Robert Browning (1812-1889)

To Edward FitzGerald

I chanced upon a new book yesterday:
I opened it, and where my finger lay
‘Twixt page and uncut page these words I read
—Some six or seven at most—and learned thereby
That you, FitzGerald, whom by ear and eye
She never knew, “thanked God my wife was dead.”

Aye, dead! and were yourself alive, good Fitz,
How to return you thanks would task my wits:
Kicking you seems the common lot of curs—
While more appropriate greeting lends you grace:
Surely to spit there glorifies your face—
Spitting—from lips once sanctified by hers.

Summum Bonum

All the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one bee:
All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one gem:
In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea:
Breath and bloom, shade and shine,—wonder, wealth, and—how far above them—
Truth, that’s brighter than gem,
Trust, that’s purer than pearl,—
Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe—all were for me
In the kiss of one girl.

Meeting At Night

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro’ its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

Incident of the French Camp

You know we French stormed Ratisbon:
A mile or so away,
On a little mound, Napoleon
Stood on our storming-day;
With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,
Legs wide, arms locked behind,
As if to balance the prone brow,
Oppressive with its mind.

Just as perhaps he mused, “My plans
That soar, to earth may fall,
Let once my army-leader Lannes
Waver at yonder wall,”—
Out ‘twixt the battery-smoke there flew
A rider, bound on bound
Full-galloping; nor bridle drew
Until he reached the mound.

Then off there flung in smiling joy,
And held himself erect
By just his horse’s mane, a boy:
You hardly could suspect,
(So tight he kept his lips compressed,
Scarce any blood came through,)
You looked twice ere you saw his breast
Was all but shot in two.

“Well,” cried he, “Emperor, by God’s grace
We’ve got you Ratisbon!
The marshal’s in the market-place,
And you’ll be there anon
To see your flag-bird flap his vans
Where I, to heart’s desire,
Perched him!” The chief’s eyes flashed, his plans
Soared up again in fire.

The chief’s eyes flashed; but presently
Softened itself, as sheathes
A film the mother-eagle’s eye
When her bruised eaglet breathes:
“You’re wounded!” “Nay,” his soldier’s pride
Touched to the quick, he said:
“I’m killed, sire!” And, his chief beside,
Smiling, the boy fell dead.

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