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Poems by Robert Browning

APPARENT FAILURE

"We shall soon lose a celebrated building."
--_Paris Newspaper_.


No, for I'll save it! Seven years since
I passed through Paris, stopped a day
To see the baptism of your Prince,° °
Saw, made my bow, and went my way:
Walking the heat and headache off,
I took the Seine-side, you surmise,
Thought of the Congress,° Gortschakoff,° °
Cavour's° appeal and Buol's° replies, °
So sauntered till--what met my eyes?

Only the Doric little Morgue!
The dead-house where you show your drowned:
Petrarch's Vaucluse° makes proud the Sorgue,° °
Your Morgue has made the Seine renowned.
One pays one's debt° in such a case; °
I plucked up heart and entered,--stalked,
Keeping a tolerable face
Compared with some whose cheeks were chalked:
Let them! No Briton's to be balked!

First came the silent gazers; next,
A screen of glass, we're thankful for;
Last, the sight's self, the sermon's text,
The three men who did most abhor
Their life in Paris yesterday,
So killed themselves: and now, enthroned
Each on his copper couch, they lay
Fronting me, waiting to be owned.
I thought, and think, their sin's atoned.

Poor men, God made, and all for that!
The reverence struck me; o'er each head
Religiously was hung its hat,
Each coat dripped by the owner's bed,
Sacred from touch: each had his berth,
His bounds, his proper place of rest,
Who last night tenanted on earth
Some arch, where twelve such slept abreast,--
Unless the plain asphalt seemed best.

How did it happen, my poor boy?
You wanted to be Buonaparte
And have the Tuileries° for toy, °
And could not, so it broke your heart?
You, old one by his side, I judge,
Were, red as blood, a socialist,
A leveller! Does the Empire grudge
You've gained what no Republic missed?
Be quiet, and unclench your fist!

And this--why, he was red in vain,
Or black,--poor fellow that is blue°! °
What fancy was it, turned your brain?
Oh, women were the prize for you!
Money gets women, cards and dice
Get money, and ill-luck gets just
The copper couch and one clear nice
Cool squirt of water o'er your bust,
The right thing to extinguish lust!

It's wiser being good than bad;
It's safer being meek than fierce:
It's fitter being sane than mad.
My own hope is, a sun will pierce
The thickest cloud earth ever stretched;
That, after Last, returns the First,
Tho' a wide compass round be fetched;
That what began best, can't end worst,
Nor what God blessed once, prove accurst.