Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE: APOLLO AND THE FATES, by ROBERT BROWNING



Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE: APOLLO AND THE FATES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Flame at my footfall, parnassus! Apollo
Last Line: [apollo ascends. Darkness.
Subject(s): Mythology - Classical


(Hymn in Mercurium, v. 559. Eumenides, vv. 693-4, 697-'.
Alcestis, vv. 12, 33.)

Apollo. (From above.) Flame at my footfall, Parnassus! Apollo,
Breaking ablaze on thy topmost peak,
Burns thence, down to the depths -- dread hollow --
Haunt of the Dire Ones. Haste! They wreak
Wrath on Admetus whose respite I seek.

The Fates. (Below. Darkness.) Dragonwise couched in
the womb of our Mother,
Coiled at thy nourishing heart's core, Night!
Dominant Dreads, we, one by the other,
Deal to each mortal his dole of light
On earth -- the upper, the glad, the bright.

Clotho. Even so: thus from my loaded spindle
Plucking a pinch of the fleece, lo, "Birth"
Brays from my bronze lip: life I kindle:
Look, 't is a man! go, measure on earth
The minute thy portion, whatever its worth!

Lachesis. Woe-purfled, weal-prankt, -- if it speed, if
it linger, --
Life's substance and show are determined by me,
Who, meting out, mixing with sure thumb and finger,
Lead life the due length: is all smoothness and glee,
All tangle and grief? Take the lot, my decree!

Atropos. -- Which I make an end of: the smooth as the tangled
My shears cut asunder: each snap shrieks "One more
Mortal makes sport for us Moirai who dangled
The puppet grotesquely till earth's solid floor
Proved film he fell through, lost in Naught as before."

Clo. I spin thee a thread. Live, Admetus!
Produce him!
Lac. Go, -- brave, wise, good, happy! Now chequer the thread!
He is slaved for, yet loved by a god. I unloose him
A goddess-sent plague. He has conquered, is wed,
Men crown him, he stands at the height, --
Atr. He is ...
Apollo. (Entering: Light.) "Dead?'

Nay, swart spinsters! So I surprise you
Making and marring the fortunes of Man?
Huddling -- no marvel, your enemy eyes you --
Head by head bat-like, blots under the ban
Of daylight earth's blessing since time began!

The Fates. Back to thy blest earth, prying Apollo!
Shaft upon shaft transpierce with thy beams
Earth to the centre, -- spare but this hollow
Hewn out of Night's heart, where our mystery seems
Mewed from day's malice: wake earth from her dreams!

Apol. Crones, 't is your dusk selves I startle from slumber:
Day's god deposes you -- queens Night-crowned!
-- Plying your trade in a world ye encumber,
Fashioning Man's web of life -- spun, wound,
Left the length ye allot till a clip strews the ground!

Behold I bid truce to your doleful amusement --
Annulled by a sunbeam!
The Fates. Boy, are not we peers?
Apol. You with the spindle grant birth: whose inducement
But yours -- with the niggardly digits -- endears
To mankind chance and change, good and evil?
Your shears ...

Atr. Ay, mine end the conflict: so much is no fable.
We spin, draw to length, cut asunder: what then?
So it was, and so is, and so shall be: art able
To alter life's law for ephemeral men?
Apol. Nor able nor willing. To threescore and ten

Extend but the years of Admetus! Disaster
O'ertook me, and, banished by Zeus, I became
A servant to one who forbore me though master:
True lovers were we. Discontinue your game,
Let him live whom I loved, then hate on, all the same!

The Fates. And what if we granted -- law-flouter, use-trampler --
His life at the suit of an upstart? Judge, thou --
Of joy were it fuller, of span because ampler?
For love's sake, not hate's, end Admetus -- ay, now --
Not a gray hair on head, nor a wrinkle on brow!

For, boy, 't is illusion: from thee comes a glimmer
Transforming to beauty life blank at the best.
Withdraw -- and how looks life at worst, when to shimmer
Succeeds the sure shade, and Man's lot frowns -- confessed
Mere blackness chance-brightened? Whereof shall attest

The truth this same mortal, the darling thou stylest,
Whom love would advantage, -- eke out, day by day,
A life which 't is solely thyself reconcilest
Thy friend to endure, -- life with hope: take away
Hope's gleam from Admetus, he spurns it.
For, say --

What's infancy? Ignorance, idleness, mischief:
Youth ripens to arrogance, foolishness, greed:
Age -- impotence, churlishness, rancor: call this chief
Of boons for thy loved one? Much rather bid speed
Our function, let live whom thou hatest indeed!

Persuade thee, bright boy-thing! Our eld be instructive!
Apol. And certes youth owns the experience of age.
Ye hold then, grave seniors, my beams are productive
-- They solely -- of good that's mere semblance, engage
Man's eye -- gilding evil, Man's true heritage?

The Fates. So, even so! From without, -- at due distance
If viewed, -- set a-sparkle, reflecting thy rays, --
Life mimics the sun: but withdraw such assistance,
The counterfeit goes, the reality stays --
An ice-ball disguised as a fire-orb.
Apol. What craze

Possesses the fool then whose fancy conceits him
As happy?
The Fates. Man happy?
Apol. If otherwise --solve
This doubt which besets me! What friend ever greets him
Except with "Live long as the seasons revolve,"
Not "Death to thee straightway"? Your doctrines absolve

Such hailing from hatred: yet Man should know best.
He talks it, and glibly, as life were a load
Man fain would be rid of: when put to the test,
He whines "Let it lie, leave me trudging the road
That is rugged so far, but methinks" ...
The Fates. Ay, 't is owed

To that glamour of thine, he bethinks him "Once past
The stony, some patch, nay, a smoothness of swarth
Awaits my tired foot: life turns easy at last" --
Thy largess so lures him, he looks for reward
Of the labor and sorrow.
Apol. It seems, then -- debarred

Of illusion -- (I needs must acknowledge the plea)
Man desponds and despairs. Yet, -- still further to draw
Due profit from counsel, -- suppose there should be
Some power in himself, some compensative law
By virtue of which, independently ...

The Fates. Faugh!
Strength hid in the weakling!
What bowl-shape hast there,
Thus laughingly proffered? A gift to our shrine?
Thanks -- worsted in argument! Not so? Declare
Its purpose!
Apol. I proffer earth's product, not mine.
Taste, try, and approve Man's invention of -- WINE!

The Fates. We feeding suck honeycombs.
Apol. Sustenance meagre!
Such fare breeds the fumes that show all things amiss.
Quaff wine, -- how the spirits rise nimble and eager,
Unscale the dim eyes! To Man's cup grant one kiss
Of your lip, then allow -- no enchantment like this!

Clo. Unhook wings, unhood brows! Dost hearken?
Lach. I listen:
I see -- smell the food these fond mortals prefer
To our feast, the bee's bounty!
Atr. The thing leaps! But -- glisten
Its best, I withstand it -- unless all concur
In adventure so novel.
Apol. Ye drink?
The Fates. We demur.

Apol. Sweet Trine, be indulgent nor scout the contrivance
Of Man -- Bacchus-prompted! The juice, I uphold,
Illuminates gloom without sunny connivance,
Turns fear into hope and makes cowardice bold, --
Touching all that is leadlike in life turns it gold!

The Fates. Faith foolish as false!
Apol. But essay it, soft sisters!
Then mock as ye may. Lift the chalice to lip!
Good: thou next -- and thou! Seems the web, to you twisters
Of life's yarn, so worthless?
Clo. Who guessed that one sip
Would impart such a lightness of limb?
Lach. I could skip

In a trice from the pied to the plain in my woof!
What parts each from either? A hair's breadth, no inch.
Once learn the right method of stepping aloof,
Though on black next foot falls, firm I fix it, nor flinch,
-- Such my trust white succeeds!
Atr. One could live -- at a pinch!

Apol. What, beldames? Earth's yield, by Man's skill, can effect
Such a cure of sick sense that ye spy the relation
Of evil to good? But drink deeper, correct
Blear sight more convincingly still! Take your station
Beside me, drain dregs! Now for edification!

Whose gift have ye gulped? Thank not me but my brother,
Blithe Bacchus, our youngest of godships.
'T was he
Found all boons to all men, by one god or other
Already conceded, so judged there must be
New guerdon to grace the new advent, you see!

Else how would a claim to Man's homage arise?
The plan lay arranged of his mixed woe and weal,
So disposed -- such Zeus' will -- with design to make wise
The witless -- that false things were mingled with real,
Good with bad: such the lot whereto law set the seal.

Now, human of instinct -- since Semele's son,
Yet minded divinely -- since fathered by Zeus,
With naught Bacchus tampered, undid not things done,
Owned wisdom anterior, would spare wont and use,
Yet change -- without shock to old rule -- introduce.

Regard how your cavern from crag-tip to base
Frowns sheer, height and depth adamantine, one death!
I rouse with a beam the whole rampart, displace
No splinter -- yet see how my flambeau, beneath
And above, bids this gem wink, that crystal unsheathe!

Withdraw beam -- disclosure once more Night forbids you
Of spangle and sparkle -- Day's chance-gift, surmised
Rock's permanent birthright: my potency rids you
No longer of darkness, yet light -- recognized --
Proves darkness a mask: day lives on though disguised.

If Bacchus by wine's aid avail so to fluster
Your sense, that life's fact grows from adverse and thwart
To helpful and kindly by means of a cluster --
Mere hand-squeeze, earth's nature sublimed by Man's art --
Shall Bacchus claim thanks wherein Zeus has no part?

Zeus -- wisdom anterior? No, maids, be admonished!
If morn's touch at base worked such wonders, much more
Had noontide in absolute glory astonished
Your den, filled a-top to o'erflowing. I pour
No such mad confusion. 'T is Man's to explore

Up and down, inch by inch, with the taper his reason:
No torch, it suffices -- held deftly and straight.
Eyes, purblind at first, feel their way in due season,
Accept good with bad, till unseemly debate
Turns concord -- despair, acquiescence in fate.

Who works this but Zeus? Are not instinct and impulse,
Not concept and incept his work through Man's soul
On Man's sense? Just as wine ere it reach brain must brim pulse,
Zeus' flash stings the mind that speeds body to goal,
Bids pause at no part but press on, reach the whole.

For petty and poor is the part ye envisage
When -- (quaff away, cummers!) -- ye view, last and first,
As evil Man's earthly existence. Come! Is age,
Is infancy -- manhood -- so uninterspersed
With good -- some faint sprinkle?
Clo. I'd speak if I durst.

Apol. Draughts dregward loose tongue-tie.
Lach. I'd see, did no web
Set eyes somehow winking.
Apol. Drains-deep lies their purge
-- True collyrium!
Atr. Words, surging at high-tide, soon ebb
From starved ears.
Apol. Drink but down to the source, they resurge.
Join hands! Yours and yours too! A dance or a dirge?

Cho. Quashed be our quarrel! Sourly and smilingly,
Bare and gowned, bleached limbs and browned,
Drive we a dance, three and one, reconcilingly,
Thanks to the cup where dissension is drowned,
Defeat proves triumphant and slavery crowned.

Infancy? What if the rose-streak of morning
Pale and depart in a passion of tears?
Once to have hoped is no matter for scorning!
Love once -- e'en love's disappointment endears!
A minute's success pays the failure of years.

Manhood -- the actual? Nay, praise the potential!
(Bound upon bound, foot it around!)
What is? No, what may be -- sing! that's Man's essential!
(Ramp, tramp, stamp and compound
Fancy with fact -- the lost secret is found!)
Age? Why, fear ends there: the contest concluded,
Man did live his life, did escape from the fray:
Not scratchless but unscathed, he somehow eluded
Each blow fortune dealt him, and conquers to-day:
To-morrow -- new chance and fresh strength, -- might we say?

Laud then Man's life -- no defeat but a triumph!
[Explosion from the earth's centre.
Clo. Ha, loose hands!
Lach. I reel in a swound.
Atro. Horror yawns under me, while from on high -- humph!
Lightnings astound, thunders resound,
Vault-roof reverberates, groans the ground!
[Silence.
Apol. I acknowledge.
The Fates. Hence, trickster! Straight sobered are we!
The portent assures 't was our tongue spoke the truth,
Not thine. While the vapor encompassed us three
We conceived and bore knowledge -- a bantling uncouth,
Old brains shudder back from: so -- take it, rash youth!

Lick the lump into shape till a cry comes!
Apol. I hear.
The Fates. Dumb music, dead eloquence!
Say it, or sing!
What was quickened in us and thee also?
Apol. I fear.
The Fates. Half female, half male -- go, ambiguous thing!
While we speak -- perchance sputter -- pick up what we fling!

Known yet ignored, nor divined nor unguessed,
Such is Man's law of life. Do we strive to declare
What is ill, what is good in our spinning?
Worst, best,
Change hues of a sudden: now here and now there
Flits the sign which decides: all about yet nowhere.

'T is willed so, -- that Man's life be lived, first to last,
Up and down, through and through -- not in portions, forsooth,
To pick and to choose from. Our shuttles fly fast,
Weave living, not life sole and whole: as age -- youth,
So death completes living, shows life in its truth.

Man learningly lives: till death helps him -- no lore!
It is doom and must be. Dost submit?
Apol. I assent --
Concede but Admetus! So much if no more
Of my prayer grant as peace-pledge! Be gracious, though, blent,
Good and ill, love and hate streak your life-gift!
The Fates. Content!

Such boon we accord in due measure. Life's term
We lengthen should any be moved for love's sake
To forego life's fulfilment, renounce in the germ
Fruit mature -- bliss or woe -- either infinite.
Take
Or leave thy friend's lot: on his head be the stake!

Apol. On mine, griesly gammers! Admetus, I know thee!
Thou prizest the right these unwittingly give
Thy subjects to rush, pay obedience they owe thee!
Importunate one with another they strive
For the glory to die that their king may survive.

Friends rush: and who first in all Pherae appears
But thy father to serve as thy substitute?
Clo. Bah!
Apol. Ye wince? Then his mother, well stricken in years,
Advances her claim -- or his wife --
Lach. Tra-la-la!
Apol. But he spurns the exchange, rather dies!
Atro. Ha, ha, ha!
[Apollo ascends. Darkness.





Other Poems of Interest...



Home: PoetryExplorer.net