Robert Browning

Here you will find the Long Poem Master Hugues Of Saxe-Gotha of poet Robert Browning

Master Hugues Of Saxe-Gotha

An imaginary composer.]


Hist, but a word, fair and soft!
 Forth and be judged, Master Hugues!
Answer the question I've put you so oft:
 What do you mean by your mountainous fugues?
See, we're alone in the loft,---


I, the poor organist here,
 Hugues, the composer of note,
Dead though, and done with, this many a year:
 Let's have a colloquy, something to quote,
Make the world prick up its ear!


See, the church empties apace:
 Fast they extinguish the lights.
Hallo there, sacristan! Five minutes' grace!
 Here's a crank pedal wants setting to rights,
Baulks one of holding the base.


See, our huge house of the sounds,
 Hushing its hundreds at once,
Bids the last loiterer back to his bounds!
 O you may challenge them, not a response
Get the church-saints on their rounds!


(Saints go their rounds, who shall doubt?
 ---March, with the moon to admire,
Up nave, down chancel, turn transept about,
 Supervise all betwixt pavement and spire,
Put rats and mice to the rout---


 Aloys and Jurien and Just---
 Order things back to their place,
 Have a sharp eye lest the candlesticks rust,
 Rub the church-plate, darn the sacrament-lace,
 Clear the desk-velvet of dust.)


Here's your book, younger folks shelve!
 Played I not off-hand and runningly,
Just now, your masterpiece, hard number twelve?
 Here's what should strike, could one handle it cunningly:
HeIp the axe, give it a helve!


Page after page as I played,
 Every bar's rest, where one wipes
Sweat from one's brow, I looked up and surveyed,
 O'er my three claviers yon forest of pipes
Whence you still peeped in the shade.


Sure you were wishful to speak?
 You, with brow ruled like a score,
Yes, and eyes buried in pits on each cheek,
 Like two great breves, as they wrote them of yore,
Each side that bar, your straight beak!


Sure you said---``Good, the mere notes!
 ``Still, couldst thou take my intent,
``Know what procured me our Company's votes---
 ``A master were lauded and sciolists shent,
``Parted the sheep from the goats!''


Well then, speak up, never flinch!
 Quick, ere my candle's a snuff
---Burnt, do you see? to its uttermost inch---
 _I_ believe in you, but that's not enough:
Give my conviction a clinch!


First you deliver your phrase
 ---Nothing propound, that I see,
Fit in itself for much blame or much praise---
 Answered no less, where no answer needs be:
Off start the Two on their ways.


Straight must a Third interpose,
 Volunteer needlessly help;
In strikes a Fourth, a Fifth thrusts in his nose,
 So the cry's open, the kennel's a-yelp,
Argument's hot to the close.

One dissertates, he is candid;
 Two must discept,--has distinguished;
Three helps the couple, if ever yet man did;
 Four protests; Five makes a dart at the thing wished:
Back to One, goes the case bandied.


One says his say with a difference
 More of expounding, explaining!
All now is wrangle, abuse, and vociferance;
 Now there's a truce, all's subdued, self-restraining:
Five, though, stands out all the stiffer hence.


One is incisive, corrosive:
 Two retorts, nettled, curt, crepitant;
Three makes rejoinder, expansive, explosive;
 Four overbears them all, strident and strepitant,
Five ... O Danaides, O Sieve!


Now, they ply axes and crowbars;
 Now, they prick pins at a tissue
Fine as a skein of the casuist Escobar's
 Worked on the bone of a lie. To what issue?
Where is our gain at the Two-bars?


_Est fuga, volvitur rota._
 On we drift: where looms the dim port?
One, Two, Three, Four, Five, contribute their quota;
 Something is gained, if one caught but the import---
Show it us, Hugues of Saxe-Gotha!


What with affirming, denying,
 Holding, risposting, subjoining,
All's like ... it's like ... for an instance I'm trying ...
 There! See our roof, its gilt moulding and groining
Under those spider-webs lying!


So your fugue broadens and thickens,
Greatens and deepens and lengthens,
Till we exclaim---``But where's music, the dickens?
``Blot ye the gold, while your spider-web strengthens
``---Blacked to the stoutest of tickens?''


I for man's effort am zealous:
 Prove me such censure unfounded!
Seems it surprising a lover grows jealous---
 Hopes 'twas for something, his organ-pipes sounded,
Tiring three boys at the bellows?


Is it your moral of Life?
 Such a web, simple and subtle,
Weave we on earth here in impotent st