Men and Women


Robert Browning

ALL I believed is true!
        I am able yet
        All I want, to get
By a method as strange as new:
Dare I trust the same to you?

If at night, when doors are shut,
        And the wood-worm picks,
        And the death-watch ticks,
And the bar has a flag of smut,
And a cat’s in the water-butt—

And the socket floats and flares,
        And the house-beams groan,
        And a foot unknown
Is surmised on the garret-stairs,
And the locks slip unawares—

And the spider, to serve his ends,
        By a sudden thread,
        Arms and legs outspread,
On the table’s midst descends,
Comes to find, God knows what friends!—

If since eve drew in, I say,
        I have sat and brought
        (So to speak) my thought
To bear on the woman away,
Till I felt my hair turn grey—

Till I seemed to have and hold,
        In the vacancy
        ’Twixt the wall and me,
From the hair-plait’s chestnut gold
To the foot in its muslin fold—

Have and hold, then and there,
        Her, from head to foot,
        Breathing and mute,
Passive and yet aware,
In the grasp of my steady stare—

Hold and have, there and then,
        All her body and soul
        That completes my Whole,
All that women add to men,
In the clutch of my steady ken—

Having and holding, till
        I imprint her fast
        On the void at last
As the sun does whom he will
By the calotypist’s skill—

Then,—if my heart’s strength serve,
        And through all and each
        Of the veils I reach
To her soul and never swerve,
Knitting an iron nerve—

Command her soul to advance
        And inform the shape
        Which has made escape
And before my countenance
Answers me glance for glance—

I, still with a gesture fit
        Of my hands that best
        Do my soul’s behest,
Pointing the power from it,
While myself do steadfast sit—

Steadfast and still the same
        On my object bent,
        While the hands give vent
To my ardour and my aim
And break into very flame—

Then I reach, I must believe,
        Not her soul in vain,
        For to me again
It reaches, and past retrieve
Is wound in the toils I weave—

And must follow as I require,
        As befits a thrall,
        Bringing flesh and all,
Essence and earth-attire,
To the source of the tractile fire—

Till the house called hers, not mine,
        With a growing weight
        Seems to suffocate
If she break not its leaden line
And escape from its close confine—

Out of doors into the night!
        On to the maze
        Of the wild wood-ways,
Not turning to left nor right
From the pathway, blind with sight—

Making thro’ rain and wind
        O’er the broken shrubs,
        ’Twixt the stems and stubs,
With a still, composed, strong mind,
Nor a care for the world behind—

Swifter and still more swift,
        As the crowding peace
        Doth to joy increase
In the wide blind eyes uplift
Thro’ the darkness and the drift!

While I—to the shape, I too
        Feel my soul dilate
        Nor a whit abate,
And relax not a gesture due,
As I see my belief come true—

For, there! have I drawn or no
        Life to that lip?
        Do my fingers dip
In a flame which again they throw
On the cheek that breaks a-glow?

Ha! was the hair so first?
        What, unfilleted,
        Made alive, and spread
Through the void with a rich outburst,
Chestnut gold-interspersed!

Like the doors of a casket-shrine,
        See, on either side,
        Her two arms divide
Till the heart betwixt makes sign,
Take me, for I am thine!

Now—now—the door is heard!
        Hark, the stairs! and near—
        Nearer—and here—
Now! and at call the third
She enters without a word.

On doth she march and on
        To the fancied shape—
        It is, past escape,
Herself, now—the dream is done
And the shadow and she are one.

First I will pray. Do Thou
        That ownest the soul,
        Yet wilt grant control
To another, nor disallow
For a time, restrain me now!

I admonish me while I may,
        Not to squander guilt,
        Since require Thou wilt
At my hand its price one day
What the price is, who can say?

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