St. Martin’s Summer

A poem by Robert Browning

No protesting, dearest!
Hardly kisses even!
Don’t we both know how it ends?
How the greenest leaf turns serest,
Bluest outbreak, blankest heaven,
Lovers, friends?

You would build a mansion,
I would weave a bower
Want the heart for enterprise.
Walls admit of no expansion:
Trellis-work may haply flower
Twice the size.

What makes glad Life’s Winter?
New buds, old blooms after.
Sad the sighing “How suspect
Reams would ere mid-Autumn splinter,
Rooftree scarce support a rafter,
Walls lie wrecked?”

You are young, my princess!
I am hardly older:
Yet, I steal a glance behind!
Dare I tell you what convinces
Timid me that you, if bolder,
Bold, are blind?

Where we plan our dwelling
Glooms a graveyard surely!
Headstone, footstone moss may drape,
Name, date, violets hide from spelling,
But, though corpses rot obscurely,
Ghosts escape.

Ghosts! O breathing Beauty,
Give my frank word pardon!
What if I, somehow, somewhere,
Pledged my soul to endless duty
Many a time and oft? Be hard on
Love, laid there?

Nay, blame grief that’s fickle,
Time that proves a traitor,
Chance, change, all that purpose warps,
Death who spares to thrust the sickle
Laid Love low, through flowers which later
Shroud the corpse!

And you, my winsome lady,
Whisper with like frankness!
Lies nothing buried long ago?
Are yon, which shimmer ’mid the shady
Where moss and violet run to rankness,
Tombs or no?

Who taxes you with murder?
My hands are clean, or nearly!
Love being mortal needs must pass.
Repentance? Nothing were absurder.
Enough: we felt Love’s loss severely;
Though now, alas!

Love’s corpse lies quiet therefore,
Only Love’s ghost plays truant,
And warns us have in wholesome awe
Durable mansionry; that’s wherefore
I weave but trellis-work, pursuant
Life, to law.

The solid, not the fragile,
Tempts rain and hail and thunder.
If bower stand firm at Autumn’s close,
Beyond my hope, why, boughs were agile;
If bower fall flat, we scarce need wonder
Wreathing rose!

So, truce to the protesting,
So, muffled be the kisses!
For, would we but avow the truth,
Sober is genuine joy. No jesting!
Ask else Penelope, Ulysses,
Old in youth!

For why should ghosts feel angered?
Let all their interference
Be faint march-music in the air!
“Up! Join the rear of us the vanguard!
Up, lovers, dead to all appearance,
Laggard pair!”

The while you clasp me closer,
The while I press you deeper,
As safe we chuckle, under breath,
Yet all the slyer, the jocoser,
“So, life can boast its day, like leap-year
Stolen from death!”

Ah me, the sudden terror!
Hence quick-avaunt, avoid me,
You cheat, the ghostly flesh-disguised!
Nay, all the ghosts in one! Strange error!
So, ’twas Death’s self that clipped and toyed me,
Loved, and lied!

Ay, dead loves are the potent!
Like any cloud they used you,
Mere semblance you, but substance they!
Build we no mansion, weave we no tent!
Mere flesh, their spirit interfused you!
Hence, I say!

All theirs, none yours the glamour!
Theirs each low word that won me,
Soft look that found me Love’s, and left
What else but you, the tears and clamor
That’s all your very own! Undone me,
Ghost-bereft!

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