Numpholeptos

A poem by Robert Browning

Still you stand, still you listen, still you smile!
Still melts your moonbeam through me, white awhile,
Softening, sweetening, till sweet. and soft
Increase so round this heart of mine, that oft
I could believe your moonbeam-smile has past
The pallid limit, lies, transformed at last
To sunlight and salvation, warms the soul
It sweets, softens! Would you pass that goal,
Gain love’s birth at the limit’s happier verge.
And, where an iridescence lurks, but urge
The hesitating pallor on to prime
Of dawn! true blood-streaked, sun-warmth, action-time,
By heart-pulse ripened to a ruddy glow
Of gold above my clay, I scarce should know
From gold’s self, thus suffused! For gold means love.
What means the sad slow silver smile above
My clay but pity, pardon? at the best,
But acquiescence that I take my rest,
Contented to be clay, while in your heaven
The sun reserves love for the Spirit-Seven
Companioning God’s throne they lamp before,
Leaves earth a mute waste only wandered o’er
By that pale soft sweet disempassioned moon
Which smiles me slow forgiveness! Such, the boon
I beg? Nay, dear submit to this, just this
Supreme endeavor! As my lips now kiss
Your feet, my arms convulse your shrouding robe,
My eyes, acquainted with the dust, dare probe
Your eyes above for, what, if born, would blind
Mine with redundant bliss, as flash may find
The inert nerve, sting awake the palsied limb,
Bid with life’s ecstasy sense overbrim
And suck back death in the resurging joy,
Love, the love whole and sole without alloy!

Vainly! The promise withers! I employ
Lips, arms, eyes, pray the prayer which finds the word,
Make the appeal which must be felt, not heard,
And none the more is changed your calm regard:
Rather, its sweet and soft grow harsh and hard,
Forbearance, then repulsion, then disdain.
Avert the rest! I rise, see! make, again
Once more, the old departure for some track
Untried, yet through a world which brings me back
Ever thus fruitlessly to find your feet,
To fix your eyes, to pray the soft and sweet
Which smile there, take from his new pilgrimage
Your outcast, once your inmate, and assuage
With love, not placid pardon now, his thirst
For a mere drop from out the ocean erst
He drank at! Well, the quest shall be renewed.
Fear nothing! Though I linger, unembued
With any drop, my lips thus close. I go!
So did I leave you, I have found you so,
And doubtlessly, if fated to return
So shall my pleading persevere and earn
Pardon, not love, in that same smile, I learn,
And lose the meaning of, to learn once more,
Vainly!

What fairy track do I explore?
What magic hall return to, like the gem
Centuply-angled o’er a diadem?
You dwell there, hearted; from your mid-most home
Rays forth, through that fantastic world I roam
Ever, from centre to circumference,
Shaft upon colored shaft: this crimsons thence,
That purples out its precinct through that waste.
Surely I had your sanction when I faced,
Fared forth upon that untried yellow ray
Whence I retrack my steps? They end to-day
Where they began, before your feet, beneath
Your eyes, your smile: the blade is shut in sheath,
Fire quenched in flint; irradiation, late
Triumphant through the distance, finds it: fate,
Merged in your blank pure soul, alike the source
And tomb of that prismatic glow: divorce
Absolute, all-conclusive! Forth I fared,
Treading the lambent flamelet: little cared
If now its flickering took the topaz tint,
If now my dull-caked path gave sulphury hint
Of subterranean rage, no stay nor stint
To yellow, since you sanctioned that I bathe,
Burnish me, soul and body, swim and swathe
In yellow license. Here I seek suffused
With crocus, saffron, orange, as I used
With scarlet, purple, every dye o’ the bow
Born of the storm-cloud. As before, you show
Scarce recognition, no approval, some
Mistrust, more wonder at a man become
Monstrous in garb, nay, flesh disguised as well,
Through his adventure. Whatsoe’er befell,
I followed, wheresoe’er it wound, that vein
You authorized should leave your whiteness, stain
Earth’s sombre stretch beyond your mid-most place
Of vantage, trode that tinct whereof the trace
On garb and flesh repel you! Yes, I plead
Your own permission, your command, indeed,
That who would worthily retain the love
Must share the knowledge shrined those eyes above,
Go boldly on adventure, break through bounds
O’ the quintessential whiteness that surrounds
Your feet, obtain experience of each tinge
That bickers forth to broaden out, impinge
Plainer his foot its pathway all distinct
From every other. Ah, the wonder, linked
With fear, as exploration manifests
What agency it was first tipped the crests
Of unnamed wildflower, soon protruding grew
Portentous ’mid the sands, as when his hue
Betrays him and the burrowing snake gleams through;
Till, last . . . but why parade more shame and pain?
Are not the proofs upon me? Here again
I pass into your presence, I receive
Your smile of pity, pardon, and I leave . . .
No, not this last of times I leave you, mute,
Submitted to my penance, so my foot
May yet again adventure, tread, from source
To issue, one more ray of rays which course
Each other, at your bidding, from the sphere
Silver and sweet, their birthplace, down that drear
Dark of the world, you promise shall return
Your pilgrim jewelled as with drops o’ the urn
The rainbow paints from, and no smatch at all
Of ghastliness at edge of some cloud-pall
Heaven cowers before, as earth awaits the fall
O’ the bolt and flash of doom. Who trusts your word
Tries the adventure: and returns, absurd
As frightful, in that sulphur-steeped disguise
Mocking the priestly cloth-of-gold, sole prize
The arch-heretic was wont to bear away
Until he reached the burning. No, I say:
No fresh adventure! No more seeking love
At end of toil, and finding, calm above
My passion, the old statuesque regard,
The sad petrific smile!

O you, less hard
And hateful than mistaken and obtuse
Unreason of a she-intelligence!
You very woman with the pert pretence
To match the male achievement! Like enough!
Ay, you were easy victors, did the rough
Straightway efface itself to smooth, the gruff
Grind down and grow a whisper, did man’s truth
Subdue, for sake of chivalry and ruth,
Its rapier-edge to suit the bulrush-spear
Womanly falsehood fights with! O that ear
All fact pricks rudely, that thrice-superfine
Feminity of sense, with right divine
To waive all process, take result stain-free
From out the very muck wherein . . .

Ah me!
The true slave’s querulous outbreak! All the rest
Be resignation! Forth at your behest
I fare. Who knows but this, the crimson-quest,
May deepen to a sunrise, not decay
To that cold sad sweet smile? which I obey.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Numpholeptos' by Robert Browning

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy