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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Browning” >’

Let’s contend no more, Love,
Strive nor weep:
All be as before, Love,
—Only sleep!

What so wild as words are?
I and thou
In debate, as birds are,
Hawk on bough!

See the creature stalking
While we speak!
Hush and hide the talking,
Cheek on cheek!

What so false as truth is,
False to thee?
Where the serpent’s tooth is
Shun the tree—

Where the apple reddens
Never pry—
Lest we lose our Edens,
Eve and I.

Be a god and hold me
With a charm!
Be a man and fold me
With thine arm!

Teach me, only teach, Love
As I ought
I will speak thy speech, Love,
Think thy thought—

Meet, if thou require it,
Both demands,
Laying flesh and spirit
In thy hands.

That shall be to-morrow
Not to-night:
I must bury sorrow
Out of sight:

—Must a little weep, Love,
(Foolish me!)
And so fall asleep, Love,
Loved by thee.

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The common problem – yours, mine, everyone’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!
My business is not to remake myself
But make the absolute best of what God made.

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Heap cassia, sandal-buds and stripes
Of labdanum, and aloe-balls,
Smear’d with dull nard an Indian wipes
From out her hair: such balsam falls
Down sea-side mountain pedestals,
From tree-tops where tired winds are fain,
Spent with the vast and howling main,
To treasure half their island-gain.

And strew faint sweetness from some old
Egyptian’s fine worm-eaten shroud
Which breaks to dust when once unroll’d;
Or shredded perfume, like a cloud
From closet long to quiet vow’d,
With moth’d and dropping arras hung,
Mouldering her lute and books among,
As when a queen, long dead, was young.

 

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I.

Said Abner, “At last thou art come! Ere I tell, ere thou speak,
“Kiss my cheek, wish me well!” Then I wished it, and did kiss his cheek.
And he, “Since the King, O my friend, for thy countenance sent,
“Neither drunken nor eaten have we; nor until from his tent
“Thou return with the joyful assurance the King liveth yet,
“Shall our lip with the honey be bright, with the water be wet.
“For out of the black mid-tent’s silence, a space of three days,
“Not a sound hath escaped to thy servants, of prayer nor of praise,
“To betoken that Saul and the Spirit have ended their strife,
“And that, faint in his triumph, the monarch sinks back upon life.

II.

“Yet now my heart leaps, O beloved! God’s child with his dew
“On thy gracious gold hair, and those lilies still living and blue
“Just broken to twine round thy harp-strings, as if no wild beat
“Were now raging to torture the desert!”

III.

Then I, as was meet,
Knelt down to the God of my fathers, and rose on my feet,
And ran o’er the sand burnt to powder. The tent was unlooped;
I pulled up the spear that obstructed, and under I stooped
Hands and knees on the slippery grass-patch, all withered and gone,
That extends to the second enclosure, I groped my way on
Till I felt where the foldskirts fly open. Then once more I prayed,
And opened the foldskirts and entered, and was not afraid
But spoke, “Here is David, thy servant!” And no voice replied.
At the first I saw nought but the blackness but soon I descried
A something more black than the blackness—the vast, the upright
Main prop which sustains the pavilion: and slow into sight
Grew a figure against it, gigantic and blackest of all.
Then a sunbeam, that burst thro’ the tent-roof, showed Saul.

IV.

He stood as erect as that tent-prop, both arms stretched out wide
On the great cross-support in the centre, that goes to each side;
He relaxed not a muscle, but hung there as, caught in his pangs
And waiting his change, the king-serpent all heavily hangs,
Far away from his kind, in the pine, till deliverance come
With the spring-time,—so agonized Saul, drear and stark, blind and dumb.

V.

Then I tuned my harp,—took off the lilies we twine round its chords
Lest they snap ‘neath the stress of the noon-tide—those sunbeams like swords!
And I first played the tune all our sheep know, as, one after one,
So docile they come to the pen-door till folding be done.
They are white and untorn by the bushes, for lo, they have fed
Where the long grasses stifle the water within the stream’s bed;
And now one after one seeks its lodging, as star follows star
Into eve and the blue far above us,—so blue and so far!

VI.

—Then the tune, for which quails on the cornland will each leave his mate
To fly after the player; then, what makes the crickets elate
Till for boldness they fight one another: and then, what has weight
To set the quick jerboa amusing outside his sand house—
There are none such as he for a wonder, half bird and half mouse!
God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our fear,
To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here.

VII.

Then I played the help-tune of our reapers, their wine-song, when hand
Grasps at hand, eye lights eye in good friendship, and great hearts expand
And grow one in the sense of this world’s life.—And then, the last song
When the dead man is praised on his journey—“Bear, bear him along
“With his few faults shut up like dead flowerets! Are balm-seeds not here
“To console us? The land has none left such as he on the bier.
“Oh, would we might keep thee, my brother!”—And then, the glad chaunt
Of the marriage,—first go the young maidens, next, she whom we vaunt
As the beauty, the pride of our dwelling.—And then, the great march
Wherein man runs to man to assist him and buttress an arch
Nought can break; who shall harm them, our friends?—Then, the chorus intoned
As the Levites go up to the altar in glory enthroned.
But I stopped here: for here in the darkness Saul groaned.

VIII.

And I paused, held my breath in such silence, and listened apart;
And the tent shook, for mighty Saul shuddered: and sparkles ‘gan dart
From the jewels that woke in his turban, at once with a start,
All its lordly male-sapphires, and rubies courageous at heart.
So the head: but the body still moved not, still hung there erect.
And I bent once again to my playing, pursued it unchecked,
As I sang,—

IX.

“Oh, our manhood’s prime vigour! No spirit feels waste,
“Not a muscle is stopped in its playing nor sinew unbraced.
“Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
“The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool silver shock
“Of the plunge in a pool’s living water, the hunt of the bear,
“And the sultriness showing the lion is couched in his lair.
“And the meal, the rich dates yellowed over with gold dust divine,
“And the locust-flesh steeped in the pitcher, the full draught of wine,
“And the sleep in the dried river-channel where bulrushes tell
“That the water was wont to go warbling so softly and well.
“How good is man’s life, the mere living! how fit to employ
“All the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy!
“Hast thou loved the white locks of thy father, whose sword thou didst guard
“When he trusted thee forth with the armies, for glorious reward?
“Didst thou see the thin hands of thy mother, held up as men sung
“The low song of the nearly-departed, and bear her faint tongue
“Joining in while it could to the witness, `Let one more attest,
“ `I have lived, seen God’s hand thro’a lifetime, and all was for best’?
“Then they sung thro’ their tears in strong triumph, not much, but the rest.
“And thy brothers, the help and the contest, the working whence grew
“Such result as, from seething grape-bundles, the spirit strained true:
“And the friends of thy boyhood—that boyhood of wonder and hope,
“Present promise and wealth of the future beyond the eye’s scope,—
“Till lo, thou art grown to a monarch; a people is thine;
“And all gifts, which the world offers singly, on one head combine!
“On one head, all the beauty and strength, love and rage (like the throe
“That, a-work in the rock, helps its labour and lets the gold go)
“High ambition and deeds which surpass it, fame crowning them,—all
“Brought to blaze on the head of one creature—King Saul!”

X.

And lo, with that leap of my spirit,—heart, hand, harp and voice,
Each lifting Saul’s name out of sorrow, each bidding rejoice
Saul’s fame in the light it was made for—as when, dare I say,
The Lord’s army, in rapture of service, strains through its array,
And up soareth the cherubim-chariot—“Saul!” cried I, and stopped,
And waited the thing that should follow. Then Saul, who hung propped
By the tent’s cross-support in the centre, was struck by his name.
Have ye seen when Spring’s arrowy summons goes right to the aim,
And some mountain, the last to withstand her, that held (he alone,
While the vale laughed in freedom and flowers) on a broad bust of stone
A year’s snow bound about for a breastplate,—leaves grasp of the sheet?
Fold on fold all at once it crowds thunderously down to his feet,
And there fronts you, stark, black, but alive yet, your mountain of old,
With his rents, the successive bequeathings of ages untold—
Yea, each harm got in fighting your battles, each furrow and scar
Of his head thrust ‘twixt you and the tempest—all hail, there they are!
—Now again to be softened with verdure, again hold the nest
Of the dove, tempt the goat and its young to the green on his crest
For their food in the ardours of summer. One long shudder thrilled
All the tent till the very air tingled, then sank and was stilled
At the King’s self left standing before me, released and aware.
What was gone, what remained? All to traverse, ‘twixt hope and despair;
Death was past, life not come: so he waited. Awhile his right hand
Held the brow, helped the eyes left too vacant forthwith to remand
To their place what new objects should enter: ’twas Saul as before.
I looked up and dared gaze at those eyes, nor was hurt any more
Than by slow pallid sunsets in autumn, ye watch from the shore,
At their sad level gaze o’er the ocean—a sun’s slow decline
Over hills which, resolved in stern silence, o’erlap and entwine
Base with base to knit strength more intensely: so, arm folded arm
O’er the chest whose slow heavings subsided.

XI.

What spell or what charm,
(For, awhile there was trouble within me) what next should I urge
To sustain him where song had restored him?—Song filled to the verge
His cup with the wine of this life, pressing all that it yields
Of mere fruitage, the strength and the beauty: beyond, on what fields,
Glean a vintage more potent and perfect to brighten the eye
And bring blood to the lip, and commend them the cup they put by?
He saith, “It is good;” still he drinks not: he lets me praise life,
Gives assent, yet would die for his own part.

XII.

Then fancies grew rife
Which had come long ago on the pasture, when round me the sheep
Fed in silence—above, the one eagle wheeled slow as in sleep;
And I lay in my hollow and mused on the world that might lie
‘Neath his ken, though I saw but the strip ‘twixt the hill and the sky:
And I laughed—“Since my days are ordained to be passed with my flocks,
“Let me people at least, with my fancies, the plains and the rocks,
“Dream the life I am never to mix with, and image the show
“Of mankind as they live in those fashions I hardly shall know!
“Schemes of life, its best rules and right uses, the courage that gains,
“And the prudence that keeps what men strive for.” And now these old trains
Of vague thought came again; I grew surer; so, once more the string
Of my harp made response to my spirit, as thus—

XIII.

“Yea, my King,”
I began—“thou dost well in rejecting mere comforts that spring
“From the mere mortal life held in common by man and by brute:
“In our flesh grows the branch of this life, in our soul it bears fruit.
“Thou hast marked the slow rise of the tree,—how its stem trembled first
“Till it passed the kid’s lip, the stag’s antler then safely outburst
“The fan-branches all round; and thou mindest when these too, in turn
“Broke a-bloom and the palm-tree seemed perfect: yet more was to learn,
“E’en the good that comes in with the palm-fruit. Our dates shall we slight,
“When their juice brings a cure for all sorrow? or care for the plight
“Of the palm’s self whose slow growth produced them? Not so! stem and branch
“Shall decay, nor be known in their place, while the palm-wine shall staunch
“Every wound of man’s spirit in winter. I pour thee such wine.
“Leave the flesh to the fate it was fit for! the spirit be thine!
“By the spirit, when age shall o’ercome thee, thou still shalt enjoy
“More indeed, than at first when inconscious, the life of a boy.
“Crush that life, and behold its wine running! Each deed thou hast done
“Dies, revives, goes to work in the world; until e’en as the sun
“Looking down on the earth, though clouds spoil him, though tempests efface,
“Can find nothing his own deed produced not, must everywhere trace
“The results of his past summer-prime’—so, each ray of thy will,
“Every flash of thy passion and prowess, long over, shall thrill
“Thy whole people, the countless, with ardour, till they too give forth
“A like cheer to their sons, who in turn, fill the South and the North
“With the radiance thy deed was the germ of. Carouse in the past!
“But the license of age has its limit; thou diest at last:
“As the lion when age dims his eyeball, the rose at her height
“So with man—so his power and his beauty for ever take flight.
“No! Again a long draught of my soul-wine! Look forth o’er the years!
“Thou hast done now with eyes for the actual; begin with the seer’s!
“Is Saul dead? In the depth of the vale make his tomb—bid arise
“A grey mountain of marble heaped four-square, till, built to the skies,
“Let it mark where the great First King slumbers: whose fame would ye know?
“Up above see the rock’s naked face, where the record shall go
“In great characters cut by the scribe,—Such was Saul, so he did;
“With the sages directing the work, by the populace chid,—
“For not half, they’ll affirm, is comprised there! Which fault to amend,
“In the grove with his kind grows the cedar, whereon they shall spend
“(See, in tablets ’tis level before them) their praise, and record
“With the gold of the graver, Saul’s story,—the statesman’s great word
“Side by side with the poet’s sweet comment. The river’s a-wave
“With smooth paper-reeds grazing each other when prophet-winds rave:
“So the pen gives unborn generations their due and their part
“In thy being! Then, first of the mighty, thank God that thou art!”

XIV.

And behold while I sang … but O Thou who didst grant me that day,
And before it not seldom hast granted thy help to essay,
Carry on and complete an adventure,—my shield and my sword
In that act where my soul was thy servant, thy word was my word,—
Still be with me, who then at the summit of human endeavour
And scaling the highest, man’s thought could, gazed hopeless as ever
On the new stretch of heaven above me—till, mighty to save,
Just one lift of thy hand cleared that distance—God’s throne from man’s grave!
Let me tell out my tale to its ending—my voice to my heart
Which can scarce dare believe in what marvels last night I took part,
As this morning I gather the fragments, alone with my sheep,
And still fear lest the terrible glory evanish like sleep!
For I wake in the grey dewy covert, while Hebron upheaves
The dawn struggling with night on his shoulder, and Kidron retrieves
Slow the damage of yesterday’s sunshine.

XV.

I say then,—my song
While I sang thus, assuring the monarch, and ever more strong
Made a proffer of good to console him—he slowly resumed
His old motions and habitudes kingly. The right-hand replumed
His black locks to their wonted composure, adjusted the swathes
Of his turban, and see—the huge sweat that his countenance bathes,
He wipes off with the robe; and he girds now his loins as of yore,
And feels slow for the armlets of price, with the clasp set before.
He is Saul, ye remember in glory,—ere error had bent
The broad brow from the daily communion; and still, though much spent
Be the life and the bearing that front you, the same, God did choose,
To receive what a man may waste, desecrate, never quite lose.
So sank he along by the tent-prop till, stayed by the pile
Of his armour and war-cloak and garments, he leaned there awhile,
And sat out my singing,—one arm round the tent-prop, to raise
His bent head, and the other hung slack—till I touched on the praise
I foresaw from all men in all time, to the man patient there;
And thus ended, the harp falling forward. Then first I was ‘ware
That he sat, as I say, with my head just above his vast knees
Which were thrust out on each side around me, like oak-roots which please
To encircle a lamb when it slumbers. I looked up to know
If the best I could do had brought solace: he spoke not, but slow
Lifted up the hand slack at his side, till he laid it with care
Soft and grave, but in mild settled will, on my brow: thro’ my hair
The large fingers were pushed, and he bent back my bead, with kind power—
All my face back, intent to peruse it, as men do a flower.
Thus held he me there with his great eyes that scrutinized mine—
And oh, all my heart how it loved him! but where was the sign?
I yearned—“Could I help thee, my father, inventing a bliss,
“I would add, to that life of the past, both the future and this;
“I would give thee new life altogether, as good, ages hence,
“As this moment,—had love but the warrant, love’s heart to dispense!”

XVI.

Then the truth came upon me. No harp more—no song more! outbroke—

XVII.

“I have gone the whole round of creation: I saw and I spoke:
“I, a work of God’s hand for that purpose, received in my brain
“And pronounced on the rest of his hand-work—returned him again
“His creation’s approval or censure: I spoke as I saw:
“I report, as a man may of God’s work—all’s love, yet all’s law.
“Now I lay down the judgeship he lent me. Each faculty tasked
“To perceive him, has gained an abyss, where a dewdrop was asked.
“Have I knowledge? confounded it shrivels at Wisdom laid bare.
“Have I forethought? how purblind, how blank, to the Infinite Care!
“Do I task any faculty highest, to image success?
“I but open my eyes,—and perfection, no more and no less,
“In the kind I imagined, full-fronts me, and God is seen God
“In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod.
“And thus looking within and around me, I ever renew
“(With that stoop of the soul which in bending upraises it too)
“The submission of man’s nothing-perfect to God’s all-complete,
“As by each new obeisance in spirit, I climb to his feet.
“Yet with all this abounding experience, this deity known,
“I shall dare to discover some province, some gift of my own.
“There’s a faculty pleasant to exercise, hard to hoodwink,
“I am fain to keep still in abeyance, (I laugh as I think)
“Lest, insisting to claim and parade in it, wot ye, I worst
“E’en the Giver in one gift.—Behold, I could love if I durst!
“But I sink the pretension as fearing a man may o’ertake
“God’s own speed in the one way of love: I abstain for love’s sake.
“—What, my soul? see thus far and no farther? when doors great and small,
“Nine-and-ninety flew ope at our touch, should the hundredth appal?
“In the least things have faith, yet distrust in the greatest of all?
“Do I find love so full in my nature, God’s ultimate gift,
“That I doubt his own love can compete with it? Here, the parts shift?
“Here, the creature surpass the Creator,—the end, what Began?
“Would I fain in my impotent yearning do all for this man,
“And dare doubt he alone shall not help him, who yet alone can?
“Would it ever have entered my mind, the bare will, much less power,
“To bestow on this Saul what I sang of, the marvellous dower
“Of the life he was gifted and filled with? to make such a soul,
“Such a body, and then such an earth for insphering the whole?
“And doth it not enter my mind (as my warm tears attest)
“These good things being given, to go on, and give one more, the best?
“Ay, to save and redeem and restore him, maintain at the height
“This perfection,—succeed with life’s day-spring, death’s minute of night?
“Interpose at the difficult minute, snatch Saul the mistake,
“Saul the failure, the ruin he seems now,—and bid him awake
“From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself set
“Clear and safe in new light and new life,—a new harmony yet
“To be run, and continued, and ended—who knows?—or endure!
“The man taught enough, by life’s dream, of the rest to make sure;
“By the pain-throb, triumphantly winning intensified bliss,
“And the next world’s reward and repose, by the struggles in this.

XVIII.

“I believe it! ‘Tis thou, God, that givest, ’tis I who receive:
“In the first is the last, in thy will is my power to believe.
“All’s one gift: thou canst grant it moreover, as prompt to my prayer
“As I breathe out this breath, as I open these arms to the air.
“From thy will, stream the worlds, life and nature, thy dread Sabaoth:
“_I_ will?—the mere atoms despise me! Why am I not loth
“To look that, even that in the face too? Why is it I dare
“Think but lightly of such impuissance? What stops my despair?
“This;—’tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do!
“See the King—I would help him but cannot, the wishes fall through.
“Could I wrestle to raise him from sorrow, grow poor to enrich,
“To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would—knowing which,
“I know that my service is perfect. Oh, speak through me now!
“Would I suffer for him that I love? So wouldst thou—so wilt thou!
“So shall crown thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown—
“And thy love fill infinitude wholly, nor leave up nor down
“One spot for the creature to stand in! It is by no breath,
“Turn of eye, wave of hand, that salvation joins issue with death!
“As thy Love is discovered almighty, almighty be proved
“Thy power, that exists with and for it, of being Beloved!
“He who did most, shall bear most; the strongest shall stand the most weak.
“’Tis the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
“In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul, it shall be
“A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me,
“Thou shalt love and be loved by, for ever: a Hand like this hand
“Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ stand!”

XIX.

I know not too well how I found my way home in the night.
There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right,
Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware:
I repressed, I got through them as hardly, as strugglingly there,
As a runner beset by the populace famished for news—
Life or death. The whole earth was awakened, hell loosed with her crews;
And the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and shot
Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge: but I fainted not,
For the Hand still impelled me at once and supported, suppressed
All the tumult, and quenched it with quiet, and holy behest,
Till the rapture was shut in itself, and the earth sank to rest.
Anon at the dawn, all that trouble had withered from earth—
Not so much, but I saw it die out in the day’s tender birth;
In the gathered intensity brought to the grey of the hills;
In the shuddering forests’ held breath; in the sudden wind-thrills;
In the startled wild beasts that bore off, each with eye sidling still
Though averted with wonder and dread; in the birds stiff and chill
That rose heavily, as I approached them, made stupid with awe:
E’en the serpent that slid away silent,—he felt the new law.
The same stared in the white humid faces upturned by the flowers;
The same worked in the heart of the cedar and moved the vine-bowers:
And the little brooks witnessing murmured, persistent and low,
With their obstinate, all but hushed voices—“E’en so, it is so!”

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O but is it not hard, Dear?
Mine are the nerves to quake at a mouse:
If a spider drops I shrink with fear:
I should die outright in a haunted house;
While for you—did the danger dared bring help—
From a lion’s den I could steal his whelp,
With a serpent round me, stand stock-still,
Go sleep in a churchyard,—so would will
Give me the power to dare and do
Valiantly—just for you!

Much amiss in the head, Dear,
I toil at a language, tax my brain
Attempting to draw—the scratches here!
I play, play, practise and all in vain:
But for you—if my triumph brought you pride,
I would grapple with Greek Plays till I died,
Paint a portrait of you—who can tell?
Work my fingers off for your “Pretty well:”
Language and painting and music too,
Easily done—for you!

Strong and fierce in the heart, Dear,
With—more than a will—what seems a power
To pounce on my prey, love outbroke here
In flame devouring and to devour.
Such love has laboured its best and worst
To win me a lover; yet, last as first,
I have not quickened his pulse one beat,
Fixed a moment’s fancy, bitter or sweet:
Yet the strong fierce heart’s love’s labour’s due,
Utterly lost, was—you!

 

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All, that I know
Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
(Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
Now a dart of blue
Till my friends have said
They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.

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I go to prove my soul,
I see my way as birds their trackless way,
I shall arrive. – What time, what circuit first,
I ask not: but unless God send His hail
Of blinding fireballs, sleet, or stifling snow,
In some time, His Good time, I shall arrive;
He guides me and the bird. In His good time.

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(shortly after the revival of learning in Europe)

 

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

 

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

(Here’s the town-gate reached: there’s the market-place
Gaping before us.)
Yea, this in him was the peculiar grace
(Hearten our chorus!)
That before living he’d learn how to live–
No end to learning:
Earn the means first–God surely will contrive
Use for our earning.
Others mistrust and say, “But time escapes:
Live now or never!”
He said, “What’s time? Leave Now for dogs and apes!
Man has Forever.”
Back to his book then: deeper drooped his head:
Calculus racked him:
Leaden before, his eyes grew dross of lead:
Tussis attacked him.
“Now, master, take a little rest!”–not he!
(Caution redoubled
Step two abreast, the way winds narrowly!)
Not a whit troubled,
Back to his studies, fresher than at first,
Fierce as a dragon
He (soul-hydroptic with a sacred thirst)
Sucked at the flagon.
Oh, if we draw a circle premature,
Heedless of far gain,
Greedy for quick returns of profit, sure
Bad is our bargain!
Was it not great? did not he throw on God,
(He loves the burthen)–
God’s task to make the heavenly period
Perfect the earthen?
Did not he magnify the mind, show clear
Just what it all meant?
He would not discount life, as fools do here,
Paid by instalment.
He ventured neck or nothing–heaven’s success
Found, or earth’s failure:
“Wilt thou trust death or not?” He answered “Yes:
Hence with life’s pale lure!”
That low man seeks a little thing to do,
Sees it and does it:
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
His hundred’s soon hit:
This high man, aiming at a million,
Misses an unit.
That, has the world here–should he need the next,
Let the world mind him!
This, throws himself on God, and unperplexed
Seeking shall find him.
So, with the throttling hands of death at strife,
Ground he at grammar;
Still, thro’ the rattle, parts of speech were rife:
While he could stammer
He settled Hoti’s business–let it be!–
Properly based Oun–
Gave us the doctrine of the enclitic De,
Dead from the waist down.
Well, here’s the platform, here’s the proper place:
Hail to your purlieus,
All ye highfliers of the feathered race,
Swallows and curlews!
Here’s the top-peak; the multitude below
Live, for they can, there:
This man decided not to Live but Know–
Bury this man there?
Here–here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,
Lightnings are loosened,
Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,
Peace let the dew send!
Lofty designs must close in like effects:
Loftily lying,
Leave him–still loftier than the world suspects,
Living and dying.

 

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childe roland

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.

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 falIen 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 man 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 route 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,
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.

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

XXIX.

Yet half I seemed to recognize 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 counter-part
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 hill-sides, 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._”

——————————————————————

Links to summary/analysis:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childe_Roland_to_the_Dark_Tower_Came

https://jaclynbaglos.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/childe-roland-to-the-dark-tower-came-analysis/

https://www.revolvy.com/page/Childe-Roland-to-the-Dark-Tower-Came

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/aug/25/poemoftheweekchildroland

https://tigerprints.clemson.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2996&context=all_theses

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I.

As I ride, as I ride,
With a full heart for my guide,
So its tide rocks my side,
As I ride, as I ride,
That, as I were double-eyed,
He, in whom our Tribes confide,
Is descried, ways untried
As I ride, as I ride.

II.

As I ride, as I ride
To our Chief and his Allied,
Who dares chide my heart’s pride
As I ride, as I ride?
Or are witnesses denied—
Through the desert waste and wide
Do I glide unespied
As I ride, as I ride?

III.

As I ride, as I ride,
When an inner voice has cried,
The sands slide, nor abide
(As I ride, as I ride)
O’er each visioned homicide
That came vaunting (has he lied?)
To reside—where he died,
As I ride, as I ride.

IV.

As I ride, as I ride,
Ne’er has spur my swift horse plied,
Yet his hide, streaked and pied,
As I ride, as I ride,
Shows where sweat has sprung and dried,
—Zebra-footed, ostrich-thighed—
How has vied stride with stride
As I ride, as I ride!

V.

As I ride, as I ride,
Could I loose what Fate has tied,
Ere I pried, she should hide
(As I ride, as I ride)
All that’s meant me—satisfied
When the Prophet and the Bride
Stop veins I’d have subside
As I ride, as I ride!

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