Men and Women


A Poem In Twelve Books

Robert Browning

STOP playing, poet! may a brother speak?
’Tis you speak, that’s your error. Song’s our art:
Whereas you please to speak these naked thoughts
Instead of draping them in sighs and sounds.
—True thoughts, good thoughts, thoughts fit to treasure up!
But why such long prolusion and display,
Such turning and adjustment of the harp,
And taking it upon your breast at length,
Only to speak dry words across its strings?
Stark-naked thought is in request enough—
Speak prose and holloa it till Europe hears!
The six-foot Swiss tube, braced about with bark,
Which helps the hunter’s voice from Alp to Alp—
Exchange our harp for that,—who hinders you?

    But here’s your fault; grown men want thought, you think;
Thought’s what they mean by verse, and seek in verse:
Boys seek for images and melody,
Men must have reason—so you aim at men.
Quite otherwise! Objects throng our youth, ’tis true,
We see and hear and do not wonder much.
If you could tell us what they mean, indeed!
As Swedish Bœhme never cared for plants
Until it happed, a-walking in the fields,
He noticed all at once that plants could speak,
Nay, turned with loosened tongue to talk with him.
That day the daisy had an eye indeed—
Colloquised with the cowslip on such themes!
We find them extant yet in Jacob’s prose.
But by the time youth slips a stage or two
While reading prose in that tough book he wrote,
(Collating, and emendating the same
And settling on the sense most of our mind)
We shut the clasps and find life’s summer past.
Then, who helps more, pray, to repair our loss—
Another Bœhme with a tougher book
And subtler meanings of what roses say,—
Or some stout Mage like him of Halderstadt,
John, who made things Bœhme wrote thoughts about?
He with a “look you!” vents a brace of rhymes,
And in there breaks the sudden rose herself,
Over us, under, round us every side,
Nay, in and out the tables and the chairs
And musty volumes, Bœhme’s book and all,—
Buries us with a glory, young once more,
Pouring heaven into this shut house of life.

    So come, the harp back to your heart again!
You are a poem, though your poem’s naught.
The best of all you did before, believe,
Was your own boy’s-face o’er the finer chords
Bent, following the cherub at the top
That points to God with his paired half-moon wings.

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