Robert Browning 1812 (Camberwell) – 1889 (Venice)
Stand still, true poet that you are!
I know you; let me try and draw you.
Some night you'll fail us: when afar
You rise, remember one man saw you,
Knew you, and named a star!
My star, God's glow-worm! Why extend
That loving hand of his which leads you
Yet locks you safe from end to end
Of this dark world, unless he needs you,
just saves your light to spend?
His clenched hand shall unclose at last,
I know, and let out all the beauty:
My poet holds the future fast,
Accepts the coming ages' duty,
Their present for this past.
That day, the earth's feast-master's brow
Shall clear, to God the chalice raising;
``Others give best at first, but thou
``Forever set'st our table praising,
``Keep'st the good wine till now!''
Meantime, I'll draw you as you stand,
With few or none to watch and wonder:
I'll say---a fisher, on the sand
By Tyre the old, with ocean-plunder,
A netful, brought to land.
Who has not heard how Tyrian shells
Enclosed the blue, that dye of dyes
Whereof one drop worked miracles,
And coloured like Astarte's eyes
Raw silk the merchant sells?
And each bystander of them all
Could criticize, and quote tradition
How depths of blue sublimed some pall
---To get which, pricked a king's ambition
Worth sceptre, crown and ball.
Yet there's the dye, in that rough mesh,
The sea has only just o'erwhispered!
Live whelks, each lip's beard dripping fresh,
As if they still the water's lisp heard
Through foam the rock-weeds thresh.
Enough to furnish Solomon
Such hangings for his cedar-house,
That, when gold-robed he took the throne
In that abyss of blue, the Spouse
Might swear his presence shone
Most like the centre-spike of gold
Which burns deep in the blue-bell's womb,
What time, with ardours manifold,
The bee goes singing to her groom,
Drunken and overbold.
Mere conchs! not fit for warp or woof!
Till cunning come to pound and squeeze
And clarify,---refine to proof
The liquor filtered by degrees,
While the world stands aloof.
And there's the extract, flasked and fine,
And priced and saleable at last!
And Hobbs, Nobbs, Stokes and Nokes combine
To paint the future from the past,
Put blue into their line.
Hobbs hints blue,---Straight he turtle eats:
Nobbs prints blue,---claret crowns his cup:
Nokes outdares Stokes in azure feats,---
Both gorge. Who fished the murex up?
What porridge had John Keats?
* 1 The Syrian Venus.
* 2 Molluscs from which the famous Tyrian
* purple dye was obtained.
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