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Short poem

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

The Laboratory

              1  Now that I, tying thy glass mask tightly,
              2May gaze thro' these faint smokes curling whitely,
              3As thou pliest thy trade in this devil's-smithy--
              4Which is the poison to poison her, prithee?

              5  He is with her, and they know that I know
              6Where they are, what they do: they believe my tears flow
              7While they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear
              8Empty church, to pray God in, for them!--I am here.

              9  Grind away, moisten and mash up thy paste,
            10Pound at thy powder,--I am not in haste!
            11Better sit thus and observe thy strange things,
            12Than go where men wait me and dance at the King's.

            13  That in the mortar--you call it a gum?
            14Ah, the brave tree whence such gold oozings come!
            15And yonder soft phial, the exquisite blue,
            16Sure to taste sweetly,--is that poison too?

            17  Had I but all of them, thee and thy treasures,
            18What a wild crowd of invisible pleasures!
            19To carry pure death in an earring, a casket,
            20A signet, a fan-mount, a filigree basket!

            21  Soon, at the King's, a mere lozenge to give
            22And Pauline should have just thirty minutes to live!
            23But to light a pastile, and Elise, with her head
            24And her breast and her arms and her hands, should drop dead!

            25  Quick--is it finished? The colour's too grim!
            26Why not soft like the phial's, enticing and dim?
            27Let it brighten her drink, let her turn it and stir,
            28And try it and taste, ere she fix and prefer!

            29  What a drop! She's not little, no minion like me--
            30That's why she ensnared him: this never will free
            31The soul from those masculine eyes,--say, "no!"
            32To that pulse's magnificent come-and-go.

            33  For only last night, as they whispered, I brought
            34My own eyes to bear on her so, that I thought
            35Could I keep them one half minute fixed, she would fall,
            36Shrivelled; she fell not; yet this does it all!

            37  Not that I bid you spare her the pain!
            38Let death be felt and the proof remain;
            39Brand, burn up, bite into its grace--
            40He is sure to remember her dying face!

            41  Is it done? Take my mask off! Nay, be not morose;
            42It kills her, and this prevents seeing it close:
            43The delicate droplet, my whole fortune's fee--
            44If it hurts her, beside, can it ever hurt me?

            45  Now, take all my jewels, gorge gold to your fill,
            46You may kiss me, old man, on my mouth if you will!
            47But brush this dust off me, lest horror it brings
            48Ere I know it--next moment I dance at the King's!

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: Hood's Magazine (London: H. Penshaw, June 1844). AP H666 MICR mfm.
First publication date: June 1844
RPO poem editor: J. D. Robins
RP edition: 2RP 2.420.
Recent editing: 2:2001/12/13

Rhyme: aabb

Other poems by Robert Browning