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Men and Women
by Robert Browning
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XIV 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 tears, belief and disbelieving: I am mine and yours—the rest be all men's, Karshish, Cleon, Norbert and the fifty. Let me speak this once in my true person, Not as Lippo, Roland or Andrea, 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 houseroofs, Hurries with unhandsome thrift of silver, Goes dispiritedly, glad to finish.

XVI 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, Blind to Galileo on his turret, Dumb to Homer, dumb to Keats—him, even! 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 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!

XVII What were seen? None knows, none ever shall 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!

XVIII 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.

XIX 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! R. B.

NOTES

"One Word More" is the dedication to Elizabeth Barrett Browning which was appended to "Men and Women" as first published when it contained fifty poems since distributed under other titles.

The poet, recalling how Rafael when he would all-express his love, wrote sonnets to the loved one, and how Dante prepared to paint an angel for Beatrice, draws the conclusion that there is no artist but longs to give expression to his supreme love in some other art than his own which would be the medium of a spontaneous, natural outburst of feeling in a way impossible in the familiar forms of his own art. Thus he would gain a man's joy and miss the artist's sorrow, for, like the miracles of Moses, the work of the artist is subject to the cold criticism of the world, which expects him nevertheless always to be the artist, and has no sympathy for him as a man. Since there is no other art but poetry in which it is possible for Browning to express himself, he will at least drop his accustomed dramatic form and speak in his own person; though it be poor, let it stand as a symbol for all-expression. Yet does she not know him, for he has shown her his soul-side as one might imagine the moon showing another side to a mortal lover, which would remain forever as much a mystery to the outside world as the vision seen by Moses, etc. Similarly, he has admired the side his moon of poets has shown the whole world in her poetry, but he blesses himself with the thought of the other side which he alone has seen.

5. Century of sonnets: Rafael is known to have written four love sonnets on the back of sketches for his wall painting, the "Disputa," which are still preserved in collections, one of them in the British Museum. The Italian text of these sonnets with English translations are given in Wolzogen's Life of him translated by F. E. Bunntt. Did he ever write a hundred? It is supposed that the lost book once owned by Guido Reni, apparently the one referred to in stanza iv, was a book of drawings. Perhaps these also bore sonnets on their backs, or Browning guessed they did.

10. Who that one: Margarita, a girl Rafael met and loved in Rome, two portraits of whom exist—one in the Barberini Palace, Rome, the other in the Pitti, in Florence. They resemble the Sistine and other Madonnas by Rafael.

21. Madonnas, etc.: "San Sisto," now in Dresden; "Foligno," in the Vatican, Rome; the one in Florence is called "del Granduca," and represents her appearing in a vision; the one in the Louvre, called "La Belle Jardinire," is seated in a garden among lilies.

32. Dante once, etc.: "On that day," writes Dante, "Vita Nuova," xxxv, "which fulfilled the year since my lady had been made of the citizens of eternal life, remembering of her as I sat alone, I betook myself to draw the resemblance of an angel upon certain tablets." That this lady was Beatrice Portinari, as Browning supposes, Dante's devotion to her, in both "The New Life" and "The Divine Comedy," should leave no doubt. Yet the literalness of Mr. W. M. Rossetti makes him obtuse here, as he and other commentators seem to be in their understanding of Browning throughout this stanza. Browning evidently contrasts Dante's tenderness here towards Beatrice with the remorselessness of his pen in the "Inferno" (see Cantos 32 and 33), where he stigmatized his enemies as if using their very flesh for his parchment, so that ever after in the eyes of all Florence they seemed to bear the marks of the poet's hate of their wickedness. It was people of this sort, grandees of the town, Browning fancies, who again "hinder loving," breaking in upon the poet and seizing him unawares forsooth at this intimate moment of loving artistry. "Chancing to turn my head," Dante continues, "I perceived that some were standing beside me to whom I should have given courteous greeting, and that they were observing what I did: also I learned afterwards that they had been there a while before I perceived them." The tender moment was over. He stopped the painting, simply saying, "Another was with me."

74. He who smites the rock: Moses, whose experience in smiting the rock for water (Exodus 17.1-7; Numbers 20.1-11) is likened to the sorrow of the artist, serving a reckless world.

97. Sinai-forehead's . . . brilliance: Exodus 19.9, 16; 34.30.

101. Jethro's daughter: Moses' wife, Zipporah (Exodus 2.16, 21).

102. AEthiopian bondslave: Numbers 12.1.

122. Liberal hand: the free hand of the fresco-painter cramped to do the exquisite little designs fit for the missal marge = margin of a Prayer-book.

150. Samminiato: San Miniato, a church in Florence.

161. Turn a new side, etc.: the side turned away from the earth which our world never sees.

163. Zoroaster: (589-513 B. C.), founder of the Persian religion, and worshipper of light, whose habit it was to observe the heavens from his terrace,

164. Galileo: (1564-1642), constructor of the first telescope, leading him to discover that the Milky Way was an assemblage of starry worlds, and the earth a planet revolving on its axis and about an orbit, for which opinion he was tried and condemned. When forced to retire from his professorship at Padua, he continued his observations from his own house in Florence.

164. Dumb to Homer, dumb to Keats: Homer celebrates the moon in the "Hymn to Diana" (see Shelley's translation), and makes Artemis upbraid her brother Phoebus when he claims that it is not meet for gods to concern themselves with mortals (Iliad, xxi. 470). Keats, in "Endymion," sings of her love for a mortal.

174. Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, etc.: Exodus 24.1, 10.

THE END

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