Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
Youth and Art
Robert Browning (1812–89)
IT once might have been, once only:
  We lodged in a street together,
You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
  I, a lone she-bird of his feather.
Your trade was with sticks and clay,        5
  You thumb’d, thrust, patted and polish’d,
Then laugh’d, “They will see, some day,
  Smith made, and Gibson demolish’d.”
My business was song, song, song:
  I chirp’d, cheep’d, trill’d and twitter’d,        10
“Kate Brown ’s on the boards ere long,
  And Grisi’s existence embitter’d!”
I earn’d, no more by a warble
  Than you by a sketch in plaster;
You wanted a piece of marble,        15
  I needed a music-master.
We studied hard in our styles,
  Chipp’d each at a crust like Hindoos,
For air, look’d out on the tiles,
  For fun, watch’d each other’s windows.        20
You lounged, like a boy of the South,
  Cap and blouse—nay, a bit of beard too;
Or you it, rubbing your mouth
  With fingers the clay adher’d to.
And I—soon managed to find        25
  Weak points in the flower-fence facing,
Was forced to put up a blind
  And be safe in my corset-lacing.
No harm! It was not my fault
  If you never turn’d your eye’s tail up        30
As I shook upon E in alt,
  Or ran the chromatic scale up:
For spring bade the sparrows pair,
  And the boys and girls gave guesses,
And stalls in our street look’d rare        35
  With bulrush and watercresses.
Why did not you pinch a flower
  In a pellet of clay and fling it?
Why did not I put a power
  Of thanks in a look, or sing it?        40
I did look, sharp as a lynx,
  (And yet the memory rankles)
When models arriv’d, some minx
  Tripp’d up stairs, she and her ankles.
But I think I gave you as good!        45
  “That foreign fellow,—who can know
How she pays, in a playful mood,
  For his tuning her that piano?”
Could you say so, and never say,
  “Suppose we join hands and fortunes,        50
And I fetch her from over the way,
  Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?”
No, no: you would not be rash,
  Nor I rasher and something over;
You’ve to settle yet Gibson’s hash,        55
  And Grisi yet lives in clover.
But you meet the Prince at the Board,
  I ’m queen myself at bals-parés,
I ’ve married a rich old lord,
  And you ’re dubb’d knight and an R. A.        60
Each life ’s unfulfill’d, you see;
  It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
We have not sigh’d deep, laugh’d free,
  Starv’d, feasted, despair’d,—been happy;
And nobody calls you a dunce,        65
  And people suppose me clever;
This could but have happen’d once,
  And we miss’d it, lost it forever.


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