greek text

Robert Browning

“THE POETS pour us wine—”
    Said the dearest poet I ever knew,
Dearest and greatest and best to me.
You clamor athirst for poetry—
We pour. “But when shall a vintage be”—
    You cry—“strong grape, squeezed gold from screw.
Yet sweet juice, flavored flowery-fine?
        That were indeed the wine!”

One pours your cup—stark strength,
    Meat for a man; and you eye the pulp
Strained, turbid still, from the viscous blood
Of the snaky bough: and you grumble “Good!
For it swells resolve, breeds hardihood;
    Dispatch it, then, in a single gulp!”
So, down, with a wry face, goes at length
        The liquor: stuff for strength.

One pours your cup—sheer sweet,
    The fragrant fumes of a year condensed:
Suspicion of all that’s ripe or rathe,
From the bud on branch to the grass in swathe.
“We suck mere milk of the seasons,” saith
    A curl of each nostril—“dew, dispensed
Nowise for nerving man to feat:
        Boys sip such honeyed sweet!”

And thus who wants wine strong,
    Waves each sweet smell of the year away;
Who likes to swoon as the sweets suffuse
His brain with a mixture of beams and dews
Turned syrupy drink—rough strength eschews:
    “What though in our veins your wine-stock stay?
The lack of the bloom does our palate wrong.
        Give us wine sweet, not strong!”

Yet wine is—some affirm—
    Prime wine is found in the world somewhere,
Of portable strength with sweet to match.
You double your heart its dose, yet catch—
As the draught descends—a violet-swatch,
    Softness—however it came there,
Through drops expressed by the fire and worm:
        Strong sweet wine—some affirm.

Body and bouquet both?
    ’Tis easy to ticket a bottle so;
But what was the case in the cask, my friends?
Cask? Nay, the vat—where the maker mends
His strong with his sweet (you suppose) and blends
    His rough with his smooth, till none can know
How it comes you may tipple, nothing loth,
        Body and bouquet both.

“You” being just—the world.
    No poets—who turn, themselves, the winch
Of the press; no critics—I’ll even say,
(Being flustered and easy of faith, to-day,)
Who for love of the work have learned the way
    Till themselves produce home-made, at a pinch:
No! You are the world, and wine ne’er purled
        Except to please the world!

“For, oh the common heart!
    And, ah the irremissible sin
Of poets who please themselves, not us!
Strong wine yet sweet wine pouring thus,
How please still—Pindar and Æschylus!—
    Drink—dipt into by the bearded chin
Alike and the bloomy lip—no part
        Denied the common heart!

“And might we get such grace,
    And did you moderns but stock our vault
With the true half-brandy half-attar-gul,
How would seniors indulge at a hearty pull
While juniors tossed off their thimbleful!
    Our Shakespeare and Milton escaped your fault,
So they reign supreme o’er the weaker race
        That wants the ancient grace!”

If I paid myself with words
    (As the French say well) I were dupe indeed!
I were found in belief that you quaffed and bowsed
At your Shakespeare the whole day long, caroused
In your Milton pottle-deep nor drowsed
    A moment of night—toped on, took heed
Of nothing like modern cream-and-curds.
        Pay me with deeds, not words!

For—see your cellarage!
    There are forty barrels with Shakespeare’s brand.
Some five or six are abroach: the rest
Stand spigoted, fauceted. Try and test
What yourselves call best of the very best!
    How comes it that still untouched they stand?
Why don’t you try tap, advance a stage
        With the rest in cellarage?

For—see your cellarage!
    There are four big butts of Milton’s brew.
How comes it you make old drips and drops
Do duty, and there devotion stops?
Leave such an abyss of malt and hops
    Embellied in butts which bungs still glue?
You hate your bard! A fig for your rage!
        Free him from cellarage!

‘Tis said I brew stiff drink,
    But the deuce a flavor of grape is there.
Hardly a May-go-down, ’tis just
A sort of a gruff Go-down-it-must—
No Merry-go-down, no gracious gust
    Commingles the racy with Springtide’s rare!
“What wonder,” say you “that we cough, and blink
        At Autumn’s heady drink?”

Is it a fancy, friends?
    Mighty and mellow are never mixed
Though mighty and mellow be born at once.
Sweet for the future,—strong for the nonce!
Stuff you should stow away, ensconce
    In the deep and dark, to be found fast-fixed
At the century’s close: such time strength spends
        A-sweetening for my friends!

And then—why, what you quaff
    With a smack of lip and a cluck of tongue,
Is leakage and leavings—just what haps
From the tun some learned taster taps
With a promise “Prepare your watery chaps!
    Here’s properest wine for old and young!
Dispute its perfection—you make us laugh!
        Have faith, give thanks, but—quaff!”

Leakage, I say, or—worse—
    Leavings suffice pot-valiant souls.
Somebody, brimful, long ago,
Frothed flagon he drained to the dregs; and, lo,
Down whisker and beard what an overflow!
    Lick spilth that has trickled from classic , jowls,
Sup the single scene, sip the only verse—
        Old wine, not new and worse!

I grant you: worse by much!
    Renounce that new where you never gained
One glow at heart, one gleam at head,
And stick to the warrant of age instead!
No dwarf’s-lap! Fatten, by giants fed!
    You fatten, with oceans of drink undrained?
You feed—who would choke did a cobweb smutch
        The Age you love so much?

A mine’s beneath a moor:
    Acres of moor roof fathoms of mine
Which diamonds dot where you please to dig;
Yet who plies spade for the bright and big?
Your product is—truffles, you hunt with a pig!
    Since bright-and-big, when a man would dine,
Suits badly: and therefore the Koh-i-noor
        May sleep in mine ’neath moor!

Wine, pulse in might from me!
    It may never emerge in must from vat,
Never fill cask nor furnish can,
Never end sweet, which strong began—
God’s gift to gladden the heart of man;
    But spirit’s at proof, I promise that!
No sparing of juice spoils what should be
        Fit brewage—mine for me.

Man’s thoughts and loves and hates!
    Earth is my vineyard, these grew there:
From grape of the ground, I made or marred
My vintage; easy the task or hard,
Who set it—his praise be my reward!
    Earth’s yield! Who yearn for the Dark Blue Sea’s,
Let them “lay, pray, bray”—the addle-pates!
        Mine be Man’s thoughts, loves, hates!

But some one says, “Good Sir!”
    (’Tis a worthy versed in what concerns
The making such labor turn out well,)
“You don’t suppose that the nosegay-smell
Needs always come from the grape? Each bell
    At your foot, each bud that your culture spurns,
The very cowslip would act like myrrh
        On the stiffest brew—good Sir!

“Cowslips, abundant birth
    O’er meadow and hillside, vineyard too,
—Like a schoolboy’s scrawlings in and out
Distasteful lesson-book—all about
Greece and Rome, victory and rout—
    Love-verses instead of such vain ado!
So, fancies frolic it o’er the earth
        Where thoughts have rightlier birth.

“Nay, thoughtlings they themselves:
    Loves, hates—in little and less and least!
Thoughts? ‘What is a man beside a mount!
Loves? ‘Absent—poor lovers the minutes count!
Hates? ‘Fie—Pope’s letters to Martha Blount!
    These furnish a wine for a children’s-feast:
Insipid to man, they suit the elves
        Like thoughts, loves, hates themselves.”

And, friends, beyond dispute
    I too have the cowslips dewy and dear.
Punctual as Springtide forth peep they:
I leave them to make my meadow gay.
But I ought to pluck and impound them, eh?
    Not let them alone, but deftly shear
And shred and reduce to—what may suit
        Children, beyond dispute?

And, here’s May-month, all bloom,
    All bounty: what if I sacrifice?
If I out with shears and shear, nor stop
Shearing till prostrate, lo, the crop?
And will you prefer it to ginger-pop
    When I’ve made you wine of the memories
Which leave as bare as a churchyard tomb
        My meadow, late all bloom?

Nay, what ingratitude
    Should I hesitate to amuse the wits
That have pulled so long at my flask, nor grudged
The headache that paid their pains, nor budged
From bunghole before they sighed and judged
    “Too rough for our taste, to-day, befits
The racy and right when the years conclude!”
        Out on ingratitude!

Grateful or ingrate—none,
    No cowslip of all my fairy crew
Shall help to concoct what makes you wink,
And goes to your head till you think you think!
I like them alive: the printer’s ink
    Would sensibly tell on the perfume too.
I may use up my nettles, ere I’ve done;
        But of cowslips—friends get none!

Don’t nettles make a broth
    Wholesome for blood grown lazy and thick?
Maws out of sorts make mouths out of taste.
My Thirty-four Port—no need to waste
On a tongue that’s fur and a palate—paste!
    A magnum for friends who are sound! the sick—
I’ll posset and cosset them, nothing loth,
        Henceforward with nettle-broth!

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