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Short poem

Robert Browning (1812-1889)




              1What's become of Waring
              2Since he gave us all the slip,
              3Chose land-travel or seafaring,
              4Boots and chest, or staff and scrip,
              5Rather than pace up and down
              6Any longer London-town?


              7Who'd have guessed it from his lip,
              8Or his brow's accustomed bearing,
              9On the night he thus took ship,
            10Or started landward, little caring
            11For us, it seems, who supped together,
            12 (Friends of his too, I remember)
            13And walked home thro' the merry weather,
            14Snowiest in all December;
            15I left his arm that night myself
            16For what's-his-name's, the new prose-poet,
            17That wrote the book there, on the shelf --
            18How, forsooth, was I to know it
            19If Waring meant to glide away
            20Like a ghost at break of day!
            21Never looked he half so gay!


            22He was prouder than the Devil:
            23How he must have cursed our revel!
            24Ay, and many other meetings,
            25Indoor visits, outdoor greetings,
            26As up and down he paced this London,
            27With no work done, but great works undone,
            28Where scarce twenty knew his name.
            29Why not, then, have earlier spoken,
            30Written, bustled? Who's to blame
            31If your silence kept unbroken?
            32True, but there were sundry jottings,
            33Stray-leaves, fragments, blurrs and blottings,
            34Certain first steps were achieved
            35Already which -- (is that your meaning?)
            36Had well borne out whoe'er believed
            37In more to come: but who goes gleaning
            38Hedge-side chance-blades, while full-sheaved
            39Stand cornfields by him? Pride, o'erweening
            40Pride alone, puts forth such claims
            41O'er the day's distinguished names.


            42Meantime, how much I loved him,
            43I find out now I've lost him:
            44I, who cared not if I moved him,
            45-- Could so carelessly accost him,
            46Never shall get free
            47Of his ghostly company,
            48And eyes that just a little wink
            49As deep I go into the merit
            50Of this and that distinguished spirit --
            51His cheeks' raised colour, soon to sink,
            52As long I dwell on some stupendous
            53And tremendous (God defend us!)
            56Penman's latest piece of graphic.
            57Nay, my very wrist grows warm
            58With his dragging weight of arm!
            59E'en so, swimmingly appears,
            60Thro' one's after-supper musings,
            61Some lost lady of old years,
            62With her beauteous vain endeavour,
            63And goodness unrepaid as ever;
            64The face, accustomed to refusings,
            65We, puppies that we were . . . Oh never
            66Surely, nice of conscience, scrupled
            67Being aught like false, forsooth, to?
            68Telling aught but honest truth to?
            69What a sin had we centupled
            70Its possessor's grace and sweetness!
            71No! she heard in its completeness
            72Truth, for truth's a weighty matter,
            73And, truth at issue, we can't flatter!
            74Well, 'tis done with; she's exempt
            75From damning us thro' such a sally;
            76And so she glides, as down a valley,
            77Taking up with her contempt,
            78Past our reach; and in, the flowers
            79Shut her unregarded hours.


            80Oh, could I have him back once more,
            81This Waring, but one half-day more!
            82Back, with the quiet face of yore,
            83So hungry for acknowledgment
            84Like mine! I'd fool him to his bent!
            85Feed, should not he, to heart's content?
            86I'd say, "to only have conceived
            87"Your great works, tho' they never progress,
            88"Surpasses all we've yet achieved!"
            89I'd lie so, I should be believed.
            90I'd make such havoc of the claims
            91Of the day's distinguished names
            92To feast him with, as feasts an ogress
            93Her sharp-toothed golden-crowned child!
            94Or, as one feasts a creature rarely
            95Captured here, unreconciled
            96To capture; and completely gives
            97Its pettish humours license, barely
            98Requiring that it lives.


            99Ichabod, Ichabod,
          100The glory is departed!
          101Travels Waring East away?
          102Who, of knowledge, by hearsay,
          103Reports a man upstarted
          104Somewhere as a God,
          105Hordes grown European-hearted,
          106Millions of the wild made tame
          107On a sudden at his fame?
          108In Vishnu-land what Avatar?
          109Or, North in Moscow, toward the Czar,
          110Who, with the gentlest of footfalls
          111Over the Kremlin's pavement, bright
          112With serpentine and siennite,
          113Steps, with five other Generals,
          114Who simultaneously take snuff,
          115That each may have pretext enough
          116To kerchiefwise unfold his sash
          117Which, softness' self, is yet the stuff
          118To hold fast where a steel chain snaps,
          119And leave the grand white neck no gash?
          120In Moscow, Waring, to those rough
          121Cold natures borne, perhaps,
          122Like the lambwhite maiden, (clear
          123Thro' the circle of mute kings,
          124Unable to repress the tear,
          125Each as his sceptre down he flings),
          126To the Dome at Taurica,
          127Where now a priestess, she alway
          128Mingles her tender grave Hellenic speech
          129With theirs, tuned to the hailstone-beaten beach,
          130As pours some pigeon, from the myrrhy lands
          131Rapt by the whirlblast to fierce Scythian strands
          132Where breed the swallows, her melodious cry
          133Amid their barbarous twitter!
          134In Russia? Never! Spain were fitter!
          135Ay, most likely 'tis in Spain
          136That we and Waring meet again --
          137Now, while he turns down that cool narrow lane
          138Into the blackness, out of grave Madrid
          139All fire and shine -- abrupt as when there's slid
          140Its stiff gold blazing pall
          141From some black coffin-lid.
          142Or, best of all,
          143I love to think
          144The leaving us was just a feint;
          145Back here to London did he slink;
          146And now works on without a wink
          147Of sleep, and we are on the brink
          148Of something great in fresco-paint:
          149Some garret's ceiling, walls and floor,
          150Up and down and o'er and o'er
          151He splashes, as none splashed before
          152Since great Caldara Polidore:
          153Then down he creeps and out he steals
          154Only when the night conceals
          155His face -- in Kent 'tis cherry-time,
          156Or, hops are picking; or, at prime
          157Of March, he steals as when, too happy,
          158Years ago when he was young,
          159Some mild eve when woods were sappy,
          160And the early moths had sprung
          161To life from many a trembling sheath
          162Woven the warm boughs beneath,
          163While small birds said to themselves
          164What should soon be actual song,
          165And young gnats, by tens and twelves,
          166Made as if they were the throng
          167That crowd around and carry aloft
          168The sound they have nursed, so sweet and pure,
          169Out of a myriad noises soft,
          170Into a tone that can endure
          171Amid the noise of a July noon,
          172When all God's creatures crave their boon,
          173All at once and all in tune,
          174And get it, happy as Waring then,
          175Having first within his ken
          176What a man might do with men,
          177And far too glad, in the even-glow,
          178To mix with the world he meant to take
          179Into his hand, he told you, so --
          180And out of it his world to make,
          181To contract and to expand
          182As he shut or oped his hand.
          183Oh, Waring, what's to really be?
          184A clear stage and a crowd to see!
          185Some Garrick -- say -- out shall not he
          186The heart of Hamlet's mystery pluck?
          187Or, where most unclean beasts are rife,
          188Some Junius -- am I right? -- shall tuck
          189His sleeve, and out with flaying-knife!
          190Some Chatterton shall have the luck
          191Of calling Rowley into life!
          192Some one shall somehow run a muck
          193With this old world, for want of strife
          194Sound asleep: contrive, contrive
          195To rouse us, Waring! Who's alive?
          196Our men scarce seem in earnest now.
          197Distinguished names, but 't is, somehow,
          198As if they played at being names
          199Still more distinguished, like the games
          200Of children. Turn our sport to earnest
          201With a visage of the sternest!
          202Bring the real times back, confessed
          203Still better than the very best!



          204"When I last saw Waring . . ."
          205(How all turned to him who spoke --
          206You saw Waring? Truth or joke?
          207In land-travel, or sea-faring?)


          208"We were sailing by Triest,
          209"Where a day or two we harboured:
          210"A sunset was in the West,
          211"When, looking over the vessel's side,
          212"One of our company espied
          213"A sudden speck to larboard.
          214"And as a sea-duck flies and swims
          215"At once, so came the light craft up,
          216"With its sole lateen sail that trims
          217"And turns (the water round its rims
          218"Dancing as round a sinking cup)
          219"And by us like a fish it curled,
          220"And drew itself up close beside,
          221"Its great sail on the instant furled,
          222"And o'er its planks a shrill voice cried,
          223"(A neck as bronzed as a Lascar's)
          224"'Buy wine of us, you English Brig?
          225"'Or fruit, tobacco and cigars?
          226"'A Pilot for you to Triest?
          227"'Without one, look you ne'er so big,
          228"'They'll never let you up the bay!
          229"'We natives should know best.'
          230"I turned, and 'just those fellows' way,'
          231"Our captain said, 'The 'long-shore thieves
          232"'Are laughing at us in their sleeves.'


          233"In truth, the boy leaned laughing back;
          234"And one, half-hidden by his side
          235"Under the furled sail, soon I spied,
          236"With great grass hat, and kerchief black,
          237"Who looked up, with his kingly throat,
          238"Said somewhat while the other shook
          239"His hair back from his eyes to look
          240"Their longest at us; and the boat,
          241"I know not how, turned sharply round,
          242"Laying her whole side on the sea
          243"As a leaping fish does; from the lee
          244"Into the weather cut somehow
          245"Her sparkling path beneath our bow;
          246"And so went off, as with a bound,
          247"Into the rose and golden half
          248"Of the sky, to overtake the sun,
          249"And reach the shore like the sea-calf
          250"Its singing cave; yet I caught one
          251"Glance ere away the boat quite passed,
          252"And neither time nor toil could mar
          253"Those features: so I saw the last
          254"Of Waring!" -- You? Oh, never star
          255Was lost here, but it rose afar!
          256Look East, where whole new thousands are!
          257In Vishnu-land what Avatar?


1] Waring: kindly meant of Alfred Domett (1811-87), a close friend of Browning's who had just emigrated to New Zealand.

4] staff and script: the pilgrim's cane and satchel.

38] chance-blades: randomly appearing blades of grass.

39] o'erweening: too ambitious.

44] moved: troubled.

54] "Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens" (Virgil, Aeneid III.658, here `Monster misshapen, immense, horrid').

66] nice: careful and exacting.

77] Taking up: perhaps `putting up with' (accepting).

84] to his bent: according to his (self-deceiving) disposition.

97] pettish: petulant, bad-tempered.

100] "And she [Eli's daughter-in-law] named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel" (1 Samuel 4.21).

108] Vishnu-land: India. Avatar: a descendant of Vishnu, the Hindu god of creation.

112] serpentine: greenish rock that looks like a snake's skin. siennite: syenite, a granite-like rock.

122] lambwhite maiden: Iphigenia, supposed sacrificed by a vote of her father Agamemnon and the generals of the Greeks against Troy (a vote signified by casting down a sceptre), but actually exiled to Artemis' temple at Tauris, Scythia, where she was a priestess.

130] myrrhy lands: the land from which one of the three magi or kings came to Jerusalem bearing myrrh, that is, the far east.

131] whirlblast: whirlwind.

152] Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio (ca. 1492-1543), a painter.

185] David Garrick (1717-79), the 18th-century actor renowned for Shakespearean parts such as Hamlet, whose words to his false friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are echoed in the following line.

188] Junius: anonymous Whig letter-writer who attacked George III and his ministers in the press 1769-72, now believed to be Sir Philip Francis on the basis of authorship tests.

191] Thomas Chatterton (1752-70), a poet who passed off his writings as belonging to an invented medieval poet named Rowley.

208] Triest: Trieste, port city in north-east Italy on the gulf named after it.

213] larboard: "The side of a ship which is to the left hand of a person looking from the stern towards the bows" (OED).

214] sea-duck: "Any duck of the sub-family FuligulinŠ, as the common scoter, Oedemia nigra, and the eider-duck" (OED).

216] lateen sail: "a triangular sail suspended by a long yard at an angle of about 45 degrees to the mast" (OED).

223] Lascar: East Indian sailor.

224] Brig: "A vessel with two masts square-rigged like a ship's fore- and main-masts, but carrying also on her main-mast a lower fore-and-aft sail with a gaff and boom" (OED).

227] look you ne'er so big: no matter how imposing you seem.

231] long-shore: seamen who work on land.

243] lee: the side of a ship turned away from the wind.

249] sea-calf: seal.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Dramatic Lyrics, Bells and Pomegranates, III (1842).
First publication date: 26 November 1842
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2002
Recent editing: 1:2002/11/16

Composition date: 1842
Composition date note: after April
Rhyme: irregular couplets, triplets, quatrains

Other poems by Robert Browning