Robert Browning Dîs Aliter Visum; Or, Le Byron De Nos Jours
I found this poem remarkable.
For many years, I did not read Browning. I mean, "My Last Duchess" is wonderful and all that, but my recollection was that there were a lot of dramatic monologues, and, well, so what.
What a difference the passage of time makes. I returned to Browning because I was teaching a course with a colleague, Dan Fogel, and he and I decided to include Browning. So I read twenty or thirty of his poems: and was stunned. What a poet! While the entire nineteenth century basked and wallowed in their deep feelings, Romanticism run riot (and I do love an awful lot of that, from Wordsworth through Baudelaire), Browning turned in a different direction. He chose to look closely at, not his own consicousness, but that of others; and he understood that if poetry were not to be mere fiction but meaningful fiction, he would have to enter that consciousness not by getting 'inside their heads,' but by listening to what they said and how they acted. He would let the consciousness of others be revealed through them revealing themselves, in word and deed..
Thsi poem is one of my great discoveries. It is not THAT unknown a poem, since it is in the classic Norton Anthology of British Literature; but it is definitely a poem that deserves more attention than it usually gets.
For now, read the poem. I intend to come back to it, and provide some critical commentary beyond this 'appreciative' introduction to Browning.
For a very different sort of poem, you might want to try "House," which tells us just how private Browning was, and why -- and he makes a good case for us all being private. To read it, click House
Dîs Aliter Visum;
Or, Le Byron De Nos Jours
STOP, let me have the truth of that!
Is that all true? I say, the day
Ten years ago when both of us
Met on a morning, friends—as thus
We meet this evening, friends or what?—
Did you—because I took your arm
And sillily smiled, “A mass of brass
That sea looks, blazing underneath!”
While up the cliff-road edged with heath,
We took the turns nor came to harm—
Did you consider “Now makes twice
“That I have seen her, walked and talked
“With this poor pretty thoughtful thing,
“Whose worth I weigh: she tries to sing;
“Draws, hopes in time the eye grows nice;
“Reads verse and thinks she understands;
“Loves all, at any rate, that’s great,
“Good, beautiful; but much as we
“Down at the bath-house love the sea,
“Who breathe its salt and bruise its sands:
“While . . . do but follow the fishing-gull
“That flaps and floats from wave to cave!
“There’s the sea-lover, fair my friend!
“What then? Be patient, mark and mend!
“Had you the making of your scull?”
And did you, when we faced the church
With spire and sad slate roof, aloof
From human fellowship so far,
Where a few graveyard crosses are,
And garlands for the swallows’ perch,—
Did you determine, as we stepped
O’er the lone stone fence, “Let me get
“Her for myself, and what’s the earth
“With all its art, verse, music, worth—
“Compared with love, found, gained, and kept?
“Schumann’s our music-maker now;
“Has his march-movement youth and mouth?
“Ingres’s the modern man that paints;
“Which will lean on me, of his saints?
“Heine for songs; for kisses, how?”
And did you, when we entered, reached
The votive frigate, soft aloft
Riding on air this hundred years,
Safe-smiling at old hopes and fears,—
Did you draw profit while she preached?
Resolving, “Fools we wise men grow!
“Yes, I could easily blurt out curt
“Some question that might find reply
“As prompt in her stopped lips, dropped eye,
“And rush of red to cheek and brow:
“Thus were a match made, sure and fast,
“’Mid the blue weed-flowers round the mound
“Where, issuing, we shall stand and stay
“For one more look at baths and bay,
“Sands, sea-gulls, and the old church last—
“A match ’twixt me, bent, wigged and lamed,
“Famous, however, for verse and worse,
“Sure of the Fortieth spare Arm-chair
“When gout and glory seat me there,
“So, one whose love-freaks pass unblamed,—
“And this young beauty, round and sound
“As a mountain-apple, youth and truth
“With loves and doves, at all events
“With money in the Three per Cents;
“Whose choice of me would seem profound:—
“She might take me as I take her.
“Perfect the hour would pass, alas!
“Climb high, love high, what matter? Still,
“Feet, feelings, must descend the hill:
“An hour’s perfection can’t recur.
“Then follows Paris and full time
“For both to reason: ‘Thus with us!’
“She’ll sigh, ‘Thus girls give body and soul
“‘At first word, think they gain the goal,
“‘When ’t is the starting-place they climb!
“‘My friend makes verse and gets renown;
“‘Have they all fifty years, his peers?
“He knows the world, firm, quiet and gay;
“‘Boys will become as much one day:
“‘They’re fools; he cheats, with beard less brown.
“‘For boys say, Love one or I die!
“‘He did not say, The truth is, youth
“‘I want, who am old and know too much;
“‘I’d catch youth: lend one sight and touch!
“‘Drop heart’s blood where life’s wheels grate dry!
“While I should make rejoinder”—(then
It was, no doubt, you ceased that least
Light pressure of my arm in yours)
“‘I can conceive of cheaper cures
“‘For a yawning-fit o’er books and men.
“‘What? All I am, was, and might be,
“‘All, books taught, art brought, life’s whole strife,
“‘Painful results since precious, just
“‘Were fitly exchanged, in wise disgust,
“‘For two cheeks freshened by youth and sea?
“‘All for a nosegay!—what came first;
“‘With fields on flower, untried each side;
“‘I rally, need my books and men,
“‘And find a nosegay’: drop it, then,
“‘No match yet made for best or worst!”
That ended me. You judged the porch
We left by, Norman; took our look
At sea and sky; wondered so few
Find out the place for air and view;
Remarked the sun began to scorch;
Descended, soon regained the baths,
And then, good-bye! Years ten since then:
Ten years! We meet: you tell me, now,
By a window-seat for that cliff-brow,
On carpet-stripes for those sand-paths.
Now I may speak: you fool, for all
Your lore! WHO made things plain in vain?
What was the sea for? What, the grey
Sad church, that solitary day,
Crosses and graves and swallows’ call?
Was there nought better than to enjoy?
No feat which, done, would make time break
And let us pent-up creatures through
Into eternity, our due?
No forcing earth teach heaven’s employ?
No wise beginning, here and now,
What cannot grow complete (earth’s feat)
And heaven must finish, there and then?
No tasting earth’s true food for men,
Its sweet in sad, its sad in sweet?
No grasping at love, gaining a share
O’ the sole spark from God’s life at strife
With death, so, sure of range above
The limits here? For us and love,
Failure; but, when God fails, despair.
This you call wisdom? Thus you add
Good unto good again, in vain?
You loved, with body worn and weak;
I loved, with faculties to seek:
Were both loves worthless since ill-clad?
Let the mere star-fish in his vault
Crawl in a wash of weed, indeed,
Rose-jacynth to the finger-tips:
He, whole in body and soul, outstrips
Man, found with either in default.
But what’s whole, can increase no more,
Is dwarfed and dies, since here’s its sphere.
The devil laughed at you in his sleeve!
You knew not? That I well believe;
Or you had saved two souls: nay, four.
For Stephanie sprained last night her wrist,
Ankle or something. “Pooh,” cry you?
At any rate she danced, all say,
Vilely; her vogue has had its day.
Here comes my husband from his whist.
To help out a friend and former student, Elliot Earle, I am putting a web page link to his home page here. You can visit it if you wish: he makes stone sculptures, and wonderful tables made of stone and (!) water. Go to: