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2.6: Robert Browning (1812-1889)

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    41779
  • Robert Browning’s father, Robert Browning, worked as a clerk in the Bank of England. His mother, Sarah Anna Wiedemann, was devoutly religious. So Browning was born into an apparently conventional middle-class Victorian household. But Browning’s father had a strong scholarly bent and encouraged his son to delve into art and literature, particularly by means of the quirky personal library Browning senior had amassed. Browning consequently became something of an autodidact, even as he received formal education at home from his father. His mother, too, had a deep love of music that seems to have influenced Browning’s work, both in style and subject matter.

    Critics deemed Browning’s first published work, Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833), as too inclined towards Romanticism, revealing too much influence by Shelley. He consequently moved towards more objective expression, in both dramatic and poetic form, particularly his Dramatic Lyrics (1842). Many poems in this collection take the Dramatic Monologue form. This form takes a relativistic attitude to Truth. Because it derives its effects from the ambiguity of values, it makes demands on the reader’s perceptivity. Dramatic Monologues always have a single, first person speaker, an audience, and an action. The action is usually a deepening of the reader’s understanding of the speaker’s mind.

    clipboard_ec58e531821794d9c9d2211c8a9f0063c.pngThe Dramatic Monologue became a popular form in the Victorian era probably due to a reaction to Romanticism. The Romantics established the “I” as the prophetic speaker, the visionary voice, the authority. The Victorians were suspicious of this prophetic position; they wanted to establish a difference between the speaker and the poet and their different points of view, so they resorted to drama. Like the Romantics, though, Browning’s poetry worked toward a greater understanding of human nature. The speakers of many of his poems stretch stereotypes and expectations. The titular speaker of “Porphyria’s Lover,” with terrifying passive aggression, strangles Porphyria to save her from her frivolous love—even though his voice, stance, and actions express extraordinary anger at a woman who rejects him as a social inferior yet who has “loved” him and clearly enjoys his suffering love for her.

    The Duke of Ferrari, the speaker in “My Last Duchess,” seems indifferent to anyone’s judgement but his own—to the point that he confesses to having his wife killed for not sufficiently deferring to his pride. The subject matter of this poem suggests Browning’s interest in women’s issues, in the situation of women condemned to remain under the rule of fathers and husbands who may be domestic tyrants and even murderers. And Browning’s interest in religion appears through the “The Bishop Orders His Tomb,” which criticizes the Oxford Movement and its goal of having England return to “ideal” Roman Catholicism.

    In 1846, Browning eloped with Elizabeth Barrett to Italy where they had a son, Robert “Pen” Browning (1849-1912). After Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in 1861, Robert and Pen returned to London. Browning began to win critical acclaim, particularly with the publication of his monumental The Ring and the Book (1868-69), a poem based on the seventeenth-century trial testimony of an Italian nobleman condemned to death for murdering his wife.

     

    2.6.1: “Porphyria’s Love”

    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

    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,

    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 forever.

    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

    Be sure I looked up at her eyes

    Happy and proud; at last I knew

    Porphyria worshiped 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,

    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

    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!

     

    2.6.2: “My Last Duchess”

    Ferrara

    clipboard_e6002f693ce17a94f294e32fed8724caf.pngThat’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

    Looking as if she were alive. I call

    That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands

    Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

    Will’t please you sit and look at her?

    I said ‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read

    Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

    The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

    But to myself they turned (since none puts by

    The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

    And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

    How such a glance came there; so, not the first

    Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘twas not

    Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

    Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps

    Frà Pandolf chanced to say ‘Her mantle laps

    Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or, ‘Paint

    Must never hope to reproduce the faint

    Half-flush that dies along her throat:’ such stuff

    Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

    For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart—how shall I say—too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, ‘twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace—all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, – E’en that would be some stooping; and I choose Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your master’s known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

     

    2.6.3: “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”

    I

    GR-R-R—there go, my heart’s abhorrence!

    Water your damned flower-pots, do!

    If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,

    God’s blood, would not mine kill you!

    What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming?

    Oh, that rose has prior claims—

    Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?

    Hell dry you up with its flames!

     

    II

    At the meal we sit together:

    Salve tibi! I must hear

    Wise talk of the kind of weather,

    Sort of season, time of year:

    Not a plenteous cork-crop: scarcely

    Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt:

    What’s the Latin name for “parsley”?

    What’s the Greek name for Swine’s Snout?

     

    III

    Whew! We’ll have our platter burnished,

    Laid with care on our own sheld!

    With a fire-new spoon we’re furnished,

    And a goblet for oneself,

    Rinsed like something sacrificial

    Ere ‘tis fit to touch our chaps—

    Marked with L. for our initial!

    (He-he! There his lily snaps!)

     

    IV

    Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores

    Squats outside the Convent bank

    With Sanchicha, telling stories,

    Steeping tresses in the tank,

    Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,

    —Can’t I see his dead eye glow,

    Bright as ‘twere a Barbary corsair’s?

    (That is, if he’d let it show!)

     

    V

    When he finishes refection,

    Knife and fork he never lays

    Cross-wise to my recollection,

    As do I, in Jesu’s praise.

    I the Trinity illustrate,

    Drinking watered orange-pulp—

    In three sips the Arian frustrate; While he drains his at one gulp.

     

    VI

    Oh, those melons? If he’s able

    We’re to have a feast! so nice!

    One goes to the Abbot’s table,

    All of us get each a slice.

    How go on your flowers? None double?

    Not one fruit-sort can you spy?

    Strange!—And I, too, at such trouble,

    Keep them close-nipped on the sly!

     

    VII

    There’s a great text in Galatians,

    Once you trip on it, entails

    Twenty-nine distinct damnations,

    One sure, if another fails:

    If I trip him just a-dying,

    Sure of heaven as sure can be,

    Spin him round and send him flying

    Off to hell, a Manichee?

     

    VIII

    Or my scrofulous French novel

    On gray paper with blunt type!

    Simply glance at it, you grovel

    Hand and foot in Belial’s gripe:

    If I double down its pages

    At the woeful sixteenth print,

    When he gathers his greengages,

    Ope a sieve and slip it in’t?

     

    IX

    Or, there’s Satan!—one might venture

    Pledge one’s soul to him, yet leave

    Such a flaw in the indenture

    As he’d miss till, past retrieve,

    Blasted lay that rose-acacia

    We’re so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine.

    ‘St, there’s Vespers! Plena gratiâ

     

    2.6.4: “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church”

    Rome, 15—

    Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity!

    Draw round my bed: is Anselm keeping back?

    Nephews—sons mine . . . ah God, I know not! Well—

    She, men would have to be your mother once,

    Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was!

    What’s done is done, and she is dead beside,

    Dead long ago, and I am Bishop since,

    And as she died and so must we die ourselves,

    And thence ye may perceive the world’s a dream.

    Life, how and what is it? As here I lie        

    In this state-chamber, dying by degrees,

    Hours and long hours in the dead night, I ask

    “Do I live, am I dead?” Peace, peace seems all.

    Saint Praxed’s ever was the church for peace;

    And so, about this tomb of mine. I fought

    With tooth and nail to save my niche, ye know:

    —Old Gandolf cozened me, despite my care;

    Shrews was that snatch from out the corner South

    He graced his carrion with, God curse the same!

    Yet still my niche is not so cramped but thence

    One sees the pulpit o’ the epistle-side,

    And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats,

    And up into the aery dome where live

    The angels, and a sunbeam’s sure to lurk:

    And I shall fill my slab of basalt there,

    And ‘neath my tabernacle take my rest,

    With those nine columns round me, two and two,

    The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands:

    Peach-blossom marble all, the rare, the ripe

    As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse.

    —Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone,

    Put me where I may look at him! True peach,

    Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize!

    Draw close: that conflagration of my church

    —What then? So much was saved if aught were missed!

    My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig

    The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood,

    Drop water gently till the surface sink,

    And if ye find . . . Ah God, I know not, I! . . .

    Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft,

    And corded up in a tight olive-frail,

    Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli,

    Big as a Jew’s head cut off at the nape,

    Blue as a vein o’er the Madonna’s breast . . .

    Sons, all I have bequeathed you, villas, all,

    That brave Frascati villa with its bath,

    So, let the blue lump poise between my knees,

    Like God the Father’s globe on both his hands

    Ye worship in the Jesu Church so gay,

    For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst!

    Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years:        

    Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?

    Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black—

    ‘Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else

    Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath?

    The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me,

    Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance

    Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so,

    The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,

    Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan

    Ready to twitch the Nymph’s last garment off,        

    And Moses with the tables . . . but I know

    Ye mark me not! What do they whisper thee,

    Child of my bowels, Anselm? Ah, ye hope

    To revel down my villas while I gasp

    Bricked o’er with beggar’s mouldy travertine

    Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!

    Nay, boys, ye love me—all of jasper, then!

    ‘Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve

    My bath must needs be left behind, alas!

    One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,

    There’s plenty jasper somewhere in the world—

    And have I not Saint Praxed’s ear to pray

    Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,

    And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?

    —That’s if ye carve my epitaph aright,

    Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully’s every word,

    No gaudy ware like Gandolf’s second line—

    Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need!

    And then how I shall lie through centuries,

    And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,

    And see God made and eaten all day long,

    And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste

    Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!

    For as I lie here, hours of the dead night,

    Dying in state and by such slow degrees,

    I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,

    And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point,

    And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth, drop

    Into great laps and folds of sculptor’s-work:

    And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts

    Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,

    About the life before I lived this life,

    And this life too, popes, cardinals and priests,

    Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount,

    Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes,

    And new-found agate urns as fresh as day, A

    nd marble’s language, Latin pure, discreet,

    —Aha, ELUCESCEBAT quoth our friend?

    No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best!

    Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage.

    All lapis, all, sons! Else I give the Pope

    My villas! Will ye ever eat my heart?

    Ever your eyes were as a lizard’s quick,

    They glitter like your mother’s for my soul,

    Or ye would heighten my impoverished frieze,

    Piece out its starved design, and fill my vase

    With grapes, and add a vizor and a Term,

    And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx

    That in his struggle throws the thyrsus down,

    To comfort me on my entablature

    Whereon I am to lie till I must ask

    “Do I live, am I dead?” There, leave me, there!

    For ye have stabbed me with ingratitude

    To death—ye wish it—God, ye wish it! Stone—

    Gritstone, a-crumble! Clammy squares which sweat

    As if the corpse they keep were oozing through—

    And no more lapis to delight the world!

    Well go! I bless ye. Fewer tapers there,

    But in a row: and, going, turn your backs

    —Ay, like departing altar-ministrants,

    And leave me in my church, the church for peace,

    That I may watch at leisure if he leers—

    Old Gandolf, at me, from his onion-stone,

    As still he envied me, so fair she was!

     

    2.6.5: “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”

    No more wine? then we’ll push back chairs and talk.

    A final glass for me, though: cool, i’ faith!

    We ought to have our Abbey back, you see.

    It’s different, preaching in basilicas,

    And doing duty in some masterpiece

    Like this of brother Pugin’s, bless his heart!

    I doubt if they’re half baked, those chalk rosettes,

    Ciphers and stucco-twiddlings everywhere;

    It’s just like breathing in a lime-kiln: eh?

    These hot long ceremonies of our church

    Cost us a little—oh, they pay the price,

    You take me—amply pay it! Now, we’ll talk.

     

       So, you despise me, Mr. Gigadibs.

    No deprecation—nay, I beg you, sir!

    Beside ‘t is our engagement: don’t you know,

    I promised, if you’d watch a dinner out,

    We’d see truth dawn together?—truth that peeps

    Over the glasses’ edge when dinner’s done,

    And body gets its sop and holds its noise

    And leaves soul free a little. Now’s the time:

    Truth’s break of day! You do despise me then.

    And if I say, “despise me”—never fear!

    I know you do not in a certain sense—

    Not in my arm-chair, for example: here,

    I well imagine you respect my place

    (Status, entourage, worldly circumstance)

    Quite to its value—very much indeed:

    —Are up to the protesting eyes of you

    In pride at being seated here for once—

    You’ll turn it to such capital account!

    When somebody, through years and years to come,

    Hints of the bishop—names me—that’s enough:

    “Blougram? I knew him”—(into it you slide)

    “Dined with him once, a Corpus Christi Day,

    All alone, we two; he’s a clever man:

    And after dinner—why, the wine you know—

    Oh, there was wine, and good!—what with the wine . . .

    ‘Faith, we began upon all sorts of talk!

    He’s no bad fellow, Blougram; he had seen

    Something of mine he relished, some review:

    He’s quite above their humbug in his heart,

    Half-said as much, indeed—the thing’s his trade.

    I warrant, Blougram’s sceptical at times:

    How otherwise? I liked him, I confess!”

    Che che, my dear sir, as we say at Rome,

    Don’t you protest now! It’s fair give and take;

    You have had your turn and spoken your home-truths:

    The hand’s mine now, and here you follow suit.   

     

       Thus much conceded, still the first fact stays—

    You do despise me; your ideal of life

    Is not the bishop’s: you would not be I.

    You would like better to be Goethe, now,

    Or Buonaparte, or, bless me, lower still,

    Count D’Orsay—so you did what you preferred,

    Spoke as you thought, and, as you cannot help,

    Believed or disbelieved, no matter what,

    So long as on that point, whate’er it was,

    You loosed your mind, were whole and sole yourself.

    —That, my ideal never can include,

    Upon that element of truth and worth

    Never be based! for say they make me Pope—

    (They can’t—suppose it for our argument!)

    Why, there I’m at my tether’s end, I’ve reached

    My height, and not a height which pleases you:

    An unbelieving Pope won’t do, you say.

    It’s like those eerie stories nurses tell,

    Of how some actor on a stage played Death,

    With pasteboard crown, sham orb and tinselled dart,

    And called himself the monarch of the world;

    Then, going in the tire-room afterward,

    Because the play was done, to shift himself,

    Got touched upon the sleeve familiarly,

    The moment he had shut the closet door,

    By Death himself. Thus God might touch a Pope

    At unawares, ask what his baubles mean,

    And whose part he presumed to play just now.

    Best be yourself, imperial, plain and true!

     

    So, drawing comfortable breath again,

    You weigh and find, whatever more or less

    I boast of my ideal realized

    Is nothing in the balance when opposed

    To your ideal, your grand simple life,

    Of which you will not realize one jot.

    I am much, you are nothing; you would be all,

    I would be merely much: you beat me there.

     

    No, friend, you do not beat me: hearken why!

    The common problem, yours, mine, every one’s,

    Is—not to fancy what were fair in life

    Provided it could be—but, finding first

    What may be, then find how to make it fair

    Up to our means: a very different thing!

    No abstract intellectual plan of life

    Quite irrespective of life’s plainest laws,

    But one, a man, who is man and nothing more,

    May lead within a world which (by your leave)

    Is Rome or London, not Fool’s-paradise.

    Embellish Rome, idealize away,

    Make paradise of London if you can,

    You’re welcome, nay, you’re wise.

     

    A simile!

    We mortals cross the ocean of this world

    Each in his average cabin of a life;

    The best’s not big, the worst yields elbow-room.

    Now for our six months’ voyage—how prepare?

    You come on shipboard with a landsman’s list

    Of things he calls convenient: so they are!

    An India screen is pretty furniture,

    A piano-forte is a fine resource,

    All Balzac’s novels occupy one shelf,

    The new edition fifty volumes long;

    And little Greek books, with the funny type

    They get up well at Leipsic, fill the next:

    Go on! slabbed marble, what a bath it makes!

    And Parma’s pride, the Jerome, let us add!

    ‘T were pleasant could Correggio’s fleeting glow

    Hang full in face of one where’er one roams,

    Since he more than the others brings with him

    Italy’s self—the marvellous Modenese!—

    Yet was not on your list before, perhaps.

    —Alas, friend, here’s the agent . . . is‘t the name?

    The captain, or whoever’s master here—

    You see him screw his face up; what’s his cry

    Ere you set foot on shipboard? “Six feet square!”

    If you won’t understand what six feet mean,

    Compute and purchase stores accordingly—

    And if, in pique because he overhauls

    Your Jerome, piano, bath, you come on board

    Bare—why, you cut a figure at the first

    While sympathetic landsmen see you off;

    Not afterward, when long ere half seas over,

    You peep up from your utterly naked boards

    Into some snug and well-appointed berth,

    Like mine for instance (try the cooler jug—

    Put back the other, but don’t jog the ice!)

    And mortified you mutter “Well and good;

    He sits enjoying his sea-furniture;

    ‘Tis stout and proper, and there’s store of it;

    Though I’ve the better notion, all agree,

    Of fitting rooms up. Hang the carpenter,

    Neat ship-shape fixings and contrivances—

    I would have brought my Jerome, frame and all!”

    And meantime you bring nothing: never mind—

    You’ve proved your artist-nature: what you don’t

    You might bring, so despise me, as I say.

     

       Now come, let’s backward to the starting-place.

    See my way: we’re two college friends, suppose.

    Prepare together for our voyage, then;

    Each note and check the other in his work—

    Here’s mine, a bishop’s outfit; criticise!

    What’s wrong? why won’t you be a bishop too?   

     

       Why first, you don’t believe, you don’t and can’t,

    (Not statedly, that is, and fixedly

    And absolutely and exclusively)

    In any revelation called divine.

    No dogmas nail your faith; and what remains

    But say so, like the honest man you are?

    First, therefore, overhaul theology!

    Nay, I too, not a fool, you please to think,

    Must find believing every whit as hard:

    And if I do not frankly say as much,

    The ugly consequence is clear enough.

     

       Now wait, my friend: well, I do not believe—

    If you’ll accept no faith that is not fixed,

    Absolute and exclusive, as you say.

    You’re wrong—I mean to prove it in due time.

    Meanwhile, I know where difficulties lie I

    could not, cannot solve, nor ever shall,

    So give up hope accordingly to solve—

    (To you, and over the wine). Our dogmas then

    With both of us, though in unlike degree,

    Missing full credence—overboard with them!

    I mean to meet you on your own premise:

    Good, there go mine in company with yours!  

     

      And now what are we? unbelievers both,

    Calm and complete, determinately fixed

    To-day, to-morrow and forever, pray?

    You’ll guarantee me that? Not so, I think!

    In no wise! all we’ve gained is, that belief,

    As unbelief before, shakes us by fits,

    Confounds us like its predecessor. Where’s

    The gain? how can we guard our unbelief,

    Make it bear fruit to us?—the problem here.

    Just when we are safest, there’s a sunset-touch,

    A fancy from a flower-bell, some one’s death,

    A chorus-ending from Euripides—

    And that’s enough for fifty hopes and fears

    As old and new at once as nature’s self,

    To rap and knock and enter in our soul,

    Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring,

    Round the ancient idol, on his base again—

    The grand Perhaps! We look on helplessly.

    There the old misgivings, crooked questions are—

    This good God—what he could do, if he would,

    Would, if he could—then must have done long since:

    If so, when, where and how? some way must be—

    Once feel about, and soon or late you hit

    Some sense, in which it might be, after all.

    Why not, “The Way, the Truth, the Life?”

     

    —That way

    Over the mountain, which who stands upon

    Is apt to doubt if it be meant for a road;

    While, if he views it from the waste itself,

    Up goes the line there, plain from base to brow,

    Not vague, mistakable! what’s a break or two

    Seen from the unbroken desert either side?

    And then (to bring in fresh philosophy)

    What if the breaks themselves should prove at last

    The most consummate of contrivances

    To train a man’s eye, teach him what is faith?

    And so we stumble at truth’s very test!

    All we have gained then by our unbelief

    Is a life of doubt diversified by faith,

    For one of faith diversified by doubt:

    We called the chess-board white—we call it black.

     

       “Well,” you rejoin, “the end’s no worse, at least;

    We’ve reason for both colors on the board:

    Why not confess then, where I drop the faith

    And you the doubt, that I’m as right as you?”

     

       Because, friend, in the next place, this being so,

    And both things even—faith and unbelief

    Left to a man’s choice—we’ll proceed a step,

    Returning to our image, which I like.

     

       A man’s choice, yes—but a cabin-passenger’s—

    The man made for the special life o’ the world—

    Do you forget him? I remember though!

    Consult our ship’s conditions and you find

    One and but one choice suitable to all;

    The choice, that you unluckily prefer,

    Turning things topsy-turvy—they or it

    Going to the ground. Belief or unbelief

    Bears upon life, determines its whole course,

    Begins at its beginning. See the world

    Such as it is—you made it not, nor I;

    I mean to take it as it is—and you,

    Not so you’ll take it—though you get naught else.

    I know the special kind of life I like,

    What suits the most my idiosyncrasy,

    Brings out the best of me and bears me fruit

    In power, peace, pleasantness and length of days.

    I find that positive belief does this

    For me, and unbelief, no whit of this.

    —For you, it does, however?—that, we’ll try!

    ‘T is clear, I cannot lead my life, at least,

    Induce the world to let me peaceably,

    Without declaring at the outset, “Friends,

    I absolutely and peremptorily

    Believe!”—I say, faith is my waking life:

    One sleeps, indeed, and dreams at intervals,

    We know, but waking’s the main point with us,

    And my provision’s for life’s waking part.

    Accordingly, I use heart, head and hand

    All day, I build, scheme, study, and make friends;

    And when night overtakes me, down I lie,

    Sleep, dream a little, and get done with it,

    The sooner the better, to begin afresh.

    What’s midnight’s doubt before the dayspring’s faith?

    You, the philosopher, that disbelieve,

    That recognize the night, give dreams their weight—

    To be consistent you should keep your bed,

    Abstain from healthy acts that prove you man,

    For fear you drowse perhaps at unawares!

    And certainly at night you’ll sleep and dream,

    Live through the day and bustle as you please.

    And so you live to sleep as I to wake,

    To unbelieve as I to still believe?

    Well, and the common sense o’ the world calls you

    Bed-ridden—and its good things come to me.

    Its estimation, which is half the fight,

    That’s the first-cabin comfort I secure:

    The next . . . but you perceive with half an eye!

    Come, come, it’s best believing, if we may;

    You can’t but own that!

     

    Next, concede again,

    If once we choose belief, on all accounts

    We can’t be too decisive in our faith,

    Conclusive and exclusive in its terms,

    To suit the world which gives us the good things.

    In every man’s career are certain points

    Whereon he dares not be indifferent;

    The world detects him clearly, if he dare,

    As baffled at the game, and losing life.

    He may care little or he may care much

    For riches, honor, pleasure, work, repose,

    Since various theories of life and life’s

    Success are extant which might easily

    Comport with either estimate of these;

    And whoso chooses wealth or poverty,

    Labor or quiet, is not judged a fool

    Because his fellow would choose otherwise;

    We let him choose upon his own account

    So long as he’s consistent with his choice.

    But certain points, left wholly to himself,

    When once a man has arbitrated on,

    We say he must succeed there or go hang.

    Thus, he should wed the woman he loves most

    Or needs most, whatsoe’er the love or need—

    For he can’t wed twice. Then, he must avouch,

    Or follow, at the least, sufficiently,

    The form of faith his conscience holds the best,

    Whate’er the process of conviction was:

    For nothing can compensate his mistake

    On such a point, the man himself being judge:

    He cannot wed twice, nor twice lose his soul.

     

       Well now, there’s one great form of Christian faith

    I happened to be born in—which to teach

    Was given me as I grew up, on all hands,

    As best and readiest means of living by;

    The same on examination being proved

    The most pronounced moreover, fixed, precise

    And absolute form of faith in the whole world—

    Accordingly, most potent of all forms

    For working on the world. Observe, my friend!

    Such as you know me, I am free to say,

    In these hard latter days which hamper one,

    Myself—by no immoderate exercise

    Of intellect and learning, but the tact

    To let external forces work for me,

    —Bid the street’s stones be bread and they are bread;

    Bid Peter’s creed, or rather, Hildebrand’s,

    Exalt me o’er my fellows in the world

    And make my life an ease and joy and pride;

    It does so—which for me ‘s a great point gained,

    Who have a soul and body that exact

    A comfortable care in many ways.

    There’s power in me and will to dominate

    Which I must exercise, they hurt me else:

    In many ways I need mankind’s respect,

    Obedience, and the love that’s born of fear:

    While at the same time, there’s a taste I have,

    A toy of soul, a titillating thing,

    Refuses to digest these dainties crude.

    The naked life is gross till clothed upon:

    I must take what men offer, with a grace

    As though I would not, could I help it, take

    An uniform I wear though over-rich—

    Something imposed on me, no choice of mine;

    No fancy-dress worn for pure fancy’s sake

    And despicable therefore! now folk kneel

    And kiss my hand—of course the Church’s hand.

    Thus I am made, thus life is best for me,

    And thus that it should be I have procured;

    And thus it could not be another way,

    I venture to imagine.

     

    You’ll reply,

    So far my choice, no doubt, is a success;

    But were I made of better elements,

    With nobler instincts, purer tastes, like you,

    I hardly would account the thing success

    Though it did all for me I say.

     

    But, friend,

    We speak of what is; not of what might be,

    And how ‘twere better if ‘twere otherwise.

    I am the man you see here plain enough:

    Grant I’m a beast, why, beasts must lead beasts’ lives!

    Suppose I own at once to tail and claws;

    The tailless man exceeds me: but being tailed

    I’ll lash out lion fashion, and leave apes

    To dock their stump and dress their haunches up.

    My business is not to remake myself,

    But make the absolute best of what God made.

    Or—our first simile—though you prove me doomed

    To a viler berth still, to the steerage-hole,

    The sheep-pen or the pig-stye, I should strive

    To make what use of each were possible;

    And as this cabin gets upholstery,

    That hutch should rustle with sufficient straw.

     

       But, friend, I don’t acknowledge quite so fast

    I fail of all your manhood’s lofty tastes

    Enumerated so complacently,

    On the mere ground that you forsooth can find

    In this particular life I choose to lead

    No fit provision for them. Can you not?

    Say you, my fault is I address myself

    To grosser estimators than should judge?

    And that’s no way of holding up the soul,

    Which, nobler, needs men’s praise perhaps, yet knows

    One wise man’s verdict outweighs all the fools’—

    Would like the two, but, forced to choose, takes that.

    I pine among my million imbeciles

    (You think) aware some dozen men of sense

    Eye me and know me, whether I believe

    In the last winking Virgin, as I vow,

    And am a fool, or disbelieve in her

    And am a knave—approve in neither case,

    Withhold their voices though I look their way:

    Like Verdi when, at his worst opera’s end

    (The thing they gave at Florence—what’s its name?)

    While the mad houseful’s plaudits near outbang

    His orchestra of salt-box, tongs and bones,

    He looks through all the roaring and the wreaths

    Where sits Rossini patient in his stall.

     

       Nay, friend, I meet you with an answer here—

    That even your prime men who appraise their kind

    Are men still, catch a wheel within a wheel,

    See more in a truth than the truth’s simple self,

    Confuse themselves. You see lads walk the street

    Sixty the minute; what’s to note in that?

    You see one lad o’erstride a chimney-stack;

    Him you must watch—he’s sure to fall, yet stands!

    Our interest’s on the dangerous edge of things.

    The honest thief, the tender murderer,

    The superstitious atheist, demirep

    That loves and saves her soul in new French books—

    We watch while these in equilibrium keep

    The giddy line midway: one step aside,

    They’re classed and done with. I, then, keep the line

    Before your sages—just the men to shrink

    From the gross weights, coarse scales and labels broad

    You offer their refinement. Fool or knave?

    Why needs a bishop be a fool or knave

    When there’s a thousand diamond weights between?

    So, I enlist them. Your picked twelve, you’ll find,

    Profess themselves indignant, scandalized

    At thus being held unable to explain

    How a superior man who disbelieves

    May not believe as well: that’s Schelling’s way!

    It’s through my coming in the tail of time,

    Nicking the minute with a happy tact.

    Had I been born three hundred years ago

    They’d say, “What’s strange? Blougram of course believes;”

    And, seventy years since, “disbelieves of course.”

    But now, “He may believe; and yet, and yet

    How can he?” All eyes turn with interest.

    Whereas, step off the line on either side—

    You, for example, clever to a fault,

    The rough and ready man who write apace,

    Read somewhat seldomer, think perhaps even less—

    You disbelieve! Who wonders and who cares?

    Lord So-and-so—his coat bedropped with wax,

    All Peter’s chains about his waist, his back

    Brave with the needlework of Noodledom—

    Believes! Again, who wonders and who cares?

    But I, the man of sense and learning too,

    The able to think yet act, the this, the that,

    I, to believe at this late time of day!

    Enough; you see, I need not fear contempt.

     

       —Except it’s yours! Admire me as these may,

    You don’t. But whom at least do you admire?

    Present your own perfection, your ideal,

    Your pattern man for a minute—oh, make haste,

    Is it Napoleon you would have us grow?

    Concede the means; allow his head and hand,

    (A large concession, clever as you are)

    Good! In our common primal element

    Of unbelief (we can’t believe, you know—

    We’re still at that admission, recollect!)

    Where do you find—apart from, towering o’er

    The secondary temporary aims

    Which satisfy the gross taste you despise—

    Where do you find his star?—his crazy trust

    God knows through what or in what? it’s alive

    And shines and leads him, and that’s all we want.

    Have we aught in our sober night shall point

    Such ends as his were, and direct the means

    Of working out our purpose straight as his,

    Nor bring a moment’s trouble on success

    With after-care to justify the same?

    —Be a Napoleon, and yet disbelieve—

    Why, the man’s mad, friend, take his light away!

    What’s the vague good o’ the world, for which you dare

    With comfort to yourself blow millions up?

    We neither of us see it! we do see

    The blown-up millions—spatter of their brains

    And writhing of their bowels and so forth,

    In that bewildering entanglement

    Of horrible eventualities

    Past calculation to the end of time!

    Can I mistake for some clear word of God

    (Which were my ample warrant for it all)

    His puff of hazy instinct, idle talk,

    “The State, that’s I,” quack-nonsense about crowns,

    And (when one beats the man to his last hold)

    A vague idea of setting things to rights,

    Policing people efficaciously,

    More to their profit, most of all to his own;

    The whole to end that dismallest of ends

    By an Austrian marriage, cant to us the Church,

    And resurrection of the old regime?

    Would I, who hope to live a dozen years,

    Fight Austerlitz for reasons such and such?

    No: for, concede me but the merest chance

    Doubt may be wrong—there’s judgment, life to come

    With just that chance, I dare not. Doubt proves right?

    This present life is all?—you offer me

    Its dozen noisy years, without a chance

    That wedding an archduchess, wearing lace,

    And getting called by divers new-coined names,

    Will drive off ugly thoughts and let me dine,

    Sleep, read and chat in quiet as I like!

    Therefore I will not.

     

    Take another case;

    Fit up the cabin yet another way.

    What say you to the poets? shall we write

    Hamlet, Othello—make the world our own,

    Without a risk to run of either sort?

    I can’t!—to put the strongest reason first.

    “But try,” you urge, “the trying shall suffice;

    The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life:

    Try to be Shakespeare, leave the rest to fate!”

    Spare my self-knowledge—there’s no fooling me!

    If I prefer remaining my poor self,

    I say so not in self-dispraise but praise.

    If I’m a Shakespeare, let the well alone;

    Why should I try to be what now I am?

    If I’m no Shakespeare, as too probable—

    His power and consciousness and self-delight

    And all we want in common, shall I find—

    Trying forever? while on points of taste

    Wherewith, to speak it humbly, he and I

    Are dowered alike—I’ll ask you, I or he,

    Which in our two lives realizes most?

    Much, he imagined—somewhat, I possess.

    He had the imagination; stick to that!

    Let him say, “In the face of my soul’s works

    Your world is worthless and I touch it not

    Lest I should wrong them”—I’ll withdraw my plea.

    But does he say so? look upon his life!

    Himself, who only can, gives judgment there.

    He leaves his towers and gorgeous palaces

    To build the trimmest house in Stratford town;

    Saves money, spends it, owns the worth of things,

    Giulio Romano’s pictures, Dowland’s lute;

    Enjoys a show, respects the puppets, too,

    And none more, had he seen its entry once,

    Than “Pandulph, of fair Milan cardinal.”

    Why then should I who play that personage,

    The very Pandulph Shakespeare’s fancy made,

    Be told that had the poet chanced to start

    From where I stand now (some degree like mine

    Being just the goal he ran his race to reach)

    He would have run the whole race back, forsooth,

    And left being Pandulph, to begin write plays?

    Ah, the earth’s best can be but the earth’s best!

    Did Shakespeare live, he could but sit at home

    And get himself in dreams the Vatican,

    Greek busts, Venetian paintings, Roman walls,

    And English books, none equal to his own,

    Which I read, bound in gold (he never did).

    —Terni’s fall, Naples’ bay and Gothard’s top—

    Eh, friend? I could not fancy one of these;

    But, as I pour this claret, there they are:

    I’ve gained them—crossed St. Gothard last July

    With ten mules to the carriage and a bed

    Slung inside; is my hap the worse for that?

    We want the same things, Shakespeare and myself,

    And what I want, I have: he, gifted more,

    Could fancy he too had them when he liked,

    But not so thoroughly that, if fate allowed,

    He would not have them . . . also in my sense.

    We play one game; I send the ball aloft N

    o less adroitly that of fifty strokes

    Scarce five go o’er the wall so wide and high

    Which sends them back to me: I wish and get.

    He struck balls higher and with better skill,

    But at a poor fence level with his head,

    And hit—his Stratford house, a coat of arms,

    Successful dealings in his grain and wool—

    While I receive heaven’s incense in my nose

    And style myself the cousin of Queen Bess.

    Ask him, if this life’s all, who wins the game?

     

       Believe—and our whole argument breaks up.

    Enthusiasm’s the best thing, I repeat;

    Only, we can’t command it; fire and life

    Are all, dead matter’s nothing, we agree:

    And be it a mad dream or God’s very breath,

    The fact’s the same—belief’s fire, once in us,

    Makes of all else mere stuff to show itself;

    We penetrate our life with such a glow

    As fire lends wood and iron—this turns steel,

    That burns to ash—all’s one, fire proves its power

    For good or ill, since men call flare success.

    But paint a fire, it will not therefore burn.

    Light one in me, I’ll find it food enough!

    Why, to be Luther—that’s a life to lead,

    Incomparably better than my own.

    He comes, reclaims God’s earth for God, he says,

    Sets up God’s rule again by simple means,

    Re-opens a shut book, and all is done.

    He flared out in the flaring of mankind;

    Such Luther’s luck was: how shall such be mine?

    If he succeeded, nothing’s left to do:

    And if he did not altogether—well,

    Strauss is the next advance. All Strauss should be

    I might be also. But to what result?

    He looks upon no future: Luther did.

    What can I gain on the denying side?

    Ice makes no conflagration. State the facts,

    Read the text right, emancipate the world—

    The emancipated world enjoys itself

    With scarce a thank-you: Blougram told it first

    It could not owe a farthing—not to him

    More than Saint Paul! ‘t would press its pay, you think?

    Then add there’s still that plaguy hundredth chance

    Strauss may be wrong. And so a risk is run—

    For what gain? not for Luther’s, who secured

    A real heaven in his heart throughout his life,

    Supposing death a little altered things.

     

       “Ay, but since really you lack faith,” you cry,

    “You run the same risk really on all sides,

    In cool indifference as bold unbelief.

    As well be Strauss as swing ‘twixt Paul and him.

    It’s not worth having, such imperfect faith,

    No more available to do faith’s work

    Than unbelief like mine. Whole faith, or none!”

     

       Softly, my friend! I must dispute that point.

    Once own the use of faith, I’ll find you faith.

    We’re back on Christian ground. You call for faith;

    I show you doubt, to prove that faith exists.

    The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,

    If faith o’ercomes doubt. How I know it does?

    By life and man’s free will. God gave for that!

    To mould life as we choose it, shows our choice:

    That’s our one act, the previous work’s his own.

    You criticise the soul? it reared this tree—

    This broad life and whatever fruit it bears!

    What matter though I doubt at every pore,

    Head-doubts, heart-doubts, doubts at my fingers’ ends,

    Doubts in the trivial work of every day,

    Doubts at the very bases of my soul

    In the grand moments when she probes herself—

    If finally I have a life to show,

    The thing I did, brought out in evidence

    Against the thing done to me underground

    By hell and all its brood, for aught I know?

    I say, whence sprang this? shows it faith or doubt?

    All’s doubt in me; where’s break of faith in this?

    It is the idea, the feeling and the love,

    God means mankind should strive for and show forth

    Whatever be the process to that end—

    And not historic knowledge, logic sound,

    And metaphysical acumen, sure!

    “What think ye of Christ,” friend? when all’s done and said,

    Like you this Christianity or not?

    It may be false, but will you wish it true?

    Has it your vote to be so if it can?

    Trust you an instinct silenced long ago

    That will break silence and enjoin you love

    What mortified philosophy is hoarse,

    And all in vain, with bidding you despise?

    If you desire faith—then you’ve faith enough:

    What else seeks God—nay, what else seek ourselves?

    You form a notion of me, we’ll suppose,

    On hearsay; it’s a favorable one:

    “But still” (you add) “there was no such good man,

    Because of contradiction in the facts.

    One proves, for instance, he was born in Rome,

    This Blougram; yet throughout the tales of him

    I see he figures as an Englishman.”

    Well, the two things are reconcilable.

    But would I rather you discovered that,

    Subjoining—”Still, what matter though they be?

    Blougram concerns me naught, born here or there.”

     

       Pure faith indeed—you know not what you ask!

    Naked belief in God the Omnipotent,

    Omniscient, Omnipresent, sears too much

    The sense of conscious creatures to be borne.

    It were the seeing him, no flesh shall dare.

    Some think, Creation’s meant to show him forth:

    I say it’s meant to hide him all it can,

    And that’s what all the blessed evil’s for.

    Its use in Time is to environ us,

    Our breath, our drop of dew, with shield enough

    Against that sight till we can bear its stress.

    Under a vertical sun, the exposed brain

    And lidless eye and disemprisoned heart

    Less certainly would wither up at once

    Than mind, confronted with the truth of him.

    But time and earth case-harden us to live;

    The feeblest sense is trusted most; the child

    Feels God a moment, ichors o’er the place,

    Plays on and grows to be a man like us.

    With me, faith means perpetual unbelief

    Kept quiet like the snake ‘neath Michael’s foot

    Who stands calm just because he feels it writhe.

    Or, if that’s too ambitious—here’s my box—

    I need the excitation of a pinch

    Threatening the torpor of the inside-nose

    Nigh on the imminent sneeze that never comes.

    “Leave it in peace” advise the simple folk:

    Make it aware of peace by itching-fits,

    Say I—let doubt occasion still more faith!

     

       You’ll say, once all believed, man, woman, child,

    In that dear middle-age these noodles praise.

    How you’d exult if I could put you back

    Six hundred years, blot out cosmogony,

    Geology, ethnology, what not,

    (Greek endings, each the little passing-bell

    That signifies some faith’s about to die)

    And set you square with Genesis again—

    When such a traveller told you his last news,

    He saw the ark a-top of Ararat

    But did not climb there since ‘twas getting dusk

    And robber-bands infest the mountain’s foot!

    How should you feel, I ask, in such an age,

    How act? As other people felt and did;

    With soul more blank than this decanter’s knob,

    Believe—and yet lie, kill, rob, fornicate

    Full in belief’s face, like the beast you’d be!    

     

       No, when the fight begins within himself,

    A man’s worth something. God stoops o’er his head,

    Satan looks up between his feet—both tug—

    He’s left, himself, i’ the middle: the soul wakes

    And grows. Prolong that battle through his life!

    Never leave growing till the life to come!

    Here, we’ve got callous to the Virgin’s winks

    That used to puzzle people wholesomely:

    Men have outgrown the shame of being fools.

    What are the laws of nature, not to bend

    If the Church bid them?—brother Newman asks.

    Up with the Immaculate Conception, then—

    On to the rack with faith!—is my advice.

    Will not that hurry us upon our knees,

    Knocking our breasts, “It can’t be—yet it shall!

    Who am I, the worm, to argue with my Pope?

    Low things confound the high things!” and so forth.

    That’s better than acquitting God with grace

    As some folk do. He’s tried—no case is proved,

    Philosophy is lenient—he may go!

     

       You’ll say, the old system’s not so obsolete

    But men believe still: ay, but who and where?

    King Bomba’s lazzaroni foster yet

    The sacred flame, so Antonelli writes;

    But even of these, what ragamuffin-saint

    Believes God watches him continually,

    As he believes in fire that it will burn,

    Or rain that it will drench him? Break fire’s law,

    Sin against rain, although the penalty

    Be just a singe or soaking? “No,” he smiles;

    “Those laws are laws that can enforce themselves.”

     

    The sum of all is—yes, my doubt is great,

    My faith’s still greater, then my faith’s enough.

    I have read much, thought much, experienced much,

    Yet would die rather than avow my fear

    The Naples’ liquefaction may be false,

    When set to happen by the palace-clock

    According to the clouds or dinner-time.

    I hear you recommend, I might at least

    Eliminate, decrassify my faith

    Since I adopt it; keeping what I must

    And leaving what I can—such points as this.

    I won’t—that is, I can’t throw one away.

    Supposing there’s no truth in what I hold

    About the need of trial to man’s faith,

    Still, when you bid me purify the same,

    To such a process I discern no end.

    Clearing off one excrescence to see two,

    There’s ever a next in size, now grown as big,

    That meets the knife: I cut and cut again!

    First cut the Liquefaction, what comes last

    But Fichte’s clever cut at God himself?

    Experimentalize on sacred things!

    I trust nor hand nor eye nor heart nor brain

    To stop betimes: they all get drunk alike.

    The first step, I am master not to take.    

     

       You’d find the cutting-process to your taste

    As much as leaving growths of lies unpruned,

    Nor see more danger in it—you retort.

    Your taste’s worth mine; but my taste proves more wise

    When we consider that the steadfast hold

    On the extreme end of the chain of faith

    Gives all the advantage, makes the difference

    With the rough purblind mass we seek to rule:

    We are their lords, or they are free of us,

    Justas we tighten or relax our hold.

    So, other matters equal, we’ll revert

    To the first problem—which, if solved my way

    And thrown into the balance, turns the scale—

    How we may lead a comfortable life,

    How suit our luggage to the cabin’s size.

     

       Of course you are remarking all this time

    How narrowly and grossly I view life,

    Respect the creature-comforts, care to rule

    The masses, and regard complacently

    “The cabin,” in our old phrase. Well, I do.

    I act for, talk for, live for this world now,

    As this world prizes action, life and talk:

    No prejudice to what next world may prove,

    Whose new laws and requirements, my best pledge

    To observe then, is that I observe these now,

    Shall do hereafter what I do meanwhile.

    Let us concede (gratuitously though)

    Next life relieves the soul of body, yields

    Pure spiritual enjoyment: well, my friend,

    Why lose this life i’ the meantime, since its use

    May be to make the next life more intense?

     

    Do you know, I have often had a dream

    (Work it up in your next month’s article)

    Of man’s poor spirit in its progress, still

    Losing true life forever and a day

    Through ever trying to be and ever being—

    In the evolution of successive spheres—

    Before its actual sphere and place of life,

    Halfway into the next, which having reached,

    It shoots with corresponding foolery

    Halfway into the next still, on and off!

    As when a traveller, bound from North to South,

    Scouts far in Russia: what’s its use in France?

    In France spurns flannel: where’s its need in Spain?

    In Spain drops cloth, too cumbrous for Algiers!

    Linen goes next, and last the skin itself,

    A superfluity at Timbuctoo.

    When, through his journey, was the fool at ease?

    I’m at ease now, friend; worldly in this world,

    I take and like its way of life; I think

    My brothers, who administer the means,

    Live better for my comfort—that’s good too;

    And God, if he pronounce upon such life,

    Approves my service, which is better still. If he keep silence—why, for you or me

    Or that brute beast pulled-up in to-day’s “Times,”

    What odds is ‘t, save to ourselves, what life we lead?

     

       You meet me at this issue: you declare—

    All special-pleading done with—truth is truth,

    And justifies itself by undreamed ways.

    You don’t fear but it’s better, if we doubt,

    To say so, act up to our truth perceived

    However feebly. Do then—act away!

    ‘T is there I’m on the watch for you. How one acts

    Is, both of us agree, our chief concern:

    And how you ‘ll act is what I fain would see

    If, like the candid person you appear,

    You dare to make the most of your life’s scheme

    As I of mine, live up to its full law

    Since there’s no higher law that counterchecks.

    Put natural religion to the test

    You’ve just demolished the revealed with—quick,

    Down to the root of all that checks your will,

    All prohibition to lie, kill and thieve,

    Or even to be an atheistic priest!

    Suppose a pricking to incontinence—

    Philosophers deduce you chastity

    Or shame, from just the fact that at the first

    Whoso embraced a woman in the field,

    Threw club down and forewent his brains beside,

    So, stood a ready victim in the reach

    Of any brother savage, club in hand;

    Hence saw the use of going out of sight

    In wood or cave to prosecute his loves:

    I read this in a French book t’ other day.

    Does law so analyzed coerce you much?

    Oh, men spin clouds of fuzz where matters end,

    But you who reach where the first thread begins,

    You’ll soon cut that!—which means you can, but won’t,

    Through certain instincts, blind, unreasoned-out,

    You dare not set aside, you can’t tell why,

    But there they are, and so you let them rule.

    Then, friend, you seem as much a slave as I,

    A liar, conscious coward and hypocrite,

    Without the good the slave expects to get,

    In case he has a master after all!

    You own your instincts? why, what else do I,

    Who want, am made for, and must have a God

    Ere I can be aught, do aught?—no mere name

    Want, but the true thing with what proves its truth,

    To wit, a relation from that thing to me,

    Touching from head to foot—which touch I feel,

    And with it take the rest, this life of ours!

    I live my life here; yours you dare not live,    

     

       —Not as I state it, who (you please subjoin)

    Disfigure such a life and call it names.

    While, to your mind, remains another way

    For simple men: knowledge and power have rights,

    But ignorance and weakness have rights too.

    There needs no crucial effort to find truth

    If here or there or anywhere about:

    We ought to turn each side, try hard and see,

    And if we can’t, be glad we’ve earned at least

    The right, by one laborious proof the more,

    To graze in peace earth’s pleasant pasturage.

    Men are not angels, neither are they brutes:

    Something we may see, all we cannot see.

    What need of lying? I say, I see all,

    And swear to each detail the most minute

    In what I think a Pan’s face—you, mere cloud:

    I swear I hear him speak and see him wink,

    For fear, if once I drop the emphasis,

    Mankind may doubt there’s any cloud at all.

    You take the simple life—ready to see,

    Willing to see (for no cloud ‘s worth a face)—

    And leaving quiet what no strength can move,

    And which, who bids you move? who has the right?

    I bid you; but you are God’s sheep, not mine;

    Pastor est tui Dominus.” You find

    In this the pleasant pasture of our life

    Much you may eat without the least offence,

    Much you don’t eat because your maw objects,

    Much you would eat but that your fellow-flock

    Open great eyes at you and even butt,

    And thereupon you like your mates so well

    You cannot please yourself, offending them;

    Though when they seem exorbitantly sheep,

    You weigh your pleasure with their butts and bleats

    And strike the balance. Sometimes certain fears

    Restrain you, real checks since you find them so;

    Sometimes you please yourself and nothing checks:

    And thus you graze through life with not one lie,

    And like it best.                    

     

    But do you, in truth’s name?

    If so, you beat—which means you are not I—

    Who needs must make earth mine and feed my fill

    Not simply unbutted at, unbickered with,

    But motioned to the velvet of the sward

    By those obsequious wethers’ very selves.

    Look at me. sir; my age is double yours:

    At yours, I knew beforehand, so enjoyed,

    What now I should be—as, permit the word,

    I pretty well imagine your whole range

    And stretch of tether twenty years to come.

    We both have minds and bodies much alike:

    In truth’s name, don’t you want my bishopric,

    My daily bread, my influence and my state?

    You’re young. I’m old; you must be old one day;

    Will you find then, as I do hour by hour,

    Women their lovers kneel to, who cut curls

    From your fat lap-dog’s ear to grace a brooch—

    Dukes, who petition just to kiss your ring—

    With much beside you know or may conceive?

    Suppose we die to-night: well, here am I,

    Such were my gains, life bore this fruit to me,

    While writing all the same my articles

    On music, poetry, the fictile vase

    Found at Albano, chess, Anacreon’s Greek.

    But you—the highest honor in your life,

    The thing you’ll crown yourself with, all your days,

    Is—dining here and drinking this last glass

    I pour you out in sign of amity

    Before we part forever. Of your power

    And social influence, worldly worth in short,

    Judge what’s my estimation by the fact,

    I do not condescend to enjoin, beseech,

    Hint secrecy on one of all these words!

    You’re shrewd and know that should you publish one

    The world would brand the lie—my enemies first,

    Who’d sneer—”the bishop’s an arch-hypocrite

    And knave perhaps, but not so frank a fool.”

    Whereas I should not dare for both my ears

    Breathe one such syllable, smile one such smile,

    Before the chaplain who reflects myself—

    My shade’s so much more potent than your flesh.

    What’s your reward, self-abnegating friend?

    Stood you confessed of those exceptional

    And privileged great natures that dwarf mine—

    A zealot with a mad ideal in reach,

    A poet just about to print his ode,

    A statesman with a scheme to stop this war,

    An artist whose religion is his art—

    I should have nothing to object: such men

    Carry the fire, all things grow warm to them,

    Their drugget’s worth my purple, they beat me.

    But you—you ‘re just as little those as I—

    You, Gigadibs, who, thirty years of age,

    Write statedly for Blackwood’s Magazine,

    Believe you see two points in Hamlet’s soul

    Unseized by the Germans yet—which view you’ll print—

    Meantime the best you have to show being still

    That lively lightsome article we took

    Almost for the true Dickens—what’s its name?

    “The Slum and Cellar, or Whitechapel life

    Limned after dark!” it made me laugh, I know,

    And pleased a month, and brought you in ten pounds.

    —Success I recognize and compliment,

    And therefore give you, if you choose, three words

    (The card and pencil-scratch is quite enough)

    Which whether here, in Dublin or New York,

    Will get you, prompt as at my eyebrow’s wink,

    Such terms as never you aspired to get

    In all our own reviews and some not ours.

    Go write your lively sketches! be the first

    “Blougram, or The Eccentric Confidence”—

    Or better simply say, “The Outward-bound.”

    Why, men as soon would throw it in my teeth

    As copy and quote the infamy chalked broad

    About me on the church-door opposite. 

    You will not wait for that experience though,

    I fancy, howsoever you decide,

    To discontinue—not detesting, not

    Defaming, but at least—despising me!

    ___________

     

    Over his wine so smiled and talked his hour

    Sylvester Blougram, styled in partibus

    Episcopus, nec non—(the deuce knows what

    It’s changed to by our novel hierarchy)

    With Gigadibs the literary man,

    Who played with spoons, explored his plate’s design,

    And ranged the olive-stones about its edge,

    While the great bishop rolled him out a mind

    Long crumpled, till creased consciousness lay smooth.

     

       For Blougram, he believed, say, half he spoke.

    The other portion, as he shaped it thus

    For argumentatory purposes,

    He felt his foe was foolish to dispute.

    Some arbitrary accidental thoughts

    That crossed his mind, amusing because new,

    He chose to represent as fixtures there,

    Invariable convictions (such they seemed

    Beside his interlocutor’s loose cards

    Flung daily down, and not the same way twice)

    While certain hell-deep instincts, man’s weak tongue

    Is never bold to utter in their truth

    Because styled hell-deep (‘t is an old mistake

    To place hell at the bottom of the earth)

    He ignored these—not having in readiness

    Their nomenclature and philosophy:

    He said true things, but called them by wrong names.

    “On the whole,” he thought, “I justify myself

    On every point where cavillers like this

    Oppugn my life: he tries one kind of fence,

    I close, he’s worsted, that’s enough for him.

    He’s on the ground: if ground should break away

    I take my stand on, there’s a firmer yet

    Beneath it, both of us may sink and reach.

    His ground was over mine and broke the first:

    So, let him sit with me this many a year!”

     

    He did not sit five minutes. Just a week

    Sufficed his sudden healthy vehemence.

    Something had struck him in the “Outward-bound”

    Another way than Blougram’s purpose was:

    And having bought, not cabin-furniture

    But settler’s-implements (enough for three)

    And started for Australia—there, I hope,

    By this time he has tested his first plough,

    And studied his last chapter of St. John.

     

    2.6.6: “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

    (See Edgar’s Song in “Lear”)

     

    I.

    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.

     

    II.

    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,

    And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh

    Would break, what crutch ‘gin write my epitaph

    For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,

     

    III.

    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.

     

    IV.

    For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,

    What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope

    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.

    clipboard_ee78510f6b12f8b52d17ee4fa5c0c8180.png

    V.

    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”)

     

    VI.

    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.

     

    VII.

    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

    Their steps—that just to fail as they, seemed best,

    And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?

     

    VIII.

    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.

     

    IX.

    For mark! no sooner was I fairly found

    Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,

    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.

     

    X.

    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.

     

    XI.

    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.”

     

    XII.

    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

    All hope of greenness? ‘tis a brute must walk

    Pashing their life out, with a brute’s intents.

     

    XIII.

    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!

     

    XIV.

    Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,

    With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,

    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.

     

    XV.

    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.

     

    XVI.

    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.

     

    XVII.

    Giles then, the soul of honour—there he stands

    Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.

    What honest men should dare (he said) he durst.

    Good—but the scene shifts—faugh! what hangman hands

    Pin to his breast a parchment?

    His own bands Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!

     

    XVIII.

    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.

     

    XIX.

    A sudden little river crossed my path

    As unexpected as a serpent comes.

    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.

     

    XX.

    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.

     

    XXI.

    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.

     

    XXII.

    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

    Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank,

    Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage—

     

    XXIII.

    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.

     

    XXIV.

    And more than that—a furlong on—why, there!

    What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,

    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.

     

    XXV.

    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.

     

    XXVI.

    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.

     

    XXVII.

    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, Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned That brushed my cap—perchance the guide I sought.

     

    XXVIII.

    or, 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.

     

    XXIX.

    Yet half I seemed to recognise some trick

    Of mischief happened to me, God knows when—

    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!

     

    XXX.

    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!

     

    XXXI.

    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.

     

    XXXII.

    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

    Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,—

    “Now stab and end the creature—to the heft!”

     

    XXXIII.

    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.

     

    XXXIV.

    There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met

    To view the last of me, a living frame

    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.”

     

    2.6.7: “Fra Lippo Lippi”

    I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!

    You need not clap your torches to my face.

    Zooks, what’s to blame? you think you see a monk!

    What, ‘tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,

    And here you catch me at an alley’s end

    Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?

    The Carmine’s my cloister: hunt it up,

    Do—harry out, if you must show your zeal,

    Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole,

    And nip each softling of a wee white mouse,

    Weke, weke, that’s crept to keep him company!

    Aha, you know your betters! Then, you’ll take

    Your hand away that’s fiddling on my throat,

    And please to know me likewise. Who am I?

    Why, one, sir, who is lodging with a friend

    Three streets off—he’s a certain . . . how d’ye call?

    Master—a . . . Cosimo of the Medici,

    I’ the house that caps the corner. Boh! you were best!

    Remember and tell me, the day you’re hanged,

    How you affected such a gullet’s gripe!        

    But you, sir, it concerns you that your knaves

    Pick up a manner nor discredit you:

    Zooks, are we pilchards, that they sweep the streets

    And count fair prize what comes into this net?

    He’s Judas to a tittle, that man is!

    Just such a face! Why, sir, you make amends.

    Lord, I’m not angry! Bid your hangdogs go

    Drink out this quarter-florin to the health

    Of the munificent House that harbors me

    (And many more beside, lads! more beside!)        

    And all’s come square again. I’d like his face—

    His, elbowing on his comrade in the door

    With the pike and lantern—for the slave that holds

    John Baptist’s head a-dangle by the hair

    With one hand (“Look you, now,” as who should say)

    And his weapon in the other, yet unwiped!

    It’s not your chance to have a bit of chalk,

    A wood-coal or the like? or you should see!

    Yes, I’m the painter, since you style me so.

    What, brother Lippo’s doings, up and down,

    You know them and they take you? like enough!

    I saw the proper twinkle in your eye—

    ‘Tell you, I liked your looks at very first.

    Let’s sit and set things straight now, hip to haunch.

    Here’s spring come, and the nights one makes up bands

    To roam the town and sing out carnival,

    And I’ve been three weeks shut within my mew,

    A-painting for the great man, saints and saints

    And saints again. I could not paint all night—

    Ouf! I leaned out of window for fresh air.

    There came a hurry of feet and little feet,

    A sweep of lute-strings, laughs, and whifts of song—

    Flower o’ the broom,

    Take away love, and our earth is a tomb!

    Flower o’ the quince,

    I let Lisa go, and what good in life since?

    Flower o’ the thyme—and so on. Round they went.

    Scarce had they turned the corner when a titter

    Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight—three slim shapes,

    And a face that looked up…zooks, sir, flesh and blood,        

    That’s all I’m made of! Into shreds it went,

    Curtain and counterpane and coverlet,

    All the bed-furniture—a dozen knots,

    There was a ladder! Down I let myself,

    Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped,

    And after them. I came up with the fun

    Hard by Saint Laurence, hail fellow, well met—

    Flower o’ the rose,

    If I’ve been merry, what matter who knows!

    And so as I was stealing back again

    To get to bed and have a bit of sleep

    Ere I rise up tomorrow and go work

    On Jerome knocking at his poor old breast

    With his great round stone to subdue the flesh,

    You snape me of the sudden. Ah, I see!

    Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head—

    Mine’s shaves—a monk, you say—the sting’s in that!

    If Master Cosimo announced himself,

    Mum’s the word naturally; but a monk!

    Come, what am I a beast for? tell us, now!        

    I was a baby when my mother died

    And father died and left me in the street.

    I starved there, God knows how, a year or two

    On fig skins, melon parings, rinds and shucks,

    Refuse and rubbish. One fine frosty day,

    My stomach being empty as your hat,

    The wind doubled me up and down I went.

    Old Aunt Lapaccia trussed me with one hand

    (Its fellow was a stinger as I knew),

    And so along the wall, over the bridge,

    By the straight cut to the convent. Six words there,

    While I stood munching my first bread that month:

    “So, boy, you’re minded,” quoth the good fat father

    Wiping his own mouth, ‘twas refection time—

    “To quit this very miserable world?

    Will you renounce” . . . “the mouthful of bread?” thought I;

    By no means! Brief, they made a monk of me;

    I did renounce the world, its pride and greed,

    Palace, farm, villa, shop, and banking house,

    Trash, such as these poor devils of Medici

    Have given their hearts to—all at eight years old.

    Well, sir, I found in time, you may be sure,

    ‘Twas not for nothing—the good bellyful,

    The warm serge and the rope that goes all round,

    And day-long blessed idleness beside!

    “Let’s see what the urchin’s fit for”—that came next.

    Not overmuch their way, I must confess.

    Such a to-do! They tried me with their books:

    Lord, they’d have taught me Latin in pure waste!

    Flower o’ the clove,

    All the Latin I construe is “amo,” I love!

    But, mind you, when a boy starves in the streets

    Eight years together, as my fortune was,

    Watching folk’s faces to know who will fling

    The bit of half-stripped grape bunch he desires,

    And who will curse or kick him for his pains—

    Which gentleman processional and fine,

    Holding a candle to the Sacrament,

    Will wink and let him lift a plate and catch

    The droppings of the wax to sell again,

    Or holla for the Eight and have him whipped—

    How say I?—nay, which dog bites, which lets drop

    His bone from the heap of offal in the street—

    Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike,

    He learns the look of things, and none the less

    For admonition from the hunger-pinch.

    I had a store of such remarks, be sure,

    Which, after I found leisure, turned to use.

    I drew men’s faces on my copy-books,

    Scrawled them within the antiphonary’s marge,

    Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes,

    Found eyes and nose and chin for A’s and B’s,

    And made a string of pictures of the world

    Betwixt the ins and outs of verb and noun,

    On the wall, the bench, the door. The monks looked black.

    “Nay,” quoth the Prior, “turn him out d’ye say?

    In no wise. Lose a crow and catch a lark.

    What if at least we get our man of parts,

    We Carmelites, like those Camaldolese

    And Preaching Friars, to do our church up fine        

    And put the front on it that ought to be!”

    And hereupon he bade me daub away.

    Thank you! my head being crammed, the walls a blank,

    Never was such prompt disemburdening.

    First, every sort of monk, the black and white,

    I drew them, fat and lean: then, folk at church,

    From good old gossips waiting to confess

    Their cribs of barrel-droppings, candle-ends,—

    To the breathless fellow at the altar-foot,

    Fresh from his murder, safe and sitting there

    With the little children round him in a row

    Of admiration, half for his beard and half

    For that white anger of his victim’s son

    Shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm,

    Signing himself with the other because of Christ

    (Whose sad face on the cross sees only this

    After the passion of a thousand years)

    Till some poor girl, her apron o’er her head,

    (Which the intense eyes looked through) came at eve

    On tiptoe, said a word, dropped in a loaf,

    Her pair of earrings and a bunch of flowers

    (The brute took growling), prayed, and so was gone.

    I painted all, then cried “’Tis ask and have;

    Choose, for more’s ready!”—laid the ladder flat,

    And showed my covered bit of cloister-wall.

    The monks closed in a circle and praised loud

    Till checked, taught what to see and not to see,

    Being simple bodies,—”That’s the very man!

    Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog!

    That woman’s like the Prior’s niece who comes

    To care about his asthma: it’s the life!”

    But there my triumph’s straw-fire flared and funked;

    Their betters took their turn to see and say:

    The Prior and the learned pulled a face

    And stopped all that In no time. “How? what’s here?

    Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all!

    Faces, arms, legs and bodies like the true

    As much as pea and pea! it’s devil’s-game!

    Your business is not to catch men with show,

    With homage to the perishable clay,

    But lift them over it, ignore it all,

    Make them forget there’s such a thing as flesh.

    Your business is to paint the souls of men—

    Man’s soul, and it’s a fire, smoke…no, it’s not…

    It’s vapor done up like a new-born babe—

    (In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)

    It’s…well, what matters talking, it’s the soul!

    Give us no more of body than shows soul!

    Here’s Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God,

    That sets us praising,—why not stop with him?        

    Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head

    With wonder at lines, colors, and what not?

    Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!

    Rub all out, try at it a second time.

    Oh, that white smallish female with the breasts,

    She’s just my niece…Herodias, I would say,—

    Who went and danced and got men’s heads cut off!

    Have it all out!” Now, is this sense, I ask?

    A fine way to paint soul, by painting body

    So ill, the eye can’t stop there, must go further

    And can’t fare worse! Thus, yellow does for white

    When what you put for yellow’s simply black

    And any sort of meaning looks intense

    When all beside itself means and looks naught.

    Why can’t a painter lift each foot in turn,

    Left foot and right foot, go a double step,

    Make his flesh liker and his soul more like,

    Both in their order? Take the prettiest face,

    The Prior’s niece…patron-saint—is it so pretty

    You can’t discover if it means hope, fear,

    Sorrow or joy? won’t beauty go with these?

    Suppose I’ve made her eyes all right and blue,

    Can’t I take breath and try to add life’s flash,

    And then add soul and heighten them three-fold?

    Or say there’s beauty with no soul at all—

    (I never saw it—put the case the same—)

    If you get simple beauty and naught else,

    You get about the best thing God invents:

    That’s somewhat: and you’ll find the soul you have missed,

    Within yourself, when you return him thanks.

    “Rub all out!” Well, well, there’s my life, in short,

    And so the thing has gone on ever since.

    I’m grown a man no doubt, I’ve broken bounds:

    You should not take a fellow eight years old

    And make him swear to never kiss the girls.

    I’m my own master, paint now as I please—

    Having a friend, you see, in the Corner-house!

    Lord, it’s fast holding by the rings in front—

    Those great rings serve more purposes than just

    To plant a flag in, or tie up a horse!        

    And yet the old schooling sticks, the old grave eyes

    Are peeping o’er my shoulder as I work,

    The heads shake still—”It’s art’s decline, my son!

    You’re not of the true painters, great and old;

    Brother Angelico’s the man, you’ll fine;

    Brother Lorenzo stands his single peer:

    Fag on at flesh, you’ll never make the third!”

    Flower o’ the pine,

    You keep your mistr…manners, and I’ll stick to mine!

    I’m not the third, then: bless us, they must know!

    Don’t you think they’re the likeliest to know,

    They with their Latin? So, I swallow my rage,

    Clench my teeth, suck my lips in tight, and paint

    To please them—sometimes do and sometimes don’t;

    For, doing most, there’s pretty sure to come

    A turn, some warm eve finds me at my saints—

    A laugh, a cry, the business of the world—

    (Flower o’ the peach,

    Death for us all, and his own life for each!)

    And my whole soul revolves, the cup runs over,

    The world and life’s too big to pass for a dream,

    And I do these wild things in sheer despite,

    And play the fooleries you catch me at,

    In pure rage! The old mill-horse, out at grass

    After hard years, throws up his stiff heels so,

    Although the miller does not preach to him

    The only good of grass is to make chaff.

    What would men have? Do they like grass or no—

    May they or mayn’t they? all I want’s the thing

    Settled forever one way. As it is,

    You tell too many lies and hurt yourself:

    You don’t like what you only like too much,

    You do like what, if given you at your word,

    You find abundantly detestable.

    For me, I think I speak as I was taught;

    I always see the garden and God there

    A-making man’s wife: and, my less learned,

    The value and significance of flesh,

    I can’t unlearn ten minutes afterwards.

     

    You understand me: I’m a beast, I know.

    But see, now—why, I see as certainly

    As that the morning-star’s about to shine,

    What will hap some day. We’ve a youngster here

    Comes to our convent, studies what I do,

    Slouches and stares and lets no atom drop:

    His name is Guidi—he’ll not mind the monks—

    They call him Hulking Tom, he lets them talk—

    He picks my practice up—he’ll paint apace,

    I hope so—though I never live so long,

    I know what’s sure to follow. You be judge!

    You speak no Latin more than I, belike;

    However, you’re my man, you’ve seen the world

    —The beauty and the wonder and the power,

    The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades,

    Changes, surprises—and God made it all!

    —For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no,

    For this fair town’s face, yonder river’s line,

    The mountain round it and the sky above,

    Much more the figures of man, woman, child,

    These are the frame to? What’s it all about?        

    To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,

    Wondered at? oh, this last of course!—you say.

    But why not do as well as say,—paint it these

    Just as they are, careless what comes of it?

    God’s works—paint any one, and count it crime

    To let a truth slip. Don’t object, “His works

    Are here already; nature is complete:

    Suppose you reproduce her—(which you can’t)

    There’s no advantage! You must beat her, then.”

    For, don’t you mark? we’re made so that we love        

    First when we see them painted, things we have passed

    Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;

    And so they are better, painted—better to us,

    Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;

    God uses us to help each other so,

    Lending our minds out. Have you noticed, now,

    Your cullion’s hanging face? A bit of chalk,

    And trust me but you should, though! How much more,

    If I drew higher things with the same truth!

    That were to take the Prior’s pulpit-place,

    Interpret God to all of you! Oh, oh,

    It makes me mad to see what men shall do

    And we in our graves! This world’s no blot for us,

    Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:

    To find its meaning is my meat and drink.

    “Ay, but you don’t so instigate to prayer!”

    Strikes in the Prior: “when your meaning’s plain

    It does not say to folk—remember matins,

    Or, mind you fast next Friday!” Why, for this

    What need of art at all? A skull and bones,        

    Two bits of stick nailed crosswise, or, what’s best,

    A bell to chime the hour with, does as well.

    I painted a Saint Laurence six months since

    At Prato, splashed the fresco in fine style:

    “How looks my painting, now the scaffold’s down?”

    I ask a brother: “Hugely,” he returns—

    “Already not one phiz of your three slaves

    Who turn the Deacon off his toasted side,

    But’s scratched and prodded to our heart’s content,

    The pious people have so eased their own

    With coming to say prayers there in a rage:

    We get on fast to see the bricks beneath.

    Expect another job this time next year,

    For pity and religion grow i’ the crowd—

    Your painting serves its purpose!” Hang the fools!

     

    —That is—you’ll not mistake an idle word

    Spoke in a huff by a poor monk, God wot,

    Tasting the air this spicy night which turns

    The unaccustomed head like Chianti wine!

    Oh, the church knows! don’t misreport me, now!

    It’s natural a poor monk out of bounds

    Should have his apt word to excuse himself:

    And hearken how I plot to make amends.

    I have bethought me: I shall paint a piece

    …There’s for you! Give me six months, then go, see

    Something in Sant’ Ambrogio’s! Bless the nuns!

    They want a cast o’ my office. I shall paint

    God in the midst, Madonna and her babe,

    Ringed by a bowery flowery angel-brood,

    Lilies and vestments and white faces, sweet

    As puff on puff of grated orris-root

    When ladies crowd to Church at midsummer.

    And when i’ the front, of course a saint or two—

    Saint John, because he saves the Florentines,

    Saint Ambrose, who puts down in black and white

    The convent’s friends and gives them a long day,

    And Job, I must have him there past mistake,

    The man of Uz (and Us without the z,

    Painters who need his patience). Well, all these

    Secured at their devotion, up shall come

    Out of a corner when you least expect,

    As one by a dark stair into a great light,

    Music and talking, who but Lippo! I!—

    Mazed, motionless and moonstruck—I’m the man!

    Back I shrink—what is this I see and hear?

    I, caught up with my monk’s-things by mistake,

    My old serge gown and rope that goes all round,

    I, in this presence, this pure company!

    Where’s a hole, where’s a corner for escape?

    Then steps a sweet angelic slip of a thing

    Forward, puts out a soft palm—“Not so fast!”

    —Addresses the celestial presence, “nay—

    He made you and devised you, after all,

    Though he’s none of you! Could Saint John there draw—

    His camel-hair make up a painting-brush?

    We come to brother Lippo for all that,

    Iste perfecit opus!” So, all smile—

    I shuffle sideways with my blushing face

    Under the cover of a hundred wings

    Thrown like a spread of kirtles when you’re gay

    And play hot cockles, all the doors being shut,

    Till, wholly unexpected, in there pops

    The hothead husband! Thus I scuttle off

    To home safe bench behind, not letting go

    The palm of her, the little lily thing

    That spoke the good word for me in the nick,

    Like the Prior’s niece . . . Saint Lucy, I would say.

    And so all’s saved for me, and for the church

    A pretty picture gained. Go, six months hence!

    Your hand, sir, and good-bye: no lights, no lights!

    The street’s hushed, and I know my own way back,

    Don’t fear me! There’s the gray beginning. Zooks!

     

    2.6.8: “Andrea del Sarto”

    (called “The Faultless Painter”)

     

    But do not let us quarrel any more,

    No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:

    Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.

    You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?

    I’ll work then for your friend’s friend, never fear,

    Treat his own subject after his own way,

    Fix his own time, accept too his own price,

    And shut the money into this small hand

    When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?

    Oh, I’ll content him,—but to-morrow, Love!

    I often am much wearier than you think,

    This evening more than usual, and it seems

    As if—forgive now—should you let me sit

    Here by the window with your hand in mine

    And look a half-hour forth on Fiesole,

    Both of one mind, as married people use,

    Quietly, quietly the evening through,

    I might get up to-morrow to my work

    Cheerful and fresh as ever. Let us try.

    To-morrow, how you shall be glad for this!

    Your soft hand is a woman of itself,

    And mine the man’s bared breast she curls inside.

    Don’t count the time lost, neither; you must serve

    For each of the five pictures we require:

    It saves a model. So! keep looking so—

    My serpentining beauty, rounds on rounds!

    —How could you ever prick those perfect ears,

    Even to put the pearl there! oh, so sweet—

    My face, my moon, my everybody’s moon,

    Which everybody looks on and calls his,

    And, I suppose, is looked on by in turn,

    While she looks—no one’s: very dear, no less.

    You smile? why, there’s my picture ready made,

    There’s what we painters call our harmony!

    A common greyness silvers everything,—

    All in a twilight, you and I alike

    —You, at the point of your first pride in me

    (That’s gone you know),—but I, at every point;

    My youth, my hope, my art, being all toned down

    To yonder sober pleasant Fiesole.

    There’s the bell clinking from the chapel-top;

    That length of convent-wall across the way

    Holds the trees safer, huddled more inside;

    The last monk leaves the garden; days decrease,

    And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

    Eh? the whole seems to fall into a shape

    As if I saw alike my work and self

    And all that I was born to be and do,

    A twilight-piece. Love, we are in God’s hand.

    How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead;

    So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!

    I feel he laid the fetter: let it lie!

    This chamber for example—turn your head—

    All that’s behind us! You don’t understand

    Nor care to understand about my art,

    But you can hear at least when people speak:

    And that cartoon, the second from the door

    —It is the thing, Love! so such things should be—

    Behold Madonna!—I am bold to say.

    I can do with my pencil what I know,

    What I see, what at bottom of my heart

    I wish for, if I ever wish so deep—

    Do easily, too—when I say, perfectly,

    I do not boast, perhaps: yourself are judge,

    Who listened to the Legate’s talk last week,

    And just as much they used to say in France.

    At any rate ‘tis easy, all of it!

    No sketches first, no studies, that’s long past:

    I do what many dream of, all their lives,

    —Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,

    And fail in doing. I could count twenty such

    On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,

    Who strive—you don’t know how the others strive

    To paint a little thing like that you smeared

    Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,—

    Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,

    (I know his name, no matter)—so much less!

    Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.

    There burns a truer light of God in them,

    In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain,

    Heart, or whate’er else, than goes on to prompt

    This low-pulsed forthright craftsman’s hand of mine.

    Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,

    Reach many a time a heaven that’s shut to me,

    Enter and take their place there sure enough,

    Though they come back and cannot tell the world.

    My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.

    The sudden blood of these men! at a word—

    Praise them, it boils, or blame them, it boils too.

    I, painting from myself and to myself,

    Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame

    Or their praise either. Somebody remarks

    Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,

    His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,

    Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?

    Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?

    Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

    Or what’s a heaven for? All is silver-grey,

    Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!

    I know both what I want and what might gain,

    And yet how profitless to know, to sigh

    “Had I been two, another and myself,

    “Our head would have o’erlooked the world!” No doubt.

    Yonder’s a work now, of that famous youth

    The Urbinate who died five years ago.

    (‘Tis copied, George Vasari sent it me.)

    Well, I can fancy how he did it all,

    Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see,

    Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him,

    Above and through his art—for it gives way;

    That arm is wrongly put—and there again—

    A fault to pardon in the drawing’s lines,

    Its body, so to speak: its soul is right,

    He means right—that, a child may understand.

    Still, what an arm! and I could alter it:

    But all the play, the insight and the stretch—

    (Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out?

    Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul,

    We might have risen to Rafael, I and you!

    Nay, Love, you did give all I asked, I think—

    More than I merit, yes, by many times.

    But had you—oh, with the same perfect brow,

    And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth,

    And the low voice my soul hears, as a bird

    The fowler’s pipe, and follows to the snare—

    Had you, with these the same, but brought a mind!

    Some women do so. Had the mouth there urged

    “God and the glory! never care for gain.

    “The present by the future, what is that?

    “Live for fame, side by side with Agnolo!

    “Rafael is waiting: up to God, all three!”

    I might have done it for you. So it seems:

    Perhaps not. All is as God over-rules.

    Beside, incentives come from the soul’s self;

    The rest avail not. Why do I need you?

    What wife had Rafael, or has Agnolo?

    In this world, who can do a thing, will not;

    And who would do it, cannot, I perceive:

    Yet the will’s somewhat—somewhat, too, the power—

    And thus we half-men struggle. At the end,

    God, I conclude, compensates, punishes.

    ‘Tis safer for me, if the award be strict,

    That I am something underrated here,

    Poor this long while, despised, to speak the truth.

    I dared not, do you know, leave home all day,

    For fear of chancing on the Paris lords.

    The best is when they pass and look aside;

    But they speak sometimes; I must bear it all.

    Well may they speak! That Francis, that first time,

    And that long festal year at Fontainebleau!

    I surely then could sometimes leave the ground,

    Put on the glory, Rafael’s daily wear,

    In that humane great monarch’s golden look,—

    One finger in his beard or twisted curl

    Over his mouth’s good mark that made the smile,

    One arm about my shoulder, round my neck,

    The jingle of his gold chain in my ear,

    I painting proudly with his breath on me,

    All his court round him, seeing with his eyes,

    Such frank French eyes, and such a fire of souls

    Profuse, my hand kept plying by those hearts,—

    And, best of all, this, this, this face beyond,

    This in the background, waiting on my work,

    To crown the issue with a last reward!

    A good time, was it not, my kingly days?

    And had you not grown restless . . . but I know—

    ‘Tis done and past: ‘twas right, my instinct said:

    Too live the life grew, golden and not grey,

    And I’m the weak-eyed bat no sun should tempt

    Out of the grange whose four walls make his world.

    How could it end in any other way?

    You called me, and I came home to your heart.

    The triumph was—to reach and stay there; since

    I reached it ere the triumph, what is lost?

    Let my hands frame your face in your hair’s gold,

    You beautiful Lucrezia that are mine!

    “Rafael did this, Andrea painted that;

    “The Roman’s is the better when you pray,

    “But still the other’s Virgin was his wife—”

    Men will excuse me. I am glad to judge

    Both pictures in your presence; clearer grows

    My better fortune, I resolve to think.

    For, do you know, Lucrezia, as God lives,

    Said one day Agnolo, his very self,

    To Rafael . . . I have known it all these years . . .

    (When the young man was flaming out his thoughts

    Upon a palace-wall for Rome to see,

    Too lifted up in heart because of it)

    “Friend, there’s a certain sorry little scrub

    “Goes up and down our Florence, none cares how,

    “Who, were he set to plan and execute

    “As you are, pricked on by your popes and kings,

    “Would bring the sweat into that brow of yours!”

    To Rafael’s!—And indeed the arm is wrong.

    I hardly dare . . . yet, only you to see,

    Give the chalk here—quick, thus, the line should go!

    Ay, but the soul! he’s Rafael! rub it out!

    Still, all I care for, if he spoke the truth,

    (What he? why, who but Michel Agnolo?

    Do you forget already words like those?)

    If really there was such a chance, so lost,—

    Is, whether you’re—not grateful—but more pleased.

    Well, let me think so. And you smile indeed!

    This hour has been an hour! Another smile?

    If you would sit thus by me every night

    I should work better, do you comprehend?

    I mean that I should earn more, give you more.

    See, it is settled dusk now; there’s a star;

    Morello’s gone, the watch-lights show the wall,

    The cue-owls speak the name we call them by.

    Come from the window, love,—come in, at last,

    Inside the melancholy little house

    We built to be so gay with. God is just.

    King Francis may forgive me: oft at nights

    When I look up from painting, eyes tired out,

    The walls become illumined, brick from brick

    Distinct, instead of mortar, fierce bright gold,

    That gold of his I did cement them with!

    Let us but love each other. Must you go?

    That Cousin here again? he waits outside?

    Must see you—you, and not with me? Those loans?

    More gaming debts to pay? you smiled for that?

    Well, let smiles buy me! have you more to spend?

    While hand and eye and something of a heart

    Are left me, work’s my ware, and what’s it worth?

    I’ll pay my fancy. Only let me sit

    The grey remainder of the evening out,

    Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly

    How I could paint, were I but back in France,

    One picture, just one more—the Virgin’s face,

    Not yours this time! I want you at my side

    To hear them—that is, Michel Agnolo—

    Judge all I do and tell you of its worth.

    Will you? To-morrow, satisfy your friend.

    I take the subjects for his corridor,

    Finish the portrait out of hand—there, there,

    And throw him in another thing or two

    If he demurs; the whole should prove enough

    To pay for this same Cousin’s freak. Beside,

    What’s better and what’s all I care about,

    Get you the thirteen scudi for the ruff!

    Love, does that please you? Ah, but what does he,

    The Cousin! what does he to please you more?

     

    I am grown peaceful as old age to-night.

    I regret little, I would change still less.

    Since there my past life lies, why alter it?

    The very wrong to Francis!—it is true

    I took his coin, was tempted and complied,

    And built this house and sinned, and all is said.

    My father and my mother died of want.

    Well, had I riches of my own? you see

    How one gets rich! Let each one bear his lot.

    They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died:

    And I have laboured somewhat in my time

    And not been paid profusely. Some good son

    Paint my two hundred pictures—let him try!

    No doubt, there’s something strikes a balance. Yes,

    You loved me quite enough. it seems to-night.

    This must suffice me here. What would one have?

    In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance—

    Four great walls in the New Jerusalem,

    Meted on each side by the angel’s reed,

    For Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo and me

    To cover—the three first without a wife,

    While I have mine! So—still they overcome

    Because there’s still Lucrezia,—as I choose.

     

    Again the Cousin’s whistle! Go, my Love

     

    2.6.9: “Caliban Upon Setebos”

    Or, Natural Theology in the Island

     

    “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.”

                            (David, Psalms 50.21)

     

    [‘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.

    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 lived,

    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

    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 born to breathe,

    And in her old bounds buried her despair,

    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 eye

    By moonlight; and the pie with the long tongue

    That pricks deep into oak warts 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 settled 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,

    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 froth 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 born 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 high up that make the merry din,

    Saucy through their veined wings, and mind me not.

    In which feat, if his leg snapped, brittle clay,

    And he lay stupid-like,—why, I should laugh;

    And if he, spying 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,

    But rougher than His handiwork, be sure!

    Oh, He hath made things worthier than Himself,

    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 jay

    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 mine!’

    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 grief,

    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.

    ‘Tis 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,

    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,

    Blinded 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 horny eyes no thorn could prick,

    Or plate my scalp with bone against the snow,

    Or overscale my flesh ‘neath joint and joint

    Like an orc’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?

    ‘Gets good no otherwise. This blinded beast

    Loves whoso places flesh-meat on his nose,

    But, had he eyes, would want no help, but hate

    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.

    ‘Falls 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!

    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,

    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!

    Repeat what act has pleased, He may grow wroth.

    You must not know His ways, and play Him off,

    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,

    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,

    Bask on the pompion-bell above: kills 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,

    O’erheard this speech, and asked “What chucklest at?”

    ‘Would, to appease Him, cut a finger off,

    Or of my three kid yearlings burn the best,

    Or let the toothsome apples rot on tree,

    Or push my tame beast for the orc to taste:

    While myself lit a fire, and made a song

    And sung it, “What I hate, be consecrate

    To celebrate Thee and Thy state, no mate

    For Thee; what see for envy in poor me?”

    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.

    _______________

    [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 fool’s play, this prattling! Ha! The wind

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

    And fast invading fires begin! White blaze—

    A tree’s head snaps—and there, 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!]

     

    2.6.10: Reading and Review Questions

    1. How, if at all, does Browning evoke sympathy for his speakers, and why? What are the possible dangers of such sympathy? What are the possible strengths?
    2. The Romantics suggested that “heaven” could be reached through the senses. Does Browning’s use of concrete details, details evoking the senses, appeal solely to the senses? Why, or why not?
    3. Why, and to what effect, does Browning use actual figures from the historical past? Why would readers be interested in figures who lived at least 100 years before their own time? How, if at all, does Browning make these figures relevant, and why?
    4. How moral are the speakers in his dramatic monologues? How do you know? What’s the effect of their morality, or lack thereof?
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