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Go dig

And somewhat of the choir, those silent seats,
And up into the aëry dome where live
The angels, and a sunbeam's sure to lurk:
And I shall fill my slab of basalt there,
And ’neath my tabernacle 1 take my rest,
With those nine columns round me, two and two,
The odd one at my feet where Anselm stands:
Peach-blossom marble all, the rare, the ripe
As fresh poured red wine of a mighty pulse.
-Old Gandolf with his paltry onion-stone, 2
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?
The white-grape vineyard where the oil-press stood,
Drop water gently till the surface sink,
And if

ye

find. Ah God, I know not, I!
Bedded in store of rotten fig-leaves soft,
And corded up in a tight olive-frail,
Some lump, ah God, of lapis lazuli,4
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, villas, all,
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 so gay,
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?

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1 The canony over the tomb. 2 An Italian marble. 3 Olive basket, made of rushes. 4 An ornamental stone, in color a rich azure blue.

1

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,
Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance
Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so,
The Saviour at his sermon on the mount,
Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan
Ready to twitch the Nymph's last garment off,
And Moses with the tables ... but I know
Ye mark 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 moldy travertine 1
Which Gandolf from his tomb-top chuckles at!
Nay, boys, ye love me-all of jasper, then!
'Tis jasper ye stand pledged to, lest I grieve
My bath must needs be left behind, alas!
One block, pure green as a pistachio-nut,
There's plenty jasper somewhere in the world
And have I not Saint Praxed's ear to pray
Horses for ye, and brown Greek manuscripts,
And mistresses with great smooth marbly limbs?
-That's if ye carve my epitaph aright,
Choice Latin, picked phrase, Tully's 2 every word,
No gaudy ware like Gandolf's second line-
Tully, my masters? Ulpian serves his need!
And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed matter 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 smoke!

1 A lime rock of little value.

2 Tully's (Cicero's) Latin the Bishop considers standard; Ulpian's, unacceptable.

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, 1 drop
Into great laps and folds of sculptor's-work:
And as yon tapers dwindle, and strange thoughts
Grow, with a certain humming in my ears,
About the life before I lived this life,
And this life too, popes, cardinals, and priests,
Saint Praxed at his sermon on the mount,
Your tall pale mother with her talking eyes,
And new-found agate urns as fresh as day,
And marble's language, Latin pure, discreet,
—Aha, ELUCESCEBAT ? quoth our friend?
No Tully, said I, Ulpian at the best!
Evil and brief hath been my pilgrimage.
All lapis, all, sons! Else I give the Pope
My villas! 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 visor and a Term,3
And to the tripod ye would tie a lynx
That in his struggle throws the thyrsus down,
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-

1 The Bishop has in mind the stone shroud of the effigy on a tomb. 2 "He was illustrious”—a part of “Old Gandolf's” epitaph.

3 A bust (ending in a square block of stone) of the god Terminus, the god of boundaries.

I bless ye.

Gritstone, acrumble! Clammy squares which sweat
As if the corpse they keep were oozing through-
And no more lapis to delight the world!
Well, go!

Fewer tapers there,
But in a row: and, going, turn your backs
-Ay, like departing altar-ministrants,
And leave me in my church, the church for peace,
That I may watch at leisure if he leers—
Old Gandolf, at me, from his onion-stone,
As still he envied me, so fair she was!

Robert Browning

32

MARPESSA 1

Mar pessa, being given by Zeus her choice between the god A pollo and Idas, a mortal, chose Idas.

WO OUNDED with beauty in the summer night

Young Idas tossed upon his couch, and cried
"Marpessa, O Marpessa!” From the dark
The floating smell of flowers invisible,
The mystic yearning of the garden wet,
The moonless-passing night-into his brain
Wandered, until he rose and outward leaned
In the dim summer: 'twas the moment deep
When we are conscious of the secret dawn,
Amid the darkness that we feel is green.
To Idas had Marpessa been revealed,
Roaming with morning thoughts amid the dew,
All fresh from sleeping; and upon her cheek
The bloom of pure repose; like perfect fruit
Even at the moment was her beauty ripe.
The god Apollo from the heaven of heavens

The

i Reprinted with the permission of Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc. argument prefixed to the poem is a part of the original text.

Her mortal sweetness through the air allured;
And on this very noon she shall decide
'Twixt Idas and the god, take to herself
A brief or an eternal lover. So
When the long day that glideth without cloud,
The summer day, was at her blue deep hour
Of lilies musical with busy bliss,
When very light trembled as with excess,
And heat was frail, and every bush and flower
Was drooping in the glory overcome;
They three together met; on the one side,
Fresh from diffusing light on all the world,
Apollo; on the other without sleep
Idas, and in the midst Marpessa stood.
Just as a flower after drenching rain,
So from the falling of felicity
Her human beauty glowed, and it was new;
The bee too near her bosom drowsed and dropped.
But as the god sprang to embrace her, they
Heard thunder, and a little afterward
The far Paternal voice, “Let her decide."
And as a flame blown backward by a gust,
Burned to and fro in fury beautiful
The murmuring god; but at the last he spoke,
And smiled as on his favorite western isle.
"Marpessa, though no trouble, nor any pain,
So is it willed, can touch me; but I live
For ever in a deep deliberate bliss,
A spirit sliding through tranquillity;
Yet when I saw thee I imagined woe,
That thou who art so fair, shouldst ever taste
Of the earth-sorrow: for thy life has been
The history of a flower in the air,
Liable but to breezes and to time,

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