Fears and Scruples

Robert Browning

HERE’S my case. Of old I used to love him,
    This same unseen friend, before I knew:
Dream there was none like him, none above him,—
    Wake to hope and trust my dream was true.

Loved I not his letters full of beauty?
    Not his actions famous far and wide?
Absent, he would know I vowed him duty;
    Present, he would find me at his side.

Pleasant fancy! for I had but letters,
    Only knew of actions by hearsay:
He himself was busied with my betters;
    What of that? My turn must come some day.

“Some day” proving—no day! Here’s the puzzle.
    Passed and passed my turn is. Why complain?
He’s so busied! If I could but muzzle
    People’s foolish mouths that give me pain!

“Letters?” (hear them!) “You a judge of writing?
    Ask the experts! How they shake the head
O’er these characters, your friend’s inditing—
    Call them forgery from A to Z!

“Actions? Where’s your certain proof” (they bother)
    “He, of all you find so great and good,
He, he only, claims this, that, the other
    Action—claimed by men, a multitude?”

I can simply wish I might refute you,
    Wish my friend would,—by a word, a wink,—
Bid me stop that foolish mouth,—you brute you!
    He keeps absent,—why, I cannot think.

Never mind! Though foolishness may flout me,
    One thing’s sure enough: ’tis neither frost,
No, nor fire, shall freeze or burn from out me
    Thanks for truth—though falsehood, gained—though lost.

All my days, I’ll go the softlier, sadlier,
    For that dream’s sake! How forget the thrill
Through and through me as I thought “The gladlier
    Lives my friend because I love him still!”

Ah, but there’s a menace some one utters!
    “What and if your friend at home play tricks
Peep at hide-and-seek behind the shutters?
    Mean your eyes should pierce through solid bricks?

“What and if he, frowning, wake you, dreamy?
    Lay on you the blame that bricks—conceal?
Say ‘At least I saw who did not see me,
    Does see now, and presently shall feel’?

“Why, that makes your friend a monster!” say you:
    “Had his house no window? At first nod,
Would you not have hailed him?” Hush, I pray you!
    What if this friend happened to be—God?

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