Robert Browning

Here you will find the Long Poem Cleon of poet Robert Browning


"As certain also of your own poets have said"--
 (Acts 17.28)
 Cleon the poet (from the sprinkled isles,
 Lily on lily, that o'erlace the sea
 And laugh their pride when the light wave lisps "Greece")--
 To Protus in his Tyranny: much health!

 They give thy letter to me, even now:
 I read and seem as if I heard thee speak.
 The master of thy galley still unlades
 Gift after gift; they block my court at last
 And pile themselves along its portico
 Royal with sunset, like a thought of thee:
 And one white she-slave from the group dispersed
 Of black and white slaves (like the chequer-work
 Pavement, at once my nation's work and gift,
 Now covered with this settle-down of doves),
 One lyric woman, in her crocus vest
 Woven of sea-wools, with her two white hands
 Commends to me the strainer and the cup
 Thy lip hath bettered ere it blesses mine.

 Well-counselled, king, in thy munificence!
 For so shall men remark, in such an act
 Of love for him whose song gives life its joy,--
 Thy recognition of the use of life;
 Nor call thy spirit barely adequate
 To help on life in straight ways, broad enough
 For vulgar souls, by ruling and the rest.
 Thou, in the daily building of thy tower,--
 Whether in fierce and sudden spasms of toil,
 Or through dim lulls of unapparent growth,
 Or when the general work 'mid good acclaim
 Climbed with the eye to cheer the architect,--
 Didst ne'er engage in work for mere work's sake--
 Hadst ever in thy heart the luring hope
 Of some eventual rest a-top of it,
 Whence, all the tumult of the building hushed,
 Thou first of men might'st look out to the East:
 The vulgar saw thy tower, thou sawest the sun.
 For this, I promise on thy festival
 To pour libation, looking o'er the sea,
 Making this slave narrate thy fortunes, speak
 Thy great words, and describe thy royal face--
 Wishing thee wholly where Zeus lives the most,
 Within the eventual element of calm.

 Thy letter's first requirement meets me here.
 It is as thou hast heard: in one short life
 I, Cleon, have effected all those things
 Thou wonderingly dost enumerate.
 That epos on thy hundred plates of gold
 Is mine,--and also mine the little chant,
 So sure to rise from every fishing-bark
 When, lights at prow, the seamen haul their net.
 The image of the sun-god on the phare,
 Men turn from the sun's self to see, is mine;
 The P?o'er-storied its whole length,
 As thou didst hear, with painting, is mine too.
 I know the true proportions of a man
 And woman also, not observed before;
 And I have written three books on the soul,
 Proving absurd all written hitherto,
 And putting us to ignorance again.
 For music,--why, I have combined the moods,
 Inventing one. In brief, all arts are mine;
 Thus much the people know and recognize,
 Throughout our seventeen islands. Marvel not.
 We of these latter days, with greater mind
 Than our forerunners, since more composite,
 Look not so great, beside their simple way,
 To a judge who only sees one way at once,
 One mind-point and no other at a time,--
 Compares the small part of a man of us
 With some whole man of the heroic age,
 Great in his way--not ours, nor meant for ours.
 And ours is greater, had we skill to know:
 For, what we call this life of men on earth,
 This sequence of the soul's achievements here
 Being, as I find much reason to conceive,
 Intended to be viewed eventually
 As a great whole, not analyzed to parts,
 But each part having reference to all,--
 How shall a certain part, pronounced complete,
 Endure effacement by another part?
 Was the thing done?--then, what's to do again?
 See, in the chequered pavement opposite,
 Suppose the artist made a perfect rhomb,
 And next a lozenge, then a trapezoid--
 He did not overlay them, superimpose
 The new upon the old and blot it out,
 But laid them on a level in his work,
 Making at last a picture; there it lies.
 So, first the perfect separate forms were made,
 The portions of mankind; and after, so,
 Occurred the combination of the same.
 For where had been a progress, otherwise?
 Mankind, made up of all the single men,--
 In such a synthesis the labour ends.
 Now mark me! those divine men of old time
 Have reached, thou sayest well, each at one point
 The outside verge that rounds our faculty;
 And where they reached, who can do more than reach?
 It takes but little water just to touch
 At some one point the inside of a sphere,
 And, as we turn the sphere, touch all the rest
 In due succession: but the finer air
 Which not so palpably nor obviously,
 Though no less universally, can touch
 The whole circumference of that emptied sphere,
 Fills it more fully than the water did;
 Holds thrice the