Bad Dreams


Robert Browning

IT happened thus: my slab, though new,
    Was getting weather-stained,—beside,
Herbage, balm, peppermint, o’ergrew
    Letter and letter: till you tried
Somewhat, the Name was scarce descried.

That strong stern man my lover came:
    —Was he my lover? Call him, pray,
My life’s cold critic bent on blame
    Of all poor I could do or say
To make me worth his love one day—

One far day when, by diligent
    And dutiful amending faults,
Foibles, all weaknesses which went
    To challenge and excuse assaults
Of culture wronged by taste that halts—

Discrepancies should mar no plan
    Symmetric of the qualities
Claiming respect from—say—a man
    That’s strong and stem. “Once more he pries
Into me with those critic eyes!”

No question! so—“Conclude, condemn
    Each failure my poor self avows!
Leave to its fate all you contemn!
    There’s Solomon’s selected spouse:
Earth needs must hold such maids—choose them!”

Why, he was weeping! Surely gone
    Sternness and strength: with eyes to ground
And voice a broken monotone—
    “Only be as you were! Abound
In foibles, faults,—laugh, robed and crowned

“As Folly’s veriest queen,—care I
    One feather-fluff? Look pity, Love,
On prostrate me—your foot shall try
    This forehead’s use—mount thence above,
And reach what Heaven you dignify!”

Now, what could bring such change about?
    The thought perplexed: till, following
His gaze upon the ground,—why, out
    Came all the secret! So, a thing
Thus simple has deposed my king!

For, spite of weeds that strove to spoil
    Plain reading on the lettered slab,
My name was clear enough—no soil
    Effaced the date when one chance stab
Of scorn . . . if only ghosts might blab!

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