Introduction and Notes: Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke, from the edition of Browning's poems published by Thomas Y. Crowell and Company, New York, in 1898.
Editing conventions: The digraphs have been silently rendered as "ae" or "oe."
indicates u-grave, a-grave, e-grave, and a-circumflex. Similarly, u-umlaut is rendered as "ue."
Stanza and section numbers have been moved to the left margin, and periods that follow them have been removed.
Periods have been omitted after Roman numerals in the titles of popes and nobles.
In keeping with contemporary practice, commas have been deleted when they precede dashes and spaces deleted in such contractions as "there's" where the printed text has "there 's."
In references to Bible verses, Roman numerals have been changed to Arabic numerals (e. g., "John iii.16" is changed to "John 3:16").
MEN AND WOMEN
CONTENTS Introduction (by Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke) "Transcendentalism: A Poem in Twelve Books" How It Strikes a Contemporary Artemis Prologizes An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician Johannes Agricola in Meditation Pictor Ignotus Fra Lippo Lippi Andrea del Sarto The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church Bishop Blougram's Apology Cleon Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli One Word More
Thirteen years after the publication, in 1855, of the Poems, in two volumes, entitled "Men and Women," Browning reviewed his work and made an interesting reclassification of it. He separated the simpler pieces of a lyric or epic cast—such rhymed presentations of an emotional moment, for example, as "Mesmerism" and "A Woman's Last Word," or the picturesque rhymed verse telling a story of an experience, such as "Childe Roland" and "The Statue and the Bust"—from their more complex companions, which were almost altogether in blank verse, and, in general, markedly personified a typical man in his environment, a Cleon or Fra Lippo, a Rudel or a Blougram. These boldly sculptured figures he set apart from the others as the fit components of the more closely related group which ever since has constituted the division now known as "Men and Women."
Possibly the poet took some pleasure in thus bringing to confusion those critics who, beginning first to take any notice of his work after the issue of these volumes of 1855, discovered therein poems they praised chiefly by means of contrasting them with foregoing work they found unnoticeable and later work they declared inscrutable. Their bland discrimination, at any rate, in favor of "Men and Women" became henceforth inapplicable, since the poet not only cast out from the division they elected to honor the little lyrical pieces that caught their eye, but also brought to the front, from his earlier neglected work of the same kind as the monologues retained, his Johannes Agricola of 1836, Pictor Ignotus of 1845, and Rudel of 1842. Later criticism, moreover, that even yet assumes to ring the old changes of discrimination against everything but "Men and Women," is made not merely inapplicable by this re-arrangement, but uninformed, a meaningless echo of a borrowed opinion which has had the very ground from under it shifted.
The self-criticism of which this re-arrangement gives a hint is more valuable.
All the shorter poems accumulated up to this period, various as they are in theme and metrical form, are uniform in the fashioning of their contour and color. As soon as this underlying uniformity of make is recognized it may be seen to be the coloring and relief belonging to any sort of poetic material, whether ordinarily accounted dramatic material or not, which is imaginatively externalized and made concrete. This peculiarity of make Browning early acknowledged in his estimate of his shorter poems as characteristic of his touch, when he called his lyrics and romances dramatic. He became consciously sensitive later to slight variations effected by his manipulation in shape and shade which it yet takes a little thought to discern, even after his own redivision of his work has given the clew to his self-judgments.
Not only events, deeds, and characters—the usual subject-matter moulded and irradiated by dramatic power—but thoughts, impressions, experiences, impulses, no matter how spiritualized or complex or mobile, are transfused with the enlivening light of his creative energy in his shorter poems. Perhaps the very path struck out through them by the poet in his re-division may be traced between the leaves silently closing together again behind him if it be noticed that among these poems there are some with footholds firmly rooted in the earth and others whose proper realm is air. These have wings for alighting, for flitting thither and hither, or for pursuing some sudden rapt whirl of flight in Heaven's face at fancy's bidding. They are certainly not less original than those other solider, earth-fast poems, but they are less unique. Being motived in transient fancy, they are more akin to poems by other hands, and could be classed more readily with them by any observer, despite all differences, as little poetic romances or as a species of lyric.
They were probably first found praiseworthy, not only because they were simpler, but because, being more like work already understood and approved, adventurous criticism was needed to taste their quality. The other longer poems in blank verse, graver and more dignified, yet even more vivid, and far more life-encompassing, which bore the rounded impress of the living human being, instead of the shadowy motion of the lively human fancy—these are the birth of a process of imaginative brooding upon the development of man by means of individuality throughout the slow, unceasing flow of human history. Browning evidently grew aware that whatever these poems of personality might prove to be worth to the world, these were the ones deserving of a place apart, under the early title of "Men and Women," which he thought especially suited to the more roundly modelled and distinctively colored exemplars of his peculiar faculty.
In his next following collection, under the similar descriptive title of "Dramatis Personae," he added to this class of work, shaping in the mould of blank verse mainly used for "Men and Women" his personifications of the Medium Mr. Sludge, the embryo theologian Caliban, the ripened mystical saint of "A Death in the Desert"; while Abt Vogler, the creative musician, Rabbi ben Ezra, the intuitional philosopher, and the chastened adept in loving, James Lee's wife, although held within the embrace of their maker's dramatic conception of them, as persons of his stage, were made to pour out their speech in rhyme as Johannes Agricola in the earlier volume uttered his creed and Rudel his love-message, as if the heat of their emotion-moved personality required such an outlet. Some such general notion as this of the scope of this volume, and of the design of the poet in the construction, classification, and orderly arrangement of so much of his briefer work as is here contained seems to be borne out upon a closer examination. On the threshold of this new poetic world of personality stands the Poet of the poem significantly called "Transcendentalism," who is speaking to another poet about the too easily obvious, metaphor-bare philosophy of his opus in twelve books. That the admonishing poet is stationed there at the very door-sill of the Gallery of Men and Women is surely not accidental, even if Browning's habit of plotting his groups of poems symmetrically by opening with a prologue-poem sounding the right key, and rounding the theme with an epilogue, did not tend to prove it intentional. It is an open secret that the last poem in "Men and Women," for instance, is an epilogue of autobiographical interest, gathering up the foregoing strains of his lyre, for a few last chords, in so intimate a way that the actual fall of the fingers may be felt, the pausing smile seen, as the performer turns towards the one who inspired "One Word More." The appropriateness of "Transcendentalism" as a prologue need be no more of a secret than that of "One Word More" as an epilogue, although it is left to betray itself. Other poets writing on the poet, Emerson for example, and Tennyson, place the outright plain name of their thought at the head of their verses, without any attempt to make their titles dress their parts and keep as thoroughly true to their roles as the poems themselves. But a complete impersonation of his thought in name and style as well as matter is characteristic of Browning, and his personified poets playing their parts together in "Transcendentalism" combine to exhibit a little masque exemplifying their writer's view of the Poet as veritably as if he had named it specifically "The Poet." One poet shows the other, and brings him visibly forward; but even in such a morsel of dramatic workmanship as this, fifty-one lines all told, there is the complexity and involution of life itself, and, as ever in Browning's monologues, over the shoulder of the poet more obviously portrayed peers as livingly the face of the poet portraying him. And this one—the admonishing poet—is set there with his "sudden rose," as if to indicate with that symbol of poetic magic what kind of spell was sought to be exercised by their maker to conjure up in his house of song the figures that people its niches. Could a poem be imagined more cunningly devised to reveal a typical poetic personality, and a typical theory of poetic method, through its way of revealing another? What poet could have composed it but one who himself employed the dramatic method of causing the abstract to be realizable through the concrete image of it, instead of the contrary mode of seeking to divest the objective of its concrete form in order to lay bare its abstract essence? This opposite theory of the poetic function is precisely the Boehme mode, against which the veiled dramatic poet, who is speaking in favor of the Halberstadtian magic, admonishes his brother, while he himself in practical substantiation of his theory of poetics brings bodily in sight the boy-face above the winged harp, vivified and beautiful himself, although his poem is but a shapeless mist.
Not directly, then, but indirectly, as the dramatic poet ever reveals himself, does the sophisticated face of the subtle poet of "Men and Women" appear as the source of power behind both of the poets of this poem, prepossessing the reader of the verity and beauty of the theory of poetic art therein exemplified. Such an interpretation of "Transcendentalism," and such a conception of it as a key to the art of the volume it opens, chimes in harmoniously with the note sounded in the next following poem, "How it Strikes a Contemporary." Here again a typical poet is personified, not, however, by means of his own poetic way of seeing, but of the prosaic way in which he is seen by a contemporary, the whole, of course, being poetically seen and presented by the over-poet. Browning himself, and in such a manifold way that the reader is enabled to conceive as vividly of the talker and his mental atmosphere and social background—the people and habitudes of the good old town of Valladolid—as of the betalked-of Corregidor himself; while by the totality of these concrete images an impression is conveyed of the dramatic mode of poetic expression which is far more convincing than any explicit theoretic statement of it could be, because so humanly animated.
"Artemis Prologizes" seems to have been selected to close this little opening sequence of poems on the poet, because that fragment of a larger projected work could find place here almost as if it were a poet's exercise in blank verse. Its smooth and spacious rhythm, flawless and serene as the distant Greek myth of the hero and the goddess it celebrates, is in striking contrast with the rougher, but brighter and more humanly colloquial blank verse of "Bishop Blougram's Apology," for example, or the stiff carefulness of the "Epistle" of Karshish. It might alone suffice, by comparison with the metrical craftsmanship of the other poems of "Men and Women," to assure the observant reader that never was a good workman more baselessly accused of metrical carelessness than the poet who designedly varies his complicated verse-effects to suit every inner impulse belonging to his dramatic subject. A golden finish being in place in this statuesque, "Hyperion"-like monologue of Artemis, behold here it is, and none the less perfect because not merely the outcome of the desire to produce a polished piece of poetic mechanism.
Browning, perhaps, linked his next poem, "The Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician," with the calm prologizing of the Hellenic goddess, by association of the "wise pharmacies" of AEsculapius, with the inquisitive sagacity of Karshish, "the not-incurious in God's handiwork." By this ordering of the poems, the reader may now enjoy, at any rate, the contrasts between three historic phases of wisdom in bodily ills: the phase presented in the dependence of the old Greek healer upon simple physical effects, soothing "with lavers the torn brow," and laying "the stripes and jagged ends of flesh even once more"; and the phases typified, on the one side, by the ingenious Arab, sire of the modern scientist, whose patient correlation of facts and studious, sceptical scrutiny of cause and effect are caught in the bud in the diagnosis transmitted by Karshish to Abib, and, on the other side, by the Nazarene physician, whose inspired secret of summoning out of the believing soul of man the power to control his body—so baffled and fascinated Karshish, drawing his attention in Lazarus to just that connection of the known physical with the unknown psychical nature which is still mystically alluring the curiosity of investigators.
From the childlike, over-idealizing mood of Lazarus toward the God who had succored him, inducing in him so fatalistic an indifference to human concerns, there is but a step to the rapture of absolute theology expressed in the person of Johannes Agricola. Such poems as these put before the cool gaze of the present century the very men of the elder day of religion. Their robes shine with an unearthly light, and their abstracted eyes are hypnotized by the effulgence of their own haloes. Yet the poet never fails to insinuate some naive foible in their personification, a numbness of the heart or an archaism of soul, which reveals the possessed one as but a human brother, after all, shaped by his environment, and embodying the spirit of an historic epoch out of which the current of modern life is still streaming.
The group of art poems which follows similarly presents a dramatic synthesis of the art of the Renaissance as represented by three types of painters. The religious devotion of the monastic painter, whose ecstatic spirit breathes in "Pictor Ignotus," probably gives this poem its place adjoining Agricola and Lazarus. His artist's hankering to create that beauty to bless the world with which his soul refrains from grossly satisfying, unites the poem with the two following ones. In the first of these the realistic artist, Fra Lippo, is graphically pictured personally ushering in the high noon of the Italian efflorescence. In the second, the gray of that day of art is silvering the self-painted portrait of the prematurely frigid and facile formalist, Andrea del Sarto. In "Pictor Ignotus" not only the personality of the often unknown and unnamed painting-brother of the monasteries is made clear, but also the nature of his beautiful cold art and the enslavement of both art and personality to ecclesiastical beliefs and ideals. In "Fra Lippo Lippi" not alone the figure of the frolicsome monk appears caught in his pleasure-loving escapade, amid that picturesque knot of alert-witted Florentine guards, ready to appreciate all the good points in his story of his life and the protection the arms of the Church and the favor of the Medici have afforded his genius, but, furthermore, is illustrated the irresistible tendency of the art-impulse to expand beyond the bounds set for it either by laws of Church or art itself, and to find beauty wheresoever in life it chooses to turn the light of its gaze. So, also, in "Andrea del Sarto," the easy cleverness of the unaspiring craftsman is not embodied apart from the abject relationship which made his very soul a bond-slave to the gross mandates of "the Cousin's whistle." Yet in all three poems the biographic and historic conditions contributing toward the individualizing of each artist are so unobtrusively epitomized and vitally blended, that, while scarcely any item of specific study of the art and artists of the Renaissance would be out of place in illustrating the essential truth of the portraiture and assisting in the better appreciation of the poem, there is no detail of the workmanship which does not fall into the background as a mere accessory to the dominant figure through whose relationship to his art his station in the past is made clear.
This sort of dramatic synthesis of a salient, historical epoch is again strikingly disclosed in the following poem of the Renaissance period, "The Bishop Orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church." In this, again, the art-connoisseurship of the prelacy, so important an element in the Italian movement towards art-expression, is revealed to the life in the beauty-loving personality of the dying bishop. And by means, also, of his social ties with his nephews, called closer than they wish about him now; with her whom "men would have to be their mother once"; with old Gandolf, whom he fancies leering at him from his onion-stone tomb; and with all those strong desires of the time for the delight of being envied, for marble baths and horses and brown Greek manuscripts and mistresses, the seeds of human decay planted in the plot of Time, known as the Central Renaissance, by the same lingering fleshliness and self-destroying self-indulgence as was at home in pagan days, are livingly exposed to the historic sense.
Is the modern prelate portrayed in "Bishop Blougram's Apology," with all his bland subtlety, complex culture, and ripened perceptions, distant as the nineteenth century from the sixteenth, very different at bottom from his Renaissance brother, in respect to his native hankering for the pleasure of estimation above his fellows? Gigadibs is his Gandolf, whom he would craftily overtop. He is the one raised for the time above the commonalty by his criticism of the bishop, to whom the prelate would fain show how little he was to be despised, how far more honored and powerful he was among men. As for Gigadibs, it is to be noticed that Browning quietly makes him do more than leer enviously at his complacent competitor from a tomb-top. The "sudden healthy vehemence" that struck him and made him start to test his first plough in a new world, and read his last chapter of St. John to better purpose than towards self-glorification beyond his fellows, is a parable of the more profitable life to be found in following the famous injunction of that chapter in John's Gospel, "Feed my sheep!" than in causing those sheep to motion one, as the bishop would have his obsequious wethers of the flock motion him, to the choice places of the sward.
So, as vivid a picture of the materialism and monopolizing of the present century sowing seeds of decay and self-destruction in the movement of this age toward love of the truth, of the beauty of genuineness in character and earnestness in aim, is portrayed through the realistic personality of the great modern bishop, in his easy-smiling after-dinner talk with Gigadibs, the literary man, as is presented of the Central Renaissance period in the companion picture of the Bishop of Saint Praxed's.
In Cleon, the man of composite art and culture, the last ripe fruitage of Greek development, is personified and brought into contact, at the moment of the dawn of Christianity in Europe, with the ardent impulse the Christian ideal of spiritual life supplied to human civilization. How close the wise and broad Greek culture came to being all-sufficing, capable of effecting almost enough of impetus for the aspiring progress of the world, and yet how much it lacked a warmer element essential to be engrafted upon its lofty beauty, the reader, upon whose imaginative vision the personality of Cleon rises, can scarcely help but feel.
The aesthetic and religious or philosophical interests vitally conceived and blended, which link together so many of the main poems of "Men and Women," close with "Cleon." Rudel, the troubadour, presenting, in the self-abandonment of his offering of love to the Lady of Tripoli, an impersonation of the chivalric love characteristic of the Provencal life of the twelfth century, intervenes, appropriately, last of all, between the preceding poems and the epilogue, which devotes heart and brain of the poet himself, with the creatures of his hand, to his "Moon of Poets."
As these poetic creations now stand, they all seem, upon examination, to incarnate the full-bodied life of distinctive types of men, centred amid their relations with other men within a specific social environment, and fulfilling the possibilities for such unique, dramatic syntheses as were revealed but partially or in embryo here and there among the other shorter poems of this period of the poet's growth.
In one important particular the re-arrangement of the "Men and Women" group of poems made its title inappropriate. The graceful presence and love-lit eyes of the many women of the shorter love-poems were withdrawn, and Artemis, Andrea del Sarto's wife, the Prior's niece—"Saint Lucy, I would say," as Fra Lippo explains—and, perhaps, the inspirer of Rudel's chivalry, too, the shadowy yet learned and queenly Lady of Tripoli, alone were left to represent the "women" of the title. As for minor inexactitudes, what does it matter that the advantage gained by nicely selecting the poems properly belonging together, both in conception and artistic modelling, was won at the cost of making the reference inaccurate, in the opening lines of "One Word More," to "my fifty men and women, naming me the fifty poems finished"?—Or that the mention of Roland in line 138 is no longer in place with Karshish, Cleon, Lippo, and Andrea, now that the fantastic story of Childe Roland's desperate loyalty is given closer companionship among the varied experiences narrated in the "Dramatic Romances"? While as for the mention of the Norbert of "In a Balcony"—which was originally included as but one item along with the other contents of "Men and Women"—that miniature drama, although it stands by itself now, is still near enough at hand in the revised order to account for the allusion. These are all trifles—mere sins against literal accuracy. But the discrepancy in the title occasioned by the absence of women is of more importance. It is of especial interest, in calling attention to the fact that the creator of Pompilia, Balaustion, and the heroine of the "Inn Album"—all central figures, whence radiate the life and spiritual energy of the work they ennoble—had, at this period, created no typical figures of women in any degree corresponding to those of his men.
CHARLOTTE PORTER HELEN A. CLARKE
"TRANSCENDENTALISM: A POEM IN TWELVE BOOKS"
Stop playing, poet! May a brother speak? 'Tis you speak, that's your error. Song's our art: Whereas you please to speak these naked thoughts Instead of draping them in sights and sounds. —True thoughts, good thoughts, thoughts fit to treasure up! But why such long prolusion and display, Such turning and adjustment of the harp, And taking it upon your breast, at length, Only to speak dry words across its strings? Stark-naked thought is in request enough: 10 Speak prose and hollo it till Europe hears! The six-foot Swiss tube, braced about with bark, Which helps the hunter's voice from Alp to Alp— Exchange our harp for that—who hinders you?
But here's your fault; grown men want thought, you think; Thought's what they mean by verse, and seek in verse. Boys seek for images and melody, Men must have reason—so, you aim at men.
Quite otherwise! Objects throng our youth,'tis true; We see and hear and do not wonder much: 20 If you could tell us what they mean, indeed! As German Boehme never cared for plants Until it happed, a-walking in the fields, He noticed all at once that plants could speak, Nay, turned with loosened tongue to talk with him. That day the daisy had an eye indeed— Colloquized with the cowslip on such themes! We find them extant yet in Jacob's prose. But by the time youth slips a stage or two While reading prose in that tough book he wrote 30 (Collating and emendating the same And settling on the sense most to our mind) We shut the clasps and find life's summer past. Then, who helps more, pray, to repair our loss— Another Boehme with a tougher book And subtler meanings of what roses say— Or some stout Mage like him of Halberstadt, John, who made things Boehme wrote thoughts about? He with a "look you!" vents a brace of rhymes, And in there breaks the sudden rose herself, 40 Over us, under, round us every side, Nay, in and out the tables and the chairs And musty volumes, Boehme's book and all— Buries us with a glory, young once more, Pouring heaven into this shut house of life.
So come, the harp back to your heart again! You are a poem, though your poem's naught. The best of all you showed before, believe, Was your own boy-face o'er the finer chords Bent, following the cherub at the top 50 That points to God with his paired half-moon wings.
"Transcendentalism" is a criticism, placed in the mouth of a poet, of another poet, whose manner of singing is prosaic, because it seeks to transcend (or penetrate beyond) phenomena, by divesting poetic expression of those concrete embodiments which enable it to appeal to the senses and imagination. Instead of bare abstractions being suited to the developed mind, it is the primitive mind, which, like Boehme's, has the merely metaphysical turn, and expects to discover the unincarnate absolute essence of things. The maturer mind craves the vitalizing method of the artist who, like the magician of Halberstadt, recreates things bodily in all their beautiful vivid wholeness. Yet the poet who sincerely holds so fragmentary a conception of art is himself a poem to the poet who holds the larger view. His boy-face singing to God above his ineffective harp-strings is a concrete image of this sort of poetic transcendentalism.
[It is obvious that Browning uses the Halberstadt and not the Boehme method in presenting this embodiment of his subject. The supposition of certain commentators that Browning is here picturing his own artistic method as transcendental is a misconception of his characteristic theory of poetic art, as shown here and elsewhere.]
22. Boehme: Jacob, an "inspired" German shoemaker (1575-1624), who wrote "Aurora," "The Three Principles," etc., mystical commentaries on Biblical events. When twenty-five years old, says Hotham in "Mysterium Magnum," 1653, "he was surrounded by a divine Light and replenished with heavenly Knowledge . . . going abroad into the Fieldes to a Greene before Neys-Gate at Gorlitz and viewing the Herbes and Grass of the Fielde, in his inward light he saw into their Essences . . . and from that Fountain of Revelation wrote ," on the signatures of things, the "tough book" to which Browning refers.
37. Halberstadt: Johann Semeca, called Teutonicus, a canon of Halberstadt in Germany, who was interested in the unchurchly study of mediaeval science and reputed to be a magician, possessing the vegetable stone supposed to make plants grow at will, having the same power over organic life that the philosopher's stone of the alchemists had over minerals, so that, like Albertus Magnus, another such mage of the Middle Ages, he could cause flowers to spring up in the midst of winter.
HOW IT STRIKES A CONTEMPORARY
I only knew one poet in my life: And this, or something like it, was his way.
You saw go up and down Valladolid, A man of mark, to know next time you saw. His very serviceable suit of black Was courtly once and conscientious still, And many might have worn it, though none did: The cloak, that somewhat shone and showed the threads, Had purpose, and the ruff, significance. He walked and tapped the pavement with his cane, 10 Scenting the world, looking it full in face, An old dog, bald and blindish, at his heels. They turned up, now, the alley by the church, That leads nowhither; now, they breathed themselves On the main promenade just at the wrong time: You'd come upon his scrutinizing hat Making a peaked shade blacker than itself Against the single window spared some house Intact yet with its mouldered Moorish work— Or else surprise the ferret of his stick 20 Trying the mortar's temper 'tween the chinks Of some new shop a-building, French and fine. He stood and watched the cobbler at his trade, The man who slices lemons into drink, The coffee-roaster's brazier, and the boys That volunteer to help him turn its winch. He glanced o'er books on stalls with half an eye, And fly-leaf ballads on the vendor's string, And broad-edge bold-print posters by the wall. He took such cognizance of men and things, 30 If any beat a horse, you felt he saw; If any cursed a woman, he took note; Yet stared at nobody—you stared at him, And found, less to your pleasure than surprise, He seemed to know you and expect as much. So, next time that a neighbor's tongue was loosed, It marked the shameful and notorious fact, We had among us, not so much a spy, As a recording chief-inquisitor, The town's true master if the town but knew 40 We merely kept a governor for form, While this man walked about and took account Of all thought, said and acted, then went home, And wrote it fully to our Lord the King Who has an itch to know things, he knows why, And reads them in his bedroom of a night. Oh, you might smile! there wanted not a touch, A tang of . . . well, it was not wholly ease As back into your mind the man's look came. Stricken in years a little—such a brow 50 His eyes had to live under!—clear as flint On either side the formidable nose Curved, cut and colored like an eagle's claw, Had he to do with A.'s surprising fate? When altogether old B. disappeared And young C. got his mistress, was't our friend, His letter to the King, that did it all? What paid the Woodless man for so much pains? Our Lord the King has favorites manifold, And shifts his ministry some once a month; 60 Our city gets new governors at whiles— But never word or sign, that I could hear, Notified to this man about the streets The King's approval of those letters conned The last thing duly at the dead of night. Did the man love his office? Frowned our Lord, Exhorting when none heard—"Beseech me not! Too far above my people—beneath me! I set the watch—how should the people know? Forget them, keep me all the more in mind!" 70 Was some such understanding 'twixt the two?
I found no truth in one report at least— That if you tracked him to his home, down lanes Beyond the Jewry, and as clean to pace, You found he ate his supper in a room Blazing with lights, four Titians on the wall, And twenty naked girls to change his plate! Poor man, he lived another kind of life In that new stuccoed third house by the bridge, Fresh-painted, rather smart than otherwise! 80 The whole street might o'erlook him as he sat, Leg crossing leg, one foot on the dog's back, Playing a decent cribbage with his maid (Jacynth, you're sure her name was) o'er the cheese And fruit, three red halves of starved winter-pears, Or treat of radishes in April. Nine, Ten, struck the church clock, straight to bed went he.
My father, like the man of sense he was, Would point him out to me a dozen times; "'St—'St," he'd whisper, "the Corregidor!" 90 I had been used to think that personage Was one with lacquered breeches, lustrous belt, And feathers like a forest in his hat, Who blew a trumpet and proclaimed the news, Announced the bull-fights, gave each church its turn, And memorized the miracle in vogue! He had a great observance from us boys; We were in error; that was not the man.
I'd like now, yet had happy been afraid, To have just looked, when this man came to die, 100 And seen who lined the clean gay garret-sides And stood about the neat low truckle-bed, With the heavenly manner of relieving guard. Here had been, mark, the general-in-chief, Thro' a whole campaign of the world's life and death, Doing the King's work all the dim day long, In his old coat and up to knees in mud, Smoked like a herring, dining on a crust, And, now the day was won, relieved at once! No further show or need for that old coat, 110 You are sure, for one thing! Bless us, all the while How sprucely we are dressed out, you and I! A second, and the angels alter that. Well, I could never write a verse—could you? Let's to the Prado and make the most of time.
"How it Strikes a Contemporary" is a portrait of the Poet as the unpoetic gossiping public of his day sees him. It is humorously colored by the alien point of view of the speaker, who suspects without understanding either the greatness of the poet's spiritual personality and mission, or the nature of his life, which is withdrawn from that of the commonalty, yet spent in clear-sighted universal sympathies and kindly mediation between Humanity and its God.
3. Valladolid: the royal city of the kings of Castile, before Philip II moved the Court to Madrid, where Cervantes, Calderon, and Las Casas lived and Columbus died.
76. Titian: pictures by the Venetian, Tiziano Vecellio (1477-1576), glowing in color, presumably of large golden-haired women like his famous Venus.
90. Corregidor: the Spanish title for a magistrate, literally, a corrector, from corregir, to correct.
I am a goddess of the ambrosia courts, And save by Here, Queen of Pride, surpassed By none whose temples whiten this the world. Through heaven I roll my lucid moon along; I shed in hell o'er my pale people peace; On earth I, caring for the creatures, guard Each pregnant yellow wolf and fox-bitch sleek, And every feathered mother's callow brood, And all that love green haunts and loneliness. Of men, the chaste adore me, hanging crowns 10 Of poppies red to blackness, bell and stem, Upon my image at Athenai here; And this dead Youth, Asclepios bends above, Was dearest to me. He, my buskined step To follow through the wild-wood leafy ways, And chase the panting stag, or swift with darts Stop the swift ounce, or lay the leopard low, Neglected homage to another god: Whence Aphrodite, by no midnight smoke Of tapers lulled, in jealousy despatched 20 A noisome lust that, as the gad bee stings, Possessed his stepdame Phaidra for himself The son of Theseus her great absent spouse. Hippolutos exclaiming in his rage Against the fury of the Queen, she judged Life insupportable; and, pricked at heart An Amazonian stranger's race should dare To scorn her, perished by the murderous cord: Yet, ere she perished, blasted in a scroll The fame of him her swerving made not swerve. 30 And Theseus, read, returning, and believed, And exiled, in the blindness of his wrath, The man without a crime who, last as first, Loyal, divulged not to his sire the truth, Now Theseus from Poseidon had obtained That of his wishes should be granted three, And one he imprecated straight—"Alive May ne'er Hippolutos reach other lands!" Poseidon heard, ai ai! And scarce the prince Had stepped into the fixed boots of the car 40 That give the feet a stay against the strength Of the Henetian horses, and around His body flung the rein, and urged their speed Along the rocks and shingles at the shore, When from the gaping wave a monster flung His obscene body in the coursers' path. These, mad with terror, as the sea-bull sprawled Wallowing about their feet, lost care of him That reared them; and the master-chariot-pole Snapping beneath their plunges like a reed, 50 Hippolutos, whose feet were trammelled fast, Was yet dragged forward by the circling rein Which either hand directed; nor they quenched The frenzy of their flight before each trace, Wheel-spoke and splinter of the woful car, Each boulder-stone, sharp stub and spiny shell, Huge fish-bone wrecked and wreathed amid the sands On that detested beach, was bright with blood And morsels of his flesh; then fell the steeds Head foremost, crashing in their mooned fronts, 60 Shivering with sweat, each white eye horror-fixed. His people, who had witnessed all afar, Bore back the ruins of Hippolutos. But when his sire, too swoln with pride, rejoiced (Indomitable as a man foredoomed) That vast Poseidon had fulfilled his prayer, I, in a flood of glory visible, Stood o'er my dying votary and, deed By deed, revealed, as all took place, the truth. Then Theseus lay the wofullest of men, 70 And worthily; but ere the death-veils hid His face, the murdered prince full pardon breathed To his rash sire. Whereat Athenai wails.
So I, who ne'er forsake my votaries, Lest in the cross-way none the honey-cake Should tender, nor pour out the dog's hot life; Lest at my fane the priests disconsolate Should dress my image with some faded poor Few crowns, made favors of, nor dare object Such slackness to my worshippers who turn 80 Elsewhere the trusting heart and loaded hand, As they had climbed Olumpos to report Of Artemis and nowhere found her throne— I interposed: and, this eventful night (While round the funeral pyre the populace Stood with fierce light on their black robes which bound Each sobbing head, while yet their hair they clipped O'er the dead body of their withered prince, And, in his palace, Theseus prostrated On the cold hearth, his brow cold as the slab 90 'T was bruised on, groaned away the heavy grief— As the pyre fell, and down the cross logs crashed Sending a crowd of sparkles through the night, And the gay fire, elate with mastery, Towered like a serpent o'er the clotted jars Of wine, dissolving oils and frankincense, And splendid gums like gold) my potency Conveyed the perished man to my retreat In the thrice-venerable forest here. And this white-bearded sage who squeezes now 100 The berried plant, is Phoibos' son of fame, Asclepios, whom my radiant brother taught The doctrine of each herb and flower and root, To know their secret'st virtue and express The saving soul of all: who so has soothed With layers the torn brow and murdered cheeks, Composed the hair and brought its gloss again, And called the red bloom to the pale skin back, And laid the strips and lagged ends of flesh Even once more, and slacked the sinew's knot 110 Of every tortured limb—that now he lies As if mere sleep possessed him underneath These interwoven oaks and pines. Oh cheer, Divine presenter of the healing rod, Thy snake, with ardent throat and lulling eye, Twines his lithe spires around! I say, much cheer! Proceed thou with thy wisest pharmacies! And ye, white crowd of woodland sister-nymphs, Ply, as the sage directs, these buds and leaves That strew the turf around the twain! While I 120 Await, in fitting silence, the event.
"Artemis Prologizes" represents the goddess Artemis awaiting the revival of the youth Hippolytus, whom she has carried to her woods and given to Asclepios to heal. It is a fragment meant to introduce an unwritten work and carry on the story related by Euripides in "Hippolytus," which see.
AN EPISTLE CONTAINING THE STRANGE MEDICAL EXPERIENCE OF KARSHISH, THE ARAB PHYSICIAN
Karshish, the picker-up of learning's crumbs, The not-incurious in God's handiwork (This man's-flesh he hath admirably made, Blown like a bubble, kneaded like a paste, To coop up and keep down on earth a space That puff of vapor from his mouth, man's soul) —To Abib, all-sagacious in our art, Breeder in me of what poor skill I boast, Like me inquisitive how pricks and cracks Befall the flesh through too much stress and strain, 10 Whereby the wily vapor fain would slip Back and rejoin its source before the term— And aptest in contrivance (under God) To baffle it by deftly stopping such— The vagrant Scholar to his Sage at home Sends greeting (health and knowledge, fame with peace) Three samples of true snakestone—rarer still, One of the other sort, the melon-shaped, (But fitter, pounded fine, for charms than drugs) And writeth now the twenty-second time. 20
My journeyings were brought to Jericho: Thus I resume. Who studious in our art Shall count a little labor un-repaid? I have shed sweat enough, left flesh and bone On many a flinty furlong of this land. Also, the country-side is all on fire With rumors of a marching hitherward: Some say Vespasian comes, some, his son. A black lynx snarled and pricked a tufted ear; Lust of my blood inflamed his yellow balls: 30 I cried and threw my staff and he was gone. Twice have the robbers stripped and beaten me, And once a town declared me for a spy; But at the end, I reach Jerusalem, Since this poor covert where I pass the night, This Bethany, lies scarce the distance thence A man with plague-sores at the third degree Runs till he drops down dead. Thou laughest here! 'Sooth, it elates me, thus reposed and safe, To void the stuffing of my travel-scrip 40 And share with thee whatever Jewry yields. A viscid choler is observable In tertians, I was nearly bold to say; And falling-sickness hath a happier cure Than our school wots of: there's a spider here Weaves no web, watches on the ledge of tombs, Sprinkled with mottles on an ash-gray back; Take five and drop them . . . but who knows his mind, The Syrian runagate I trust this to? His service payeth me a sublimate 50 Blown up his nose to help the ailing eye. Best wait: I reach Jerusalem at morn, There set in order my experiences, Gather what most deserves, and give thee all— Or I might add, Judaea's gum-tragacanth Scales off in purer flakes, shines clearer-grained, Cracks 'twixt the pestle and the porphyry, In fine exceeds our produce. Scalp-disease Confounds me, crossing so with leprosy— Thou hadst admired one sort I gained at Zoar— 60 But zeal outruns discretion. Here I end.
Yet stay: my Syrian blinketh gratefully, Protesteth his devotion is my price— Suppose I write what harms not, though he steal? I half resolve to tell thee, yet I blush, What set me off a-writing first of all, An itch I had, a sting to write, a tang! For, be it this town's barrenness—or else The Man had something in the look of him— His case has struck me far more than 'tis worth. 70 So, pardon if—(lest presently I lose In the great press of novelty at hand The care and pains this somehow stole from me) I bid thee take the thing while fresh in mind, Almost in sight—for, wilt thou have the truth? The very man is gone from me but now, Whose ailment is the subject of discourse. Thus then, and let thy better wit help all!
'Tis but a case of mania—subinduced By epilepsy, at the turning-point 80 Of trance prolonged unduly some three days: When, by the exhibition of some drug Or spell, exorcisation, stroke of art Unknown to me and which 't were well to know, The evil thing out-breaking all at once Left the man whole and sound of body indeed, But, flinging (so to speak) life's gates too wide, Making a clear house of it too suddenly, The first conceit that entered might inscribe Whatever it was minded on the wall 90 So plainly at that vantage, as it were, (First come, first served) that nothing subsequent Attaineth to erase those fancy-scrawls The just-returned and new-established soul Hath gotten now so thoroughly by heart That henceforth she will read or these or none. And first—the man's own firm conviction rests That he was dead (in fact they buried him) —That he was dead and then restored to life By a Nazarene physician of his tribe: 100 —'Sayeth, the same bade "Rise," and he did rise. "Such cases are diurnal," thou wilt cry. Not so this figment!—not, that such a fume, Instead of giving way to time and health, Should eat itself into the life of life, As saffron tingeth flesh, blood, bones and all! For see, how he takes up the after-life. The man—it is one Lazarus a Jew, Sanguine, proportioned, fifty years of age, The body's habit wholly laudable, 110 As much, indeed, beyond the common health As he were made and put aside to show. Think, could we penetrate by any drug And bathe the wearied soul and worried flesh, And bring it clear and fair, by three days' sleep! Whence has the man the balm that brightens all? This grown man eyes the world now like a child. Some elders of his tribe, I should premise, Led in their friend, obedient as a sheep, To bear my inquisition. While they spoke, 120 Now sharply, now with sorrow, told the case, He listened not except I spoke to him, But folded his two hands and let them talk, Watching the flies that buzzed: and yet no fool. And that's a sample how his years must go. Look, if a beggar, in fixed middle-life, Should find a treasure, can he use the same With straitened habits and with tastes starved small, And take at once to his impoverished brain The sudden element that changes things, 130 That sets the undreamed-of rapture at his hand And puts the cheap old joy in the scorned dust? Is he not such an one as moves to mirth— Warily parsimonious, when no need, Wasteful as drunkenness at undue times? All prudent counsel as to what befits The golden mean, is lost on such an one: The man's fantastic will is the man's law. So here—we call the treasure knowledge, say, Increased beyond the fleshly faculty— 140 Heaven opened to a soul while yet on earth, Earth forced on a soul's use while seeing heaven: The man is witless of the size, the sum, The value in proportion of all things, Or whether it be little or be much. Discourse to him of prodigious armaments Assembled to besiege his city now, And of the passing of a mule with gourds— 'T is one! Then take it on the other side, Speak of some trifling fact, he will gaze rapt 150 With stupor at its very littleness, (Far as I see) as if in that indeed He caught prodigious import, whole results; And so will turn to us the bystanders In ever the same stupor (note this point) That we too see not with his opened eyes. Wonder and doubt come wrongly into play, Preposterously, at cross purposes. Should his child sicken unto death, why, look For scarce abatement of his cheerfulness, 160 Or pretermission of the daily craft! While a word, gesture, glance from that same child At play or in the school or laid asleep, Will startle him to an agony of fear, Exasperation, just as like. Demand The reason why—"'t is but a word," object— "A gesture"—he regards thee as our lord Who lived there in the pyramid alone, Looked at us (dost thou mind?) when, being young, We both would unadvisedly recite 170 Some charm's beginning, from that book of his, Able to bid the sun throb wide and burst All into stars, as suns grown old are wont. Thou and the child have each a veil alike Thrown o'er your heads, from under which ye both Stretch your blind hands and trifle with a match Over a mine of Greek fire, did ye know! He holds on firmly to some thread of life— (It is the life to lead perforcedly) Which runs across some vast distracting orb 180 Of glory on either side that meagre thread, Which, conscious of, he must not enter yet— The spiritual life around the earthly life: The law of that is known to him as this, His heart and brain move there, his feet stay here. So is the man perplext with impulses Sudden to start off crosswise, not straight on, Proclaiming what is right and wrong across, And not along, this black thread through the blaze— "It should be" balked by "here it cannot be." 190 And oft the man's soul springs into his face As if he saw again and heard again His sage that bade him "Rise" and he did rise. Something, a word, a tick o' the blood within Admonishes: then back he sinks at once To ashes, who was very fire before, In sedulous recurrence to his trade Whereby he earneth him the daily bread; And studiously the humbler for that pride, Professedly the faultier that he knows 200 God's secret, while he holds the thread of life. Indeed the especial marking of the man Is prone submission to the heavenly will— Seeing it, what it is, and why it is. 'Sayeth, he will wait patient to the last For that same death which must restore his being To equilibrium, body loosening soul Divorced even now by premature full growth: He will live, nay, it pleaseth him to live So long as God please, and just how God please. 210 He even seeketh not to please God more (Which meaneth, otherwise) than as God please. Hence, I perceive not he affects to preach The doctrine of his sect whate'er it be, Make proselytes as madmen thirst to do: How can he give his neighbor the real ground, His own conviction? Ardent as he is— Call his great truth a lie, why, still the old "Be it as God please" reassureth him. I probed the sore as thy disciple should: 220 "How, beast," said I, "this stolid carelessness Sufficeth thee, when Rome is on her march To stamp out like a little spark thy town, Thy tribe, thy crazy tale and thee at once?" He merely looked with his large eyes on me. The man is apathetic, you deduce? Contrariwise, he loves both old and young, Able and weak, affects the very brutes And birds—how say I? flowers of the field— As a wise workman recognizes tools 230 In a master's workshop, loving what they make. Thus is the man as harmless as a lamb: Only impatient, let him do his best, At ignorance and carelessness and sin— An indignation which is promptly curbed: As when in certain travel I have feigned To be an ignoramus in our art According to some preconceived design, And happed to hear the land's practitioners Steeped in conceit sublimed by ignorance, 240 Prattle fantastically on disease, Its cause and cure—and I must hold my peace!
Thou wilt object—Why have I not ere this Sought out the sage himself, the Nazarene Who wrought this cure, inquiring at the source, Conferring with the frankness that befits? Alas! it grieveth me, the learned leech Perished in a tumult many years ago, Accused—our learning's fate—of wizardry, Rebellion, to the setting up a rule 250 And creed prodigious as described to me. His death, which happened when the earthquake fell (Prefiguring, as soon appeared, the loss To occult learning in our lord the sage Who lived there in the pyramid alone) Was wrought by the mad people—that's their wont! On vain recourse, as I conjecture it, To his tried virtue, for miraculous help— How could he stop the earthquake? That's their way! The other imputations must be lies; 260 But take one, though I loathe to give it thee, In mere respect for any good man's fame. (And after all, our patient Lazarus Is stark mad; should we count on what he says? Perhaps not: though in writing to a leech 'Tis well to keep back nothing of a case.) This man so cured regards the curer, then, As—God forgive me! who but God himself, Creator and sustainer of the world, That came and dwelt in flesh on it awhile! 270 —'Sayeth that such an one was born and lived, Taught, healed the sick, broke bread at his own house; Then died, with Lazarus by, for aught I know, And yet was . . . what I said nor choose repeat, And must have so avouched himself, in fact, In hearing of this very Lazarus Who saith—but why all this of what he saith? Why write of trivial matters, things of price Calling at every moment for remark? I noticed on the margin of a pool 280 Blue-flowering borage, the Aleppo sort, Aboundeth, very nitrous. It is strange!
Thy pardon for this long and tedious case, Which, now that I review it, needs must seem Unduly dwelt on, prolixly set forth! Nor I myself discern in what is writ Good cause for the peculiar interest And awe indeed this man has touched me with. Perhaps the journey's end, the weariness Had wrought upon me first. I met him thus: 290 I crossed a ridge of short sharp broken hills Like an old lion's cheek teeth. Out there came A moon made like a face with certain spots Multiform, manifold and menacing: Then a wind rose behind me. So we met In this old sleepy town at unaware, The man and I. I send thee what is writ. Regard it as a chance, a matter risked To this ambiguous Syrian—he may lose, Or steal, or give it thee with equal good. 300 Jerusalem's repose shall make amends For time this letter wastes, thy time and mine; Till when, once more thy pardon and farewell!
The very God! think, Abib; dost thou think? So, the All-Great, were the All-Loving too— So, through the thunder comes a human voice Saying, "0 heart I made, a heart beats here! Face, my hands fashioned, see it in myself! Thou hast no power nor mayst conceive of mine, But love I gave thee, with myself to love, 310 And thou must love me who have died for thee!" The madman saith He said so: it is strange.
"An Epistle" gives the observations and opinions of Karshish, the Arab physician, writing to Abib, his master, upon meeting with Lazarus after he has been raised from the dead. Well versed in Eastern medical lore, he tries to explain the extraordinary phenomenon according to his knowledge. He attributes Lazarus' version of the miracle to mania induced by trance, and the means used by the Nazarene physician to awaken him, and strengthens his view by describing the strange state of mind in which he finds Lazarus—like a child with no appreciation of the relative values of things. Through his renewal of life he had caught a glimpse of it from the infinite point of view, and lives now only with the desire to please God. His sole active quality is a great love for all humanity, his impatience manifests itself only at sin and ignorance, and is quickly curbed. Karshish, not able to realize this new plane of vision in which had been revealed to Lazarus the equal worth of all things in the divine plan, is incapable of understanding Lazarus; but in spite of his attempt to make light of the case, he is deeply impressed by the character of Lazarus, and has besides a hardly acknowledged desire to believe in this revelation, told of by Lazarus, of God as Love. Professor Corson says of this poem: "It may be said to polarize the idea, so often presented in Browning's poetry, that doubt is a condition of the vitality of faith."
17. Snakestone: a name given to any substance used as a remedy for snake-bites; for example, some are of chalk, some of animal charcoal, and some of vegetable substances.
28. Vespasian: Nero's general who marched against Palestine in 66, and was succeeded in the command, when he was proclaimed Emperor (70-79), by his son, Titus.
29. Black lynx: the Syrian lynx is distinguished by black ears.
43. Tertians: fevers, recurring every third day; hence the name.
44. Falling-sickness: epilepsy. Caesar's disease ("Julius Caesar," I. 2, 258).
45. There's a spider here: "The habits of the aranead here described point very clearly to some one of the Wandering group, which stalk their prey in the open field or in divers lurking-places, and are distinguished by this habit from the other great group, known as the Sedentary spiders, because they sit or hang upon their webs and capture their prey by means of silken snares. The next line is not determinative of the species, for there is a great number of spiders any one of which might be described as 'Sprinkled with mottles on an ash-gray back.' We have a little Saltigrade or Jumping spider, known as the Zebra spider (Epiblemum scenicum), which is found in Europe, and I believe also in Syria. One often sees this species and its congeners upon the ledges of rocks, the edges of tombstones, the walls of buildings, and like situations, hunting their prey, which they secure by jumping upon it. So common is the Zebra spider, that I might think that Browning referred to it, if I were not in doubt whether he would express the stripes of white upon its ash-gray abdomen by the word 'mottles.' However, there arc other spiders belonging to the same tribe (Saltigrades) that really are mottled. There are also spiders known as the Lycosids or Wolf spiders or Ground spiders, which are often of an ash-gray color, and marked with little whitish spots after the manner of Browning's Syrian species. Perhaps the poet had one of these in mind, at least he accurately describes their manner of seeking prey. The next line is an interrupted one, 'Take five and drop them. . . .' Take five what? Five of these ash-gray mottled spiders? Certainly. But what can be meant by the expression 'drop them'? This opens up to us a strange chapter in human superstition. It was long a prevalent idea that the spider in various forms possessed some occult power of healing, and men administered it internally or applied it externally as a cure for many diseases. Pliny gives a number of such remedies. A certain spider applied in a piece of cloth, or another one ('a white spider with very elongated thin legs'), beaten up in oil is said by this ancient writer upon Natural History to form an ointment for the eyes. Similarly, 'the thick pulp of a spider's body, mixed with the oil of roses, is used for the ears.' Sir Matthew Lister, who was indeed the father of English araneology, is quoted in Dr. James's Medical Dictionary as using the distilled water of boiled black spiders as an excellent cure for wounds." (Dr. H. C. McCook in Poet-lore, Nov., 1889.)
53. Gum-tragacanth: yielded by the leguminous shrub, Astragalus tragacantha.
60. Zoar: the only one that was spared of the five cities of the plain (Genesis 14. 2).
108. Lazarus . . . fifty years of age: in The Academy, Sept. 16, 1896, Dr. Richard Garnett says: "Browning commits an oversight, it seems to me, in making Lazarus fifty years of age at the eve of the siege of Jerusalem, circa 68 A. D." The miracle is supposed to have been wrought about 33 A. D., and Lazarus would then have been only fifteen, although according to tradition he was thirty when he was raised from the dead, and lived only thirty years after. Upon this Prof. Charles B. Wright comments in Poet-lore, April, 1897: "I incline to think that the oversight is not Browning's. Let us stand by the tradition and the resulting age of sixty-five. . . . Karshish is simply stating his professional judgment. Lazarus is given an age suited to his appearance—he seems a man of fifty. The years have touched him lightly since 'heaven opened to his soul.' . . . And that marvellous physical freshness deceives the very leech himself."
177. Greek fire: used by the Byzantine Greeks in warfare, first against the Saracens at the siege of Constantinople in 673 A. D. Therefore an anachronism in this poem. Liquid fire was, however, known to the ancients, as Assyrian bas-reliefs testify. Greek fire was made possibly of naphtha, saltpetre, and sulphur, and was thrown upon the enemy from copper tubes; or pledgets of tow were dipped in it and attached to arrows.
281. Blue-flowering borage: (Borago officianalis). The ancients deemed this plant one of the four "cordial flowers," for cheering the spirits, the others being the rose, violet, and alkanet. Pliny says it produces very exhilarating effects.
JOHANNES AGRICOLA IN MEDITATION
There's heaven above, and night by night I look right through its gorgeous roof; No suns and moons though e'er so bright Avail to stop me; splendor-proof I keep the broods of stars aloof: For I intend to get to God, For 't is to God I speed so fast, For in God's breast, my own abode, Those shoals of dazzling glory, passed, I lay my spirit down at last. 10 I lie where I have always lain, God smiles as he has always smiled; Ere suns and moons could wax and wane, Ere stars were thundergirt, or piled The heavens, God thought on me his child; Ordained a life for me, arrayed Its circumstances every one To the minutest; ay, God said This head this hand should rest upon Thus, ere he fashioned star or sun. 20 And having thus created me, Thus rooted me, he bade me grow, Guiltless forever, like a tree That buds and blooms, nor seeks to know The law by which it prospers so: But sure that thought and word and deed All go to swell his love for me, Me, made because that love had need Of something irreversibly Pledged solely its content to be. 30 Yes, yes, a tree which must ascend, No poison-gourd foredoomed to stoop! I have God's warrant, could I blend All hideous sins, as in a cup, To drink the mingled venoms up; Secure my nature will convert The draught to blossoming gladness fast: While sweet dews turn to the gourd's hurt, And bloat, and while they bloat it, blast, As from the first its lot was cast. 40 For as I lie, smiled on, full-fed By unexhausted power to bless, I gaze below on hell's fierce bed, And those its waves of flame oppress, Swarming in ghastly wretchedness; Whose life on earth aspired to be One altar-smoke, so pure!—to win If not love like God's love for me, At least to keep his anger in; And all their striving turned to sin. 50 Priest, doctor, hermit, monk grown white With prayer, the broken-hearted nun, The martyr, the wan acolyte, The incense-swinging child—undone Before God fashioned star or sun! God, whom I praise; how could I praise, If such as I might understand, Make out and reckon on his ways, And bargain for his love, and stand, Paying a price, at his right hand? 60
"Johannes Agricola in Meditation" presents the doctrine of predestination as it appears to a devout and poetic soul whose conviction of the truth of such a doctrine has the strength of a divine revelation. Those elected for God's love can do nothing to weaken it, those not elected can do nothing to gain it, but it is not his to reason why; indeed, he could not praise a god whose ways he could understand or for whose love he had to bargain.
Johannes Agricola: (1492-1566), Luther's secretary, 1519, afterward in conflict with him, and author of the doctrine called by Luther antinomian, because it rejected the Law of the Old Testament as of no use under the Gospel dispensation. In a note accompanying the first publication of this poem, Browning quotes from "The Dictionary of All Religions" (1704): "They say that good works do not further, nor evil works hinder salvation; that the child of God cannot sin, that God never chastiseth him, that murder, drunkenness, etc., are sins in the wicked but not in him, that the child of grace being once assured of salvation, afterwards never doubteth . . . that God doth not love any man for his holiness, that sanctification is no evidence of justification." Though many antinomians taught thus, says George Willis Cooke in his "Browning Guide Book," it does not correctly represent the position of Agricola, who in reality held moral obligations to be incumbent upon the Christian, but for guidance in these he found in the New Testament all the principles and motives necessary.
I could have painted pictures like that youth's Ye praise so. How my soul springs up! No bar Stayed me—ah, thought which saddens while it soothes! —Never did fate forbid me, star by star, To outburst on your night with all my gift Of fires from God: nor would my flesh have shrunk From seconding my soul, with eyes uplift And wide to heaven, or, straight like thunder, sunk To the centre, of an instant; or around Turned calmly and inquisitive, to scan 10 The license and the limit, space and bound, Allowed to truth made visible in man. And, like that youth ye praise so, all I saw, Over the canvas could my hand have flung, Each face obedient to its passion's law, Each passion clear proclaimed without a tongue; Whether Hope rose at once in all the blood, A-tiptoe for the blessing of embrace, Or Rapture drooped the eyes, as when her brood Pull down the nesting dove's heart to its place; 20 Or Confidence lit swift the forehead up, And locked the mouth fast, like a castle braved— 0 human faces, hath it spilt, my cup? What did ye give me that I have not saved? Nor will I say I have not dreamed (how well!) Of going—I, in each new picture—forth, As, making new hearts beat and bosoms swell, To Pope or Kaiser, East, West, South, or North, Bound for the calmly-satisfied great State, Or glad aspiring little burgh, it went, 30 Flowers cast upon the car which bore the freight, Through old streets named afresh from the event, Till it reached home, where learned age should greet My face, and youth, the star not yet distinct Above his hair, lie learning at my feet!— Oh, thus to live, I and my picture, linked With love about, and praise, till life should end, And then not go to heaven, but linger here, Here on my earth, earth's every man my friend— The thought grew frightful, 't was so wildly dear! 40 But a voice changed it. Glimpses of such sights Have scared me, like the revels through a door Of some strange house of idols at its rites! This world seemed not the world it was before: Mixed with my loving trusting ones, there trooped . . . Who summoned those cold faces that begun To press on me and judge me? Though I stooped Shrinking, as from the soldiery a nun, They drew me forth, and spite of me . . . enough! These buy and sell our pictures, take and give, 50 Count them for garniture and household-stuff, And where they live needs must our pictures live And see their faces, listen to their prate, Partakers of their daily pettiness, Discussed of—"This I love, or this I hate, This likes me more, and this affects me less!" Wherefore I chose my portion. If at whiles My heart sinks, as monotonous I paint These endless cloisters and eternal aisles With the same series. Virgin, Babe and Saint, 60 With the same cold calm beautiful regard— At least no merchant traffics in my heart; The sanctuary's gloom at least shall ward Vain tongues from where my pictures stand apart; Only prayer breaks the silence of the shrine While, blackening in the daily candle-smoke, They moulder on the damp wall's travertine, 'Mid echoes the light footstep never woke. So, die my pictures! surely, gently die! O youth, men praise so—holds their praise its worth? 70 Blown harshly, keeps the trump its golden cry? Tastes sweet the water with such specks of earth?
"Pictor Ignotus" is a reverie characteristic of a monastic painter of the Renaissance who recognizes, in the genius of a youth whose pictures are praised, a gift akin to his own, but which he has never so exercised, spite of the joy such free human expression and recognition of his power would have given him, because he could not bear to submit his art to worldly contact. So he has chosen to sink his name in unknown service to the Church, and to devote his fancy to pure and beautiful but cold and monotonous repetitions of sacred themes. His gentle regret that his own pictures will moulder unvisited is half wonderment that the youth can endure the sullying of his work by secular fame.
67. Travertine: a white limestone, the name being a corruption of , from , now Tivoli, near Rome, whence this stone comes.
FRA LIPPO LIPPI
1 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, 10 , , 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! 20 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 their 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!) 30 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, 40 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. 50 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 is 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, 61 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 70 To get to bed and have a bit of sleep Ere I rise up to-morrow and go work On Jerome knocking at his poor old breast With his great round stone to subdue the flesh, You snap me of the sudden. Ah, I see! Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head— Mine's shaved—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! 80 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, 90 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, 't was 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; 1 did renounce the world, its pride and greed, Palace, farm, villa, shop and banking-house, Trash, such as these poor devils of Medici 100 Have given their hearts to—all at eight years old. Well, sir, I found in time, you may be sure, 'T was 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, 110 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, 120 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, 130 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 last we get our man of parts, We Carmelites, like those Camaldolese And Preaching Friars, to do our church up fine 140 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 150 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, 160 Her pair of earrings and a bunch of flowers (The brute took growling), prayed, and so was gone, I painted all, then cried "'T is 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 170 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, 180 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? 190 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 200 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, 210 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. 220 "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! 230 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 find; 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! 240 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, 250 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 may n't they? all I want's the thing Settled forever one way. As it is, 260 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 lesson learned, The value and significance of flesh, I can't unlearn ten minutes afterwards,
You understand me: I'm a beast, I know. 270 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! 280 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? 290 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 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 300 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, 310 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, 320 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 330 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! 340 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 350 As puff on puff of grated orris-root When ladies crowd to Church at midsummer. And then 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 360 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 370 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 380 And play hot cockles, all the doors being shut, Till, wholly unexpected, in there pops The hothead husband! Thus I scuttle off To some 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! 390 The street's hushed, and I know my own way back, Don't fear me! There's the gray beginning. Zooks!
"Fra Lippo Lippi" is a dramatic monologue which incidentally conveys the whole story of the occurrence the poem starts from—the seizure of Fra Lippo by the City Guards, past midnight, in an equivocal neighborhood—and the lively talk that arose thereupon, outlines the character and past life of the Florentine artist-monk (1412-1469) and the subordinate personalities of the group of officers; and makes all this contribute towards the presentation of Fra Lippo as a type of the more realistic and secular artist of the Renaissance who valued flesh, and protested against the ascetic spirit which strove to isolate the soul.
7. The Carmine: monastery of the Del Carmine friars.
17. Cosimo: de' Medici (1389-1464), Florentine statesman and patron of the arts.
23. Pilchards: a kind of fish.
53. Flower o' the broom: of the many varieties of folk-songs in Italy that which furnished Browning with a model for Lippo's songs is called a stornello. The name is variously derived. Some take it as merely short for ritornillo; others derive it from a storno, to sing against each other, because the peasants sing them at their work, and as one ends a song, another caps it with a fresh one, and so on. These stornelli consist of three lines. The first usually contains the name of a flower which sets the rhyme, and is five syllables long. Then the love theme is told in two lines of eleven syllables each, agreeing by rhyme, assonance, or repetition with the first. The first line may be looked upon as a burden set at the beginning instead of, as is more familiar to us, at the end. There are also stornelli formed of three lines of eleven syllables without any burden. Browning has made Lippo's songs of only two lines, but he has strictly followed the rule of making the first line, containing the address to the flower, of five syllables. The Tuscany versions of two of the songs used by Browning are as follows:
"Flower of the pine! Call me not ever happy heart again, But call me heavy heart, 0 comrades mine."
"Flower of the broom! Unwed thy mother keeps thee not to lose That flower from the window of the room."
67. Saint Laurence: the church of San Lorenzo.
88. Aunt Lapaccia: by the death of Lippo's father, says Vasari, he "was left a friendless orphan at the age of two . . . under the care of Mona Lapaccia, his aunt, who brought him up with very great difficulty till his eighth year, when, being no longer able to support the burden, she placed him in the Convent of the Carmelites."
121. The Eight: the magistrates of Florence.
130. Antiphonary: the Roman Service-Book, containing all that is sung in the choir—the antiphones, responses, etc.; it was compiled by Gregory the Great.
131. joined legs and arms to the long music-notes: the musical notation of Lippo's day was entirely different from ours, the notes being square and oblong and rather less suited for arms and legs than the present rounded notes.
139. Camaldolese: monks of Camaldoli.—Preaching Friars: the Dominicans.
189. Giotto: reviver of art in Italy, painter, sculptor, and architect (1266-1337).
196. Herodias: Matthew xiv.6-11.
235. Brother Angelico: Fra Angelico, Giovanni da Fiesole (1387-1455), flower of the monastic school of art, who was said to paint on his knees.
236. Brother Lorenzo: Lorenzo Monaco, of the same school.
276. Guidi : Tommaso Guidi, or Masaccio, nicknamed "Hulking Tom" (1401-1429). [Vasari makes him Lippo's predecessor. Browning followed the best knowledge of his time in making him, instead, Lippo's pupil. Vasari is now thought to be right.]
323. A Saint Laurence . . . at Prato: near Florence, where Lippi painted many saints. [Vasari speaks of a Saint Stephen painted there in the same realistic manner as Browning's Saint Laurence, whose martyrdom of broiling to death on a gridiron affords Lippo's powers a livelier effect.] The legend of this saint makes his fortitude such that he bade his persecutors turn him over, as he was "done on one side."
346. Something in Sant Ambrogio's: picture of the Virgin crowned with angels and saints, painted for Saint Ambrose Church, now at the Belle Arti in Florence. Vasari says by means of it he became known to Cosimo. Browning, on the other hand, crowns his poem with Lippo's description of this picture as an expiation for his pranks.
354. Saint John: the Baptist; see reference to camel-hair, line 375 and Matthew iii. 4.
355. Saint Ambrose: (340-397), Archbishop of Milan.
358. Man of Uz : Job i. 1.
377. : this one completed the work.
381. Hot cockles: an old-fashioned game.
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! 10 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! 20 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, 30 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 grayness 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. 40 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; 50 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, 60 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, 70 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, 80 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, 90 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, Sightly 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-gray Placid, and perfect with my art: the worse! I know both what I want and what might gain, 100 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; 110 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— 120 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! 130 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, 140 God, I conclude, compensates, punishes. 'T is 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! 150 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 160 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— 'T is done and past; 't was right, my instinct said, Too live the life grew, golden and not gray, And I'm the weak-eyed bat no sun should tempt Out of the grange whose four walls make his world. 170 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 180 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's . . . 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, 190 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?) 200 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. 210 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? 220 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 gray 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, 230 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, 240 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?