Robert Browning

Here you will find the Long Poem Caliban upon Setebos or, Natural Theology in the Island of poet Robert Browning

Caliban upon Setebos or, Natural Theology in the Island

"Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself."
 (David, Psalms 50.21)
 ['Will sprawl, now that the heat of day is best,
 Flat on his belly in the pit's much mire,
 With elbows wide, fists clenched to prop his chin.
 And, while he kicks both feet in the cool slush,
 And feels about his spine small eft-things course,
 Run in and out each arm, and make him laugh:
 And while above his head a pompion-plant,
 Coating the cave-top as a brow its eye,
 Creeps down to touch and tickle hair and beard,
 And now a flower drops with a bee inside,
 And now a fruit to snap at, catch and crunch,--
 He looks out o'er yon sea which sunbeams cross
 And recross till they weave a spider-web
 (Meshes of fire, some great fish breaks at times)
 And talks to his own self, howe'er he please,
 Touching that other, whom his dam called God.
 Because to talk about Him, vexes--ha,
 Could He but know! and time to vex is now,
 When talk is safer than in winter-time.
 Moreover Prosper and Miranda sleep
 In confidence he drudges at their task,
 And it is good to cheat the pair, and gibe,
 Letting the rank tongue blossom into speech.]

 Setebos, Setebos, and Setebos!
 'Thinketh, He dwelleth i'the cold o'the moon.

 'Thinketh He made it, with the sun to match,
 But not the stars; the stars came otherwise;
 Only made clouds, winds, meteors, such as that:
 Also this isle, what lives and grows thereon,
 And snaky sea which rounds and ends the same.

 'Thinketh, it came of being ill at ease:
 He hated that He cannot change His cold,
 Nor cure its ache. 'Hath spied an icy fish
 That longed to 'scape the rock-stream where she lived,
 And thaw herself within the lukewarm brine
 O'the lazy sea her stream thrusts far amid,
 A crystal spike 'twixt two warm walls of wave;
 Only, she ever sickened, found repulse
 At the other kind of water, not her life,
 (Green-dense and dim-delicious, bred o'the sun)
 Flounced back from bliss she was not born to breathe,
 And in her old bounds buried her despair,
 Hating and loving warmth alike: so He.

 'Thinketh, He made thereat the sun, this isle,
 Trees and the fowls here, beast and creeping thing.
 Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech;
 Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam,
 That floats and feeds; a certain badger brown
 He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye
 By moonlight; and the pie with the long tongue
 That pricks deep into oak warts for a worm,
 And says a plain word when she finds her prize,
 But will not eat the ants; the ants themselves
 That build a wall of seeds and settled stalks
 About their hole--He made all these and more,
 Made all we see, and us, in spite: how else?
 He could not, Himself, make a second self
 To be His mate; as well have made Himself:
 He would not make what He mislikes or slights,
 An eyesore to Him, or not worth His pains:
 But did, in envy, listlessness or sport,
 Make what Himself would fain, in a manner, be--
 Weaker in most points, stronger in a few,
 Worthy, and yet mere playthings all the while,
 Things He admires and mocks too,--that is it.
 Because, so brave, so better though they be,
 It nothing skills if He begin to plague.
 Look, now, I melt a gourd-fruit into mash,
 Add honeycomb and pods, I have perceived,
 Which bite like finches when they bill and kiss,--
 Then, when froth rises bladdery, drink up all,
 Quick, quick, till maggots scamper through my brain;
 Last, throw me on my back i'the seeded thyme,
 And wanton, wishing I were born a bird.
 Put case, unable to be what I wish,
 I yet could make a live bird out of clay:
 Would not I take clay, pinch my Caliban
 Able to fly?--for, there, see, he hath wings,
 And great comb like the hoopoe's to admire,
 And there, a sting to do his foes offence,
 There, and I will that he begin to live,
 Fly to yon rock-top, nip me off the horns
 Of grigs high up that make the merry din,
 Saucy through their veined wings, and mind me not.
 In which feat, if his leg snapped, brittle clay,
 And he lay stupid-like,--why, I should laugh;
 And if he, spying me, should fall to weep,
 Beseech me to be good, repair his wrong,
 Bid his poor leg smart less or grow again,--
 Well, as the chance were, this might take or else
 Not take my fancy: I might hear his cry,
 And give the mankin three sound legs for one,
 Or pluck the other off, leave him like an egg
 And lessoned he was mine and merely clay.
 Were this no pleasure, lying in the thyme,
 Drinking the mash, with brain become alive,
 Making and marring clay at will? So He.

 'Thinketh, such shows nor right nor wrong in Him,
 Nor kind, nor cruel: He is strong and Lord.
 'Am strong myself compared to yonder crabs
 That march now from th