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One Word More-To E.B.B. with notes

1855

[Originally appended to the collection of Poems called "Men and
Women," the greater portion of which has now been, more correctly,
distributed under the other titles of this edition.-R. B.]


I
There they are, my fifty men and women
Naming me the fifty poems finished!
Take them, Love, the book and me together:
Where the heart lies, let the brain lie also.

II
Rafael made a century of sonnets,
Made and wrote them in a certain volume
Dinted with the silver-pointed pencil
Else he only used to draw Madonnas:
These, the world might view--but one, the volume.
Who that one, you ask? Your heart instructs you. 10
Did she live and love it all her life-time?
Did she drop, his lady of the sonnets,
Die, and let it drop beside her pillow
Where it lay in place of Rafael's glory,
Rafael's cheek so duteous and so loving--
Cheek, the world was wont to hail a painter's,
Rafael's cheek, her love had turned a poet's?
You and I would rather read that volume,
(Taken to his beating bosom by it)
Lean and list the bosom-beats of Rafael, 20
Would we not? than wonder at Madonnas--
Her, San Sisto names, and Her, Foligno,
Her, that visits Florence in a vision,
Her, that's left with lilies in the Louvre--
Seen by us and all the world in circle.

IV
You and I will never read that volume.
Guido Reni, like his own eye's apple
Guarded long the treasure-book and loved it.
Guido Reni dying, all Bologna
Cried, and the world cried too, "Ours, the treasure!" 30
Suddenly, as rare things will, it vanished.

V
Dante once prepared to paint an angel:
Whom to please? You whisper "Beatrice."
While he mused and traced it and retraced it,
(Peradventure with a pen corroded
Still by drops of that hot ink he dipped for,
When, his left-hand i' the hair o' the wicked,
Back he held the brow and pricked its stigma,
Bit into the live man's flesh, for parchment,
Loosed him, laughed to see the writing rankle, 40
Let the wretch go festering through Florence)--
Dante, who loved well because he hated,
Hated wickedness that hinders loving,
Dante standing, studying his angel--
In there broke the folk of his Inferno.
Says he--"Certain people of importance"
Such he gave his daily dreadful line to)
"Entered and would seize, forsooth, the poet."
Says the poet--"Then I stopped my painting."
You and I would rather see that angel, 50
Painted by the tenderness of Dante,
Would we not?--than read a fresh Inferno.

VII
You and I will never see that picture.
While he mused on love and Beatrice,
While he softened o'er his outlined angel,
In they broke, those "people of importance;"
We and Bice bear the loss forever.

VIII
What of Rafael's sonnets, Dante's picture?
This: no artist lives and loves, that longs not
Once, and only once, and for one only, 60
(Ah, the prize !) to find his love a language
Fit and fair and simple and sufficient--
Using nature that's an art to others,
Not, this one time, art that's turned his nature.
Ay, of all the artists living, loving,
None but would forego his proper dowry--
Does he paint? he fain would write a poem--
Does he write? he fain would paint a picture,
Put to proof art alien to the artist's,
Once, and only once, and for one only, 70
So to be the man and leave the artist,
Gain the man's joy, miss the artist's sorrow.

IX
Wherefore? Heaven's gift takes earth's abatement!
He who smites the rock and spreads the water,
Bidding drink and live a crowd beneath him,
Even he, the minute makes immortal,
Proves, perchance, but mortal in the minute,
Desecrates, belike, the deed in doing.
While he smites, how can he but remember,
So he smote before, in such a peril, 80
When they stood and mocked--"Shall smiting help us?"
When they drank and sneered--"A stroke is easy!"
When they wiped their mouths and went their journey,
Throwing him for thanks--"But drought was pleasant."
Thus old memories mar the actual triumph;
Thus the doing savors of disrelish;
Thus achievement lacks a gracious somewhat;
O'er-importuned brows becloud the mandate,
Carelessness or consciousness--the gesture.
For he bears an ancient wrong about him, 90
Sees and knows again those phalanxed faces,
Hears, yet one time more, the 'customed prelude--
"How shouldst thou, of all men, smite, and save us?"
Guesses what is like to prove the sequel--
"Egypt's flesh-pots-nay, the drought was better."

X
Oh, the crowd must have emphatic warrant!
Theirs, the Sinai-forehead's cloven brilliance,
Right-arm's rod-sweep, tongue's imperial fiat.
Never dares the man put off the prophet.

XI
Did he love one face from out the thousands, 100
(Were she Jethro's daughter, white and wifely,
Were she but the Ethiopian bondslave),
He would envy yon dumb patient camel,
Keeping a reserve of scanty water
Meant to save his own life in the desert;
Ready in the desert to deliver
(Kneeling down to let his breast be opened)
Hoard and life together for his mistress.

XII
I shall never, in the years remaining,
Paint you pictures, no, nor carve you statues, 110
Make you music that should all-express me;
So it seems: I stand on my attainment.
This of verse alone, one life allows me;
Verse and nothing else have I to give you.
Other heights in other lives, God willing;
All the gifts from all the heights, your own, Love!

XIII
Yet a semblance of resource avails us--
Shade so finely touched, love's sense must seize it.
Take these lines, look lovingly and nearly,
Lines I write the first time and the last time. 120
He who works in fresco, steals a hair brush,
Curbs the liberal hand, subservient proudly,
Cramps his spirit, crowds its all in little,
Makes a strange art of an art familiar,
Fills his lady's missal-marge with flowerets.
He who blows thro' bronze, may breathe thro' silver,
Fitly serenade a slumbrous princess.
He who writes, may write for once as I do.

XIV
Love, you saw me gather men and women,
Live or dead or fashioned by my fancy, 130
Enter each and all, and use their service,
Speak from every mouth--the speech, a poem.
Hardly shall I tell my joys and sorrows,
Hopes and tears, belief and disbelieving:
I am mine and yours--the rest be all men's,
Karshish, Cleon, Norbert and the fifty.
Let me speak this once in my true person,
Not as Lippo, Roland or Andrea,
Though the fruit of speech be just this sentence;
Pray you, look on these my men and women, 140
Take and keep my fifty poems finished;
Where my heart lies, let my brain lie also!
Poor the speech; be how I speak, for all things.
Not but that you know me! Lo, the moon's self!
Here in London, yonder late in Florence,
Still we find her face, the thrice-transfigured.
Curving on a sky imbrued with color,
Drifted over Fiesole by twilight,
Came she, our new crescent of a hair's-breadth.
Full she flared it, lamping Samminiato, 150
Rounder 'twixt the cypresses and rounder,
Perfect till the nightingales applauded.
Now, a piece of her old self, impoverished,
Hard to greet, she traverses the houseroofs,
Hurries with unhandsome thrift of silver,
Goes dispiritedly, glad to finish.

XVI
What, there's nothing in the moon noteworthy?
Nay: for if that moon could love a mortal,
Use, to charm him (so to fit a fancy),
All her magic ('tis the old sweet mythos), 160
She would turn a new side to her mortal,
Side unseen of herdsman, huntsman, steersman--
Blank to Zoroaster on his terrace,
Blind to Galileo on his turret,
Dumb to Homer, dumb to Keats--him, even!
Think, the wonder of the moonstruck mortal--
When she turns round, comes again in heaven,
Opens out anew for worse or better!
Proves she like some portent of an iceberg
Swimming full upon the ship it founders, 170
Hungry with huge teeth of splintered crystals?
Proves she as the paved work of a sapphire
Seen by Moses when he climbed the mountain?
Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu
Climbed and saw the very God, the Highest,
Stand upon the paved work of a sapphire.
Like the bodied heaven in his clearness
Shone the stone, the sapphire of that paved work,
When they ate and drank and saw God also!

XVII
What were seen? None knows, none ever shall know. 180
Only this is sure--the sight were other,
Not the moon's same side, born late in Florence,
Dying now impoverished here in London.
God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures
Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with,
One to show a woman when he loves her!

XVIII
This I say of me, but think of you, Love!
This to you--yourself my moon of poets!
Ah, but that's the world's side, there's the wonder,
Thus they see you, praise you, think they know you! 190
There, in turn I stand with them and praise you--
Out of my own self, I dare to phrase it.
But the best is when I glide from out them,
Cross a step or two of dubious twilight,
Come out on the other side, the novel
Silent silver lights and darks undreamed of,
Where I hush and bless myself with silence.

XIX
Oh, their Rafael of the dear Madonnas,
Oh, their Dante of the dread Inferno,
Wrote one song--and in my brain I sing it, 200
Drew one angel--borne, see, on my bosom!
R. B.

NOTES

"One Word More" is the dedication to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
which was appended to "Men and Women" as first published when it
contained fifty poems since distributed under other titles.

The poet, recalling how Rafael when he would all-express his love,
wrote sonnets to the loved one, and how Dante prepared to paint an
angel for Beatrice, draws the conclusion that there is no artist but
longs to give expression to his supreme love in some other art than
his own which would be the medium of a spontaneous, natural outburst
of feeling in a way impossible in the familiar forms of his own art.
Thus he would gain a man's joy and miss the artist's sorrow, for,
like the miracles of Moses, the work of the artist is subject to the
cold criticism of the world, which expects him nevertheless always
to be the artist, and has no sympathy for him as a man. Since there
is no other art but poetry in which it is possible for Browning to
express himself, he will at least drop his accustomed dramatic form
and speak in his own person; though it be poor, let it stand as a
symbol for all-expression. Yet does she not know him, for he has
shown her his soul-side as one might imagine the moon showing
another side to a mortal lover, which would remain forever as much a
mystery to the outside world as the vision seen by Moses, etc.
Similarly, he has admired the side his moon of poets has shown the
whole world in her poetry, but he blesses himself with the thought
of the other side which he alone has seen.

5. Century of sonnets: Rafael is known to have written four love
sonnets on the back of sketches for his wall painting, the
"Disputa," which are still preserved in collections, one of them in
the British Museum. The Italian text of these sonnets with English
translations are given in Wolzogen's Life of him translated by
F. E. Bunntt. Did he ever write a hundred? It is supposed that
the lost book once owned by Guido Reni, apparently the one referred
to in stanza iv, was a book of drawings. Perhaps these also bore
sonnets on their backs, or Browning guessed they did.

10. Who that one: Margarita, a girl Rafael met and loved in Rome,
two portraits of whom exist--one in the Barberini Palace, Rome, the
other in the Pitti, in Florence. They resemble the Sistine and
other Madonnas by Rafael.

21. Madonnas, etc.: "San Sisto," now in Dresden; "Foligno," in the
Vatican, Rome; the one in Florence is called "del Granduca," and
represents her appearing in a vision; the one in the Louvre, called
"La Belle Jardinire," is seated in a garden among lilies.

32. Dante once, etc.: "On that day," writes Dante, "Vita Nuova,"
xxxv, "which fulfilled the year since my lady had been made of the
citizens of eternal life, remembering of her as I sat alone, I
betook myself to draw the resemblance of an angel upon certain
tablets." That this lady was Beatrice Portinari, as Browning
supposes, Dante's devotion to her, in both "The New Life" and "The
Divine Comedy," should leave no doubt. Yet the literalness of
Mr. W. M. Rossetti makes him obtuse here, as he and other
commentators seem to be in their understanding of Browning
throughout this stanza. Browning evidently contrasts Dante's
tenderness here towards Beatrice with the remorselessness of his pen
in the "Inferno" (see Cantos 32 and 33), where he stigmatized his
enemies as if using their very flesh for his parchment, so that ever
after in the eyes of all Florence they seemed to bear the marks of
the poet's hate of their wickedness. It was people of this sort,
grandees of the town, Browning fancies, who again "hinder loving,"
breaking in upon the poet and seizing him unawares forsooth at this
intimate moment of loving artistry. "Chancing to turn my head,"
Dante continues, "I perceived that some were standing beside me to
whom I should have given courteous greeting, and that they were
observing what I did: also I learned afterwards that they had been
there a while before I perceived them." The tender moment was over.
He stopped the painting, simply saying, "Another was with me."

74. He who smites the rock: Moses, whose experience in smiting the
rock for water (Exodus 17.1-7; Numbers 20.1-11) is likened to the
sorrow of the artist, serving a reckless world.

97. Sinai-forehead's . . . brilliance: Exodus 19.9, 16; 34.30.

101. Jethro's daughter: Moses' wife, Zipporah (Exodus 2.16, 21).

102. AEthiopian bondslave: Numbers 12.1.

122. Liberal hand: the free hand of the fresco-painter cramped to do
the exquisite little designs fit for the missal marge = margin of a
Prayer-book.

150. Samminiato: San Miniato, a church in Florence.

161. Turn a new side, etc.: the side turned away from the earth
which our world never sees.

163. Zoroaster: (589-513 B. C.), founder of the Persian religion,
and worshipper of light, whose habit it was to observe the heavens
from his terrace,

164. Galileo: (1564-1642), constructor of the first telescope,
leading him to discover that the Milky Way was an assemblage of
starry worlds, and the earth a planet revolving on its axis and
about an orbit, for which opinion he was tried and condemned. When
forced to retire from his professorship at Padua, he continued his
observations from his own house in Florence.

164. Dumb to Homer, dumb to Keats: Homer celebrates the moon in the
"Hymn to Diana" (see Shelley's translation), and makes Artemis
upbraid her brother Phoebus when he claims that it is not meet for
gods to concern themselves with mortals (Iliad, xxi. 470). Keats,
in "Endymion," sings of her love for a mortal.

174. Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, etc.: Exodus 24.1, 10.

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