Page name: Stanzas XVIII-XXXIV [Exported view] [RSS]
2006-12-12 17:56:05
Last author: Swollenfish
Owner: Swollenfish
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Better this present than a past like that:

Back therefore to my darkening path again!

No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.

Will the night send a howlet or a bat?

I asked: when something on the dismal flat

Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.


A sudden little river crossed my path

As unexpected as a serpent comes.

No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;

This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath

For the fiend's glowing hoof - to see the wrath

Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.


So petty yet so spiteful! All along,

Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it;

Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit

Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:

The river which had done them all wrong,

Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit.


Which, while I forded - good saints, how I feared

To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,

Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek

For hollows tangled in his hair or beard!

- It may have been a water-rat I speared,

But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek.


Glad was I when I reached the other bank.

Now for a better country. Vain presage!

Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,

Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank

Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank

Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage-


The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque,

What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?

No footprint leading to that horrid mews,

None out of it. Mad brewage set to work

Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk

Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.


And more than that - a furlong on - why, there!

What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,

Or brake, not wheel - that harrow fit to reel

Men's bodies out like silk? With all the air

Of Tophet's tool, on earth left unaware

Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.


Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,

Next a marsh it would seem, and now mere earth

Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,

Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood

Changes and off he goes!) within a rood-

Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.


Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,

Now patches where some leannes of the soil's

Broke into moss, or substances like boils;

Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him

Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim

Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.


And just as far as ever from the end!

Naught in the distance but the evening, naught

To point my footstep further! At the thought,

A great black bird, Appolyon's bosom friend,

Sailed past, not best his wide wing dragon-penned

That brushed my cap - perchance the guide I sought.


For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,

'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place

All round to the mountains - with such name to grace

Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.

How thus they had surprised me - solve it, you!

How to get from them was no clearer case.


Yet half I seemed to recognise some trick

Of mischief happened to me, God knows when-

In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then

Progress this way. When, in the very nick

Of giving up, one more time, came a click

As when a trap shuts - you're inside the den.


Burningly it came on me all at once,

This was the place! those two hills on the right,

Crouched like tow bulls locked horn in horn in fight;

While to the left a tall scalped mountain...Dunce

Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,

After a life spent training for the sight!


What in the midst lay the Tower itself?

The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,

Built of brown stone, without a counterpart

In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf

Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf

He strikes on, only when the timbers start.


Not see? because of night perhaps? - why day

Came back again for that! before it left

The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:

The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,

Chin upon hand, so see the game at bay, -

'Now stab and end the creature - to the heft!'


Not hear? When noise was everywhere! it tolled

Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears

Of all the lost adventurers, my peers -

How such a one was strong, and such was bold,

And such was fortunate, yet each of old

Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.


There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met

To view the last of me, a living frame

For one more picture! In a sheet of flame

I saw them and I knew them all. And yet

Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set

And blew. 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.'


Robert Browning

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