves:
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.


Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among "The Band"--to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed 40
Their steps--that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now--should I be fit?


So, quiet as despair, I turned from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path he pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.


For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two, 50
Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; grey plain all round:
Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
I might go on; nought else remained to do.


So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers-as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You'd think; a burr had been a treasure trove. 60


No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land's portion. "See
Or shut your eyes," said Nature peevishly,
"It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
'Tis the Last Judgment's fire must cure this place,
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free."


If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk 70
All hope of greenness? 'tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.


As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!


Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain, 80
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.


I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards--the soldier's art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights. 90


Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine to fix me to the place
That way he used. Alas, one night's disgrace!
Out went my heart's new fire and left it cold.


Giles then, the soul of honour--there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good-=but the scene shifts--faugh! what hangman hands 100
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!


Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet or a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.


A sudden little river crossed my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes. 110
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
For the fiend's glowing hoof--to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.


So petty yet so spiteful! All along,
Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it
Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit. 120


Which, while I forded,--good saints, how I feared
To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
--It may have been a water-rat I speared,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek.


Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank 130
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank,
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage--


The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque.
What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.


And more than that--a furlong on--why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel, 140
Or brake, not wheel--that harrow fit to reel
Men's bodies out like silk? with all the air
Of Tophet's tool, on earth left unaware
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.


Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood--
Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth. 150


Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
Broke into moss or substances like boils;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.


And just as far as ever from the end!
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought
A great black bird, Apollyon's bosom-friend, 160
Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned
That brushed my cap--perchance the guide I sought.


For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains--with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surprised me,--solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.


Yet half I seemed to recognize some trick
Of mischief happened to me, God knows when-- 170
In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts--you're inside the den!


Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right
Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
While to the left, a tall scalped mountain . . . Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight! 180


What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.


Not see? because of night perhaps?--why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay, 190
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,--
"Now stab and end the creature--to the heft!"


Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers,--
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.


There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame 200
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."

"Childe Roland" symbolizes the conquest of despair by fealty
to the ideal. Browning emphatically disclaimed any precise
allegorical intention in this poem. He acknowledged
only an ideal purport in which the significance of the
whole, as suggesting a vision of life and the saving power
of constancy, had its due place. Certain picturesque
materials which had made their impressions on the poet's
mind contributed towards the building up of this realistic
fantasy: a tower he saw in the Carrara Mountains; a
painting which caught his eye later in Paris; the figure of
a horse in the tapestry in his own drawing-room--welded
together with the remembrance of the line cited from
King Lear, iii. 4, 187, which last, it should be remembered,
has a background of ballads and legend cycles
of which a man like Browning was not unaware. For
allegorical schemes of the Poem see Nettleship's "Essays
and Thoughts," and The Critic, Apr. 24, 1886; for an
antidote to these, The Critic, May 8, 1886; an orthodox

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