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Time's Revenges

I've a Friend, over the sea;
I like him, but he loves me.
It all grew out of the books I write;
They find such favour in his sight
That he slaughters you with savage looks
Because you don't admire my books.
He does himself though,--and if some vein
Were to snap tonight in this heavy brain,
To-morrow month, if I lived to try,
Round should I just turn quietly, 10
Or out of the bedclothes stretch my hand
Till I found him, come from his foreign land
To be my nurse in this poor place,
And make my broth and wash my face
And light my fire and, all the while,
Bear with his old good-humoured smile
That I told him "Better have kept away
Than come and kill me, night and day,
With, worse than fever throbs and shoots,
The creaking of his clumsy boots." 20
I am as sure that this he would do,
As that Saint Paul's is striking two.
And I think I rather . . . woe is me!
--Yes, rather would see him than not see,
If lifting a hand could seat him there
Before me in the empty chair
To-night, when my head aches indeed,
And I can neither think nor read
Nor make these purple fingers hold
The pen; this garret's freezing cold! 30

And I've a Lady--there he wakes,
The laughing fiend and prince of snakes
Within me, at her name, to pray
Fate send some creature in the way
Of my love for her, to be down-torn,
Upthrust and outward-borne,
So I might prove myself that sea
Of passion which I needs must be!
Call my thoughts false and my fancies quaint
And my style infirm and its figures faint, 40
All the critics say, and more blame yet,
And not one angry word you get.
But, please you, wonder I would put
My cheek beneath that lady's foot
Rather than trample under mine
That laurels of the Florentine,
And you shall see how the devil spends
A fire God gave for other ends!
I tell you, I stride up and down
This garret, crowned with love's best crown, 50
And feasted with love's perfect feast,
To think I kill for her, at least,
Body and soul and peace and fame,
Alike youth's end and manhood's aim,
--So is my spirit, as flesh with sin,
Filled full, eaten out and in
With the face of her, the eyes of her,
The lips, the little chin, the stir
Of shadow round her mouth; and she
--I'll tell you,--calmly would decree 60
That I should roast at a slow fire,

If that would compass her desire
And make her one whom they invite
To the famous ball to-morrow night.

There may be heaven; there must be hell;
Meantime, there is our earth here--well!


NOTES:

"Time's Revenges." An author soliloquizes in his garret
over the fact that he possesses a friend who loves him and
would do anything in his power to serve him, but for
whom he cares almost nothing. At the same time he
himself loves a woman to such distraction that he counts
himself crowned with love's best crown while sacrificing
his soul, his body, his peace, and his fame in brooding on
his love, while she could calmly decree that he should
roast at a slow fire if it would compass her frivolously
ambitious designs. Thus his indifference to his friend is
avenged by the indifference the lady shows toward him.

46. The Florentine: Dante. Used here, seemingly, as
a symbol of the highest attainments in poesy, his (the
speaker's) reverence for which is so great that he would
rather put his cheek under his lady's foot than that poetry
should suffer any indignity at his hands; yet in spite of
all the possibilities open to him through his enthusiasm for
poetry, he prefers wasting his entire energies upon one
unworthy of him.