Rephan

A poem by Robert Browning

Suggested by a very early recollection of a prose story by the noble woman and imaginative writer, Jane Taylor, of Norwich, (more correctly, of Ongar].
- R. B.


How I lived, ere my human life began
In this world of yours, like you, made man,
When my home was the Star of my God Rephan?

Come then around me, close about,
World-weary earth-born ones! Darkest doubt
Or deepest despondency keeps you out?

Nowise! Before a word I speak,
Let my circle embrace your worn, your weak,
Brow-furrowed old age, youth’s hollow cheek.

Diseased in the body, sick in soul,
Pinched poverty, satiate wealth, your whole
Array of despairs! Have I read the roll?

All here? Attend, perpend! O Star
Of my God Rephan, what wonders are
In thy brilliance fugitive, faint and far!

Far from me, native to thy realm,
Who shared its perfections which o’erwhelm
Mind to conceive. Let drift the helm,

Let drive the sail, dare unconfined
Embark for the vastitude, O Mind,
Of an absolute bliss! Leave earth behind!

Here, by extremes, at a mean you guess:
There, all’s at most, not more, not less:
Nowhere deficiency nor excess.

No want, whatever should be, is now:
No growth, that’s change, and change comes, how
To royalty born with crown on brow?

Nothing begins, so needs to end:
Where fell it short at first? Extend
Duly the same, no change can mend!

I use your language: mine, no word
Of its wealth would help who spoke, who heard,
To a gleam of intelligence. None preferred,

None felt distaste when better and worse
Were uncontrastable: bless or curse
What, in that uniform universe?

Can your world’s phrase, your sense of things
Forth-figure the Star of my God? No springs,
No winters throughout its space. Time brings

No hope, no fear: as to-day, shall be
To-morrow: advance or retreat need we
At our stand-still through eternity?

All happy: needs must we so have been,
Since who could be otherwise? All serene:
What dark was to banish, what light to screen?

Earth’s rose is a bud that’s checked or grows
As beams may encourage or blasts oppose:
Our lives leapt forth, each a full-orbed rose.

Each rose sole rose in a sphere that spread
Above and below and around, rose-red:
No fellowship, each for itself instead.

One better than I, would prove I lacked
Somewhat: one worse were a jarring fact
Disturbing my faultlessly exact.

How did it come to pass there lurked
Somehow a seed of change that worked
Obscure in my heart till perfection irked?

Till out of its peace at length grew strife,
Hopes, fears, loves, hates, obscurely rife,
My life grown a-tremble to turn your life?

Was it Thou, above all lights that are,
Prime Potency, did Thy hand unbar
The prison-gate of Rephan my Star?

In me did such potency wake a pulse
Could trouble tranquillity that lulls
Not lashes inertion till throes convulse

Soul’s quietude into discontent?
As when the completed rose bursts, rent
By ardors till forth from its orb are sent

New petals that mar, unmake the disk,
Spoil rondure: what in it ran brave risk,
Changed apathy’s calm to strife, bright, brisk,

Pushed simple to compound, sprang and spread
Till, fresh-formed, faceted, floreted,
The flower that slept woke a star instead?

No Mimic of Star Rephan! How long
I stagnated there where weak and strong,
The wise and the foolish, right and wrong,

Are merged alike in a neutral Best,
Can I tell? No more than at whose behest
The passion arose in my passive breast,

And I yearned for no sameness but difference
In thing and thing, that should shock my sense
With a want of worth in them all, and thence

Startle me up, by an Infinite
Discovered above and below me, height
And depth alike to attract my flight,

Repel my descent: by hate taught love.
Oh, gain were indeed to see above
Supremacy ever, to move, remove,

Not reach, aspire yet never attain
To the object aimed at! Scarce in vain,
As each stage I left nor touched again.

To suffer, did pangs bring the loved one bliss,
Wring knowledge from ignorance, just for this,
To add one drop to a love-abyss!

Enough: for you doubt, you hope, O men,
You fear, you agonize, die: what then?
Is an end to your life’s work out of ken?

Have you no assurance that, earth at end,
Wrong will prove right? Who made shall mend
In the higher sphere to which yearnings tend?

Why should I speak? You divine the test.
When the trouble grew in my pregnant breast
A voice said, “So wouldst thou strive, not rest?

“Burn and not smoulder, win by worth,
Not rest content with a wealth that’s dearth?
Thou art past Rephan, thy place be Earth!”

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