The Pope

A poem by Robert Browning

Like to Ahasuerus, that shrewd prince,
I will begin, as is, these seven years now,
My daily wont, and read a History
(Written by one whose deft right hand was dust
To the last digit, ages ere my birth)
Of all my predecessors, Popes of Rome:
For though mine ancient early dropped the pen,
Yet others picked it up and wrote it dry,
Since of the making books there is no end.
And so I have the Papacy complete
From Peter first to Alexander last;
Can question each and take instruction so.
Have I to dare, I ask, how dared this Pope?
To suffer? Suchanone, how suffered he?
Being about to judge, as now, I seek
How judged once, well or ill, some other Pope;
Study some signal judgment that subsists
To blaze on, or else blot, the page which seals
The sum up of what gain or loss to God
Came of His one more Vicar in the world.
So, do I find example, rule of life;
So, square and set in order the Next page,
Shall be stretched smooth o’er my own funeral cyst.

Eight hundred years exact before the year
I was made Pope, men made Formosus Pope,
Say Sigebert and other chroniclers.
Ere I confirm or quash the Trial here
Of Guido Franceschini and his friends,
Read, how there was a ghastly Trial once
Of a dead man by a live man, and both, Popes:
Thus in the antique penman’s very phrase.

“Then Stephen, Pope and seventh of the name,
“Cried out, in synod as he sat in state,
“While choler quivered on his brow and beard,
“‘Come into court, Formosus, thou lost wretch,
“‘That claimedst to be late the Pope as I!’

“And at the word, the great door of the church
“Flew wide, and in they brought Formosus’ self,
“The body of him, dead, even as embalmed
“And buried duly in the Vatican
“Eight months before, exhumed thus for the nonce.
“They set it, that dead body of a Pope,
“Clothed in pontific vesture now again,
“Upright on Peter’s chair as if alive.
“And Stephen, springing up, cried furiously
“‘Bishop of Porto, wherefore didst presume
“‘To leave that see and take this Roman see,
“‘Exchange the lesser for the greater see,
“‘A thing against the canons of the Church?’

“Then one (a Deacon who, observing forms,
“Was placed by Stephen to repel the charge,
“Be advocate and mouthpiece of the corpse)
“Spoke as he dared, set stammeringly forth
“With white lips and dry tongue, as but a youth,
“For frightful was the corpse-face to behold,
“How nowise lacked there precedent for this.
“But when, for his last precedent of all,
“Emboldened by the Spirit, out he blurts
“‘And, Holy Father, didst not thou thyself
“‘Vacate the lesser for the greater see,
“‘Half a year since change Arago for Rome?’
“‘ Ye have the sin’s defence now, synod mine!’
“Shrieks Stephen in a beastly froth of rage:
“‘Judge now betwixt him dead and me alive!
“‘Hath he intruded or do I pretend?
“‘Judge, judge!’ breaks wavelike one whole foam of wrath.

“Whereupon they, being friends and followers,
“Said ‘Ay, thou art Christ’s Vicar, and not he!
“‘A way with what is frightful to behold!
“‘This act was uncanonic and a fault.’

“Then, swallowed up in rage, Stephen exclaimed
“‘So, guilty! So, remains I punish guilt!
“‘He is unpoped, and all he did I damn:
“‘The Bishop, that ordained him, I degrade:
“‘Depose to laics those he raised to priests:
“‘What they have wrought is mischief nor shall stand,
“‘It is confusion, let it vex no more!
“‘Since I revoke, annul and abrogate
“‘All his decrees in all kinds: they are void!
“‘In token whereof and warning to the world,
“‘Strip me yon miscreant of those robes usurped,
“‘And clothe him with vile serge befitting such!
“‘Then hale the carrion to the market-place;
“‘Let the town-hangman chop from his right hand
“‘Those same three fingers which he blessed withal;
“‘Next cut the head off, once was crowned forsooth:
“‘And last go fling all, fingers, head and trunk,
“‘In Tiber that my Christian fish may sup!’
“Either because of ????? which means Fish
“And very aptly symbolises Christ,
“Or else because the Pope is Fisherman
“And seals with Fisher’s-signet. Anyway,
“So said, so done: himself, to see it done,
“Following the corpse, they trailed from street to street
“Till into Tiber wave they threw the thing.
“The people, crowded on the banks to see,
“Were loud or mute, wept or laughed, cursed or jeered,
“According as the deed addressed their sense;
“A scandal verily: and out spake a Jew
“‘Wot ye your Christ had vexed our Herod thus?’
“Now when, Formosus being dead a year,
“His judge Pope Stephen tasted death in turn,
“Made captive by the mob and strangled straight,
“Romanus, his successor for a month,
“Did make protest Formosus was with God,
“Holy, just, true in thought and word and deed.
“Next Theodore, who reigned but twenty days,
“Therein convoked a synod, whose decree
“Did reinstate, repope the late unpoped,
“And do away with Stephen as accursed.
“So that when presently certain fisher-folk
“(As if the queasy river could not hold
“Its swallowed Jonas, but discharged the meal)
“Produced the timely product of their nets,
“The mutilated man, Formosus, saved
“From putrefaction by the embalmer’s spice,
“Or, as some said, by sanctity of flesh,
“‘Why, lay the body again’ bade Theodore
“‘Among his predecessors, in the church
“‘And burial-place of Peter!’ which was done.
“‘And’ addeth Luitprand ‘many of repute,
“‘Pious and still alive, avouch to me
“‘That as they bore the body up the aisle
“‘The saints in imaged row bowed each his head
“‘For welcome to a brother-saint come back.’
“As for Romanus and this Theodore,
“These two Popes, through the brief reign granted each,
“Could but initiate what John came to close
“And give the final stamp to: he it was,
“Ninth of the name, (I follow the best guides)
“Who, in full synod at Ravenna held
“With Bishops seventy-four, and present too
“Eude King of France with his Archbishopry,
“Did condemn Stephen, anathematise
“The disinterment, and make all blots blank.
“‘For,’ argueth here Auxilius in a place
“De Ordinationibus, ‘precedents
“‘Had been, no lack, before Formosus long,
“‘Of Bishops so transferred from see to see,
“‘Marinus, for example’: read the tract.

“But, after John, came Sergius, reaffirmed
“The right of Stephen, cursed Formosus, nay
“Cast out, some say, his corpse a second time.
“And here, because the matter went to ground,
“Fretted by new griefs, other cares of the age,
“Here is the last pronouncing of the Church,
“Her sentence that subsists unto this day.
“Yet constantly opinion hath prevailed
“I’ the Church, Formosus was a holy man.”

Which of the judgments was infallible?
Which of my predecessors spoke for God?
And what availed Formosus that this cursed,
That blessed, and then this other cursed again?
“Fear ye not those whose power can kill the body
“And not the soul,” saith Christ “but rather those
“Can cast both soul and body into hell!”
John judged thus in Eight Hundred Ninety Eight,
Exact eight hundred years ago to-day
When, sitting in his stead, Vice-gerent here,
I must give judgment on my own behoof.
So worked the predecessor: now, my turn!

In God’s name! Once more on this earth of God’s,
While twilight lasts and time wherein to work,
I take His staff with my uncertain hand,
And stay my six and fourscore years, my due
Labour and sorrow, on His judgment-seat,
And forthwith think, speak, act, in place of Him
The Pope for Christ. Once more appeal is made
From man’s assize to mine: I sit and see
Another poor weak trembling human wretch
Pushed by his fellows, who pretend the right,
Up to the gulf which, where I gaze, begins
From this world to the next, gives way and way,
Just on the edge over the awful dark:
With nothing to arrest him but my feet.
He catches at me with convulsive face,
Cries “Leave to live the natural minute more!”
While hollowly the avengers echo “Leave?
“None! So has he exceeded man’s due share
“In man’s fit licence, wrung by Adam’s fall,
“To sin and yet not surely die, that we,
“All of us sinful, all with need of grace,
“All chary of our life, the minute more
“Or minute less of grace which saves a soul,
“Bound to make common cause with who craves time,
“ We yet protest against the exorbitance
“Of sin in this one sinner, and demand
“That his poor sole remaining piece of time
“Be plucked from out his clutch: put him to death!
“Punish him now! As for the weal or woe
“Hereafter, God grant mercy! Man be just,
“Nor let the felon boast he went scot-free!”
And I am bound, the solitary judge,
To weigh the worth, decide upon the plea,
And either hold a hand out, or withdraw
A foot and let the wretch drift to the fall.
Ay, and while thus I dally, dare perchance
Put fancies for a comfort ’twixt this calm
And yonder passion that I have to bear,
As if reprieve were possible for both
Prisoner and Pope, how easy were reprieve!
A touch o’ the hand-bell here, a hasty word
To those who wait, and wonder they wait long,
I’ the passage there, and I should gain the life!
Yea, though I flatter me with fancy thus,
I know it is but nature’s craven-trick.
The case is over, judgment at an end,
And all things done now and irrevocable:
A mere dead man is Franceschini here,
Even as Formosus centuries ago.
I have worn through this sombre wintry day,
With winter in my soul beyond the world’s,
Over these dismalest of documents
Which drew night down on me ere eve befell,
Pleadings and counter-pleadings, figure of fact
Beside fact’s self, these summaries to wit,
How certain three were slain by certain five:
I read here why it was, and how it went,
And how the chief o’ the five preferred excuse,
And how law rather chose defence should lie,
What argument he urged by wary word
When free to play off wile, start subterfuge,
And what the unguarded groan told, torture’s feat
When law grew brutal, outbroke, overbore
And glutted hunger on the truth, at last,
No matter for the flesh and blood between.
All’s a clear rede and no more riddle now.
Truth, nowhere, lies yet everywhere in these
Not absolutely in a portion, yet
Evolvable from the whole: evolved at last
Painfully, held tenaciously by me.
Therefore there is not any doubt to clear
When I shall write the brief word presently
And chink the hand-bell, which I pause to do.
Irresolute? Not I more than the mound
With the pine-trees on it yonder! Some surmise,
Perchance, that since man’s wit is fallible,
Mine may fail here? Suppose it so, what then?
Say, Guido, I count guilty, there’s no babe
So guiltless, for I misconceive the man!
What’s in the chance should move me from my mind?
If, as I walk in a rough country-side,
Peasants of mine cry “Thou art he can help,
“Lord of the land and counted wise to boot:
“Look at our brother, strangling in his foam,
“He fell so where we find him, prove thy worth!”
I may presume, pronounce, “A frenzy-fit,
“A falling-sickness or a fever-stroke!
Breathe a vein, copiously let blood at once!”
So perishes the patient, and anon
I hear my peasants “All was error, lord!
“Our story, thy prescription: for there crawled
“In due time from our hapless brother’s breast
“The serpent which had stung him: bleeding slew
“Whom a prompt cordial had restored to health.”
What other should I say than “God so willed:
“Mankind is ignorant, a man am I:
“Call ignorance my sorrow not my sin!”
So and not otherwise, in after-time,
If some acuter wit, fresh probing, sound
This multifarious mass of words and deeds
Deeper, and reach through guilt to innocence,
I shall face Guido’s ghost nor blench a jot.
“God who set me to judge thee, meted out
“So much of judging faculty, no more:
“Ask Him if I was slack in use thereof!”
I hold a heavier fault imputable
Inasmuch as I changed a chaplain once,
For no cause, no, if I must bare my heart,
Save that he snuffled somewhat saying mass.
For I am ware it is the seed of act,
God holds appraising in His hollow palm,
Not act grown great thence on the world below,

Leafage and branchage, vulgar eyes admire.
Therefore I stand on my integrity,
Nor fear at all: and if I hesitate,
It is because I need to breathe awhile,
Rest, as the human right allows, review,
Intent the little seeds of act, the tree
The thought, to clothe in deed, and give the world
At chink of bell and push of arrased door.

O pale departure, dim disgrace of day!
Winter’s in wane, his vengeful worst art thou,
To dash the boldness of advancing March!
Thy chill persistent rain has purged our streets
Of gossipry; pert tongue and idle ear
By this, consort ’neath archway, portico.
But wheresoe’er Rome gathers in the grey,
Two names now snap and flash from mouth to mouth
(Sparks, flint and steel strike) Guido and the Pope.
By this same hour to-morrow eve aha,
How do they call him? the sagacious Swede
Who finds by figures how the chances prove,
Why one comes rather than another thing,
As, say, such dots turn up by throw of dice,
Or, if we dip in Virgil here and there
And prick for such a verse, when such shall point.
Take this Swede, tell him, hiding name and rank,
Two men are in our city this dull eve;
One doomed to death, but hundreds in such plight
Slip aside, clean escape by leave of law
Which leans to mercy in this latter time;
Moreover in the plenitude of life
Is he, with strength of limb and brain adroit,
Presumably of service here: beside,
The man is noble, backed by nobler friends:
Nay, for who wish him well, the city’s self
Makes common cause with the house-magistrate,
The lord of hearth and home, domestic judge
Who ruled his own and let men cavil. Die?
He’ll bribe a gaoler or break prison first!
Nay, a sedition may be helpful, give
Hint to the mob to batter wall, burn gate,
And bid the favourite malefactor march.
Calculate now these chances of escape!
“It is not probable, but well may be.”
Again, there is another man, weighed now
By twice eight years beyond the seven-times-ten,
Appointed overweight to break our branch.
And this man’s loaded branch lifts, more than snow,
All the world’s cark and care, though a bird’s nest
Were a superfluous burthen: notably
Hath he been pressed, as if his age were youth,
From to-day’s dawn till now that day departs,
Trying one question with true sweat of soul
“Shall the said doomed man fitlier die or live?”
When a straw swallowed in his posset, stool
Stumbled on where his path lies, any puff
That’s incident to such a smoking flax,
Hurries the natural end and quenches him!
Now calculate, thou sage, the chances here,
Say, which shall die the sooner, this or that?
“That, possibly, this in all likelihood.”
I thought so: yet thou tripp’st, my foreign friend!
No, it will be quite otherwise, to-day
Is Guido’s last: my term is yet to run.

But say the Swede were right, and I forthwith
Acknowledge a prompt summons and lie dead:
Why, then I stand already in God’s face
And hear “Since by its fruit a tree is judged,
“Show me thy fruit, the latest act of thine!
“For in the last is summed the first and all,
“What thy life last put heart and soul into,
“There shall I taste thy product.” I must plead
This condemnation of a man to-day.

Not so! Expect nor question nor reply
At what we figure as God’s judgment-bar!
None of this vile way by the barren words
Which, more than any deed, characterise
Man as made subject to a curse: no speech
That still bursts o’er some lie which lurks inside,
As the split skin across the coppery snake,
And most denotes man! since, in all beside,
In hate or lust or guile or unbelief,
Out of some core of truth the excrescence comes,
And, in the last resort, the man may urge
“So was I made, a weak thing that gave way
“To truth, to impulse only strong since true,
“And hated, lusted, used guile, forwent faith.”
But when man walks the garden of this world
For his own solace, and, unchecked by law,
Speaks or keeps silence as himself sees fit,
Without the least incumbency to lie,
Why, can he tell you what a rose is like,
Or how the birds fly, and not slip to false
Though truth serve better? Man must tell his mate
Of you, me and himself, knowing he lies,
Knowing his fellow knows the same, will think
“He lies, it is the method of a man!”
And yet will speak for answer “It is truth”
To him who shall rejoin “Again a lie!”
Therefore this filthy rags of speech, this coil
Of statement, comment, query and response,
Tatters all too contaminate for use,
Have no renewing: He, the Truth, is, too,
The Word. We men, in our degree, may know
There, simply, instantaneously, as here
After long time and amid many lies,
Whatever we dare think we know indeed
That I am I, as He is He, what else?
But be man’s method for man’s life at least!
Wherefore, Antonio Pignatelli, thou
My ancient self, who wast no Pope so long
But studied God and man, the many years
I’ the school, i’ the cloister, in the diocese
Domestic, legate-rule in foreign lands,
Thou other force in those old busy days
Than this grey ultimate decrepitude,
Yet sensible of fires that more and more
Visit a soul, in passage to the sky,
Left nakeder than when flesh-robe was new
Thou, not Pope but the mere old man o’ the world,
Supposed inquisitive and dispassionate,
Wilt thou, the one whose speech I somewhat trust,
Question the after-me, this self now Pope,
Hear his procedure, criticise his work?
Wise in its generation is the world.

This is why Guido is found reprobate.
I see him furnished forth for his career,
On starting for the life-chance in our world,
With nearly all we count sufficient help:
Body and mind in balance, a sound frame,
A solid intellect: the wit to seek,
Wisdom to choose, and courage wherewithal
To deal with whatsoever circumstance
Should minister to man, make life succeed.
Oh, and much drawback! what were earth without?
Is this our ultimate stage, or starting-place
To try man’s foot, if it will creep or climb,
’Mid obstacles in seeming, points that prove
Advantage for who vaults from low to high
And makes the stumbling-block a stepping-stone?
So, Guido, born with appetite, lacks food,
Is poor, who yet could deftly play-off wealth,
Straitened, whose limbs are restless till at large:
And, as he eyes each outlet of the cirque,
The narrow penfold for probation, pines
After the good things just outside the grate,
With less monition, fainter conscience-twitch,
Rarer instinctive qualm at the first feel
Of the unseemly greed and grasp undue,
Than nature furnishes the main mankind,
Making it harder to do wrong than right
The first time, careful lest the common ear
Break measure, miss the outstep of life’s march.
Wherein I see a trial fair and fit
For one else too unfairly fenced about,
Set above sin, beyond his fellows here,
Guarded from the arch-tempter, all must fight,
By a great birth, traditionary name,
Diligent culture, choice companionship,
Above all, conversancy with the faith
Which puts forth for its base of doctrine just
“Man is born nowise to content himself
“But please God.” He accepted such a rule,
Recognised man’s obedience; and the Church,
Which simply is such rule’s embodiment,
He clave to, he held on by, nay, indeed,
Near pushed inside of, deep as layman durst,
Professed so much of priesthood as might sue
For priest’s-exemption where the layman sinned,
Got his arm frocked which, bare, the law would bruise.
Hence, at this moment, what’s his last resource,
His extreme stray and utmost stretch of hope
But that, convicted of such crime as law
Wipes not away save with a worldling’s blood,
Guido, the three-parts consecrate, may ’scape?
Nay, the portentous brothers of the man
Are veritably priests, protected each
May do his murder in the Church’s pale,
Abate Paul, Canon Girolamo!
This is the man proves irreligiousest
Of all mankind, religion’s parasite!
This may forsooth plead dinned ear, jaded sense,
The vice o’ the watcher who bides near the bell,
Sleeps sound because the clock is vigilant,
And cares not whether it be shade or shine,
Doling out day and night to all men else!
Why was the choice o’ the man to niche himself
Perversely ’neath the tower where Time’s own tongue
Thus undertakes to sermonise the world?
Why, but because the solemn is safe too,
The belfry proves a fortress of a sort,
Has other uses than to teach the hour,
Turns sunscreen, paravent and ombrifuge
To whoso seeks a shelter in its pale,
Ay, and attractive to unwary folk
Who gaze at storied portal, statued spire,
And go home with full head but empty purse
Nor dare suspect the sacristan the thief!
Shall Judas, hard upon the donor’s heel,
To filch the fragments of the basket, plead
He was too near the preacher’s mouth, nor sat
Attent with fifties in a company?
No, closer to promulgated decree,
Clearer the censure of default. Proceed!

I find him bound, then, to begin life well;
Fortified by propitious circumstance,
Great birth, good breeding, with the Church for guide.
How lives he? Cased thus in a coat of proof,
Mailed like a man-at-arms, though all the while
A puny starveling, does the breast pant big,
The limb swell to the limit, emptiness
Strive to become solidity indeed?
Rather, he shrinks up like the ambiguous fish,
Detaches flesh from shell and outside show,
And steals by moonlight (I have seen the thing)
In and out, now to prey and now to skulk.
Armour he boasts when a wave breaks on beach,
Or bird stoops for the prize: with peril nigh,
The man of rank, the much-befriended man,
The man almost affiliate to the Church,
Such is to deal with, let the world beware!
Does the world recognise, pass prudently?
Do tides abate and sea-fowl hunt i’ the deep?
Already is the slug from out its mew,
Ignobly faring with all loose and free,
Sand-fly and slush-worm at their garbage-feast,
A naked blotch no better than they all:
Guido has dropped nobility, slipped the Church,
Plays trickster if not cut-purse, body and soul
Prostrate among the filthy feeders faugh!
And when Law takes him by surprise at last,
Catches the foul thing on its carrion-prey,
Behold, he points to shell left high and dry,
Pleads “But the case out yonder is myself!”
Nay, it is thou, Law prongs amid thy peers,
Congenial vermin; that was none of thee,
Thine outside, give it to the soldier-crab!

For I find this black mark impinge the man,
That he believes in just the vile of life.
Low instinct, base pretension, are these truth?
Then, that aforesaid armour, probity
He figures in, is falsehood scale on scale;
Honor and faith, a lie and a disguise,
Probably for all livers in this world,
Certainly for himself! All say good words
To who will hear, all do thereby bad deeds
To who must undergo; so thrive mankind!
See this habitual creed exemplified
Most in the last deliberate act; as last,
So, very sum and substance of the soul
Of him that planned and leaves one perfect piece,
The sin brought under jurisdiction now,
Even the marriage of the man: this act
I sever from his life as sample, show
For Guido’s self, intend to test him by,
As, from a cup filled fairly at the fount,
By the components we decide enough
Or to let flow as late, or staunch the source.

He purposes this marriage, I remark,
On no one motive that should prompt thereto
Farthest, by consequence, from ends alleged
Appropriate to the action; so they were:
The best, he knew and feigned, the worst he took.
Not one permissible impulse moves the man,
From the mere liking of the eye and ear,
To the true longing of the heart that loves,
No trace of these: but all to instigate,
Is what sinks man past level of the brute,
Whose appetite if brutish is a truth.
All is the lust for money: to get gold,
Why, lie, rob, if it must be, murder! Make
Body and soul wring gold out, lured within
The clutch of hate by love, the trap’s pretence!
What good else get from bodies and from souls?
This got, there were some life to lead thereby,
What, where or how, appreciate those who tell
How the toad lives: it lives, enough for me!
To get this good, with but a groan or so,
Then, silence of the victims, were the feat.
He foresaw, made a picture in his mind,
Of father and mother stunned and echoless
To the blow, as they lie staring at fate’s jaws
Their folly danced into, till the woe fell;
Edged in a month by strenuous cruelty
From even the poor nook whence they watched the wolf
Feast on their heart, the lamb-like child his prey;
Plundered to the last remnant of their wealth,
(What daily pittance pleased the plunderer dole)
Hunted forth to go hide head, starve and die,
So leave the pale awe-stricken wife, past hope
Of help i’ the world now, mute and motionless
His slave, his chattel, to use and then destroy:
All this, he bent mind how to bring about,
Put this in act and life, as painted plain,
And have success, the crown of earthly good,
In this particular enterprise of man,
A marriage undertaken in God’s face
With all those lies so opposite God’s truth,
For ends so other than man’s end.

Thus schemes
Guido, and thus would carry out his scheme:
But when an obstacle first blocks the path,
When he finds there is no monopoly
Of lies and trick i’ the tricking lying world,
That sorry timid natures, even this sort
O’ the Comparini, want nor trick nor lie
Proper to the kind, that as the gor-crow treats
The bramble-finch so treats the finch the moth,
And the great Guido is minutely matched
By this same couple whether true or false
The revelation of Pompilia’s birth,
Which in a moment brings his scheme to nought,
Then, he is piqued, advances yet a stage,
Leaves the low region to the finch and fly,
Soars to the zenith whence the fiercer fowl
May dare the inimitable swoop. I see.
He draws now on the curious crime, the fine
Felicity and flower of wickedness;
Determines, by the utmost exercise
Of violence, made safe and sure by craft,
To satiate malice, pluck one last arch-pang
From the parents, else would triumph out of reach,
By punishing their child, within reach yet,
Who nowise could have wronged, thought, word or deed,
I’ the matter that now moves him. So plans he,
Always subordinating (note the point!)
Revenge, the manlier sin, to interest
The meaner, would pluck pang forth, but unclench
No gripe in the act, let fall no money-piece.
Hence a plan for so plaguing, body and soul,
His wife, so putting, day by day and hour by hour,
The untried torture to the untouched place,
As must precipitate an end foreseen,
Goad her into some plain revolt, most like
Plunge upon patent suicidal shame,
Death to herself, damnation by rebound
To those whose hearts he, holding hers, holds still:
Such a plan as, in its completeness, shall
Ruin the three together and alike,
Yet leave himself in luck and liberty,
No claim renounced, no right a forfeiture,
His person unendangered, his good fame
Without a flaw, his pristine worth intact,
While they, with all their claims and rights that cling,
Shall forthwith crumble off him every side,
Scorched into dust, a plaything for the winds.
As when, in our Campagna, there is fired
The nest-like work that lets a peasant house;
And, as the thatch burns here, there, everywhere,
Even to the ivy and wild vine, that bound
And blessed the hut where men were happy once,
There rises gradual, black amid the blaze,
Some grim and unscathed nucleus of the nest,
Some old malicious tower, some obscene tomb
They thought a temple in their ignorance,
And clung about and thought to lean upon
There laughs it o’er their ravage, where are they?
So did his cruelty burn life about,
And lay the ruin bare in dreadfulness,
Try the persistency of torment so
O’ the wife, that, at some fierce extremity,
Some crisis brought about by fire and flame,
The patient stung to frenzy should break loose,
Fly anyhow, find refuge anywhere,
Even in the arms of who might front her first,
No monster but a man while nature shrieked
“Or thus escape, or die!” The spasm arrived,
Not the escape by way of sin, O God,
Who shall pluck sheep Thou holdest, from Thy hand?
Therefore she lay resigned to die, so far
The simple cruelty was foiled. Why then,
Craft to the rescue, craft should supplement
Cruelty and show hell a masterpiece!
Hence this consummate lie, this love-intrigue,
Unmanly simulation of a sin,
With place and time and circumstance to suit
These letters false beyond all forgery
Not just handwriting and mere authorship,
But false to body and soul they figure forth
As though the man had cut out shape and shape
From fancies of that other Aretine,
To paste below incorporate the filth
With cherub faces on a missal-page!

Whereby the man so far attains his end
That strange temptation is permitted, see!
Pompilia, wife, and Caponsacchi, priest,
Are brought together as nor priest nor wife
Should stand, and there is passion in the place,
Power in the air for evil as for good,
Promptings from heaven and hell, as if the stars
Fought in their courses for a fate to be.
Thus stand the wife and priest, a spectacle,
I doubt not, to unseen assemblage there.
No lamp will mark that window for a shrine,
No tablet signalise the terrace, teach
New generations which succeed the old,
The pavement of the street is holy ground;
No bard describe in verse how Christ prevailed
And Satan fell like lightning! Why repine?
What does the world, told truth, but lie the more?

A second time the plot is foiled; nor, now,
By corresponding sin for countercheck,
No wile and trick to baffle trick and wile,
The play of the parents! Here the blot is blanched
By God’s gift of a purity of soul
That will not take pollution, ermine-like
Armed from dishonour by its own soft snow.
Such was this gift of God who showed for once
How He would have the world go white: it seems
As a new attribute were born of each
Champion of truth, the priest and wife I praise,
As a new safeguard sprang up in defence
Of their new noble nature: so a thorn
Comes to the aid of and completes the rose
Courage to-wit, no woman’s gift nor priest’s,
I’ the crisis; might leaps vindicating right.
See how the strong aggressor, bad and bold,
With every vantage, preconcerts surprise,
Flies of a sudden at his victim’s throat
In a byeway, how fares he when face to face
With Caponsacchi? Who fights, who fears now?
There quails Count Guido, armed to the chattering teeth,
Cowers at the steadfast eye and quiet word
O’ the Canon at the Pieve! There skulks crime
Behind law called in to back cowardice!
While out of the poor trampled worm the wife,
Springs up a serpent!

But anon of these!
Him I judge now, of him proceed to note,
Failing the first, a second chance befriends
Guido, gives pause ere punishment arrive.
The law he called, comes, hears, adjudicates,
Nor does amiss i’ the main, secludes the wife
From the husband, respites the oppressed one, grants
Probation to the oppressor, could he know
The mercy of a minute’s fiery purge!
The furnace-coals alike of public scorn,
Private remorse, heaped glowing on his head,
What if, the force and guile, the ore’s alloy,
Eliminate, his baser soul refined
The lost be saved even yet, so as by fire?
Let him, rebuked, go softly all his days
And, when no graver musings claim their due,
Meditate on a man’s immense mistake
Who, fashioned to use feet and walk, deigns crawl
Takes the unmanly means ay, though to end
Man scarce should make for, would but reach thro’ wrong,
May sin, but must not needs shame manhood so:
Since fowlers hawk, shoot, nay and snare the game,
And yet eschew vile practice, nor find sport
In torch-light treachery or the luring owl.

But how hunts Guido? Why, the fraudful trap
Late spurned to ruin by the indignant feet
Of fellows in the chase who loved fair play
Here he picks up the fragments to the least,
Lades him and hies to the old lurking-place
Where haply he may patch again, refit
The mischief, file its blunted teeth anew,
Make sure, next time, a snap shall break the bone.
Craft, greed and violence complot revenge:
Craft, for its quota, schemes to bring about
And seize occasion and be safe withal:
Greed craves its act may work both far and near,
Crush the tree, branch and trunk and root beside,
Whichever twig or leaf arrests a streak
Of possible sunshine else would coin itself,
And drop down one more gold piece in the path.
Violence stipulates “Advantage proved,
“And safety sure, be pain the overplus!
“Murder with jagged knife! Cut but tear too!
“Foiled oft, starved long, glut malice for amends!”
And, last, craft schemes, scheme sorrowful and strange
As though the elements, whom mercy checked,
Had mustered hate for one eruption more,
One final deluge to surprise the Ark
Cradled and sleeping on its mountain-top:
The outbreak-signal what but the dove’s coos
Back with the olive in her bill for news
Sorrow was over? ’Tis an infant’s birth,
Guido’s first born, his son and heir, that gives
The occasion: other men cut free their souls
From care in such a case, fly up in thanks
To God, reach, recognise His love for once:
Guido cries “Soul, at last the mire is thine!
“Lie there in likeness of a money-bag,
“This babe’s birth so pins down past moving now,
“That I dare cut adrift the lives I late
“Scrupled to touch lest thou escape with them!
“These parents and their child my wife, touch one
“Lose all! Their rights determined on a head
“I could but hate, not harm, since from each hair
“Dangled a hope for me: now chance and change!
“No right was in their child but passes now
“To that child’s child and through such child to me.
“I am the father now, come what, come will,
“I represent my child; he comes between
“Cuts sudden off the sunshine of this life
“From those three: why, the gold is in his curls!
“Not with old Pietro’s, Violante’s head,
“Not his grey horror, her more hideous black
“Go these, devoted to the knife!”

’Tis done:
Wherefore should mind misgive, heart hesitate?
He calls to counsel, fashions certain four
Colourless natures counted clean till now,
Rustic simplicity, uncorrupted youth,
Ignorant virtue! Here’s the gold o’ the prime
When Saturn ruled, shall shock our leaden day
The clown abash the courtier! Mark it, bards!
The courtier tries his hand on clownship here,
Speaks a word, names a crime, appoints a price,
Just breathes on what, suffused with all himself,
Is red-hot henceforth past distinction now
I’ the common glow of hell. And thus they break
And blaze on us at Rome, Christ’s Birthnight-eve!
Oh angels that sang erst “On the earth, peace!
“To man, good will!” such peace finds earth to-day!
After the seventeen hundred years, so man
Wills good to man, so Guido makes complete
His murder! what is it I said? cuts loose
Three lives that hitherto he suffered cling,
Simply because each served to nail secure,
By a corner of the money-bag, his soul,
Therefore, lives sacred till the babe’s first breath
O’erweights them in the balance, off they fly!

So is the murder managed, sin conceived
To the full: and why not crowned with triumph too?
Why must the sin, conceived thus, bring forth death?
I note how, within hair’s-breadth of escape,
Impunity and the thing supposed success,
Guido is found when the check comes, the change,
The monitory touch o’ the tether felt
By few, not marked by many, named by none
At the moment, only recognised aright
I’ the fulness of the days, for God’s, lest sin
Exceed the service, leap the line: such check
A secret which this life finds hard to keep,
And, often guessed, is never quite revealed.
Guido must needs trip on a stumbling-block
Too vulgar, too absurdly plain i’ the path!
Study this single oversight of care,
This hebetude that mars sagacity,
Forgetfulness of what the man best knew!
Here is a stranger who, with need to fly,
Needs but to ask and have the means of flight.
Why, the first urchin tells you, to leave Rome,
Get horses, you must show the warrant, just
The banal scrap, clerk’s scribble, a fair word buys,
Or foul one, if a ducat sweeten word,
And straight authority will back demand,
Give you the pick o’ the post-house! in such wise,
The resident at Rome for thirty years,
Guido, instructs a stranger! And himself
Forgets just this poor paper scrap, wherewith
Armed, every door he knocks at opens wide
To save him: horsed and manned, with such advance
O’ the hunt behind, why ’twere the easy task
Of hours told on the fingers of one hand,
To reach the Tuscan Frontier, laugh at home,
Light-hearted with his fellows of the place,
Prepared by that strange shameful judgment, that
Satire upon a sentence just pronounced
By the Rota and confirmed by the Granduke,
Ready in a circle to receive their peer,
Appreciate his good story how, when Rome,
The Pope-King and the populace of priests
Made common cause with their confederate
The other priestling who seduced his wife,
He, all unaided, wiped out the affront
With decent bloodshed and could face his friends,
Frolic it in the world’s eye. Ay, such tale
Missed such applause, all by such oversight!
So, tired and footsore, those blood-flustered five
Went reeling on the road through dark and cold,
The few permissible miles, to sink at length,
Wallow and sleep in the first wayside straw,
As the other herd quenched, i’ the wash o’ the wave,
Each swine, the devil inside him: so slept they,
And so were caught and caged all through one trip,
Touch of the fool in Guido the astute!
He curses the omission, I surmise,
More than the murder. Why, thou fool and blind,
It is the mercy-stroke that stops thy fate,
Hamstrings and holds thee to thy hurt, but how?
On the edge o’ the precipice! One minute more,
Thou hadst gone farther and fared worse, my son,
Fathoms down on the flint and fire beneath!
Thy comrades each and all were of one mind
Straightway, thy murder done, to murder thee
In turn, because of promised pay withheld.
So, to the last, greed found itself at odds
With craft in thee, and, proving conqueror,
Had sent thee, the same night that crowned thy hope,
Thither where, this same day, I see thee not,
Nor, through God’s mercy, need, to-morrow, see.

Such I find Guido, midmost blotch of black
Discernible in this group of clustered crimes
Huddling together in the cave they call
Their palace, outraged day thus penetrates.
Around him ranged, now close and now remote,
Prominent or obscure to meet the needs
O’ the mage and master, I detect each shape
Subsidiary i’ the scene nor loathed the less,
All alike coloured, all descried akin
By one and the same pitchy furnace stirred
At the centre: see, they lick the master’s hand,
This fox-faced horrible priest, this brother-brute
The Abate, why, mere wolfishness looks well,
Guido stands honest in the red o’ the flame,
Beside this yellow that would pass for white,
This Guido, all craft but no violence,
This copier of the mien and gait and garb
Of Peter and Paul, that he may go disguised,
Rob halt and lame, sick folk i’ the temple-porch!
Armed with religion, fortified by law,
A man of peace, who trims the midnight lamp
And turns the classic page and all for craft,
All to work harm with, yet incur no scratch!
While Guido brings the struggle to a close,
Paul steps back the due distance, clear o’ the trap
He builds and baits. Guido I catch and judge;
Paul is past reach in this world and my time:
That is a case reserved. Pass to the next,
The boy of the brood, the young Girolamo
Priest, Canon, and what more? nor wolf nor fox,
But hybrid, neither craft nor violence
Wholly, part violence part craft: such cross
Tempts speculation will both blend one day,
And prove hell’s better product? Or subside
And let the simple quality emerge,
Go on with Satan’s service the old way?
Meanwhile, what promise, what performance too!
For there’s a new distinctive touch, I see,
Lust lacking in the two hell’s own blue tint
That gives a character and marks the man
More than a match for yellow and red. Once more,
A case reserved: should I doubt? Then comes
The gaunt grey nightmare in the furthest smoke,
The hag that gave these three abortions birth,
Unmotherly mother and unwomanly
Woman, that near turns motherhood to shame,
Womanliness to loathing: no one word,
No gesture to curb cruelty a whit
More than the she-pard thwarts her playsome whelps
Trying their milk-teeth on the soft o’ the throat
O’ the first fawn, flung, with those beseeching eyes,
Flat in the covert! How should she but couch,
Lick the dry lips, unsheathe the blunted claw,
Catch ’twixt her placid eyewinks at what chance
Old bloody half-forgotten dream may flit,
Born when herself was novice to the taste,
The while she lets youth take its pleasure. Last,
These God-abandoned wretched lumps of life,
These four companions, country-folk this time,
Not tainted by the unwholesome civic breath,
Much less the curse o’ the court! Mere striplings too,
Fit to do human nature justice still!
Surely when impudence in Guido’s shape
Shall propose crime and proffer money’s-worth
To these stout tall bright-eyed and black-haired boys,
The blood shall bound in answer to each cheek
Before the indignant outcry break from lip!
Are these i’ the mood to murder, hardly loosed
From healthy autumn-finish, the ploughed glebe,
Grapes in the barrel, work at happy end,
And winter come with rest and Christmas play?
How greet they Guido with his final task
(As if he but proposed “One vineyard more
“To dig, ere frost come, then relax indeed!”)
“Anywhere, anyhow and anywhy,
“Murder me some three people, old and young,
“Ye never heard the names of, and be paid
“So much!” And the whole four accede at once.
Demur? As cattle would, bid march or halt!
Is it some lingering habit, old fond faith
I’ the lord of the land, instructs them, birthright-badge
Of feudal tenure claims its slaves again?
Not so at all, thou noble human heart!
All is done purely for the pay, which, earned,
And not forthcoming at the instant, makes
Religion heresy, and the lord o’ the land
Fit subject for a murder in his turn.
The patron with cut throat and rifled purse,
Deposited i’ the roadside-ditch, his due,
Nought hinders each good fellow trudging home,
The heavier by a piece or two in poke,
And so with new zest to the common life,
Mattock and spade, plough-tail and waggon-shaft,
Till some such other piece of luck betide,
Who knows? Since this is a mere start in life,
And none of them exceeds the twentieth year.

Nay, more i’ the background, yet? Unnoticed forms
Claim to be classed, subordinately vile?
Complacent lookers-on that laugh, perchance
Shake head as their friend’s horse-play grows too rough
With the mere child he manages amiss
But would not interfere and make bad worse
For twice the fractious tears and prayers: thou know’st
Civility better, Marzi-Medici,
Governor for thy kinsman the Granduke!
Fit representative of law, man’s lamp
I’ the magistrate’s grasp full-flare, no rushlight-end
Sputtering ’twixt thumb and finger of the priest!
Whose answer to these Comparini’s cry
Is a threat, whose remedy of Pompilia’s wrong
A shrug o’ the shoulder, a facetious word
Or wink, traditional with Tuscan wits,
To Guido in the doorway. Laud to law!
The wife is pushed back to the husband, he
Who knows how these home-squabblings persecute
People who have the public good to mind,
And work best with a silence in the court!

Ah, but I save my word at least for thee,
Archbishop, who art under me in the Church,
As I am under God, thou, chosen by both
To do the shepherd’s office, feed the sheep
How of this lamb that panted at thy foot
While the wolf pressed on her within crook’s reach?
Wast thou the hireling that did turn and flee?
With thee at least anon the little word!

Such denizens o’ the cave now cluster round
And heat the furnace sevenfold: time indeed
A bolt from heaven should cleave roof and clear place,
Transfix and show the world, suspiring flame,
The main offender, scar and brand the rest
Hurrying, each miscreant to his hole: then flood
And purify the scene with outside day
Which yet, in the absolutest drench of dark,
Ne’er wants a witness, some stray beauty-beam
To the despair of hell.

First of the first,
Such I pronounce Pompilia, then as now
Perfect in whiteness stoop thou down, my child,
Give one good moment to the poor old Pope
Heart-sick at having all his world to blame
Let me look at thee in the flesh as erst,
Let me enjoy the old clean linen garb,
Not the new splendid vesture! Armed and crowned,
Would Michael, yonder, be, nor crowned nor armed,
The less pre-eminent angel? Everywhere
I see in the world the intellect of man,
That sword, the energy his subtle spear,
The knowledge which defends him like a shield
Everywhere; but they make not up, I think,
The marvel of a soul like thine, earth’s flower
She holds up to the softened gaze of God!
It was not given Pompilia to know much,
Speak much, to write a book, to move mankind,
Be memorised by who records my time.
Yet if in purity and patience, if
In faith held fast despite the plucking fiend,
Safe like the signet-stone with the new name
That saints are known by, if in right returned
For wrong, most pardon for worst injury,
If there be any virtue, any praise,
Then will this woman-child have proved who knows?
Just the one prize vouchsafed unworthy me,
Ten years a gardener of the untoward ground,
I till, this earth, my sweat and blood manure
All the long day that barrenly grows dusk:
At least one blossom makes me proud at eve
Born ’mid the briers of my enclosure! Still
(Oh, here as elsewhere, nothingness of man!)
Those be the plants, imbedded yonder South
To mellow in the morning, those made fat
By the master’s eye, that yield such timid leaf,
Uncertain bud, as product of his pains!
While see how this mere chance-sown, cleft-nursed seed,
That sprang up by the wayside ’neath the foot
Of the enemy, this breaks all into blaze,
Spreads itself, one wide glory of desire
To incorporate the whole great sun it loves
From the inch-height whence it looks and longs! My flower,
My rose, I gather for the breast of God,
This I praise most in thee, where all I praise,
That having been obedient to the end
According to the light allotted, law
Prescribed thy life, still tried, still standing test,
Dutiful to the foolish parents first,
Submissive next to the bad husband, nay,
Tolerant of those meaner miserable
That did his hests, eked out the dole of pain,
Thou, patient thus, couldst rise from law to law,
The old to the new, promoted at one cry
O’ the trump of God to the new service, not
To longer bear, but henceforth fight, be found
Sublime in new impatience with the foe!
Endure man and obey God: plant firm foot
On neck of man, tread man into the hell
Meet for him, and obey God all the more!
Oh child that didst despise thy life so much
When it seemed only thine to keep or lose,
How the fine ear felt fall the first low word
“Value life, and preserve life for My sake!”
Thou didst . . . how shall I say? . . . receive so long
The standing ordinance of God on earth,
What wonder if the novel claim had clashed
With old requirement, seemed to supersede
Too much the customary law? But, brave,
Thou at first prompting of what I call God,
And fools call Nature, didst hear, comprehend,
Accept the obligation laid on thee,
Mother elect, to save the unborn child,
As brute and bird do, reptile and the fly,
Ay and, I nothing doubt, even tree, shrub, plant
And flower o’ the field, all in a common pact
To worthily defend that trust of trusts,
Life from the Ever Living: didst resist
Anticipate the office that is mine
And with his own sword stay the upraised arm,
The endeavour of the wicked, and defend
Him who, again in my default, was there
For visible providence: one less true than thou
To touch, i’ the past, less practised in the right,
Approved so far in all docility
To all instruction, how had such an one
Made scruple “Is this motion a decree?”
It was authentic to the experienced ear
O’ the good and faithful servant. Go past me
And get thy praise, and be not far to seek
Presently when I follow if I may!

And surely not so very much apart
Need I place thee, my warrior-priest, in whom
What if I gain the other rose, the gold.
We grave to imitate God’s miracle,
Greet monarchs with, good rose in its degree?
Irregular noble scapegrace son the same!
Faulty and peradventure ours the fault
Who still misteach, mislead, throw hook and line
Thinking to land leviathan forsooth,
Tame the scaled neck, play with him as a bird,
And bind him for our maidens! Better bear
The King of Pride go wantoning awhile,
Unplagued by cord in nose and thorn in jaw,
Through deep to deep, followed by all that shine,
Churning the blackness hoary: He who made
The comely terror, He shall make the sword
To match that piece of netherstone his heart,
Ay, nor miss praise thereby; who else shut fire
I’ the stone, to leap from mouth at sword’s first stroke,
In lamps of love and faith, the chivalry
That dares the right and disregards alike
The yea and nay o’ the world? Self-sacrifice,
What if an idol took it? Ask the Church
Why she was wont to turn each Venus here,
Poor Rome perversely lingered round, despite
Instruction, for the sake of purblind love,
Into Madonna’s shape, and waste no whit
Of aught so rare on earth as gratitude!
All this sweet savour was not ours but thine,
Nard of the rock, a natural wealth we name
Incense, and treasure up as food for saints,
When flung to us whose function was to give
Not find the costly perfume. Do I smile?
Nay, Caponsacchi, much I find amiss,
Blameworthy, punishable in this freak
Of thine, this youth prolonged though age was ripe,
This masquerade in sober day, with change
Of motley too, now hypocrite’s-disguise,
Now fool’s-costume: which lie was least like truth,
Which the ungainlier, more discordant garb
With that symmetric soul inside my son,
The churchman’s or the worldling’s, let him judge,
Our Adversary who enjoys the task!
I rather chronicle the healthy rage,
When the first moan broke from the martyr-maid
At that uncaging of the beasts, made bare
My athlete on the instant, gave such good
Great undisguised leap over post and pale
Right into the mid-cirque, free fighting-place.
There may have been rash stripping every rag
Went to the winds, infringement manifold
Of laws prescribed pudicity, I fear,
In this impulsive and prompt self-display!
Ever such tax comes of the foolish youth;
Men mulct the wiser manhood, and suspect
No veritable star swims out of cloud:
Bear thou such imputation, undergo
The penalty I nowise dare relax,
Conventional chastisement and rebuke.
But for the outcome, the brave starry birth
Conciliating earth with all that cloud,
Thank heaven as I do! Ay, such championship
Of God at first blush, such prompt cheery thud
Of glove on ground that answers ringingly
The challenge of the false knight, watch we long,
And wait we vainly for its gallant like
From those appointed to the service, sworn
His body-guard with pay and privilege
White-cinct, because in white walks sanctity,
Red-socked, how else proclaim fine scorn of flesh,
Unchariness of blood when blood faith begs?
Where are the men-at-arms with cross on coat?
Aloof, bewraying their attire: whilst thou
In mask and motley, pledged to dance not fight,
Sprang’st forth the hero! In thought, word and deed,
How throughout all thy warfare thou wast pure,
I find it easy to believe: and if
At any fateful moment of the strange
Adventure, the strong passion of that strait,
Fear and surprise, may have revealed too much,
As when a thundrous midnight, with black air
That burns, rain-drops that blister, breaks a spell,
Draws out the excessive virtue of some sheathed
Shut unsuspected flower that hoards and hides
Immensity of sweetness, so, perchance,
Might the surprise and fear release too much
The perfect beauty of the body and soul
Thou savedst in thy passion for God’s sake,
He who is Pity: was the trial sore?
Temptation sharp? Thank God a second time!
Why comes temptation but for man to meet
And master and make crouch beneath his foot,
And so be pedestalled in triumph? Pray
“Lead us into no such temptations, Lord!”
Yea, but, O Thou whose servants are the bold,
Lead such temptations by the head and hair,
Reluctant dragons, up to who dares fight,
That so he may do battle and have praise!
Do I not see the praise? that while thy mates
Bound to deserve i’ the matter, prove at need
Unprofitable through the very pains
We gave to train them well and start them fair,
Are found too stiff, with standing ranked and ranged,
For onset in good earnest, too obtuse
Of ear, through iteration of command,
For catching quick the sense of the real cry,
Thou, whose sword-hand was used to strike the lute,
Whose sentry-station graced some wanton’s gate,
Thou didst push forward and show mettle, shame
The laggards, and retrieve the day. Well done!
Be glad thou hast let light into the world,
Through that irregular breach o’ the boundary, see
The same upon thy path and march assured,
Learning anew the use of soldiership,
Self-abnegation, freedom from all fear,
Loyalty to the life’s end! Ruminate,
Deserve the initiatory spasm, once more
Work, be unhappy but bear life, my son!
And troop you, somewhere ’twixt the best and worst,
Where crowd the indifferent product, all too poor
Makeshift, starved samples of humanity!
Father and mother, huddle there and hide!
A gracious eye may find you! Foul and fair,
Sadly mixed natures: self-indulgent, yet
Self-sacrificing too: how the love soars,
How the craft, avarice, vanity and spite
Sink again! So they keep the middle course,
Slide into silly crime at unaware,
Slip back upon the stupid virtue, stay
Nowhere enough for being classed, I hope
And fear. Accept the swift and rueful death,
Taught, somewhat sternlier than is wont, what waits
The ambiguous creature, how the one black tuft
Steadies the aim of the arrow just as well
As the wide faultless white on the bird’s breast.
Nay, you were punished in the very part
That looked most pure of speck, the honest love
Betrayed you, did love seem most worthy pains,
Challenge such purging, as ordained survive
When all the rest of you was done with? Go!
Never again elude the choice of tints!
White shall not neutralise the black, nor good
Compensate bad in man, absolve him so:
Life’s business being just the terrible choice.

So do I see, pronounce on all and some
Grouped for my judgment now, profess no doubt
While I pronounce: dark, difficult enough
The human sphere, yet eyes grow sharp by use,
I find the truth, dispart the shine from shade,
As a mere man may, with no special touch
O’ the lynx-gift in each ordinary orb:
Nay, if the popular notion class me right,
One of well nigh decayed intelligence,
What of that? Through hard labour and good will,
And habitude that gives a blind man sight
At the practised finger-ends of him, I do
Discern, and dare decree in consequence,
Whatever prove the peril of mistake.
Whence, then, this quite new quick cold thrill, cloud-like,
This keen dread creeping from a quarter scarce
Suspected in the skies I nightly scan?
What slacks the tense nerve, saps the wound-up spring
Of the act that should and shall be, sends the mount
And mass o’ the whole man’s-strength, conglobed so late
Shudderingly into dust, a moment’s work?
While I stand firm, go fearless, in this world,
For this life recognise and arbitrate,
Touch and let stay, or else remove a thing,
Judge “This is right, this object out of place,”
Candle in hand that helps me and to spare,
What if a voice deride me, “Perk and pry!
“Brighten each nook with thine intelligence!
“Play the good householder, ply man and maid
“With tasks prolonged into the midnight, test
“Their work and nowise stint of the due wage
“Each worthy worker: but with gyves and whip
“Pay thou misprision of a single point
“Plain to thy happy self who lift’st the light,
“Lament’st the darkling, bold to all beneath!
“What if thyself adventure, now the place
“Is purged so well? Leave pavement and mount roof,
“Look round thee for the light of the upper sky,
“The fire which lit thy fire which finds default
“In Guido Franceschini to his cost!
“What if, above in the domain of light,
“Thou miss the accustomed signs, remark eclipse?
“Shalt thou still gaze on ground nor lift a lid,
“Steady in thy superb prerogative,
“Thy inch of inkling, nor once face the doubt
“I’ the sphere above thee, darkness to be felt?”

Yet my poor spark had for its source, the sun;
Thither I sent the great looks which compel
Light from its fount: all that I do and am
Comes from the truth, or seen or else surmised,
Remembered or divined, as mere man may:
I know just so, nor otherwise. As I know,
I speak, what should I know, then, and how speak
Were there a wild mistake of eye or brain
In the recorded governance above?
If my own breath, only, blew coal alight
I called celestial and the morning-star?
I, who in this world act resolvedly,
Dispose of men, the body and the soul,
As they acknowledge or gainsay this light
I show them, shall I too lack courage? leave
I, too, the post of me, like those I blame?
Refuse, with kindred inconsistency,
Grapple with danger whereby souls grow strong?
I am near the end; but still not at the end;
All till the very end is trial in life:
At this stage is the trial of my soul
Danger to face, or danger to refuse?
Shall I dare try the doubt now, or not dare?

O Thou, as represented here to me
In such conception as my soul allows,
Under Thy measureless my atom width!
Man’s mind what is it but a convex glass
Wherein are gathered all the scattered points
Picked out of the immensity of sky,
To reunite there, be our heaven on earth,
Our known unknown, our God revealed to man?
Existent somewhere, somehow, as a whole;
Here, as a whole proportioned to our sense,
There, (which is nowhere, speech must babble thus!)
In the absolute immensity, the whole
Appreciable solely by Thyself,
Here, by the little mind of man, reduced
To littleness that suits his faculty,
Appreciable too in the degree;
Between Thee and ourselves nay even, again,
Below us, to the extreme of the minute,
Appreciable by how many and what diverse
Modes of the life Thou makest be! (why live
Except for love, how love unless they know?)
Each of them, only filling to the edge,
Insect or angel, his just length and breadth,
Due facet of reflection, full, no less,
Angel or insect, as Thou framedst things,
I it is who have been appointed here
To represent Thee, in my turn, on earth,
Just as, if new philosophy know aught,
This one earth, out of all the multitude
Of peopled worlds, as stars are now supposed,
Was chosen,

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