Flute-Music, With An Accompaniment

A poem by Robert Browning

He. Ah, the bird-like fluting
Through the ash-tops yonder,
Bullfinch-bubblings, soft sounds suiting
What sweet thoughts, I wonder?
Fine-pearled notes that surely
Gather, dewdrop-fashion,
Deep-down in some heart which purely
Secretes globuled passion,
Passion insuppressive,
Such is piped, for certain;
Love, no doubt, nay, love excessive
’Tis your ash-tops curtain.

Would your ash-tops open
We might spy the player,
Seek and find some sense which no pen
Yet from singer, sayer,
Ever has extracted:
Never, to my knowledge,
Yet has pedantry enacted
That, in Cupid’s College,
Just this variation
Of the old, old yearning
Should by plain speech have salvation,
Yield new men new learning.

“Love!” but what love, nicely
New from old disparted,
Would the player teach precisely?
First of all, be started
In my brain Assurance,
Trust, entire Contentment,
Passion proved by much endurance;
Then came, not resentment,
No, but simply Sorrow:
What was seen had vanished:
Yesterday so blue! To-morrow
Blank, all sunshine banished.

Hark! ’Tis Hope resurges,
Struggling through obstruction,
Forces a poor smile which verges
On joy’s introduction.
Now, perhaps, mere Musing:
“Holds earth such a wonder?
Fairy-mortal, soul-sense-fusing
Past thought’s power to sunder!”
What? calm Acquiescence?
“Daisied turf gives room to
Trefoil, plucked once in her presence,
Growing by her tomb too!”

She. All’s your fancy-spinning!
Here’s the fact: a neighbor
Never-ending, still beginning,
Recreates his labor:
Deep o’er desk he drudges,
Adds, divides, subtracts and
Multiplies, until he judges
Noonday-hour’s exact sand
Shows the hour-glass emptied:
Then comes lawful leisure,
Minutes rare from toil exempted,
Fit to spend in pleasure.

Out then with, what treatise?
Youth’s Complete Instructor
How to play the Flute. Quid petis?
Follow Youth’s conductor
On and on, through Easy,
Up to Harder, Hardest
Flute-piece, till thou, flautist wheezy,
Possibly discardest
Tootlings hoarse and husky,
Mayst expend with courage
Breath, on tunes once bright, now dusky,
Meant to cool thy porridge.

That’s an air of Tulou’s
He maltreats persistent,
Till as lief I’d hear some Zulu’s
Bone-piped bag, breath-distent,
Madden native dances.
I’m the man’s familiar:
Unexpectedness enhances
What your ear’s auxiliar
Fancy, finds suggestive.
Listen! That’s legato
Rightly played, his fingers restive
Touch as if staccato.

He. Ah, you trick-betrayer!
Telling tales, unwise one?
So the secret of the player
Was, he could surprise one
Well-nigh into trusting
Here was a musician
Skilled consummately, yet lusting
Through no vile ambition
After making captive
All the world, rewarded
Amply by one stranger’s rapture.
Common praise discarded.

So, without assistance
Such as music rightly
Needs and claims, defying distance,
Overleaping lightly
Obstacles which hinder,
He, for my approval,

All the same and all the kinder
Made mine what might move all
Earth to kneel adoring:
Took, while he piped Gounod’s
Bit of passionate imploring,
Me for Juliet: who knows?

No! as you explain things,
All’s mere repetition,
Practise-pother: of all vain things
Why waste pooh or pish on
Toilsome effort, never
Ending, still beginning
After what should pay endeavor
Right-performance? winning
Weariness from you who,
Ready to admire some
Owl’s fresh hooting, Tu-whit, to-who,
Find stale thrush-songs tiresome.

She. Songs, Spring thought perfection,
Summer criticises:
What in May escaped detection,
August, past surprises,
Notes, and names each blunder.
You, the just-initiate,
Praise to heart’s content (what wonder?)
Tootings I hear vitiate
Romeo’s serenading,
I who, times full twenty,
Turned to ice, no ash-tops aiding,
At his caldamente.

So, ’twas distance altered
Sharps to flats? The missing
Bar when syncopation faltered
(You thought, paused for kissing!)
Ash-tops too felonious
Intercepted? Rather
Say, they well-nigh made euphonious
Discord, helped to gather
Phrase, by phrase, turn patches
Into simulated
Unity which botching matches,
Scraps redintegrated.

He. Sweet, are you suggestive
Of an old suspicion
Which has always found me restive
To its admonition
When it ventured whisper
“Fool, the strifes and struggles
Of your trembler, blusher, lisper
Were so many juggles,
Tricks tried, oh, so often!
Which once more do duty,
Find again a heart to soften,
Soul to snare with beauty.”

Birth-blush of the briar-rose,
Mist-bloom of the hedge-sloe,
Some one gainst the prize: admire rose
Would he, when noon’s wedge, slow,
Sure, has pushed, expanded
Rathe pink to raw redness?
Would he covet sloe when sanded
By road-dust to deadness?
So, restore their value!
Ply a water-sprinkle
Then guess sloe is fingered, shall you?
Find in rose a wrinkle?

Here what played Aquarius?
Distance, ash-tops aiding,
Reconciled scraps else contrarious,
Brightened stuff fast fading.
Distance, call your shyness:
Was the fair one peevish?
Coyness softened out of slyness.
Was she cunning, thievish,
All-but proved impostor?
Bear but one day’s exile,
Ugly traits were wholly lost or
Screened by fancies flexile,

Ash-tops these, you take me?
Fancies’ interference
Changed . . .
But since I sleep, don’t wake me!
What if all’s appearance?
Is not outside seeming
Real as substance inside?
Both are facts, so leave me dreaming:
If who loses wins I’d
Ever lose, conjecture,
From one phrase trilled deftly,
All the piece. So, end your lecture,
Let who lied be left lie!

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