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Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Youth and Art


              1  It once might have been, once only:
              2    We lodged in a street together,
              3You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
              4    I, a lone she-bird of his feather.

              5  Your trade was with sticks and clay,
              6    You thumbed, thrust, patted and polished,
              7Then laughed "They will see some day
              8    Smith made, and Gibson demolished."

              9  My business was song, song, song;
            10    I chirped, cheeped, trilled and twittered,
            11"Kate Brown's on the boards ere long,
            12    And Grisi's existence embittered!"

            13  I earned no more by a warble
            14    Than you by a sketch in plaster;
            15You wanted a piece of marble,
            16    I needed a music-master.

            17  We studied hard in our styles,
            18    Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,
            19For air looked out on the tiles,
            20    For fun watched each other's windows.

            21  You lounged, like a boy of the South,
            22    Cap and blouse--nay, a bit of beard too;
            23Or you got it, rubbing your mouth
            24    With fingers the clay adhered to.

            25  And I--soon managed to find
            26    Weak points in the flower-fence facing,
            27Was forced to put up a blind
            28    And be safe in my corset-lacing.

            29  No harm! It was not my fault
            30    If you never turned your eye's tail up
            31As I shook upon E in alt,
            32    Or ran the chromatic scale up:

            33  For spring bade the sparrows pair,
            34    And the boys and girls gave guesses,
            35And stalls in our street looked rare
            36    With bulrush and watercresses.

            37  Why did not you pinch a flower
            38    In a pellet of clay and fling it?
            39Why did not I put a power
            40    Of thanks in a look, or sing it?

            41  I did look, sharp as a lynx,
            42    (And yet the memory rankles,)
            43When models arrived, some minx
            44    Tripped up-stairs, she and her ankles.

            45  But I think I gave you as good!
            46    "That foreign fellow,--who can know
            47How she pays, in a playful mood,
            48    For his tuning her that piano?"

            49  Could you say so, and never say
            50    "Suppose we join hands and fortunes,
            51And I fetch her from over the way,
            52    Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?"

            53  No, no: you would not be rash,
            54    Nor I rasher and something over:
            55You've to settle yet Gibson's hash,
            56    And Grisi yet lives in clover.

            57  But you meet the Prince at the Board,
            58    I'm queen myself at bals-paré,
            59I've married a rich old lord,
            60    And you're dubbed knight and an R.A.

            61  Each life unfulfilled, you see;
            62    It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
            63We have not sighed deep, laughed free,
            64    Starved, feasted, despaired,--been happy.

            65  And nobody calls you a dunce,
            66    And people suppose me clever:
            67This could but have happened once,
            68    And we missed it, lost it for ever.


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, Dramatis Personae (London: Chapman and Hall, 1864). PR 4209 A1 1864 ROBA.
First publication date: 1864
RPO poem editor: J. D. Robins
RP edition: 2RP 2.480.
Recent editing: 2:2001/12/13

Rhyme: abab


Other poems by Robert Browning