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Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Protus


              1Among these latter busts we count by scores,
              2Half-emperors and quarter-emperors,
              3Each with his bay-leaf fillet, loose-thonged vest,
              4Loric and low-browed Gorgon on the breast,--
              5One loves a baby face, with violets there,
              6Violets instead of laurel in the hair,
              7As those were all the little locks could bear.

              8Now read here. "Protus ends a period
              9"Of empery beginning with a god;
            10"Born in the porphyry chamber at Byzant,
            11"Queens by his cradle, proud and ministrant:
            12"And if he quickened breath there, 't would like fire
            13"Pantingly through the dim vast realm transpire.
            14"A fame that he was missing, spread afar:
            15"The world, from its four corners, rose in war,
            16"Till he was borne out on a balcony
            17"To pacify the world when it should see.
            18"The captains ranged before him, one, his hand
            19"Made baby points at, gained the chief command.
            20"And day by day more beautiful he grew
            21"In shape, all said, in feature and in hue,
            22"While young Greek sculptors gazing on the child
            23"Became, with old Greek sculpture, reconciled.
            24"Already sages laboured to condense
            25"In easy tomes a life's experience:
            26"And artists took grave counsel to impart
            27"In one breath and one hand-sweep, all their art-
            28"To make his graces prompt as blossoming
            29"Of plentifully-watered palms in spring:
            30"Since well beseems it, whoso mounts the throne,
            31"For beauty, knowledge, strength, should stand alone,
            32"And mortals love the letters of his name."

            33-Stop! Have you turned two pages? Still the same.
            34New reign, same date. The scribe goes on to say
            35How that same year, on such a month and day,
            36"John the Pannonian, groundedly believed
            37"A blacksmith's bastard, whose hard hand reprieved
            38"The Empire from its fate the year before,-
            39"Came, had a mind to take the crown, and wore
            40"The same for six years, (during which the Huns
            41"Kept off their fingers from us) till his sons
            42"Put something in his liquor "-and so forth.
            43Then a new reign. Stay-"Take at its just worth "
            44(Subjoins an annotator) "what I give
            45"As hearsay. Some think, John let Protus live
            46"And slip away. 'T is said, he reached man's age
            47"At some blind northern court; made, first a page,
            48"Then tutor to the children; last, of use
            49"About the hunting stables. I deduce
            50"He wrote the little tract 'On worming dogs,'
            51"Whereof the name in sundry catalogues
            52"Is extant yet. A Protus of the race
            53"Is rumoured to have died a monk in Thrace,-
            54"And, if the same, he reached senility."

            55Here's John the Smith's rough-hammered head. Great eye,
            56Gross jaw and griped lips do what granite can
            57To give you the crown-grasper. What a man!

Notes

1] The busts, the Chronicle, and the persons in this poem are all fictitious.

4] Loric. Coat of mail.

10] Byzant. Constantinople, the story deals with the period of the later Empire.

36] Pannonian. Pannonia was a province on the Danube.


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: Robert Browning, Men and Women (1855). 2 vols. Rev. 1863.
First publication date: 1855
RPO poem editor: W. J. Alexander, William Hall Clawson
RP edition: RP (1916), p. 362; RPO 1997.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/10

Rhyme: aabbccc, couplets


Other poems by Robert Browning