Dramatis Personæ


Robert Browning


ON the first of the Feast of Feasts,
    The Dedication Day,
When the Levites joined the Priests
    At the Altar in robed array,
Gave signal to sound and say,—

When the thousands, rear and van,
    Swarming with one accord
Became as a single man
    (Look, gesture, thought and word)
In praising and thanking the Lord,—

When the singers lift up their voice,
    And the trumpets made endeavour,
Sounding, “In God rejoice!”
    Saying, “In Him rejoice
“Whose mercy endureth for ever!”—

Then the Temple filled with a cloud,
    Even the House of the Lord;
Porch bent and pillar bowed:
    For the presence of the Lord,
In the glory of His cloud,
    Had filled the House of the Lord.



Gone now! All gone across the dark so far,
    Sharpening fast, shuddering ever, shutting still,
Dwindling into the distance, dies that star
    Which came, stood, opened once! We gazed our fill
With upturned faces on as real a Face
    That, stooping from grave music and mild fire,
Took in our homage, made a visible place
    Through many a depth of glory, gyre on gyre,
For the dim human tribute. Was this true?
    Could man indeed avail, mere praise of his,
To help by rapture God’s own rapture too,
    Thrill with a heart’s red tinge that pure pale bliss?
Why did it end? Who failed to beat the breast,
    And shriek, and throw the arms protesting wide,
When a first shadow showed the star addressed
    Itself to motion, and on either side
The rims contracted as the rays retired;
    The music, like a fountain’s sickening pulse,
Subsided on itself; awhile transpired
    Some vestige of a Face no pangs convulse,
No prayers retard; then even this was gone,
    Lost in the night at last. We, lone and left
Silent through centuries, ever and anon
    Venture to probe again the vault bereft
Of all now save the lesser lights, a mist
    Of multitudinous points, yet suns, men say—
And this leaps ruby, this lurks amethyst,
    But where may hide what came and loved our clay?
How shall the sage detect in yon expanse
    The star which chose to stoop and stay for us?
Unroll the records! Hailed ye such advance
    Indeed, and did your hope evanish thus?
Watchers of twilight, is the worst averred?
    We shall not look up, know ourselves are seen,
Speak, and be sure that we again are heard,
    Acting or suffering, have the disk’s serene
Reflect our life, absorb an earthly flame,
    Nor doubt that, were mankind inert and numb,
Its core had never crimsoned all the same,
    Nor, missing ours, its music fallen dumb?
Oh, dread succession to a dizzy post,
    Sad sway of sceptre whose mere touch appals,
Ghastly dethronement, cursed by those the most
    On whose repugnant brow the crown next falls!



Witless alike of will and way divine,
How heaven’s high with earth’s low should intertwine!
Friends, I have seen through your eyes: now use mine!

Take the least man of all mankind, as I;
Look at his head and heart, find how and why
He differs from his fellows utterly:

Then, like me, watch when nature by degrees
Grows alive round him, as in Arctic seas
(They said of old) the instinctive water flees

Toward some elected point of central rock,
As though, for its sake only, roamed the flock
Of waves about the waste: awhile they mock

With radiance caught for the occasion,—hues
Of blackest hell now, now such reds and blues
As only heaven could fitly interfuse,—

The mimic monarch of the whirlpool, king
O’ the current for a minute: then they wring
Up by the roots and oversweep the thing,

And hasten off, to play again elsewhere
The same part, choose another peak as bare,
They find and flatter, feast and finish there.

When you see what I tell you,—nature dance
About each man of us, retire, advance,
As though the pageant’s end were to enhance

His worth, and—once the life, his product, gained—
Roll away elsewhere, keep the strife sustained,
And show thus real, a thing the North but feigned—

When you acknowledge that one world could do
All the diverse work, old yet ever new,
Divide us, each from other, me from you,—

Why, where’s the need of Temple, when the walls
O’ the world are that? What use of swells and falls
From Levites’ choir, Priests’ cries, and trumpet-calls?

That one Face, far from vanish, rather grows,
Or decomposes but to recompose,
Become my universe that feels and knows.

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