Page images
PDF
EPUB

Depending nestled in the leaves—and just
From a cleft rose-peach the whole Dryad sprung!
But of the stut's one can be master of,
How I divined their capabilities
From the soft-rinded smoothening facile chalk
That yields your outline to the air's embrace,
Down to the crisp imperious steel, so sure
To cut its one confided thought clean out
Of all the world: but marble !—'neath my tools
More pliable than jelly—as it were
Some clear primordial creature dug from deep
In the Earth's heart where itself breeds itself
And whence all baser substance may be worked;
Refine it off to air you may-condense it
Down to the diamond;-is not metal there
When o'er the sudden specks my chisel trips ?
-Not flesh-as flake off flake I scale, approach,
Lay bare these bluish veins of blood asleep?
Lurks flame in no strange windings where surprised
By the swift implements sent home at once,
Flushes and glowings radiate and hover
About its track ?-

The girl, thus addressed, feels the wings budding within her, that shall upbear her from the birth-place of pollution in whose mud her young feet have been imprisoned. Still, her first words reveal to the proud, passionate, confiding genius the horrible de. ception that has been practised on him. After his first anguish, one of Pippa's songs steals in to awaken consoling thoughts. He feels that only because his heart was capable of noble trust could it be so deceived ; feels too that the beauty which had enchanted him could not be a mere mask, but yet might be vivified by a soul worthy of it, and finds the way to soar above his own pride and tne opinions of an often purblind world.

Another song, with which Pippa passes, contains, in its first stanza, this grand picture :

[ocr errors]

A king lived long ago,

In the morning of the world,
When Earth was nigher Heaven than now:

And the King's locks curled
Disparting o'er a forehead full

As the milk-white space 'twixt horn and horn
Of some sacrificial bull.
Only calm as a babe new-born;

For he has got to a sleepy mood,

So safe from all decrepitude.
Age with its bane so sure gone by,

(The gods so loved him while he dreamed)

That, having lived thus long there seemed
No need the King should ever die.
Luigi—No need that sort of King should ever die.

Among the rocks his city was;

Before his palace, in the sun,
He sat to see his people pass,

And judge them every one,
From its threshold of smooth stone.

This picture is as good as the Greeks. Next came a set of Dramatic Lyrics, all more or less good, from which we select

ITALY.

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive; I call
That piece a wonder, now; Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of that earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my Lady's wrist too much,” or “Paint
“Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat;” such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart-how shall I say—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went every where.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the forward speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men-good; but thanked
Some how-I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine hundred years old name
With any body's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech-(which I have not)--could make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
“Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-E'en then would be some stooping, and I chuse
Never to stoop. Oh, Sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. Ther? she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

CRISTINA. To this volume succeeded “King Victor and King Charles,' “The Return of the Druses,” “ A Blot in the 'Scutcheon,” and “Colombe's Birthday."

The first we do not so much admire, but the other three have all the same originality of conception, delicate penetration into the mysteries of human feeling, atmospheric individuality, and skill in picturesque detail. All four exhibit very high and pure ideas of Woman, and a knowledge very rare in man of the ways in which what is peculiar in her office and nature works. Her loftiest elevation does not, in his eyes, lift her out of nature. She becomes not a mere saint, but the goddess-queen of nature. Her purity is not cold like marble, but the healthy, gentle energy of the flower, instinctively rejecting what is not fit for it, with no need of disdain to dig a gulf between it and the lower forms of creation. Her office to man is that of the Muse, inspiring him to all good thoughts and deeds. The passions that sometimes agitate these maidens of his verse, are the surprises of noble hearts, unprepared for evil, and even their mistakes cannot cost bitter tears to their attendant angels.

The girl in the “ Return of the Druses” is the sort of nature Byron tried to paint in Myrrha. But Byron could only paint women as they were to him. Browning can show what they are in themselves.

In “ A Blot in the 'Scutcheon” we see a lily, storm-struck, half broken, but still a lily. In “Colombe's Birthday” a queenly rosebud, which expands into the full glowing rose before our eyes. This is marvelous in this drama, how the characters are unfolded before us by the crisis, which not only exhibits, but calls to life, the higher passions and thoughts which were latent within them.

We bless the poet for these pictures of women, which, however the common tone of society, by the grossness and levity of the remarks bandied from tongue to tongue, would seem to say the contrary, declare there is still in the breasts of men a capacity for pure and exalting passion,—for immortal tenderness.

But we must hasten to conclude with some extracts from another number of “ Dramatic Lyrics” lately received. These seem to show that Browning is attaining a more masterly clearness in expression, without seeking to popularize, or omitting to heed the faintest whisper of his genius. He gains without losing as he advances—a rare happiness.

In the former number was a poem called “ The Cloister,” and in this are two, “ The Confessional" and the “ Tomb at St. Prax. ed's," which are the keenest yet a wisely true satire on the forms that hypocrisy puts on in the Romish church. This hateful weed grows rank in all cultivated gardens, but it seems to hide itself, with great care and adroitness, beneath the unnumbered forms and purple gauds of that elaborate system. Accordingly, the hypocrites do not seem so bad, individually, as in other churches, and the satire is continually softening into humour in the “ Tomb of St. Praxed's,” with its terrible naturalness as to a life-long deception. Tennyson has described the higher kind with a force that will not be surpassed in his Simeon Stylites, but in this piece of Browning's, we find the Flemish school of the same vice.

The "Flight of the Duchess,” in its entrancing revelations of the human heart, is a boon to think of. We were, however, obliged to forbear further extracts, with the exception of two from the “ Garden Fancies." We regret that these poems, with several others which have been circulated in “ The Tribune,” could not find room in the present volume.

« PreviousContinue »