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The air broke into a mist with bells.
The obi walls rocked with the crowd and cries.
Had I said, '' Good folk, mere noise repels—
But give me your sun from yonder skies!'' They had answered, '' And afterward, what else!" 10
Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun
Naught man could do, have I left undone:
This very day, now a year is run.
There's nobody on the house-tops now—
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
By the very scaffold's foot, I trow. no
I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
And 1 think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.
Thus I entered, and thus I go!
In triumphs, people have dropped down dead. '' Paid by the world, what dost thou owe
Met"—God might question; now instead,
"CHILDE ROLAND TO THE DARK
My first thought was, he lied in every word.
What else should he be set- for, with his staff!
And ask the roadf 1 guessed what skull-like laugh 10
Would break, what crutch 'gin writ* my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare.
• The title Is n line of Edgar's song. Kinq Lrnr, III, Iv, 1ST. "Chllde" Is an old title for a | youth of noble birth. There has been much I discussion over the question whether the knight's pilgrimage, which Is here so vividly i and yet so mystically portrayed, is allegorical: or not. Doubtless there Is no elaborate allegory In it. though there may well he a moral —something: like constancy to an Ideal, Itrownlnc admitted.
If at his counsel 1 should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree, Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly 1 did turn as he pointed: neither pride Nor hope rekindling at the end descried, So much as gladness that some end might be.
For, what with my whole world-wide wandering. What with my search drawn out through years, my hope 20 Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope With that obstreperous joy success would bring,—
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
.My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears, and takes the farewell of each friend.
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
1'reelier outside, ("since all is o'er," he saith. "And the blow fallen no grieving ean amend;") 30
While some discuss if near the other graves
With care about the banners, scarves and staves:
And still the man hears all, and only craves
Thus, T had so long suffered in this quest,
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit f
So, quiet as despair, I turned from him, That hateful cripple, out of his highway Into the path he pointed. All the day Had been a dreary one at best, and dim Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.
For mark! no sooner was I fairly found Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two, 5ft Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; gray plain all round:
Xothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
So, on I went. T think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve: For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law Might propagate their kind, with none to awe, You 'd think: a burr had been a treasure trove. 60
Xo! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land's portion. "See
Or shut your eyes," said Xature peevishly, "It nothing skills:1 I cannot help my case: 'T is the Last Judgment's fire must cure this place,
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free."
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk Above its mates, the head was chopped; the
bentsWere jealous else. What made those holes
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to balk 70 All hope of greenness! 'tis a brute must walk Fashing their life out, with a brute :s intents.
As for the grass, it gTew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the inud Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare, Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil 'a stud!
Alive? he might be dead for aught I know, With that red gaunt and colloped* neck a-strain, 80 And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier's art:
Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face 91
Giles then, the soul of honour—there lie stands
l avails nothing 2 gross stalks
3 ridged I
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good—but the seeue shifts—faugh! what hangman hands loo Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands Bead it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!
Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path agaiu!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain. Will the night send a howlet or a bat? I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.
A sudden little river crossed my path
So petty, yet so spiteful! All along,
Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it; Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit Of mute despair, a suicidal throng: The river which had done them all the wrong, Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit. 120
Which, while I forded,—good saints, how I feared
To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek, Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
—It may have been a water-rat I speared, But, ugh, it sounded like a baby's shriek.
Glad was I when I reached the other bank. Now for a better country. Vain presage! Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank, 131 Or wild-cats in a red-hot iron cage—
The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque.
What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
Xo footprint leading to that horrid mews, Xone out of it. Mad brewage set to work Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
• That is. bespit, bespattered: from the archaic
betpett. The rnthpr unusual diction employed throughout tlie pneni Uclps to heighten Its grotesque character.
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.
And more than that—a furlong on—why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel, 140
Or brake, not wheel—that harrow fit to reel Men's bodies out like silkf with all the air Of Tophet 'si tool, on earth left unaware.
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.
Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with: (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood Changes and off he goes!) within a rood— Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth. 150
Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim, Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
Broke into moss or substances like boils; Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
And just as far as ever from the end!
Naught in the distance but the evening, naught
To point my footstep further 1 At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon's2 bosom-friend, Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragonpenned8 1*1 That brushed my cap—perchance the guide 1 sought.
For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place All round to mountains—with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view. How thus they had surprised me,—solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.
Vet half T seemed to recognize some trick
i hell's a Satan's
3 with pinluus like a drugon's
Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
While to the left, a tall scalped mountain . . .
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,4
What in the midst lay but the Tower itself! The round squat turret, blind as the fool *s heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counterpart In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.
Not see! because of night perhaps!—why, day
Not hear! when noise was everywhere! it tolled
There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of nic. a living frame 200 For one more picture! in a sheet of flame I saw them and I knew them all. And yet Dauntless the slug-horn5 to my lips I set, And blew: "Childe Koland to the Dark Tower came."
BABBI BEN EZBA*
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in his hand
* critical moment
s Not properly the name of a horn, If the word is a corruption of "slogan." It was thus misused by Chatterton frequently, and Browning may have obtained It from that source.
* There was a certain Rabbi, Ben Ezra (or Aben
ezra, or Ibn Kxra), who was a great scholar and theologian of the twelfth century. lie was born at Toledo and traveled widely, dwelling at Rome, London, Palestine, and elsewhere. Browning here mnkes him the mouthpiece of a nobk philosophy.
Who saith, '1A whole I planned, Youth shows but half: trust God: sec all, nor be afraid!''
Not that, amassing flowers, Youth sighed, "Which rose make ours, Which lily leave and then as best recall V Not that, admiring stars, 10 it yearned, '' Nor Jove, nor Mars; Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!"
Not for such hopes and fearst
Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark!
Rather I prize the doubt}
Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.
Were man but formed to feed 20
Irks care1 the crop-full birdf Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast I
Rejoice we are allied
To that which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive!
A spark disturbs our clod;
Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of his tribes that take, I must believe. 30
Then, welcome each rebuff
For thence,—a paradox
What is he but a brute
i Subject of "irks."
11, e., such as those Just mentioned, which seem
to make youth Ineffectual. t Supply "that." This is exactly the thought
which Tennyson had already expressed In In
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play!
I To man, propose this test—
Yet gifts should prove their use:
Not once beat "Praise be thine!
I, who saw power, see now Love perfect too;
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what thou shalt do!" 60
For pleasant is this flesh;
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest:
Possessions of the brute,—gain most, as we did best!
Let us not always say,
As the bird wings and sings, TO
Therefore I summon age
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
From the developed brute; a God though in the germ.
And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone 80
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplcxed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.1
Youth ended, I shall try
i put on
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
For note, when evening shuts,
The deed off, calls the glory from the gray:
So, still within this life,
Though lifted o'er its strife.
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last,
"This rage was right i' the main, 100
That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now 1 have proved the
For more is not reserved
As it was better, youth
Should strive, through acts uncouth, 110 TowaTd making, than repose on aught found
made: So, better, age, exempt From strife, should know, than tempt Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death nor
Enough now, if the Bight
Be named here, as thou callest thy hand thine own,
With knowledge absolute,
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel alone. 120
Be there, for once and all.
> Supply "whom."
Now, who shall arbitrate!
Not on the vulgar mass
O'er which, from level stand,
But all, the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb, HO
So passed in makiug up the maiu account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount:
Thoughts hardly to be packed
Fancies that broke through language and
escaped; All 1 could never be, All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped. 150
Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay —
Thou, to whom fools propound,
Fool! All that is, at all,
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee, 1*0
He fixed thee 'mid this dance
• Both the figure and the philosophy here obviously suggest Omsr Khayyam, though l>otb are very much older.