Verse > Anthologies > The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse > 104. From ‘Easter Day’
Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
104. From ‘Easter Day’
By Robert Browning  (1812–1889)
HE stood there. Like the smoke
Pillared o’er Sodom, when day broke,—
I saw Him. One magnific pall
Mantled in massive fold and fall
His dread, and coiled in snaky swathes        5
About His feet: night’s black, that bathes
All else, broke, grizzled with despair,
Against the soul of blackness there.
A gesture told the mood within—
That wrapped right hand which based the chin.       10
That intense meditation fixed
On His procedure,—pity mixed
With the fulfilment of decree.
Motionless, thus, He spoke to me,
Who fell before His feet, a mass,       15
No man now.
    ‘All is come to pass.
Such shows are over for each soul
They had respect to. In the roll
Of Judgement which convinced mankind       20
Of sin, stood many, bold and blind,
Terror must burn the truth into:
Their fate for them!—thou hadst to do
With absolute omnipotence,
Able its judgements to dispense       25
To the whole race, as every one
Were its sole object. Judgement done,
God is, thou art,—the rest is hurled
To nothingness for thee. This world,
This finite life, thou hast preferred,       30
In disbelief of God’s own word,
To Heaven and to Infinity.
Here the probation was for thee,
To show thy soul the earthly mixed
With heavenly, it must choose betwixt.       35
The earthly joys lay palpable,—
A taint, in each, distinct as well;
The heavenly flitted, faint and rare,
Above them, but as truly were
Taintless, so, in their nature, best.       40
Thy choice was earth: thou didst attest
’Twas fitter spirit should subserve
The flesh, than flesh refine to nerve
Beneath the spirt’s play. Advance
No claim to their inheritance       45
Who chose the spirit’s fugitive
Brief gleams, and yearned, “This were to live
Indeed, if rays, completely pure
From flesh that dulls them, could endure,—
Not shoot in meteor-light athwart       50
Our earth, to show how cold and swart
It lies beneath their fire, but stand
As stars do, destined to expand,
Prove veritable worlds, our home.”
Thou saidst,—“Let spirit star the dome       55
Of sky, that flesh may miss no peak,
No nook of earth,—I shall not seek
Its service further!” Thou art shut
Out of the heaven of spirit; glut
Thy sense upon the world: ’tis thine       60
For ever—take it!’
  ‘How? Is mine,
The world?’ (I cried, while my soul broke
Out in a transport.) ‘Hast Thou spoke
Plainly in that? Earth’s exquisite       65
Treasures of wonder and delight,
For me?’
    The austere voice returned,—
‘So soon made happy? Hadst thou learned
What God accounteth happiness,       70
Thou wouldst not find it hard to guess
What hell may be His punishment
For those who doubt if God invent
Better than they. Let such men rest
Content with what they judged the best.       75
Let the unjust usurp at will:
The filthy shall be filthy still:
Miser, there waits the gold for thee!
Hater, indulge thine enmity!
And thou, whose heaven self-ordained       80
Was, to enjoy earth unrestrained,
Do it! Take all the ancient show!
The woods shall wave, the rivers flow,
And men apparently pursue
Their works, as they were wont to do,       85
While living in probation yet.
I promise not thou shalt forget
The Past, now gone to its account;
But leave thee with the old amount;
Of faculties, nor less nor more,       90
Unvisited, as heretofore,
By God’s free spirit, that makes an end.
So, once more, take thy world! expend
Eternity upon its shows,—
Flung thee as freely as one rose       95
Out of a summer’s opulence,
Over the Eden-barrier whence
Thou art excluded. Knock in vain!’
I sat up. All was still again.
I breathed free: to my heart, back fled      100
The warmth. ‘But, all the world!’—I said.
I stooped and picked a leaf of fern,
And recollected I might learn
From books, how many myriad sorts
Of fern exist, to trust reports,      105
Each as distinct and beautiful
As this, the very first I cull.
Think, from the first leaf to the last!
Conceive, then, earth’s resources! Vast
Exhaustless beauty, endless change      110
Of wonder! And this foot shall range
Alps, Andes,—and this eye devour
The bee-bird and the aloe-flower?
Then the Voice, ‘Welcome so to rate
The arras-folds that variegate      115
The earth, God’s antechamber, well!
The wise, who waited there, could tell
By these, what royalties in store
Lay one step past the entrance-door.
For whom, was reckoned, not too much,      120
This life’s munificence? For such
As thou,—a race, whereof scarce one
Was able, in a million,
To feel that any marvel lay
In objects round his feet all day;      125
Scarce one, in many millions more,
Willing, if able, to explore
The secreter, minuter charm!
—Brave souls, a fern-leaf could disarm
Of power to cope with God’s intent,—      130
Or scared if the south firmament
With north-fire did its wings refledge!
All partial beauty was a pledge
Of beauty in its plenitude:
But since the pledge sufficed thy mood,      135
Retain it! plenitude be theirs
Who looked above!’
    Though sharp despairs
Shot through me, I held up, bore on.
‘What matter though my trust were gone      140
From natural things? Henceforth my part
Be less with Nature than with Art!
For Art supplants, gives mainly worth
To Nature; ’tis Man stamps the earth—
And I will seek his impress, seek      145
The statuary of the Greek,
Italy’s painting—there my choice
Shall fix!’
    ‘Obtain it!’ said the voice,
—‘The one form with its single act,      150
Which sculptors laboured to abstract,
The one face, painters tried to draw,
With its one look, from throngs they saw…
  …‘But through
Life pierce,—and what has earth to do,      155
Its utmost beauty’s appanage,
With the requirement of next stage?
Did God pronounce earth “very good”?
Needs must it be, while understood
For man’s preparatory state;      160
Nothing to heighten nor abate:
Transfer the same completeness here,
To serve a new state’s use—and drear
Deficiency gapes every side!
The good, tried once, were had, retried.      165
See the enwrapping rocky niche,
Sufficient for the sleep, in which
The lizard breathes for ages safe:
Split the mould—and as this would chafe
The creature’s new world-widened sense,      170
One minute after day dispense
The thousand sounds and sights that broke
In on him at the chisel’s stroke,—
So, in God’s eye, the earth’s first stuff
Was, neither more nor less, enough      175
To house man’s soul, man’s need fulfil.
Man reckoned it immeasurable?
So thinks the lizard of his vault!
Could God be taken in default,
Short of contrivances, by you—      180
Or reached, ere ready to pursue
His progress through eternity?
That chambered rock, the lizard’s world,
Your easy mallet’s blow has hurled
To nothingness for ever; so,      185
Has God abolished at a blow
This world, wherein His saints were pent—
Who, though found grateful and content,
With the provision there, as thou,
Yet knew He would not disallow      190
Their spirit’s hunger, felt as well,—
Unsated,—not unsatable,
As Paradise gives proof. Deride
Their choice now, thou who sit’st outside!
I cried in anguish, ‘Mind, the mind,      195
So miserably cast behind,
To gain what had been wisely lost!
Oh, let me strive to make the most
Of the poor stinted soul, I nipped
Of budding wings, else now equipt      200
For voyage from summer isle to isle!
And though she needs must reconcile
Ambition to the life on ground,
Still, I can profit by late found
But precious knowledge. Mind is best—      205
I will seize mind, forgo the rest,
And try how far my tethered strength
May crawl in this poor breadth and length.
Let me, since I can fly no more,
At least spin dervish-like about      210
(Till giddy rapture almost doubt
I fly) through circling sciences,
Philosophies and histories!
Should the whirl slacken there, then verse,
Fining to music, shall asperse      215
Fresh and fresh fire-dew, till I strain
Intoxicate, half-break my chain!
Not joyless, though more favoured feet
Stand calm, where I want wings to beat
The floor. At least earth’s bond is broke!’      220
Then (sickening even while I spoke),
‘Let me alone! No answer, pray,
To this! I know what Thou wilt say!
All still is earth’s—to know, as much
As feel its truths, which if we touch      225
With sense, or apprehend in soul,
What matter? I have reached the goal—
“Whereto does Knowledge serve!” will burn
My eyes, too sure, at every turn!
I cannot look back now, nor stake      230
Bliss on the race, for running’s sake.
The goal’s a ruin like the rest!’
—‘And so much worse thy latter quest,’
(Added the voice) ‘that even on earth—
Whenever, in man’s soul, had birth      235
Those intuitions, grasps of guess,
That pull the more into the less,
Making the finite comprehend
Infinity,—the bard would spend
Such praise alone, upon his craft,      240
As, when wind-lyres obey the waft,
Goes to the craftsman who arranged
The seven strings, changed them and rechanged—
Knowing it was the South that harped.
He felt his song, in singing, warped;      245
Distinguished his and God’s part: whence
A world of spirit as of sense
Was plain to him, yet not too plain,
Which he could traverse, not remain
A guest in:—else were permanent      250
Heaven on earth which its gleams were meant
To sting with hunger for full light—
Made visible in verse, despite
The veiling weakness,—truth by means
Of fable, showing while it screens,—      255
Since highest truth, man e’er supplied,
Was ever fable on outside.
Such gleams made bright the earth an age;
Now, the whole sun’s his heritage!
Take up thy world, it is allowed,      260
Thou who hast entered in the cloud!’
Then I—‘Behold, my spirit bleeds,
Catches no more at broken reeds,—
But lilies flower those reeds above:
I let the world go, and take love!      265
Love survives in me, albeit those
I love be henceforth masks and shows,
Not loving men and women: still
I mind how love repaired all ill,
Cured wrong, soothed grief, made earth amends      270
With parents, brothers, children, friends!
Some semblance of a woman yet
With eyes to help me to forget,
Shall live with me; and I will match
Departed love with love, attach      275
Its fragments to my whole, nor scorn
The poorest of the grains of corn
I save from shipwreck on this isle,
Trusting its barrenness may smile
With happy foodful green one day,      280
More precious for the pains. I pray,
For love, then, only!’
    At the word,
The form, I looked to have been stirred
With pity and approval, rose      285
O’er me, as when the headsman throws
Axe over shoulder to make end—
I fell prone, letting Him expend
His wrath, while, thus, the inflicting voice
Smote me. ‘Is this thy final choice?      290
Love is the best? ‘Tis somewhat late!
And all thou dost enumerate
Of power and beauty in the world,
The mightiness of love was curled
Inextricably round about.      295
Love lay within it and without,
To clasp thee—but in vain! Thy soul
Still shrunk from Him who made the whole,
Still set deliberate aside
His love!—Now take love! Well betide      300
Thy tardy conscience! Haste to take
The show of love for the name’s sake,
Remembering every moment Who,
Beside creating thee unto
These ends, and these for thee, was said      305
To undergo death in thy stead
In flesh like thine: so ran the tale.
What doubt in thee could countervail
Belief in it? Upon the ground
“That in the story had been found      310
Too much love! How could God love so?’
He who in all His works below
Adapted to the needs of man,
Made love the basis of the plan,—
Did love, as was demonstrated:      315
While man, who was so fit instead
To hate, as every day gave proof—
Man thought man, for his kind’s behoof,
Both could and did invent that scheme
Of perfect love—’twould well beseem      320
Cain’s nature thou wast wont to praise,
Not tally with God’s usual ways!’
And I cowered deprecatingly—
‘Thou Love of God! Or let me die,
Or grant what shall seem Heaven almost!      325
Let me not know that all is lost,
Though lost it be—leave me not tied
To this despair, this corpse-like bride!
Let that old life seem mine—no more—
With limitation as before,      330
With darkness, hunger, toil, distress:
Be all the earth a wilderness!
Only let me go on, go on,
Still hoping ever and anon
To reach one eve the Better Land!’      335
Then did the form expand, expand—
I knew Him through the dread disguise,
As the whole God within his eyes
Embraced me.



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