There they are, my fifty men and women
Naming me the fifty poems finished!
Take them, Love, the book and me together;
Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also.
Rafael made a century of sonnets, 5
Made and wrote them in a certain volume
Dinted with the silver-pointed pencil
Else he only used to draw Madonnas;
These, the world might view–but one, the volume.
Who that one, you ask? Your heart instructs you. 10
Did she live and love it all her lifetime?
Did she drop, his lady of the sonnets,
Die, and let it drop beside her pillow
Where it lay in place of Rafael’s glory,
Rafael’s cheek so duteous and so loving–
Cheek, the world was wont to hail a painter’s,
Rafael’s cheek, her love had turned a poet’s?
You and I would rather read that volume
(Taken to his beating bosom by it),
Lean and list the bosom-beats of Rafael, 20
Would we not? than wonder at Madonnas–
Her, San Sisto names, and Her, Foligno,
Her, that visits Florence in a vision,
Her, that’s left with lilies in the Louvre–
Seen by us and all the world in circle.
You and I will never read that volume.
Guido Reni, like his own eye’s apple, 27
Guarded long the treasure-book and loved it.
Guido Reni dying, all Bologna
Cried, and the world cried too, “Ours, the treasure!” 30
Suddenly, as rare things will, it vanished.
Dante once prepared to paint an angel: 32
Whom to please? You whisper “Beatrice.” 33
While he mused and traced it and retraced it
(Peradventure with a pen corroded
Still by drops of that hot ink he dipped for,
When, his left-hand i’ the hair o’ the wicked, 37
Back he held the brow and pricked its stigma,
Bit into the live man’s flesh for parchment,
Loosed him, laughed to see the writing rankle, 40
Let the wretch go festering through Florence)–
Dante, who loved well because he hated,
Hated wickedness that hinders loving,
Dante, standing, studying his angel,–
In there broke the folk of his Inferno. 45
Says he–“Certain people of importance”
(Such he gave his daily dreadful line to)
“Entered and would seize, forsooth, the poet.”
Says the poet–“Then I stopped my painting.”
You and I would rather see that angel, 50
Painted by the tenderness of Dante,
Would we not?–than read a fresh Inferno.
You and I will never see that picture.
While he mused on love and Beatrice,
While he softened o’er his outlined angel,
In they broke, those “people of importance”:
We and Bice bear the loss forever. 57
What of Rafael’s sonnets, Dante’s picture?
This: no artist lives and loves, that longs not
Once, and only once, and for one only, 60
(Ah, the prize!) to find his love a language
Fit and fair and simple and sufficient–
Using nature that’s an art to others,
Not, this one time, art that’s turned his nature.
Ay, of all the artists living, loving,
None but would forego his proper dowry,–
Does he paint? he fain would write a poem,
Does he write? he fain would paint a picture,–
Put to proof art alien to the artist’s,
Once, and only once, and for one only, 70
So to be the man and leave the artist,
Gain the man’s joy, miss the artist’s sorrow.
Wherefore? Heaven’s gift takes earth’s abatement!
He who smites the rock and spreads the water, 74
Bidding drink and live a crowd beneath him,
Even he, the minute makes immortal,
Proves, perchance, but mortal in the minute,
Desecrates, belike, the deed in doing.
While he smites, how can he but remember,
So he smote before, in such a peril, 80
When they stood and mocked–“Shall smiting help us?”
When they drank and sneered–“A stroke is easy!”
When they wiped their mouths and went their journey,
Throwing him for thanks–“But drought was pleasant.”
Thus old memories mar the actual triumph;
Thus the doing savors of disrelish;
Thus achievement lacks a gracious somewhat;
O’er-importuned brows becloud the mandate,
Carelessness or consciousness–the gesture.
For he bears an ancient wrong about him, 90
Sees and knows again those phalanxed faces,
Hears, yet one time more, the ‘customed prelude–
“How shouldst thou, of all men, smite, and save us?”
Guesses what is like to prove the sequel–
“Egypt’s flesh-pots –nay, the drought was better.” 95
Oh, the crowd must have emphatic warrant!
Theirs, the Sinai-forhead’s cloven brilliance, 97
Right-arm’s rod-sweep, tongue’s imperial fiat.
Never dares the man put off the prophet.
Did he love one face from out the thousands, 100
(Were she Jethro’s daughter, white and wifely, 101
Were she but the AEthiopian bondslave),
He would envy yon dumb, patient camel,
Keeping a reserve of scanty water
Meant to save his own life in the desert;
Ready in the desert to deliver
(Kneeling down to let his breast be opened)
Hoard and life together for his mistress.
I shall never, in the years remaining,
Paint you pictures, no, nor carve you statues. 110
Make you music that should all-express me;
So it seems; I stand on my attainment.
This of verse alone, one life allows me;
Verse and nothing else have I to give you;
Other heights in other lives, God willing;
All the gifts from all the heights, your own, Love.
Yet a semblance of resource avails us–
Shade so finely touched, love’s sense must seize it.
Take these lines, look lovingly and nearly,
Lines I write the first time and the last time. 120
He who works in fresco steals a hair-brush,
Curbs the liberal hand, subservient proudly,
Cramps his spirit, crowds its all in little,
Makes a strange art of an art familiar,
Fills his lady’s missal-marge with flowerets,
He who blows through bronze may breathe through silver,
Fitly serenade a slumbrous princess.
He who writes, may write for once as I do.
Love, you saw me gather men and women,
Live or dead or fashioned by my fancy, 130
Enter each and all, and use their service,
Speak from every mouth,–the speech, a poem.
Hardly shall I tell my joys and sorrows,
Hopes and fears, belief and disbelieving:
I am mine and yours–the rest be all men’s,
Karshish, Cleon, Norbert, and the fifty. 136
Let me speak this once in my true person,
Not as Lippo, Roland, or Andrea, 138
Though the fruit of speech be just this sentence:
Pray you, look on these my men and women, 140
Take and keep my fifty poems finished;
Where my heart lies, let my brain lie also!
Poor the speech; be how I speak, for all things.
Not but that you know me! Lo, the moon’s self!
Here in London, yonder late in Florence,
Still we find her face, the thrice-transfigured.
Curving on a sky imbrued with color,
Drifted over Fiesole by twilight,
Came she, our new crescent of a hair’s-breadth.
Full she flared it, lamping Samminiato, 150
Rounder ‘twixt the cypresses and rounder,
Perfect till the nightingales applauded.
Now, a piece of her old self, impoverished,
Hard to greet, she traverses the house-roofs,
Hurries with unhandsome thrift of silver,
Goes dispiritedly, glad to finish.
What, there’s nothing in the moon noteworthy?
Nay: for if that moon could love a mortal,
Use, to charm him (so to fit a fancy),
All her magic (’tis the old sweet mythos), 160
She would turn a new side to her mortal,
Side unseen of herdsman, huntsman, steersman,–
Blank to Zoroaster on his terrace, 163
Blind to Galileo on his turret. 164
Dumb to Homer, dumb to Keats–him, even! 165
Think, the wonder of the moonstruck mortal–
When she turns round, comes again in heaven,
Opens out anew for worse or better!
Proves she like some portent of an iceberg
Swimming full upon the ship it founders, 170
Hungry with huge teeth of splintered crystals?
Proves she as the paved work of a sapphire,
Seen by Moses when he climbed the mountain?
Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu 174
Climbed and saw the very God, the Highest,
Stand upon the paved work of a sapphire.
Like the bodied heaven in his clearness
Shone the stone, the sapphire of that paved work,
When they ate and drank and saw God also!
What were seen? None knows, none ever will know. 180
Only this is sure–the sight were other,
Not the moon’s same side, born late in Florence,
Dying now impoverished here in London.
God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,
One to show a woman when he loves her. 186
This I say of me, but think of you, Love!
This to you–yourself my moon of poets!
Ah, but that’s the world’s side, there’s the wonder,
Thus they see you, praise you, think they know you! 190
There, in turn I stand with them and praise you–
Out of my own self, I dare to phrase it.
But the best is when I glide from out them,
Cross a step or two of dubious twilight,
Come out on the other side, the novel
Silent silver lights and darks undreamed of,
Where I hush and bless myself with silence.
Oh, their Rafael of the dear Madonnas,
Oh, their Dante of the dread Inferno,
Wrote one song–and in my brain I sing it, 200
Drew one angel–borne, see, on my bosom!
One Word More was appended to Browning’s volume Men and Women (1855), by way of dedication of the book to his wife. It is characteristic of its author in its reality of feeling, in its seeking an unusual point of view, in its parenthetic and allusive style, and its occasional high felicity of expression. Those who feel overpowered by Browning’s vigor and profundity of thought, might stop here to note the exquisite inconsistency between the examples cited and the thing thus illustrated. The painter turning poet, the poet turning painter, the moon turning her unseen face to a mortal lover; these are compared to Browning the poet,–writing another poem. The only difference in his art is that the poet here speaks for himself in the first person, and not, as usual, dramatically in the third person. The idea of the poem may be found, stripped of digression and fanciful comparisons, in the eighth, twelfth, fourteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth stanzas. Something of the same idea appears in My Star.
5. =Rafael,= etc. More commonly spelled Raphael. Born in Italy in 1483, died in 1520; generally regarded as the greatest of painters. The Sistine Madonna, at Dresden, is considered his greatest work. See lines 21-24.
Only four of his sonnets exist. A translation of these is given in Cooke’s Guide Book to Browning. There is no authentic record of such a “century of sonnets” having ever existed.
10. Tradition is dim and uncertain as to the identity of this love of Raphael’s.
27. =Guido Reni= (1576-1642). A celebrated Italian painter. Berdoe says that the volume owned by Guido Reni was a collection of a hundred drawings by Raphael.
32-33. =Dante= (1265-1321). The greatest of Italian poets. His Divina Commedia, consisting of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, is his most famous work. His romantic passion for Beatrice (pronounced B[=a]-[.a]-tr[=e]-che) is referred to in his Divina Commedia, and is recounted in his Vita Nuova.
37-43. In allusion to the fact that Dante freely consigned his enemies, political and personal, living or dead, to appropriate places in his Inferno and Purgatorio.
45-48. This interruption of his work is described in the thirty-fifth section of the Vita Nuova. The hostile nature of the visit seems to be of Browning’s invention.–COOKE.
57. =Bice=. Beatrice.
74 ff. In allusion to Moses smiting the rock and bringing forth water. See Exodus, chapter xvii.
95. =Egypt’s flesh-pots=. See Exodus, chapter xvi.
97. =Sinai’s cloven brilliance=. See Exodus, chapter six. 16-25.
101. =Jethro’s daughter=, Zipporah. See Exodus, chapters ii and xviii.
136. =Cleon=. See the poem of that name. =Norbert=. See In a Balcony.
138. =Lippo=. See Fra Lippo Lippi.
150. =Samminiato=. San Miniato, a church in Florence.
160. =Mythos=. In reference to the myths of Endymion, the mortal with whom the goddess Diana (the moon) fell in love. See a classical dictionary, and Keats’s poem Endymion.
163. =Zoroaster=. The founder of the Persian religion. Reference is here made to his observations of the heavenly bodies while meditating on religious things.
164. =Galileo= (1564-1642). The great Italian physicist and astronomer.
165. =Keats=. See note on line 160.
174. =Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu=. See Exodus, chapter xxiv.
186. Compare the idea in My Star.