Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, DONALD, by ROBERT BROWNING



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DONALD, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Will you hear my story also
Last Line: "rightly rewarded, -- ingrate!"
Subject(s): Hunting; Hunters


"WILL you hear my story also,
-- Huge Sport, brave adventure in plenty?"
The boys were a band from Oxford,
The oldest of whom was twenty.

The bothy we held carouse in
Was bright with fire and candle;
Tale followed tale like a merry-go-round
Whereof Sport turned the handle.

In our eyes and noses -- turf-smoke:
In our ears a tune from the trivet,
Whence "Boiling, boiling," the kettle sang,
"And ready for fresh Glenlivet."

So, feat capped feat, with a vengeance:
Truths, though, -- the lads were loyal:
"Grouse, five-score brace to the bag!
Deer, ten hours' stalk of the Royal!"

Of boasting, not one bit, boys!
Only there seemed to settle
Somehow above your curly heads,
-- Plain through the singing kettle,

Palpable through the cloud,
As each new-puffed Havana
Rewarded the teller's well-told tale, --
This vaunt "To Sport -- Hosanna!

"Hunt, fish, shoot,
Would a man fulfil life's duty!
Not to the bodily frame alone
Does Sport give strength and beauty,

"But character gains in -- courage?
Ay, Sir, and much beside it!
You don't sport, more's the pity;
You soon would find, if you tried it,

"Good sportsman means good fellow,
Sound-hearted he, to the centre;
Your mealy-mouthed mild milksops
-- There's where the rot can enter!

"There's where the dirt will breed,
The shabbiness Sport would banish!
Oh no, Sir, no! In your honored case
All such objections vanish.

"'T is known how hard you studied:
A Double-First -- what, the jigger!
Give me but half your Latin and Greek,
I'll never again touch trigger!

"Still, tastes are tastes, allow me!
Allow, too, where there's keenness
For Sport, there's little likelihood
Of a man's displaying meanness!"

So, put on my mettle, I interposed.
"Will you hear my story?" quoth I.
"Never mind how long since it happed,
I sat, as we sit, in a bothy;

"With as merry a band of mates, too,
Undergrads all on a level:
(One's a Bishop, one's gone to the Bench,
And one's gone -- well, to the Devil.)

"When, lo, a scratching and tapping!
In hobbled a ghastly visitor.
Listen to just what he told us himself
-- No need of our playing inquisitor!"

Do you happen to know in Ross-shire
Mount Ben ... but the name scarce matters:
Of the naked face I am sure enough,
Though I clothe it in rags and tatters.

You may recognize Ben by description;
Behind him -- a moor's immenseness:
Up goes the middle mount of a range,
Fringed with its firs in denseness.

Rimming the edge, its fir-fringe, mind!
For an edge there is, though narrow;
From end to end of the range, a strip
Of path runs straight as an arrow.

And the mountaineer who takes that path
Saves himself miles of journey
He has to plod if he crosses the moor
Through heather, peat, and burnie.

But a mountaineer he needs must be,
For, look you, right in the middle
Projects bluff Ben -- with an end in ich --
Why planted there, is a riddle:

Since all Ben's brothers little and big
Keep rank, set shoulder to shoulder,
And only this burliest out must bulge
Till it seems -- to the beholder

From down in the gully, -- as if Ben's breast,
To a sudden spike diminished,
Would signify to the boldest foot
"All further passage finished!"

Yet the mountaineer who sidles on
And on to the very bending,
Discovers, if heart and brain be proof,
No necessary ending.

Foot up, foot down, to the turn abrupt
Having trod, he, there arriving,
Finds -- what he took for a point was breadth,
A mercy of Nature's contriving.

So, he rounds what, when 't is reached, proves straight,
From one side gains the other:
The wee path widens -- resume the march,
And he foils you, Ben my brother!

But Donald -- (that name, I hope, will do) --
I wrong him if I call "foiling"
The tramp of the callant, whistling the while
As blithe as our kettle's boiling.

He had dared the danger from boyhood up,
And now, -- when perchance was waiting
A lass at the brig below, -- 'twixt mount
And moor would he stand debating?

Moreover this Donald was twenty-five,
A glory of bone and muscle:
Did a fiend dispute the right of way,
Donald would try a tussle.

Lightsomely marched he out of the broad
On to the narrow and narrow;
A step more, rounding the angular rock,
Reached the front straight as an arrow.

He stepped it, safe on the ledge he stood,
When -- whom found he full-facing?
What fellow in courage and wariness too,
Had scouted ignoble pacing,

And left low safety to timid mates,
And made for the dread dear danger,
And gained the height where -- who could guess
He would meet with a rival ranger?

'T was a gold-red stag that stood and stared,
Gigantic and magnific,
By the wonder -- ay, and the peril -- struck
Intelligent and pacific:

For a red deer is no fallow deer
Grown cowardly through park-feeding;
He batters you like a thunderbolt
If you brave his haunts unheeding.

I doubt he could hardly perform volte-face
Had valor advised discretion:
You may walk on a rope, but to turn on a rope
No Blondin makes profession.

Yet Donald must turn, would pride permit,
Though pride ill brooks retiring:
Each eyed each -- mute man, motionless beast --
Less fearing than admiring.

These are the moments when quite new sense,
To meet some need as novel,
Springs up in the brain: it inspired resource:
-- "Nor advance nor retreat but -- grovel!"

And slowly, surely, never a whit
Relaxing the steady tension
Of eye-stare which binds man to beast, --
By an inch and inch declension,

Sank Donald sidewise down and down:
Till flat, breast upwards, lying
At his six-foot length, no corpse more still,
-- "If he cross me! The trick's worth trying."

Minutes were an eternity;
But a new sense was created
In the stag's brain too; he resolves! "?" sure,
With eye-stare unabated,

Feelingly he extends a foot
Which tastes the way ere it touches
Earth's solid and just escapes man's soft,
Nor hold of the same unclutches

Till its fellow foot, light as a feather whisk,
Lands itself no less finely:
So a mother removes a fly from the face
Of her babe asleep supinely.

And now 't is the haunch and hind-foot's turn
-- That's hard: can the beast quite raise it?
Yes, traversing half the prostrate length,
His hoof-tip does not graze it.

Just one more lift! But Donald, you see,
Was sportsman first, man after:
A fancy lightened his caution through,
-- He wellnigh broke into laughter:

"It were nothing short of a miracle!
Unrivalled, unexampled --
All sporting feats with this feat matched
Were down and dead and trampled!"

The last of the legs as tenderly
Follows the rest: or never
Or now is the time! His knife in reach,
And his right-hand loose -- how clever!

For this can stab up the stomach's soft,
While the left-hand grasps the pastern.
A rise on the elbow, and -- now's the time
Or never: this turn's the last turn!

I shall dare to place myself by God
Who scanned -- for he does -- each feature
Of the face thrown up in appeal to him
By the agonizing creature.

Nay, I hear plain words: "Thy gift brings this!"
Up he sprang, back he staggered,
Over he fell, and with him our friend
-- At following game no laggard.

Yet he was not dead when they picked next day
From the gully's depth the wreck of him;
His fall been stayed by the stag beneath
Who cushioned and saved the neck of him.

But the rest of his body -- why, doctors said,
Whatever could break was broken;
Legs, arms, ribs, all of him looked like a toast
In a tumbler of port-wine soaken.

"That your life is left you, thank the stag!"
Said they when -- the slow cure ended --
They opened the hospital-door, and thence
-- Strapped, spliced, main fractures mended,

And minor damage left wisely alone, --
Like an old shoe clouted and cobbled,
Out -- what went in a Goliath wellnigh, --
Some half of a David hobbled.

"You must ask an alms from house to house:
Sell the stag's head for a bracket,
With its grant twelve tines -- I'd buy it myself --
And use the skin for a jacket!"

He was wiser, made both head and hide
His win-penny: hands and knees on,
Would manage to crawl -- poor crab -- by the roads
In the misty stalking-season.

And if he discovered a bothy like this,
Why, harvest was sure: folk listened.
He told his tale to the lovers of Sport:
Lips twitched, cheeks glowed, eyes glistened.

And when he had come to the close, and spread
His spoils for the gazers' wonder,
With "Gentlemen, here's the skull of the stag
I was over, thank God, not under!" --

The company broke out in applause;
"By Jingo, a lucky cripple!
Have a munch of grouse and a hunk of bread,
And a tug, besides, at our tipple!"

And "There's my pay for your pluck!" cried This,
"And mine for your jolly story!"
Cried That, while T' other -- but he was drunk --
Hiccupped "A trump, a Tory!"

I hope I gave twice as much as the rest;
For, as Homer would say, "within grate
Though teeth kept tongue," my whole soul growled,
"Rightly rewarded, -- Ingrate!"





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