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Selections from the Poems and Plays of Robert Browning By Robert Browning Characters: 12328

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


And now, what took place at the very first of all,

I cannot tell, as I never could learn it:495

Jacynth constantly wished a curse to fall

On that little head of hers and burn it,

If she knew how she came to drop so soundly

Asleep of a sudden and there continue

The whole time sleeping as profoundly500

As one of the boars my father would pin you

'Twixt the eyes where life holds garrison,

-Jacynth forgive me the comparison!

But where I begin my own narration

Is a little after I took my station505

To breathe the fresh air from the balcony,

And, having in those days a falcon eye,

To follow the hunt through the open country,

From where the bushes thinlier crested

The hillocks, to a plain where's not one tree.510

When, in a moment, my ear was arrested

By-was it singing, or was it saying,

Or a strange musical instrument playing

In the chamber?-and to be certain

I pushed the lattice, pulled the curtain,515

And there lay Jacynth asleep,

Yet as if a watch she tried to keep,

In a rosy sleep along the floor

With her head against the door;

While in the midst, on the seat of state,520

Was a queen-the gypsy woman late,

With head and face downbent

On the lady's head and face intent:

For, coiled at her feet like a child at ease,

The lady sat between her knees,525

And o'er them the lady's clasped hands met,

And on those hands her chin was set,

And her upturned face met the face of the crone

Wherein the eyes had grown and grown

As if she could double and quadruple530

At pleasure the play of either pupil

-Very like, by her hands' slow fanning,

As up and down like a gor-crow's flappers

They moved to measure, or bell-clappers.

I said, "Is it blessing, is it banning,535

Do they applaud you or burlesque you

Those hands and fingers with no flesh on?"

But, just as I thought to spring in to the rescue,

At once I was stopped by the lady's expression:

For it was life her eyes were drinking540

From the crone's wide pair above unwinking,

-Life's pure fire received without shrinking,

Into the heart and breast whose heaving

Told you no single drop they were leaving

-Life, that filling her, passed redundant545

Into her very hair, back swerving

Over each shoulder, loose and abundant,

As her head thrown back showed the white throat curving;

And the very tresses shared in the pleasure,

Moving to the mystic measure,550

Bounding as the bosom bounded.

I stopped short, more and more confounded,

As still her cheeks burned and eyes glistened,

As she listened and she listened:

When all at once a hand detained me,555

The selfsame contagion gained me,

And I kept time to the wondrous chime,

Making out words and prose and rhyme,

Till it seemed that the music furled

Its wings like a task fulfilled, and dropped560

From under the words it first had propped,

And left them midway in the world:

Word took word as hand takes hand,

I could hear at last, and understand,

And when I held the unbroken thread,565

The gypsy said:

"And so at last we find my tribe.

And so I set thee in the midst,

And to one and all of them describe

What thou saidst and what thou didst,570

Our long and terrible journey through,

And all thou art ready to say and do

In the trials that remain:

I trace them the vein and the other vein

That meet on thy brow and part again,575

Making our rapid mystic mark;

And I bid my people prove and probe

Each eye's profound and glorious globe

Till they detect the kindred spark

In those depths so dear and dark,580

Like the spots that snap and burst and flee,

Circling over the midnight sea.

And on that round young cheek of thine

I make them recognize the tinge,

As when of the costly scarlet wine585

They drip so much as will impinge

And spread in a thinnest scale afloat

One thick gold drop from the olive's coat

Over a silver plate whose sheen

Still through the mixture shall be seen.590

For so I prove thee, to one and all,

Fit, when my people ope their breast,

To see the sign, and hear the call,

And take the vow, and stand the test

Which adds one more child to the rest-595

When the breast is bare and the arms are wide,

And the world is left outside.

For there is probation to decree,

And many and long must the trials be

Thou shalt victoriously endure,600

If that brow is true and those eyes are sure;

Like a jewel-finder's fierce assay

Of the prize he dug from its mountain-tomb-

Let once the vindicating ray

Leap out amid the anxious gloom,605

And steel and fire have done their part

And the prize falls on its finder's heart;

So, trial after trial past,

Wilt thou fall at the very last

Breathless, half in trance610

With the thrill of the great deliverance,

Into our arms forevermore;

And thou shalt know, those arms once curled

About thee, what we knew before,

How love is the only good in the world.615

Henceforth be loved as heart can love,

Or brain devise, or hand approve!

Stand up, look below,

It is our life at thy feet we throw

To step with into light and joy;620

Not a power of life but we employ

To satisfy thy nature's want;

Art thou the tree that props the plant,

Or the climbing plant that seeks the tree-

Canst thou help us, must we help thee?625

If any two creatures grew into one,

They would do more than the world has done:

Though each apart were never so weak,

Ye vainly through the world should seek

For the knowledge and the might630

Which in such union grew their right:

So, to approach at least that end,

And blend-as much as may be, blend

Thee with us or us with thee-

As climbing plant or propping tree,635

Shall someone deck thee, over and down,

Up and about, with blossoms and leaves?

Fix his heart's fruit for thy garland-crown,

Cling with his soul as the gourd-vine cleaves,

Die on thy boughs and disappear640

While not a leaf of thine is sere?

Or is the other fate in

store,

And art thou fitted to adore,

To give thy wondrous self away,

And take a stronger nature's sway?645

I foresee and could foretell

Thy future portion, sure and well:

But those passionate eyes speak true, speak true,

Let them say what thou shalt do!

Only be sure thy daily life,650

In its peace or in its strife,

Never shall be unobserved;

We pursue thy whole career,

And hope for it, or doubt, or fear-

Lo, hast thou kept thy path or swerved,655

We are beside thee in all thy ways,

With our blame, with our praise,

Our shame to feel, our pride to show,

Glad, angry-but indifferent, no!

Whether it be thy lot to go,660

For the good of us all, where the haters meet

In the crowded city's horrible street;

Or thou step alone through the morass

Where never sound yet was

Save the dry quick clap of the stork's bill,665

For the air is still, and the water still,

When the blue breast of the dipping coot

Dives under, and all is mute.

So, at the last shall come old age,

Decrepit as befits that stage;670

How else wouldst thou retire apart

With the hoarded memories of thy heart,

And gather all to the very least

Of the fragments of life's earlier feast,

Let fall through eagerness to find675

The crowning dainties yet behind?

Ponder on the entire past

Laid together thus at last,

When the twilight helps to fuse

The first fresh with the faded hues,680

And the outline of the whole,

As round eve's shades their framework roll,

Grandly fronts for once thy soul.

And then as, 'mid the dark, a gleam

Of yet another morning breaks,685

And like the hand which ends a dream,

Death, with the might of his sunbeam,

Touches the flesh and the soul awakes,

Then"--

Aye, then indeed something would happen!

But what? For here her voice changed like a bird's;690

There grew more of the music and less of the words;

Had Jacynth only been by me to clap pen

To paper and put you down every syllable

With those clever clerkly fingers,

All I've forgotten as well as what lingers695

In this old brain of mine that's but ill able

To give you even this poor version

Of the speech I spoil, as it were, with stammering

-More fault of those who had the hammering

Of prosody into me and syntax,700

And did it, not with hobnails but tin-tacks!

But to return from this excursion-

Just, do you mark, when the song was sweetest,

The peace most deep and the charm completest,

There came, shall I say, a snap-705

And the charm vanished!

And my sense returned, so strangely banished,

And, starting as from a nap,

I knew the crone was bewitching my lady,

With Jacynth asleep; and but one spring made I710

Down from the casement, round to the portal,

Another minute and I had entered-

When the door opened, and more than mortal

Stood, with a face where to my mind centered

All beauties I ever saw or shall see,715

The Duchess: I stopped as if struck by palsy.

She was so different, happy and beautiful,

I felt at once that all was best,

And that I had nothing to do, for the rest,

But wait her commands, obey and be dutiful.720

Not that, in fact, there was any commanding;

I saw the glory of her eye,

And the brow's height and the breast's expanding,

And I was hers to live or to die.

As for finding what she wanted,725

You know God Almighty granted

Such little signs should serve wild creatures

To tell one another all their desires,

So that each knows what his friend requires,

And does its bidding without teachers.730

I preceded her: the crone

Followed silent and alone;

I spoke to her, but she merely jabbered

In the old style; both her eyes had slunk

Back to their pits; her stature shrunk;735

In short, the soul in its body sunk

Like a blade sent home to its scabbard.

We descended, I preceding;

Crossed the court with nobody heeding;

All the world was at the chase,740

The courtyard like a desert-place,

The stable emptied of its small fry;

I saddled myself the very palfrey

I remember patting while it carried her,

The day she arrived and the Duke married her.745

And, do you know, though it's easy deceiving

Oneself in such matters, I can't help believing

The lady had not forgotten it either,

And knew the poor devil so much beneath her

Would have been only too glad for her service750

To dance on hot plowshares like a Turk dervise,

But, unable to pay proper duty where owing it,

Was reduced to that pitiful method of showing it:

For though the moment I began setting

His saddle on my own nag of Berold's begetting,755

(Not that I meant to be obtrusive)

She stopped me, while his rug was shifting,

By a single rapid finger's lifting,

And, with a gesture kind but conclusive,

And a little shake of the head, refused me-760

I say, although she never used me,

Yet when she was mounted, the gypsy behind her,

And I ventured to remind her,

I suppose with a voice of less steadiness

Than usual, for my feeling exceeded me,765

-Something to the effect that I was in readiness

Whenever God should please she needed me-

Then, do you know, her face looked down on me

With a look that placed a crown on me,

And she felt in her bosom-mark, her bosom-770

And, as a flower-tree drops its blossom,

Dropped me ... ah, had it been a purse

Of silver, my friend, or gold that's worse,

Why, you see, as soon as I found myself

So understood-that a true heart so may gain775

Such a reward-I should have gone home again,

Kissed Jacynth, and soberly drowned myself!

It was a little plait of hair

Such as friends in a convent make

To wear, each for the other's sake-780

This, see, which at my breast I wear,

Ever did (rather to Jacynth's grudgment),

And ever shall, till the Day of Judgment.

And then-and then-to cut short-this is idle,

These are feelings it is not good to foster-785

I pushed the gate wide, she shook the bridle,

And the palfrey bounded-and so we lost her.

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