Poem By Robert Browning.

Form: 34 six-line stanzas.
Meter: iambic pentameter.
Rhyme scheme: abbaab.

001  My first thought was, he lied in every word,
002  That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
003  Askance to watch the working of his lie
004  On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
005  Suppression of the glee that pursed and scored
006  Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.

007  What else should he be set for, with his staff?
008  What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
009  All travellers who might find him posted there,
010  And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
011  Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
012  For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,

013  If at his counsel I should turn aside
014  Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
015  Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
016  I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
017  Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
018  So much as gladness that some end might be.

019  For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
020  What with my search drawn out thro' years, my hope
021  Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
022  With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
023  I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
024  My heart made, finding failure in its scope.

025  As when a sick man very near to death
026  Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
027  The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
028  And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
029  Freelier outside ("since all is o'er," he saith,
030  "And the blow fallen no grieving can amend";)

031  While some discuss if near the other graves
032  Be room enough for this, and when a day
033  Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
034  With care about the banners, scarves and staves:
035  And still the man hears all, and only craves
036  He may not shame such tender love and stay.

037  Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
038  Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
039  So many times among "The Band"--to wit,
040  The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed
041  Their steps--that just to fail as they, seemed best,
042  And all the doubt was now--should I be fit?

043  So, quiet as despair, I turned from him,
044  That hateful cripple, out of his highway
045  Into the path he pointed. All the day
046  Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
047  Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
048  Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.

049  For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
050  Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
051  Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
052  O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; grey plain all round:
053  Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
054  I might go on; nought else remained to do.

055  So, on I went. I think I never saw
056  Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
057  For flowers--as well expect a cedar grove!
058  But cockle, spurge, according to their law
059  Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
060  You'd think; a burr had been a treasure-trove.

061  No! penury, inertness and grimace,
062  In some strange sort, were the land's portion. "See
063  Or shut your eyes," said Nature peevishly,
064  "It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
065  'Tis the Last Judgment's fire must cure this place,
066  Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free."

067  If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
068  Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
069  Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
070  In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
071  All hope of greenness? 'tis a brute must walk
072  Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.

073  As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
074  In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
075  Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
076  One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
077  Stood stupefied, however he came there:
078  Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!

079  Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
080  With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
081  And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
082  Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
083  I never saw a brute I hated so;
084  He must be wicked to deserve such pain.

085  I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
086  As a man calls for wine before he fights,
087  I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
088  Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
089  Think first, fight afterwards--the soldier's art:
090  One taste of the old time sets all to rights.

091  Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face
092  Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
093  Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
094  An arm in mine to fix me to the place
095  That way he used. Alas, one night's disgrace!
096  Out went my heart's new fire and left it cold.

097  Giles then, the soul of honour--there he stands
098  Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
099  What honest men should dare (he said) he durst.
100  Good--but the scene shifts--faugh! what hangman hands
101  In to his breast a parchment? His own bands
102  Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!

103  Better this present than a past like that;
104  Back therefore to my darkening path again!
105  No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
106  Will the night send a howlet or a bat?
107  I asked: when something on the dismal flat
108  Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.

109  A sudden little river crossed my path
110  As unexpected as a serpent comes.
111  No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
112  This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
113  For the fiend's glowing hoof--to see the wrath
114  Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.

115  So petty yet so spiteful! All along
116  Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it;
117  Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
118  Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
119  The river which had done them all the wrong,
120  Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit.

121  Which, while I forded,--good saints, how I feared
122  To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
123  Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
124  For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
125  --It may have been a water-rat I speared,
126  But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek.

127  Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
128  Now for a better country. Vain presage!
129  Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,
130  Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
131  Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank,
132  Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage--

133  The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque.
134  What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
135  No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
136  None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
137  Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
138  Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.

139  And more than that--a furlong on--why, there!
140  What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
141  Or brake, not wheel--that harrow fit to reel
142  Men's bodies out like silk? with all the air
143  Of Tophet's tool, on earth left unaware,
144  Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.

145  Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
146  Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
147  Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
148  Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
149  Changes and off he goes!) within a rood--
150  Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.

151  Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
152  Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
153  Broke into moss or substances like boils;
154  Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
155  Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
156  Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.

157  And just as far as ever from the end!
158  Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
159  To point my footstep further! At the thought,
160  A great black bird, Apollyon's bosom-friend,
161  Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned
162  That brushed my cap--perchance the guide I sought.

163  For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
164  'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
165  All round to mountains--with such name to grace
166  Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
167  How thus they had surprised me,--solve it, you!
168  How to get from them was no clearer case.

169  Yet half I seemed to recognise some trick
170  Of mischief happened to me, God knows when--
171  In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then,
172  Progress this way. When, in the very nick
173  Of giving up, one time more, came a click
174  As when a trap shuts--you're inside the den!

175  Burningly it came on me all at once,
176  This was the place! those two hills on the right,
177  Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
178  While to the left, a tall scalped mountain . . . Dunce,
179  Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
180  After a life spent training for the sight!

181  What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
182  The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart
183  Built of brown stone, without a counterpart
184  In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
185  Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
186  He strikes on, only when the timbers start.

187  Not see? because of night perhaps?--why, day
188  Came back again for that! before it left,
189  The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
190  The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay
191  Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,--
192  "Now stab and end the creature--to the heft!"

193  Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
194  Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
195  Of all the lost adventurers my peers,--
196  How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
197  And such was fortunate, yet each of old
198  Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.

199  There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
200  To view the last of me, a living frame
201  For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
202  I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
203  Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
204  And blew. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."

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