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And of poets, “silent because none listens, whose lips are locked in this dark world,- perhaps God needs you, just saves your light to spend; His clenched hand shall unclose at last and let out all the beauty; the poet holds the future fast, accepts the coming ages duty, their Present for this Past.”
And of the common-place life known to the streets of Vallodolid; ---wait, and count the “angels ministrant about the low truckle-bed, where the Kings friend, who has done the Kings work the whole day long," tarries for his summons to the palace.
And of lives builded into, merged in other lives, like rivers sunk in sands. Men say of such “They're lost;” but waving rice and lordly palm, (the people's bread and wine), betray their hidden course while papyrus and reed conspire together to record the secret beneficence.
What is success, and what failure ?
6 Now who shall arbitrate ?
For, "our human speech is naught, our testimony false,
Man's standards differ each from each, and all differ from the absolute and unknown standard by which lives may be rightly judged. Then too, men never gather all the facts. It has been said, that “this life being but a small part of life, men should know of the rest before they can say of this portion, that it is failure or success.” The perfect judgment waits God's time, who knows all from the beginning. Man, who "
sees light, half shine, half shade," “ looks to the size of things in this world,"_"the things done that have their price here";
the vulgar mass called 'work,' the low world can value in a trice, plumb with its course thumb; God holds appraising in his hollow
palm, the seed of act, thought hardly to be packed into a narrow act; fancies that broke through language and escaped; all instincts immature, all purposes unsure, that weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's account. All he could never be, all men ignored, this, was he worth to God whose wheel the pitcher shaped.”
Browning holds that evil and its kindred brood, darkness, cold, silence, weakness, falsehood, death, are not realities, but nonentities implying and defining their opposites. Evil is transitory, implying or intimating the enduring.
Good and evil, truth and falsehood, are relative terms. What yesterday seemed good, is for to-day a lesser good, or what men call evil; and what yesterday seemed truth, is for to-day a half-truth, or what men call falsehood. The toy, is to-day the child's tool with which he works; the same toy is to-morrow, the man's plaything with which he idles. The gray contrasted with black is white; contrasted with white it is black. “To eyes purged to receive truth's beam, how then seem the intricacies of right and wrong we deem irreconcilable?”
Evil is as friction, helping while opposing. It exists that man may transform it to a good, and grow strong in his wrestle with it. “Upon men's own account must evil stay."
And of temptation ; “ It is for man to meet and master, and make crouch beneath his foot, and so he pedestalled in triumph,”
And of doubt; it is the forerunner of belief, itself transitory. “ You must mix some uncertainty with faith, if you would have faith be,-just so much of doubt as bids man plant a surer foot upon the sun-road”; then,“ prize the doubt, low kinds exist without, finished and finite clods untroubled by a spark.”
“Thus is evil beautified in every shape.” “Truth inside ; and outside truth also; and between each, falsehood that is change, as truth is permanence.” Thus, "working through the shows of sense (which ever proving false, still promise to be true,) the individual soul works upward, to an outer soul as individual too ; and through the fleeting, lives to die into the fixed ; and reach at length, God, man, or both together mixed."
Shall evil and imperfection escape their consequences, oftener called their retributions ? Browning's characters reap what they sow, just as people in life do. Mistakes of ignorance, wilfulness, or helplessness are followed by their “logical and mathematical results.” With Lucretius, our poet sings "the reign of law in the universe ;
that our misery or our happiness is not dependent on the caprice of the gods, but on the nature of things.” “For all that is evil, there is judgment of utter destruction; for that which is good, purifying." But,
66'Tis a man's immense mistake
Who fashioned to use feet and walk, deigns crawl.”
It's safer being meek than fierce;
For the deformed, idiotic, stunted, limp and ignorant, whom men call " foolish,” Browning has infinite pity, patience, and hope ; all are backward scholars, waiting the Great Teacher. And for the hateful, noxious, the morally insane whom men call “ wicked," he has infinite pity, patience, hope ;-for the “little half-completed castaway whose life was so much worse than herself”; for “Ottima, the temptress, magnificient in sin,” for Guido, chief of villians, -all wait the "touch of God's shadow where in is healing." The worst man has something that links him on to humanity, "some germ of good, that may grow to choke out the poisonous, rank growth of a life-time.” Quickening, soul-kindling conversion, “may, will, come to all, by God's own ways occult.” Some suddenness of fate may cleave the flesh, give issue to the spirit birth ; some lightning-stroke may cure the blind; God's spear may pierce a window in the soul, whence the imprisoned flash shall leap, and find itself at one with God's own sun. “ Else I avert my face, nor penetrate into that sad, obscure, sequestered place, where God unmakes, but to remake the soul, He else made first in vain."
And has earth no hope for such ? Elisha raised the dead "A credible feat enough,” our poet says. “Man may not create, --he may restore”; a virgin wick he cannot light, the almost dead lamp he may relume.”
"Such men are even now upon the earth,
“The man who supplies new feeling fresh from God, is he who kindles the soul ” with a spark from his own heart fire.
The office of the redeemer, renovator, convertor of men, is not to impose his own personality upon his weaker brother, but to reveal to the man his own soul, to make him “aware of the marvelous dower, life is gifted and filled with," and to open a way through nonconducting flesh and sense, for the magnetic current, that in every soul, sets toward the divine. His the work to educe, not introduce; to “evoke, not transmit.” “He gives no gift that bounds itself and ends in the giving and taking"; "His so breeds in the heart and soul of the taker, so transmutes the man who was only man before, that he grows god-like, in his turn can give,-he also brings forth new goods, new beauty from the old."
Intellect alone fits no one for the office. The inner light or spirit “cannot be brought out through what is born and resides in the brain; it is elicited directly or indirectly, by the attracting power of magnetic personalities,—the ultimate, absolute personality being the God-man Christ." Through Him and other Christ-like souls is man " born from above" or through higher personality; and “Through such souls alone, God stooping, shows sufficient of His light for us in the dark to rise by.” By man, shall man be “lifted to his level,” “made cognizant of the master,” see his “true function revealed,” and " be admitted to a fellowship with the soul of things."
In a world of failures, loss, pain, decay and imperfection, our poet finds sufficient consolation for life as it is, and for man as he is, in the thought that " man is made to grow—not stop”; “what comes to perfection perishes": "what's whole can increase no more, is dwarfed and dies, since here's its sphere.”
“Progress is man's distinction, man's alone, not God's and not the beasts. God is, they are,-man partly is, and wholly hopes to be."
Every sorrow, loss and pains yields "increase of knowledge, since he learns because he lives, which is to be a man, set to instruct himself by his past self.” Rejoice, “that man is hurled from change to change unceasingly, his soul's wings never furled.”
What end to the striving ?—“To reach the ultimate, angels law,
indulging every instinct of the soul, there, where law, life, joy, impulse, are one thing."
Browning's universe is so filled with the thought of growth and development that there is no room for decay and death. These he views as incidental processes that lead on to “the best that is to be," -"the last of life for which the first was made."
- Not alone when life flows still do truth
Though a passionate believer in another life, our poet makes small attempt to prove it, and less to map it out. His most doubtful word is when he expresses
only hope.” “So I hope, no more than hope, but hope--no less than hope, because compelled by a power and a purpose which, if no else beheld, I behold in life, so hope." And “What purpose serves the soul that strives, unless the fruit of victories stay, stored up and guaranteed its own forever, by some mode whereby shall be made known the gain of every life, what each soul for itself conquered from out things here." And “Shall earth and the cramped-moment space, yield the heavenly crowning grace ? Now the parts, and then the whole !”
Browning affirms the “persistence of mind and heart force.” Of continuity of consciousness he says little,-intimates much. When Abt Vogler asks that his music shall live again, not other strains but the same, he is answered, “Yes, you shall have the same not the semblance but itself. Fool, all that is at all, lasts ever, past recall, what was, shall be.”