A Likeness

A poem by Robert Browning

Some people hang portraits up
In a room where they dine or sup:
And the wife clinks tea-things under,
And her cousin, he stirs his cup,
Asks “Who was the lady, I wonder?”
“’T is a daub John bought at a sale,”
Quoth the wife, looks black as thunder:
“What a shade beneath her nose!
“Snuff-taking, I suppose,”
Adds the cousin, while John’s corns ail.

Or else, there ’s no wife in the case,
But the portrait ’s queen of the place,
Alone mid the other spoils
Of youth, masks, gloves and foils,
And pipe-sticks, rose, cherry-tree, jasmine,
And the long whip, the tandem-lasher,
And the cast from a fist (“not, alas! mine,
“But my master’s, the Tipton Slasher”),
And the cards where pistol-balls mark ace,
And a satin shoe used for cigar-case,
And the chamois-horns (“shot in the Chablais”)
And prints Rarey drumming on Cruiser,
And Sayers, our champion, the bruiser,
And the little edition of Rabelais:
Where a friend, with both hands in his pockets,
May saunter up close to examine it,
And remark a good deal of Jane Lamb in it,
“But the eyes are half out of their sockets;
“That hair ’s not so bad, where the gloss is,
“But they’ve made the girl’s nose a proboscis:
“Jane Lamb, that we danced with at Vichy!
“What, is not she Jane? Then, who is she?”

All that I own is a print,
An etching, a mezzotint;
’T is a study, a fancy, a fiction,
Yet a fact (take my conviction)
Because it has more than a hint
Of a certain face, I never
Saw elsewhere touch or trace of
In women I ’ve seen the face of:
Just an etching, and, so far, clever.

I keep my prints, an imbroglio,
Fifty in one portfolio.
When somebody tries my claret,
We turn round chairs to the fire,
Chirp over days in a garret,
Chuckle o’er increase of salary,
Taste the good fruits of our leisure,
Talk about pencil and lyre,
And the National Portrait Gallery:
Then I exhibit my treasure.
After we ’ve turned over twenty,
And the debt of wonder my crony owes
Is paid to my Marc Antonios,
He stops me “Festina lentè!
“What’s that sweet thing there, the etching?”
How my waistcoat-strings want stretching,
How my cheeks grow red as tomatos,
How my heart leaps ! But hearts, after leaps, ache.

“By the by, you must take, for a keepsake,
“That other, you praised, of Volpato’s.”
The fool! would he try a flight further and say
He never saw, never before to-day,
What was able to take his breath away,
A face to lose youth for, to occupy age
With the dream of, meet death with, why, I’ll not engage
But that, half in a rapture and half in a rage,
I should toss him the thing’s self “’T is only a duplicate,
“A thing of no value! Take it, I supplicate!”

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