Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE: GERARD DE MANDEVILLE, by ROBERT BROWNING



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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE: GERARD DE MANDEVILLE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Ay, this same midnight, by this chair of mine
Last Line: Trustful with -- me? With thee, sage mandeville!
Subject(s): Mandeville, Bernard (1670-1733)


I

AY, this same midnight, by this chair of mine,
Come and review thy counsels: art thou still
Stanch to their teaching? -- not as fools opine
Its purport might be, but as subtler skill
Could, through turbidity, the loaded line
Of logic casting, sound deep, deeper, till
It touched a quietude and reached a shrine
And recognized harmoniously combine
Evil with good, and hailed truth's triumph -- thine,
Sage dead long since, Bernard de Mandeville!

II

Only, 't is no fresh knowledge that I crave,
Fuller truth yet, new gainings from the grave;
Here we alive must needs deal fairly, turn
To what account Man may Man's portion, learn
Man's proper play with truth in part, before
Entrusted with the whole. I ask no more
Than smiling witness that I do my best
With doubtful doctrine: afterwards the rest!
So, silent face me while I think and speak!
A full disclosure? Such would outrage law.
Law deals the same with soul and body: seek
Full truth my soul may, when some babe, I saw
A new-born weakling, starts up strong -- not weak --
Man every whit, absolved from earning awe,
Pride, rapture, if the soul attains to wreak
Its will on flesh, at last can thrust, lift, draw,
As mind bids muscle -- mind which long has striven,
Painfully urging body's impotence
To effort whereby -- once law's barrier riven,
Life's rule abolished -- body might dispense
With infancy's probation, straight be given
-- Not by foiled darings, fond attempts back-driven,
Fine faults of growth, brave sins which saint when shriven --
To stand full-statured in magnificence.

III

No: as with body so deals law with soul
That's stung to strength through weakness, strives for good
Through evil, -- earth its race-ground, heaven its goal,
Presumably: so far I understood
Thy teaching long ago. But what means this
-- Objected by a mouth which yesterday
Was magisterial in antithesis
To half the truths we hold, or trust we may,
Though tremblingly the while? "No sign" -- groaned he --
"No stirring of God's finger to denote
He wills that right should have supremacy
On earth, not wrong! How helpful could we quote
But one poor instance when he interposed
Promptly and surely and beyond mistake
Between oppression and its victim, closed
Accounts with sin for once, and bade us wake
From our long dream that justice bears no sword,
Or else forgets whereto its sharpness serves!
So might we safely mock at what unnerves
Faith now, be spared the sapping fear's increase
That haply evil's strife with good shall cease
Never on earth. Nay, after earth, comes peace
Born out of life-long battle? Man's lip curves
With scorn: there, also, what if justice swerves
From dealing doom, sets free by no swift stroke
Right fettered here by wrong, but leaves life's yoke --
Death should loose man from -- fresh laid, past release?"

IV

Bernard de Mandeville, confute for me
This parlous friend who captured or set free
Thunderbolts at his pleasure, yet would draw
Back, panic-stricken by some puny straw
Thy gold - rimmed amber - headed cane had whisked
Out of his pathway if the object risked
Encounter, 'scaped thy kick from buckled shoe!
As when folk heard thee in old days pooh-pooh
Addison's tye - wig preachment, grant this friend --
(Whose groan I hear, with guffaw at the end
Disposing of mock-melancholy) -- grant
His bilious mood one potion, ministrant
Of homely wisdom, healthy wit! For, hear!
"With power and will, let preference appear
By intervention ever and aye, help good
When evil's mastery is understood
In some plain outrage, and triumphant wrong
Tramples weak right to nothingness: nay, long
Ere such sad consummation brings despair
To right's adherents, ah, what help it were
If wrong lay strangled in the birth -- each head
Of the hatched monster promptly crushed, instead
Of spared to gather venom! We require
No great experience that the inch-long worm,
Free of our heel, would grow to vomit fire,
And one day plague the world in dragon form.
So should wrong merely peep abroad to meet
Wrong's due quietus, leave our world's way safe
For honest walking."

V

Sage, once more repeat
Instruction! 'T is a sore to soothe not chafe.
Ah, Fabulist, what luck, could I contrive
To coax from thee another "Grumbling Hive"!
My friend himself wrote fables short and sweet:
Ask him -- "Suppose the Gardener of Man's ground
Plants for a purpose, side by side with good,
Evil -- (and that he does so -- look around!
What does the field show?) -- were it understood
That purposely the noxious plant was found
Vexing the virtuous, poison close to food,
If, at first stealing-forth of life in stalk
And leaflet-promise, quick his spud should balk
Evil from budding foliage, bearing fruit?
Such timely treatment of the offending root
Might strike the simple as wise husbandry,
But swift sure extirpation would scarce suit
Shrewder observers. Seed once sown thrives: why
Frustrate its product, miss the quality
Which sower binds himself to count upon?
Had seed fulfilled the destined purpose, gone
Unhindered up to harvest -- what know I
But proof were gained that every growth of good
Sprang consequent on evil's neighborhood?"
So said your shrewdness: true -- so did not say
That other sort of theorists who held
Mere unintelligence prepared the way
For either seed's upsprouting: you repelled
Their notion that both kinds could sow themselves.
True! but admit 't is understanding delves
And drops each germ, what else but folly thwarts
The doer's settled purpose? Let the sage
Concede a use to evil, though there starts
Full many a burgeon thence, to disengage
With thumb and finger lest it spoil the yield
Too much of good's main tribute! But our main
Tough - tendoned mandrake - monster -- purge the field
Of him for once and all? It follows plain
Who set him there to grow beholds repealed
His primal law: his ordinance proves vain:
And what beseems a king who cannot reign,
But to drop sceptre valid arm should wield?

VI

"Still there's a parable" -- retorts my friend
"Shows agriculture with a difference!
What of the crop and weeds which solely blend
Because, once planted, none may pluck them thence?
The Gardener contrived thus? Vain pretence!
An enemy it was who unawares
Ruined the wheat by interspersing tares.
Where's our desiderated forethought?
Where's
Knowledge, where power and will in evidence?
'T is Man's-play merely! Craft foils rectitude,
Malignity defeats beneficence.
And grant, at very last of all, the feud
'Twixt good and evil ends, strange thoughts intrude
Though good be garnered safely, and good's foe
Bundled for burning. Thoughts steal: 'Even so --
Why grant tares leave to thus o'ertop, o'ertower
Their field-mate, boast the stalk and flaunt the flower,
Triumph one sunny minute? Knowledge, power,
And will thus worked?' Man's fancy makes the fault!
Man, with the narrow mind, must cram inside
His finite God's infinitude, -- earth's vault
He bids comprise the heavenly far and wide,
Since Man may claim a right to understand
What passes understanding. So, succinct
And trimly set in order, to be scanned
And scrutinized, lo -- the divine lies linked
Fast to the human, free to move as moves
Its proper match: awhile they keep the grooves,
Discreetly side by side together pace,
Till sudden comes a stumble incident
Likely enough to Man's weak-footed race,
And he discovers -- wings in rudiment,
Such as he boasts, which full-grown, free-distent
Would lift him skyward, fail of flight while pent
Within humanity's restricted space.
Abjure each fond attempt to represent
The formless, the illimitable! Trace
No outline, try no hint of human face
Or form or hand!"

VII

Friend, here's a tracing meant
To help a guess at truth you never knew.
Bend but those eyes now, using mind's eye too,
And note -- sufficient for all purposes --
The ground-plan -- map you long have yearned for -- yes,
Make out in markings -- more what artist can? --
Goethe's Estate in Weimar, -- just a plan!
A is the House, and B the Garden-gate,
And C the Grass-plot -- you've the whole estate
Letter by letter, down to Y the Pond,
And Z the Pigsty. Do you look beyond
The algebraic signs, and captious say
"Is A the House? But where's the Roof to A,
Where's Door, where's Window? Needs must House have such!"
Ay, that were folly. Why so very much
More foolish than our mortal purblind way
Of seeking in the symbol no mere point
To guide our gaze through what were else inane,
But things -- their solid selves? "Is, joint by joint,
Orion man-like, -- as these dots explain
His constellation? Flesh composed of suns --
How can such be?" exclaim the simple ones.
Look through the sign to the thing signified --
Shown nowise, point by point at best descried,
Each an orb's topmost sparkle: all beside
Its shine is shadow: turn the orb one jot --
Up flies the new flash to reveal 't was not
The whole sphere late flamboyant in your ken!

VIII

"What need of symbolizing? Fitlier men
Would take on tongue mere facts -- few, faint and far,
Still facts not fancies: quite enough they are,
That Power, that Knowledge, and that Will, -- add then
Immensity, Eternity: these jar
Nowise with our permitted thought and speech.
Why human attributes?"

A myth may teach:
Only, who better would expound it thus
Must be Euripides, not AEschylus.

IX

Boundingly up through Night's wall dense and dark,
Embattled crags and clouds, outbroke the Sun
Above the conscious earth, and one by one
Her heights and depths absorbed to the last spark
His fluid glory, from the far fine ridge
Of mountain-granite which, transformed to gold,
Laughed first the thanks back, to the vale's dusk fold
On fold of vapor-swathing, like a bridge
Shattered beneath some giant's stamp. Night wist
Her work done and betook herself in mist
To marsh and hollow, there to bide her time
Blindly in acquiescence. Everywhere
Did earth acknowledge Sun's embrace sublime,
Thrilling her to the heart of things: since there
No ore ran liquid, no spar branched anew,
No arrowy crystal gleamed, but straightway grew
Glad through the inrush -- glad nor more nor less
Than, 'neath his gaze, forest and wilderness,
Hill, dale, land, sea, the whole vast stretch and spread,
The universal world of creatures bred
By Sun's munificence, alike gave praise --
All creatures but one only: gaze for gaze,
Joyless and thankless, who -- all scowling can --
Protests against the innumerous praises?
Man,
Sullen and silent.

Stand thou forth then, state
Thy wrong, thou sole aggrieved -- disconsolate --
While every beast, bird, reptile, insect, gay
And glad acknowledges the bounteous day!

X

Man speaks now: "What avails Sun's earth felt thrill
To me? Sun penetrates the ore, the plant --
They feel and grow: perchance with subtler skill
He interfuses fly, worm, brute, until
Each favored object pays life's ministrant
By pressing, in obedience to his will,
Up to completion of the task prescribed,
So stands and stays a type. Myself imbibed
Such influence also, stood and stand complete --
The perfect Man, -- head, body, hands and feet,
True to the pattern: but does that suffice?
How of my superadded mind which needs
-- Not to be, simply, but to do, and pleads
For -- more than knowledge that by some device
Sun quickens matter: mind is nobly fain
To realize the marvel, make -- for sense
As mind -- the unseen visible, condense
-- Myself -- Sun's all-pervading influence
So as to serve the needs of mind, explain
What now perplexes. Let the oak increase
His corrugated strength on strength, the palm
Lift joint by joint her fan-fruit, ball and balm, --
Let the coiled serpent bask in bloated peace, --
The eagle, like some skyey derelict,
Drift in the blue, suspended, glorying, --
The lion lord it by the desert-spring, --
What know or care they of the power which pricked
Nothingness to perfection? I, instead,
When all-developed still am found a thing
All-incomplete: for what though flesh had force
Transcending theirs -- hands able to unring
The tightened snake's coil, eyes that could out course
The eagle's soaring, voice whereat the king
Of carnage couched discrowned? Mind seeks to see,
Touch, understand, by mind inside of me,
The outside mind -- whose quickening I attain
To recognize -- I only. All in vain
Would mind address itself to render plain
The nature of the essence. Drag what lurks
Behind the operation -- that which works
Latently everywhere by outward proof --
Drag that mind forth to face mine? No! aloof
I solely crave that one of all the beams
Which do Sun's work in darkness, at my will
Should operate -- myself for once have skill
To realize the energy which streams
Flooding the universe. Above, around,
Beneath -- why mocks that mind my own thus found
Simply of service, when the world grows dark,
To half-surmise -- were Sun's use understood,
I might demonstrate him supplying food,
Warmth, life, no less the while? To grant one spark
Myself may deal with -- make it thaw my blood
And prompt my steps, were truer to the mark
Of mind's requirement than a half-surmise
That somehow secretly is operant,
A power all matter feels, mind only tries
To comprehend! Once more -- no idle vaunt
'Man comprehends the Sun's self!' Mysteries
At source why probe into? Enough: display,
Make demonstrable, how, by night as day,
Earth's centre and sky's outspan, all's informed
Equally by Sun's efflux! -- source from whence
If just one spark I drew, full evidence
Were mine of fire ineffably enthroned --
Sun's self made palpable to Man!"

XI

Thus moaned
Man till Prometheus helped him, -- as we learn, --
Offered an artifice whereby he drew
Sun's rays into a focus, -- plain and true,
The very Sun in little: made fire burn
And henceforth do Man service -- glass - conglobed
Though to a pin-point circle -- all the same
Comprising the Sun's self, but Sun disrobed
Of that else-unconceived essential flame
Borne by no naked sight. Shall mind's eye strive
Achingly to companion as it may
The supersubtle effluence, and contrive
To follow beam and beam upon their way
Hand-breadth by hand-breadth, till sense faint -- confessed
Frustrate, eluded by unknown unguessed
Infinitude of action? Idle quest!
Rather ask aid from optics. Sense, descry
The spectrum -- mind, infer immensity!
Little? In little, light, warmth, life are blessed --
Which, in the large, who sees to bless? Not I
More than yourself: so, good my friend, keep still
Trustful with -- me? with thee, sage Mandeville!





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