Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
Descriptive Poems: I. Personal: Great Writers
The Lost Leader
Robert Browning (1812–1889)
JUST 1 for a handful of silver he left us,
  Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat—
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
  Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,        5
  So much was theirs who so little allowed;
How all our copper had gone for his service!
  Rags—were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honored him,
  Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,        10
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
  Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
  Burns, Shelley, were with us,—they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,        15
  He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
We shall march prospering,—not thro’ his presence;
  Songs may inspirit us,—not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done,—while he boasts his quiescence,
  Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire.        20
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
  One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more devil’s-triumph and sorrow for angels,
  One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!        25
  There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
  Never glad confident morning again!
Best fight on well, for we taught him—strike gallantly,
  Menace our heart ere we master his own;        30
Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
  Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!
Note 1. This bitter attack, famous for its invective, was made by Browning (1845) on Wordsworth, after the latter had accepted the post of Poet Laureate (1843), thus, in Browning’s view, deserting the people and selling himself to the government. Wordsworth’s only official poem, however, was on the installation of Albert, Prince Consort, as Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1847; and in 1850 he died: so that the protest of Browning was not justified. Indeed, in 1875, Browning himself wrote: “I did in my hasty youth presume to use the great and venerated personality of Wordsworth as a sort of painter’s model; one from which this or the other particular feature may be selected and turned to account; had I intended more … I should not have talked about ’handfuls of silver and bits of ribbon.’ These never influenced the change of politics in the great poet, whose defection, nevertheless … was to my juvenile apprehension, and even mature consideration, an event to be deplored.” [back]

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