Flute-Music, with an Accompaniment

Robert Browning

He.  AH, the bird-like fluting
            Through the ash-tops yonder—
        Bullfinch-bubblings, soft sounds suiting
            What sweet thoughts, I wonder?
        Fine-pearled notes that surely
            Gather, dewdrop-fashion,
        Deep-down in some heart which purely
            Secretes globuled passion—
        Passion insuppressive—
            Such is piped, for certain;
        Love, no doubt, nay, love excessive
            ’Tis your ash-tops curtain.

        Would your ash-tops open
            We might spy the player—
        Seek and find some sense which no pen
            Yet from singer, sayer,
        Ever has extracted:
            Never, to my knowledge,
        Yet has pedantry enacted
            That, in Cupid’s College,
        Just this variation
            Of the old, old yearning
        Should by plain speech have salvation,
            Yield new men new learning.

        “Love!” but what love, nicely
            New from old disparted,
        Would the player teach precisely?
            First of all, be started
        In my brain Assurance—
            Trust—entire Contentment—
        Passion proved by much endurance;
            Then came—not resentment,
        No, but simply Sorrow:
            What was seen had vanished:
        Yesterday so blue! To-morrow
            Blank, all sunshine banished.

        Hark! ’Tis Hope resurges,
            Struggling through obstruction—
        Forces a poor smile which verges
            On joy’s introduction.
        Now, perhaps, mere Musing:
            “Holds earth such a wonder?
        Fairy-mortal, soul-sense-fusing
            Past thought’s power to sunder!”
        What? calm Acquiescence?
            “Daisied turf gives room to
        Trefoil, plucked once in her presence—
            Growing by her tomb too!”

She.  All’s your fancy-spinning!
            Here’s the fact: a neighbor
        Never-ending, still beginning,
            Recreates his labor:
        Deep o’er desk he drudges,
            Adds, divides, subtracts and
        Multiplies, until he judges
            Noonday-hour’s exact sand
        Shows the hour-glass emptied:
            Then comes lawful leisure,
        Minutes rare from toil exempted,
            Fit to spend in pleasure.

        Out then with—what treatise?
            Youth’s Complete Instructor
        How to play the Flute. Quid petis?

            Follow Youth’s conductor
        On and on, through Easy,
            Up to Harder, Hardest
        Flute-piece, till thou, flautist wheezy,
            Possibly discardest
        Tootlings hoarse and husky,
            Mayst expend with courage
        Breath—on tunes once bright, now dusky—
            Meant to cool thy porridge.

        That’s an air of Tulou’s
            He maltreats persistent,
        Till as lief I’d hear some Zulu’s
            Bone-piped bag, breath-distent,
        Madden native dances.
            I’m the man’s familiar:
        Unexpectedness enhances
            What your ear’s auxiliar
        —Fancy—finds suggestive.
            Listen! That’s legato
        Rightly played, his fingers restive
            Touch as if staccato.

He.  Ah, you trick-betrayer!
            Telling tales, unwise one?
        So the secret of the player
            Was—he could surprise one
        Well-nigh into trusting
            Here was a musician
        Skilled consummately, yet lusting
            Through no vile ambition
        After making captive
            All the world,—rewarded
        Amply by one stranger’s rapture.
            Common praise discarded.

        So, without assistance
            Such as music rightly
        Needs and claims,—defying distance,
            Overleaping lightly
        Obstacles which hinder,
            He, for my approval,

        All the same and all the kinder
            Made mine what might move all
        Earth to kneel adoring:
            Took—while he piped Gounod’s
        Bit of passionate imploring—
            Me for Juliet: who knows?

        No! as you explain things,
            All’s mere repetition,
        Practise-pother: of all vain things
            Why waste pooh or pish on
        Toilsome effort—never
            Ending, still beginning
        After what should pay endeavor
            —Right-performance? winning
        Weariness from you who,
            Ready to admire some
        Owl’s fresh hooting—Tu-whit, to-who—
            Find stale thrush-songs tiresome.

She.  Songs, Spring thought perfection,
            Summer criticises:
        What in May escaped detection,
            August, past surprises,
        Notes, and names each blunder.
            You, the just-initiate,
        Praise to heart’s content (what wonder?)
            Tootings I hear vitiate
        Romeo’s serenading—
            I who, times full twenty,
        Turned to ice—no ash-tops aiding—
            At his caldamente.

        So, ’twas distance altered
            Sharps to flats? The missing
        Bar when syncopation faltered
            (You thought—paused for kissing!)
        Ash-tops too felonious
            Intercepted? Rather
        Say—they well-nigh made euphonious
            Discord, helped to gather
        Phrase, by phrase, turn patches
            Into simulated
        Unity which botching matches,—
            Scraps redintegrated.

He.  Sweet, are you suggestive
            Of an old suspicion
        Which has always found me restive
            To its admonition
        When it ventured whisper
            “Fool, the strifes and struggles
        Of your trembler—blusher—lisper
            Were so many juggles,
        Tricks tried—oh, so often!—
            Which once more do duty,
        Find again a heart to soften,
            Soul to snare with beauty.”

        Birth-blush of the briar-rose,
            Mist-bloom of the hedge-sloe,
        Some one gainst the prize: admire rose
            Would he, when noon’s wedge—slow—
        Sure, has pushed, expanded
            Rathe pink to raw redness?
        Would he covet sloe when sanded
            By road-dust to deadness?
        So—restore their value!
            Ply a water-sprinkle
        Then guess sloe is fingered, shall you?
            Find in rose a wrinkle?

        Here what played Aquarius?
            Distance—ash-tops aiding,
        Reconciled scraps else contrarious,
            Brightened stuff fast fading.
        Distance—call your shyness:
            Was the fair one peevish?
        Coyness softened out of slyness.
            Was she cunning, thievish,
        All-but proved impostor?
            Bear but one day’s exile,
        Ugly traits were wholly lost or
            Screened by fancies flexile—

        Ash-tops these, you take me?
            Fancies’ interference
        Changed . . . 
                    But since I sleep, don’t wake me!
            What if all’s appearance?
        Is not outside seeming
            Real as substance inside?
        Both are facts, so leave me dreaming:
            If who loses wins I’d
        Ever lose,—conjecture,
            From one phrase trilled deftly,
        All the piece. So, end your lecture,
            Let who lied be left lie!

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