Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, ASOLANDO: BAD DREAMS, by ROBERT BROWNING



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ASOLANDO: BAD DREAMS, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Last night I saw you in my sleep
Last Line: Of scorn ... If only ghosts might blab!
Subject(s): Dreams; Nightmares


I

LAST night I saw you in my sleep:
And how your charm of face was changed!
I asked, "Some love, some faith you keep?"
You answered, "Faith gone, love estranged."

Whereat I woke -- a twofold bliss:
Waking was one, but next there came
This other: "Though I felt, for this,
My heart break, I loved on the same."


II

YOU in the flesh and here --
Your very self! Now, wait!
One word! May I hope or fear?
Must I speak in love or hate?
Stay while I ruminate!

The fact and each circumstance
Dare you disown? Not you!
That vast dome, that huge dance,
And the gloom which overgrew
A -- possibly festive crew!

For why should men dance at all --
Why women -- a crowd of both --
Unless they are gay? Strange ball --
Hands and feet plighting troth,
Yet partners enforced and loth!

Of who danced there, no shape
Did I recognize: thwart, perverse,
Each grasped each, past escape
In a whirl or weary or worse:
Man's sneer met woman's curse,

While he and she toiled as if
Their guardian set galley-slaves
To supple chained limbs grown stiff:
Unmanacled trulls and knaves --
The lash for who misbehaves!

And a gloom was, all the while,
Deeper and deeper yet
O'ergrowing the rank and file
Of that army of haters -- set
To mimic love's fever-fret.

By the wall-side close I crept,
Avoiding the livid maze,
And, safely so far, outstepped
On a chamber -- a chapel, says
My memory or betrays --

Closet-like, kept aloof
From unseemly witnessing
What sport made floor and roof
Of the Devil's palace ring
While his Damned amused their king.

Ay, for a low lamp burned,
And a silence lay about
What I, in the midst, discerned
Though dimly till, past doubt,
'T was a sort of throne stood out --

High seat with steps, at least:
And the topmost step was filled
By -- whom? What vestured priest
A stranger to me, -- his guild,
His cult, unreconciled

To my knowledge how guild and cult
Are clothed in this world of ours:
I pondered, but no result
Came to -- unless that Giaours
So worship the Lower Powers.

When suddenly who entered?
Who knelt -- did you guess I saw?
Who -- raising that face were centred
Allegiance to love and law
So lately -- off-casting awe,

Down-treading reserve, away
Thrusting respect ... but mine
Stands firm -- firm still shall stay!
Ask Satan! for I decline
To tell -- what I saw, in fine!

Yet here in the flesh you come --
Your same self, form and face, --
In the eyes, mirth still at home!
On the lips, that commonplace
Perfection of honest grace!

Yet your errand is -- needs must be --
To palliate -- well, explain,
Expurgate in some degree
Your soul of its ugly stain.
Oh, you -- the good in grain --

How was it your white took tinge?
"A mere dream" -- never object!
Sleep leaves a door on hinge
Whence soul, ere our flesh suspect,
Is off and away: detect

Her vagaries when loose, who can!
Be she pranksome, be she prude,
Disguise with the day began:
With the night -- ah, what ensued
From draughts of a drink hell-brewed?

Then She: "What a queer wild dream!
And perhaps the best fun is --
Myself had its fellow -- I seem
Scarce awake from yet. 'T was this --
Shall I tell you? First, a kiss!

"For the fault was just your own, --
'T is myself expect apology:
You warned me to let alone
(Since our studies were mere philology)
That ticklish (you said) Anthology.

"So I dreamed that I passed exam
Till a question posed me sore:
'Who translated this epigram
By -- an author we best ignore?'
And I answered, 'Hannah More'!"


III

THIS was my dream: I saw a Forest
Old as the earth, no track nor trace
Of unmade man. Thou, Soul, explorest --
Though in a trembling rapture -- space
Immeasurable! Shrubs, turned trees,
Trees that touch heaven, support its freize
Studded with sun and moon and star:
While -- oh, the enormous growths that bar
Mine eye from penetrating past
Their tangled twine where lurks -- nay, lives
Royally lone, some brute-type cast
I' the rough, time cancels, man forgives.

On, Soul! I saw a lucid City
Of architectural device
Every way perfect. Pause for pity,
Lightning! nor leave a cicatrice
On those bright marbles, dome and spire,
Structures palatial, -- streets which mire
Dares not defile, paved all too fine
For human footstep's smirch, not thine --
Proud solitary traverser,
My Soul, of silent lengths of way --
With what ecstatic dread, aver,
Lest life start sanctioned by thy stay!

Ah, but the last sight was the hideous!
A City, yes, -- a Forest, true, --
But each devouring each. Perfidious
Snake-plants had strangled what I knew
Was a pavilion once: each oak
Held on his horns some spoil he broke
By surreptitiously beneath
Upthrusting: pavements, as with teeth,
Griped huge weed widening crack and split
In squares and circles stone-work erst.
Oh, Nature -- good! Oh, Art -- no whit
Less worthy! Both in one -- accurst!


IV

IT happened thus: my slab, though new,
Was getting weather-stained, -- beside,
Herbage, balm, peppermint o'ergrew
Letter and letter: till you tried
Somewhat, the Name was scarce descried.

That strong stern man my lover came:
-- Was he my lover? Call him, pray,
My life's cold critic bent on blame
Of all poor I could do or say
To make me worth his love one day --

One far day when, by diligent
And dutiful amending faults,
Foibles, all weaknesses which went
To challenge and excuse assaults
Of culture wronged by taste that halts --

Discrepancies should mar no pian
Symmetric of the qualities
Claiming respect from -- say -- a man
That's strong and stern. "Once more he pries
Into me with those critic eyes!"

No question! so -- "Conclude, condemn
Each failure my poor self avows!
Leave to its fate all you contemn!
There's Solomon's selected spouse:
Earth needs must hold such maids -- choose them!"

Why, he was weeping! Surely gone
Sternness and strength: with eyes to ground
And voice a broken monotone --
"Only be as you were! Abound
In foibles, faults, -- laugh, robed and crowned

"As Folly's veriest queen, -- care I
One feather-fluff? Look pity, Love,
On prostrate me -- your foot shall try
This forehead's use -- mount thence above,
And reach what Heaven you dignify!"

Now, what could bring such change about?
The thought perplexed: till, following
His gaze upon the ground, -- why, out
Came all the secret! So, a thing
Thus simple has deposed my king!

For, spite of weeds that strove to spoil
Plain reading on the lettered slab,
My name was clear enough -- no soil
Effaced the date when one chance stab
Of scorn ... if only ghosts might blab!





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