by Robert Browning, 1844
Vanity, saith the preacher, vanity
Draw round my bed: is Anselm
-- sons mine . . . ah God, I know not
! Well --
She, men would have to be your mother once,
Old Gandolf envied me, so fair she was
What's done is done, and she is dead beside
Dead long ago, and I am Bishop
And as she died so must we die ourselves,
And thence ye may perceive the world's a dream
Life, how and what is it? As here I lie
In this state-chamber
, dying by degrees
Hours and long hours
in the dead night, I ask
"Do I live, am I dead?" Peace, peace seems all
's ever was the church for peace;
And so, about this tomb
of mine. I fought
With tooth and nail
to save my niche
, ye know:
-- Old Gandolf cozen
ed me, despite my care;
Shrewd was that snatch from out the corner South
He graced his carrion
with, God curse the same!
Yet still my niche
is not so cramped but thence
One sees the pulpit
o' the epistle
And somewhat of the choir
, those silent seats,
And up into the aery dome where live
The angels, and a sunbeam's sure to lurk:
And I shall fill my slab of basalt
And 'neath my tabernacle
take my rest,
With those nine columns round me, two and two,
The odd one at my feet where Anselm
all, the rare, the ripe
As fresh-poured red wine of a mighty pulse.
-- Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone
Put me where I may look at him! True peach,
Rosy and flawless: how I earned the prize!
Draw close: that conflagration
of my church
-- What then? So much was saved if aught were missed!
My sons, ye would not be my death? Go dig
The white-grape vineyard
where the oil-press
Drop water gently till the surface sink,
And if ye find . . . Ah God, I know not, I! ...
Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves
And corded up in a tight olive-frail,
Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli
Big as a Jew's head cut off at the nape
Blue as a vein o'er the Madonna
's breast ...
Sons, all have I bequeathed you, villa
That brave Frascati villa
with its bath,
So, let the blue lump poise between my knees,
Like God the Father's globe on both His hands
Ye worship in the Jesu Church
For Gandolf shall not choose but see and burst!
Swift as a weaver's shuttle
fleet our years:
Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?
Did I say basalt
for my slab, sons? Black --
'Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else
Shall ye contrast my frieze
to come beneath?
The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me,
s and Nymph
s ye wot
of, and perchance
, with a vase or so,
at his sermon on the mount
in a glory, and one Pan
Ready to twitch the Nymph
's last garment off,
with the tables
. . . but I know
me not! What do they whisper thee,
Child of my bowels, Anselm
? Ah, ye hope
To revel down my villas while I gasp
Bricked o'er with beggar's mould
Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!
Nay, boys, ye love me -- all of jasper
ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve.
My bath must needs be left behind, alas!
One block, pure green as a pistachio
There's plenty jasper
somewhere in the world --
And have I not Saint Praxed
's ear to pray
Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscript
And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?
-- That's if ye carve my epitaph
, picked phrase, Tully
's every word,
No gaudy ware like Gandolf's second line --
, my masters? Ulpian
serves his need!
And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass
And see God made and eaten
all day long,
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
Good strong thick stupefying incense
For as I lie here, hours of the dead night,
Dying in state and by such slow degrees,
I fold my arms as if they clasped a crook,
And stretch my feet forth straight as stone can point,
And let the bedclothes, for a mortcloth
Into great laps and folds of sculptor's-work:
And as yon taper
s dwindle, and strange thoughts
Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,
About the life before I lived this life,
And this life too, pope
at his sermon on the mount
Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes,
And new-found agate urn
s as fresh as day,
And marble's language, Latin
-- Aha, ELUCESCEBAT
quoth our friend?
, said I, Ulpian
at the best!
Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage
, all, sons! Else I give the Pope
s! Will ye ever eat my heart?
Ever your eyes were as a lizard's quick
They glitter like your mother's for my soul,
Or ye would heighten my impoverished frieze
Piece out its starved design, and fill my vase
With grapes, and add a vizor
and a Term
And to the tripod
ye would tie a lynx
That in his struggle throws the thyrsus
To comfort me on my entablature
Whereon I am to lie till I must ask
"Do I live, am I dead?" There, leave me, there!
For ye have stabbed me with ingratitude
To death -- ye wish it -- God, ye wish it! Stone --
, a-crumble! Clammy squares which sweat
As if the corpse they keep were oozing through --
And no more lapis
to delight the world!
Well, go! I bless ye. Fewer taper
But in a row: and, going, turn your backs
-- Ay, like departing altar-ministrant
And leave me in my church, the church for peace,
That I may watch at leisure if he leer
Old Gandolf, at me, from his onion-stone
As still he envied me, so fair she was!
ly celibate clergy
of the time, "nephew
" was a polite term for "son".
We are informed that the Epistles
are read from the right-hand side of the altar
, as seen from the nave
(or the bleachers, if you're not in a cathedral