One of the interesting things about Browning’s work is that the poet is ever experimenting with metrical forms. Read through his work, and you will discover many poems with unique stanzas, found in that poem only and no where else. ‘Tis a bold act for a poet to try such variations of line length and rhyme, for the poet risks distracting the reader with the construction, and invites opprobrium from talentless critics. But if successful, the poet gives us a memorable poem with a beauty and charm peculiar to it alone.
A Pretty Woman
That fawn-skin-dappled hair of hers,
And the blue eye
Dear and dewy,
And that infantine fresh air of hers!
To think men cannot take you, Sweet,
And enfold you,
Ay, and hold you,
And so keep you what they make you, Sweet!
You like us for a glance, you know—
For a word’s sake
Or a sword’s sake:
All’s the same, whate’er the chance, you know.
And in turn we make you ours, we say—
You and youth too,
Eyes and mouth too,
All the face composed of flowers, we say.
All’s our own, to make the most of, Sweet—
Sing and say for,
Watch and pray for,
Keep a secret or go boast of, Sweet!
But for loving, why, you would not, Sweet,
Tho’ we prayed you,
Paid you, brayed you
In a mortar—for you could not, Sweet!
So, we leave the sweet face fondly there,
Be its beauty
Its sole duty!
Let all hope of grace beyond, lie there!
And while the face lies quiet there,
Who shall wonder
That I ponder
A conclusion? I will try it there.
As,—why must one, for the love foregone
Scout mere liking?
Earth,—the heaven, we looked above for, gone!
Why, with beauty, needs there money be,
Love with liking?
Crush the fly-king
In his gauze, because no honey-bee?
May not liking be so simple-sweet,
If love grew there
‘Twould undo there
All that breaks the cheek to dimples sweet?
Is the creature too imperfect, say?
Would you mend it
And so end it?
Since not all addition perfects aye!
Or is it of its kind, perhaps,
Of a grace not to its mind, perhaps?
Shall we burn up, tread that face at once
And so hinder
Sparks from kindling all the place at once?
Or else kiss away one’s soul on her?
—A sick man sees
Truer, when his hot eyes roll on her!
Rosy rubies make its cup more rose.
Ape the petals,—
Last, some old king locks it up, morose!
Then how grace a rose? I know a way!
Leave it, rather.
Must you gather?
Smell, kiss, wear it—at last, throw away.
by Robert Browning
Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.
At last the people in a body
To the Town Hall came flocking:
“’Tis clear,” cried they, “our Mayor’s a noddy;
“And as for our Corporation—shocking.
“To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
“For dolts that can’t or won’t determine
“What’s best to rid us of our vermin!
“You hope, because you’re old and obese,
“To find in the furry civic robe ease?
“Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
“To find the remedy we’re lacking,
“Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.
An hour they sat in council,
At length the Mayor broke silence:
“For a guilder I’d my ermine gown sell,
“I wish I were a mile hence!
“It’s easy to bid one rack one’s brain—
“I’m sure my poor head aches again,
“I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain.
“Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!”
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
“Bless us,” cried the Mayor, “what’s that?”
(With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat;
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
For a plate of turtle green and glutinous)
“Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
“Anything like the sound of a rat
“Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”
“Come in!”—the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red,
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in;
There was no guessing his kith and kin:
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire.
Quoth one: “It’s as my great-grandsire,
“Starting up at the Trump of Doom’s tone,
“Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!”
He advanced to the council-table
And, “Please your honours,” said he, “I’m able,
“By means of a secret charm, to draw
“All creatures living beneath the sun,
“That creep or swim or fly or run,
“After me so as you never saw!
“And I chiefly use my charm
“On creatures that do people harm,
“The mole and toad and newt and viper;
“And people call me the Pied Piper.”
(And here they noticed round his neck
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the self-same cheque;
And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
“Yet,” said he, “poor piper as I am,
“In Tartary I freed the Cham,
“Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats;
“I eased in Asia the Nizam
“Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats:
“And as for what your brain bewilders,
“If I can rid your town of rats
“Will you give me a thousand guilders?”
“One? fifty thousand!”—was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.
Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled,
Like a candle-flame where the salt is sprinkled,
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives—
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step for step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser,
Wherein all plunged and perished!
—Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As he, the manuscript he cherished)
To Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, “At the first shrill notes of the pipe,
“I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
“And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
“Into a cider-press’s gripe:
“And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
“And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
“And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
“And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks:
“And it seemed as if a voice
“(Sweeter far than harp or psaltery
“Is breathed) called out, `Oh rats, rejoice!
“ ‘The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
“ ‘So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
“ ‘Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!’
“And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
“All ready staved, like a great sun shone
“Glorious scarce an inch before me,
“Just as methought it said, ‘Come, bore me!’
“—I found the Weser rolling o’er me.”
You should have heard the Hamelin people
ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
“Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles,
“Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
“Consult with carpenters and builders,
“And leave in our town not even a trace
“Of the rats!”—when suddenly, up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a, “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue;
So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar’s biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
“Beside,” quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
“Our business was done at the river’s brink;
“We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
“And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think.
“So, friend, we’re not the folks to shrink
“From the duty of giving you something for drink,
“And a matter of money to put in your poke;
“But as for the guilders, what we spoke
“Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
“Beside, our losses have made us thrifty.
“A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!”
The Piper’s face fell, and he cried
No trifling! I can’t wait, beside!
“I’ve promised to visit by dinnertime
“Bagdad, and accept the prime
“Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in,
“For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen,
“Of a nest of scorpions no survivor:
“With him I proved no bargain-driver,
“With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
“And folks who put me in a passion
“May find me pipe after another fashion.”
“How?” cried the Mayor, “d’ye think I brook
“Being worse treated than a Cook?
“Insulted by a lazy ribald
“With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
“You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
“Blow your pipe there till you burst!”
Once more he stept into the street
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling,
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by,
—Could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper’s back.
But how the Mayor was on the rack,
And the wretched Council’s bosoms beat,
As the Piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However be turned from South to West,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
“He never can cross that mighty top!
“He’s forced to let the piping drop,
“And we shall see our children stop!”
When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Did I say, all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way;
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say,—
“It’s dull in our town since my playmates left!
“I can’t forget that I’m bereft
“Of all the pleasant sights they see,
“Which the Piper also promised me.
“For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
“Joining the town and just at hand,
“Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew
“And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
“And everything was strange and new;
“The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
“And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
“And honey-bees had lost their stings,
“And horses were born with eagles’ wings:
“And just as I became assured
“My lame foot would be speedily cured,
“The music stopped and I stood still,
“And found myself outside the hill,
“Left alone against my will,
“To go now limping as before,
“And never hear of that country more!”
Alas, alas for Hamelin!
There came into many a burgher’s pate
A text which says that heaven’s gate
Opes to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle’s eye takes a camel in!
The mayor sent East, West, North and South,
To offer the Piper, by word of mouth,
Wherever it was men’s lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart’s content,
If he’d only return the way he went,
And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw ’twas a lost endeavour,
And Piper and dancers were gone for ever,
They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear,
“And so long after what happened here
“On the Twenty-second of July,
“Thirteen hundred and seventy-six:”
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat,
They called it, the Pied Piper’s Street—
Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labour.
Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
To shock with mirth a street so solemn;
But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column,
And on the great church-window painted
The same, to make the world acquainted
How their children were stolen away,
And there it stands to this very day.
And I must not omit to say
That in Transylvania there’s a tribe
Of alien people who ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbours lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don’t understand.
So, Willy, let me and you be wipers
Of scores out with all men—especially pipers!
And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,
If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!
The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me—she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!
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.
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.