Robert Browning

Here you will find the Long Poem Holy-Cross Day of poet Robert Browning

Holy-Cross Day


 [``Now was come about Holy-Cross Day,
and now must my lord preach his first sermon
to the Jews: as it was of old cared for in tine
merciful bowels of the Church, that, so to
speak, a crumb at least from her conspicuous
table here in Rome should be, though but
once yearly, cast to the famishing dogs, under-trampled
and bespitten-upon beneath the feet
of the guests. And a moving sight in truth,
this, of so many of the besotted blind restif
and ready-to-perish Hebrews! now maternally
brought---nay (for He saith, `Compel them
to come in') haled, as it were, by the head and
hair, and against their obstinate hearts, to partake
of the heavenly grace. What awakening,
what striving with tears, what working of a
yeasty conscience! Nor was my lord wanting
to himself on so apt an occasion; witness
the abundance of conversions which did incontinently
reward him: though not to my
lord be altogether the glory.''---_Diary by the
Bishop's Secretary,_ 1600.]

 What the Jews really said, on thus being
driven to church, was rather to this effect:---


Fee, faw, fum! bubble and squeak!
Blessedest Thursday's the fat of the week.
Rumble and tumble, sleek and rough,
Stinking and savoury, simug and gruff,
Take the church-road, for the bell's due chime
Gives us the summons---'tis sermon-time!


Bob, here's Barnabas! Job, that's you?
Up stumps Solomon---bustling too?
Shame, man! greedy beyond your years
To handsel the bishop's shaving-shears?
Fair play's a jewel! Leave friends in the lurch?
Stand on a line ere you start for the church!


Higgledy piggledy, packed we lie,
Rats in a hamper, swine in a stye,
Wasps in a bottle, frogs in a sieve,
Worms in a carcase, fleas in a sleeve.
Hist! square shoulders, settle your thumbs
And buzz for the bishop---here he comes.


Bow, wow, wow---a bone for the dog!
I liken his Grace to an acorned hog.
What, a boy at his side, with the bloom of a lass,
To help and handle my lord's hour-glass!
Didst ever behold so lithe a chine?
His cheek hath laps like a fresh-singed swine.


Aaron's asleep---shove hip to haunch,
Or somebody deal him a dig in the paunch!
Look at the purse with the tassel and knob,
And the gown with the angel and thingumbob!
What's he at, quotha? reading his text!
Now you've his curtsey---and what comes next?


See to our converts---you doomed black dozen---
No stealing away---nor cog nor cozen!
You five, that were thieves, deserve it fairly;
You seven, that were beggars, will live less sparely;
You took your turn and dipped in the hat,
Got fortune---and fortune gets you; mind that!


Give your first groan---compunction's at work;
And soft! from a Jew you mount to a Turk.
Lo, Micah,---the selfsame beard on chin
He was four times already converted in!
Here's a knife, clip quick---it's a sign of grace---
Or he ruins us all with his hanging-face.


Whom now is the bishop a-leering at?
I know a point where his text falls pat.
I'll tell him to-morrow, a word just now
Went to my heart and made me vow
I meddle no more with the worst of trades---
Let somebody else pay his serenades.


Groan all together now, whee-hee-hee!
It's a-work, it's a-work, ah, woe is me!
It began, when a herd of us, picked and placed,
Were spurred through the Corso, stripped to the waist;
Jew brutes, with sweat and blood well spent
To usher in worthily Christian Lent.


It grew, when the hangman entered our bounds,
Yelled, pricked us out to his church like hounds:
It got to a pitch, when the hand indeed
Which gutted my purse would throttle my creed:
And it overflows when, to even the odd,
Men I helped to their sins help me to their God.


But now, while the scapegoats leave our flock,
And the rest sit silent and count the clock,
Since forced to muse the appointed time
On these precious facts and truths sublime,---
Let us fitly ennploy it, under our breath,
In saying Ben Ezra's Song of Death.


For Rabbi Ben Ezra, the night he died,
Called sons and sons' sons to his side,
And spoke, ``This world has been harsh and strange;
``Something is wrong: there needeth a change.
``But what, or where? at the last or first?
``In one point only we sinned, at worst.


``The Lord will have mercy on Jacob yet,
``And again in his border see Israel set.
``When Judah beholds Jerusalem,
``The stranger-seed shall be joined to them:
``To Jacob's House shall the Gentiles cleave.
``So the Prophet saith and his sons believe.


``Ay, the children of the ch