Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. V. Browning to Rupert Brooke
 
David Singing before Saul
By Robert Browning (1812–1889)
 
(From Saul)

VIII
AND I paused, held my breath in such silence, and listened apart;
And the tent shook, for mighty Saul shuddered: and sparkles ’gan dart
From the jewels that woke in his turban, at once with a start,
All its lordly male-sapphires, and rubies courageous at heart.
So the head: but the body still moved not, still hung there erect.        5
And I bent once again to my playing, pursued it unchecked,
As I sang,—

IX
        “Oh, our manhood’s prime vigour! No spirit feels waste,
Not a muscle is stopped in its playing nor sinew unbraced.
Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool silver shock        10
Of the plunge in a pool’s living water, the hunt of the bear,
And the sultriness showing the lion is couched in his lair.
And the meal, the rich dates yellowed over with gold dust divine,
And the locust-flesh steeped in the pitcher, the full draught of wine,
And the sleep in the dried river-channel where bulrushes tell        15
That the water was wont to go warbling so softly and well.
How good is man’s life, the mere living! how fit to employ
All the heart and the soul and the senses forever in joy!
Hast thou loved the white locks of thy father, whose sword thou didst guard
When he trusted thee forth with the armies, for glorious reward?        20
Didst thou kiss the thin hands of thy mother, held up as men sung
The low song of the nearly departed, and hear her faint tongue
Joining in while it could to the witness ‘Let one more attest,
I have lived, seen God’s hand thro’ a lifetime, and all was for best?’
Then they sung thro’ their tears in strong triumph, not much, but the rest.        25
And thy brothers, the help and the contest, the working whence grew
Such result as, from seething grape-bundles, the spirit strained true:
And the friends of thy boyhood—that boyhood of wonder and hope,
Present promise and wealth of the future beyond the eye’s scope,—
Till lo, thou art grown to a monarch; a people is thine;        30
And all gifts, which the world offers singly, on one head combine!
On one head, all the beauty and strength, love and rage (like the throe
That, a-work in the rock, helps its labour and lets the gold go)
High ambition and deeds which surpass it, fame crowning them,—all
Brought to blaze on the head of one creature—King Saul!”        35
 
X
And lo, with that leap of my spirit,—heart, hand, harp and voice,
Each lifting Saul’s name out of sorrow, each bidding rejoice
Saul’s fame in the light it was made for—as when, dare I say,
The Lord’s army, in rapture of service, strains through its array,
And upsoareth the cherubim-chariot—“Saul!” cried I, and stopped,        40
And waited the thing that should follow. Then Saul, who hung propped
By the tent’s cross-support in the centre, was struck by his name.
Have ye seen when Spring’s arrowy summons goes right to the aim,
And some mountain, the last to withstand her, that held (he alone,
While the vale laughed in freedom and flowers) on a broad bust of stone        45
A year’s snow bound about for a breastplate,—leaves grasp of the sheet?
Fold on fold all at once it crowds thunderously down to his feet,
And there fronts you, stark, black, but alive yet, your mountain of old,
With his rents, the successive bequeathings of ages untold:
Yea, each harm got in fighting your battles, each furrow and scar        50
Of his head thrust ’twixt you and the tempest—all hail, there they are!
—Now again to be softened with verdure, again hold the nest
Of the dove, tempt the goat and its young to the green on his crest
For their food in the ardours of summer. One long shudder thrilled
All the tent till the very air tingled, then sank and was stilled        55
At the King’s self left standing before me, released and aware.
(1845.)    
 
 
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