by Robert Browning, 1855
Okay, if you haven't read any Browning, it's high time you did. He's hard to beat.
, the picker-up of learning's crumbs
The not-incurious in God's handiwork
(This man's-flesh he hath admirably made
Blown like a bubble, kneaded like a paste,
To coop up and keep down on earth a space
That puff of vapour from his mouth, man's soul
-- To Abib, all-sagacious
in our art,
Breeder in me of what poor skill I boast
Like me inquisitive
how pricks and cracks
Befall the flesh through too much stress and strain
Whereby the wily vapour
fain would slip
Back and rejoin its source before the term, --
And aptest in contrivance
it by deftly stopping such: --
The vagrant Scholar to his Sage at home
Sends greeting (health and knowledge, fame with peace
Three samples of true snakestone
-- rarer still,
One of the other sort, the melon
(But fitter, pounded fine, for charms than drugs)
And writeth now the twenty-second time.
My journeyings were brought to Jericho
Thus I resume. Who studious in our art
Shall count a little labour unrepaid?
I have shed sweat enough, left flesh and bone
On many a flint
of this land.
Also, the country-side is all on fire
With rumours of a marching hitherward:
Some say Vespasian
cometh, some, his son.
A black lynx snarled and pricked a tufted ear
Lust of my blood inflamed his yellow balls
I cried and threw my staff
and he was gone.
Twice have the robbers stripped and beaten me,
And once a town declared me for a spy;
But at the end, I reach Jerusalem
Since this poor covert
where I pass the night,
, lies scarce the distance thence
A man with plague
-sores at the third degree
Runs till he drops down dead. Thou laughest here!
'Sooth, it elates me, thus reposed and safe,
To void the stuffing of my travel-scrip
And share with thee whatever Jewry
A viscid choler
s, I was nearly bold to say;
hath a happier cure
Than our school wots of: there's a spider here
Weaves no web, watches on the ledge of tombs
Sprinkled with mottles on an ash-grey back;
Take five and drop them . . . but who knows his mind,
I trust this to?
His service payeth me a sublimate
Blown up his nose to help the ailing eye.
Best wait: I reach Jerusalem
There set in order my experiences,
Gather what most deserves, and give thee all --
Or I might add, Judea
Scales off in purer flakes, shines clearer-grained,
Cracks 'twixt the pestle and the porphyry
exceeds our produce. Scalp-disease
Confounds me, crossing so with leprosy
Thou hadst admired one sort I gained at Zoar
But zeal outruns discretion
. Here I end.
Yet stay: my Syria
n blinketh gratefully,
Protesteth his devotion is my price
Suppose I write what harms not, though he steal?
I half resolve to tell thee, yet I blush,
What set me off a-writing first of all.
An itch I had, a sting to write, a tang!
For, be it this town's barrenness -- or else
The Man had something in the look of him
His case has struck me far more than 'tis worth.
So, pardon if -- (lest presently I lose
In the great press of novelty at hand
The care and pains this somehow stole from me)
thee take the thing while fresh in mind,
Almost in sight -- for, wilt thou
have the truth?
The very man is gone from me but now,
is the subject of discourse.
Thus then, and let thy better wit help all!
'Tis but a case of mania
, at the turning-point
prolonged unduly some three days:
When, by the exhibition of some drug
Or spell, exorcization
, stroke of art
Unknown to me and which 'twere well to know,
The evil thing out-breaking all at once
Left the man whole and sound of body indeed, --
But, flinging (so to speak) life's gates too wide
Making a clear house
of it too suddenly,
The first conceit
that entered might inscribe
Whatever it was minded on the wall
So plainly at that vantage
, as it were,
(First come, first served
) that nothing subsequent
Attaineth to erase those fancy-scrawls
The just-returned and new-established soul
Hath gotten now so thoroughly by heart
That henceforth she
will read or these or none.
And first -- the man's own firm conviction
That he was dead (in fact they buried him
-- That he was dead and then restored to life
By a Nazarene
physician of his tribe:
-- 'Sayeth, the same bade "Rise," and he did rise.
"Such cases are diurnal
," thou wilt cry.
Not so this figment! -- not, that such a fume
Instead of giving way to time and health
Should eat itself into the life of life,
tingeth flesh, blood, bones and all!
For see, how he takes up the after-life.
The man -- it is one Lazarus
, proportioned, fifty years of age,
The body's habit wholly laudable
As much, indeed, beyond the common health
As he were made and put aside to show.
Think, could we penetrate by any drug
And bathe the wearied soul and worried flesh,
And bring it clear and fair, by three days' sleep!
Whence has the man the balm that brightens all?
This grown man eyes the world now like a child
Some elders of his tribe
, I should premise,
Led in their friend, obedient as a sheep
To bear my inquisition
. While they spoke,
Now sharply, now with sorrow, -- told the case, --
He listened not except I spoke to him
But folded his two hands and let them talk,
Watching the flies that buzzed: and yet no fool
And that's a sample how his years must go.
Look, if a beggar
, in fixed middle-life,
Should find a treasure, -- can he use the same
With straitened habits and with tastes starved small
And take at once to his impoverished brain
The sudden element that changes things,
That sets the undreamed-of rapture
at his hand
And puts the cheap old joy
in the scorned dust?
Is he not such an one as moves to mirth --
Warily parsimonious, when no need
Wasteful as drunkenness at undue times
All prudent counsel
as to what befits
The golden mean
, is lost on such an one
The man's fantastic will is the man's law
So here -- we call the treasure knowledge, say,
Increased beyond the fleshly faculty
Heaven opened to a soul while yet on earth,
Earth forced on a soul's use while seeing heaven
The man is witless
of the size, the sum,
The value in proportion
of all things,
Or whether it be little or be much.
Discourse to him of prodigious
Assembled to besiege
his city now,
And of the passing of a mule with gourds --
! Then take it on the other side,
Speak of some trifling
fact -- he will gaze rapt
at its very littleness,
(Far as I see) as if in that indeed
He caught prodigious import
, whole results;
And so will turn to us the bystanders
In ever the same stupor
(note this point)
That we too see not with his opened eyes
Wonder and doubt
come wrongly into play,
ly, at cross purposes.
Should his child sicken unto death
, -- why, look
For scarce abatement
of his cheerfulness,
of the daily craft
While a word, gesture, glance, from that same child
At play or in the school or laid asleep,
Will startle him to an agony of fear
, just as like. Demand
The reason why --" `tis but a word," object --
"A gesture" -- he regards thee as our lord
Who lived there in the pyramid alone
Looked at us (dost thou mind?) when, being young,
We both would unadvisedly recite
Some charm's beginning, from that book of his,
Able to bid the sun throb wide and burst
All into stars, as suns grown old are wont
Thou and the child have each a veil alike
Thrown o'er your heads, from under which ye both
Stretch your blind hands and trifle with a match
Over a mine of Greek fire
, did ye know!
He holds on firmly to some thread of life --
(It is the life to lead perforce
Which runs across some vast distracting orb
Of glory on either side that meagre thread
Which, conscious of, he must not enter yet --
The spiritual life around the earthly life
The law of that is known to him as this,
His heart and brain move there, his feet stay here
So is the man perplex
t with impulses
Sudden to start off crosswise, not straight on,
Proclaiming what is right and wrong across,
And not along, this black thread through the blaze
"It should be" baulked by "here it cannot be."
And oft the man's soul springs into his face
As if he saw again and heard again
His sage that bade him "Rise" and he did rise
Something, a word, a tick of the blood within
Admonishes: then back he sinks at once
To ashes, who was very fire before,
recurrence to his trade
Whereby he earneth him the daily bread
And studiously the humbler for that pride,
Professedly the faultier that he knows
God's secret, while he holds the thread of life
Indeed the especial marking of the man
Is prone submission to the heavenly will
Seeing it, what it is, and why it is.
'Sayeth, he will wait patient to the last
For that same death which must restore his being
, body loosening soul
Divorced even now by premature full growth:
He will live, nay, it pleaseth him to live
So long as God please
, and just how God please.
He even seeketh not to please God more
(Which meaneth, otherwise) than as God please.
Hence, I perceive not he affects to preach
The doctrine of his sect whate'er it be,
s as madmen thirst to do:
How can he give his neighbour the real ground,
His own conviction
as he is--
Call his great truth a lie, why, still the old
"Be it as God please
" reassureth him.
I probed the sore as thy disciple
"How, beast," said I, "this stolid
Sufficeth thee, when Rome
is on her march
To stamp out like a little spark
, thy crazy tale and thee at once?"
He merely looked with his large eyes on me.
The man is apathetic
, you deduce
Contrariwise, he loves both old and young,
Able and weak, affects the very brutes
And birds -- how say I? flowers of the field --
As a wise workman recognizes tools
In a master's workshop, loving what they make
Thus is the man as harmless as a lamb
Only impatient, let him do his best,
At ignorance and carelessness and sin
which is promptly curbed:
As when in certain travels I have feigned
To be an ignoramus
in our art
According to some preconceived design
And happed to hear the land's practitioner
Steeped in conceit sublimed by ignorance
Its cause and cure -- and I must hold my peace!
object -- why have I not ere this
Sought out the sage himself, the Nazarene
Who wrought this cure, inquiring at the source,
Conferring with the frankness that befits?
Alas! it grieveth me, the learned leech
Perished in a tumult
many years ago,
Accused, -- our learning's fate, -- of wizardry
Rebellion, to the setting up a rule
And creed prodigious as described to me.
His death, which happened when the earthquake fell
(Prefiguring, as soon appeared, the loss
To occult learning in our lord the sage
Who lived there in the pyramid alone)
Was wrought by the mad people -- that's their wont!
On vain recourse
, as I conjecture it,
To his tried virtue, for miraculous help --
How could he stop the earthquake? That's their way!
The other imputation
s must be lies:
But take one, though I loathe to give it thee,
In mere respect for any good man's fame.
(And after all, our patient Lazarus
Is stark mad
; should we count on what he says?
Perhaps not: though in writing to a leech
'Tis well to keep back nothing
of a case.)
This man so cured regards the curer, then
As -- God
forgive me! who but God
Creator and sustainer of the world
That came and dwelt in flesh on 't awhile!
-- 'Sayeth that such an one
was born and lived,
Taught, healed the sick, broke bread
at his own house,
Then died, with Lazarus
by, for aught I know,
And yet was . . . what I said nor choose repeat,
And must have so avouched himself, in fact,
In hearing of this very Lazarus
-- but why all this of what he saith
Why write of trivial matters
, things of price
Calling at every moment for remark?
I noticed on the margin of a pool
, the Aleppo
Aboundeth, very nitrous
. It is strange!
Thy pardon for this long and tedious case,
Which, now that I review it, needs must seem
Unduly dwelt on, prolix
ly set forth!
Nor I myself discern in what is writ
Good cause for the peculiar interest
And awe indeed this man has touched me with
Perhaps the journey's end, the weariness
Had wrought upon me first. I met him thus:
I crossed a ridge of short sharp broken hills
Like an old lion's cheek teeth
. Out there came
made like a face with certain spots
, and menacing:
Then a wind rose behind me. So we met
In this old sleepy town at unaware,
The man and I. I send thee what is writ
Regard it as a chance, a matter risked
To this ambiguous Syria
n -- he may lose,
Or steal, or give it thee with equal good.
's repose shall make amends
For time this letter wastes, thy time and mine;
Till when, once more thy pardon
The very God
! think, Abib
; dost thou think?
So, the All-Great
, were the All-Loving
So, through the thunder comes a human voice
Saying, "O heart I made, a heart beats here!
Face, my hands fashioned
, see it in myself!
Thou hast no power nor mayst
conceive of mine,
But love I gave thee, with myself to love,
And thou must love me who have died for thee!"
The madman saith He said so
: it is strange