Robert Browning: Poems

A Tale

(Epilogue to "The Two Poets of Croisic.")

What a pretty tale you told me

Once upon a time

--Said you found it somewhere (scold me!)

Was it prose or was it rhyme,

Greek or Latin? Greek, you said,

While your shoulder propped my head.

Anyhow there's no forgetting

This much if no more,

That a poet (pray, no petting!)

Yes, a bard, sir, famed of yore, 10

Went where suchlike used to go,

Singing for a prize, you know.

Well, he had to sing, nor merely

Sing but play the lyre;

Playing was important clearly

Quite as singing: I desire,

Sir, you keep the fact in mind

For a purpose that's behind.

There stood he, while deep attention

Held the judges round, 20

--Judges able, I should mention,

To detect the slightest sound

Sung or played amiss: such ears

Had old judges, it appears!

None the less he sang out boldly,

Played in time and tune,

Till the judges, weighing coldly

Each note's worth, seemed, late or soon,

Sure to smile "In vain one tries

Picking faults out: take the prize!" 30

When, a mischief! Were they seven

Strings the lyre possessed?

Oh, and afterwards eleven,

Thank you! Well, sir,--who had guessed

Such ill luck in store?--it happed

One of those same seven strings snapped.

All was lost, then! No! a cricket

(What "cicada"? Pooh!)

--Some mad thing that left its thicket

For mere love of music--flew 40

With its little heart on fire,

Lighted on the crippled lyre.

So that when (Ah joy!) our singer

For his truant string

Feels with disconcerted finger,

What does cricket else but fling

Fiery heart forth, sound the note

Wanted by the throbbing throat?

Ay and, ever to the ending,

Cricket chirps at need, 50

Executes the hand's intending,

Promptly, perfectly,--indeed

Saves the singer from defeat

With her chirrup low and sweet.

Till, at ending, all the judges

Cry with one assent

"Take the prize--a prize who grudges

Such a voice and instrument?

Why, we took your lyre for harp,

So it shrilled us forth F sharp!" 60

Did the conqueror spurn the creature

Once its service done?

That's no such uncommon feature

In the case when Music's son

Finds his Lotte's deg. power too spent deg.65

For aiding soul development.

No! This other, on returning

Homeward, prize in hand,

Satisfied his bosom's yearning:

(Sir, I hope you understand!) 70

--Said "Some record there must be

Of this cricket's help to me!"

So, he made himself a statue:

Marble stood, life size;

On the lyre, he pointed at you,

Perched his partner in the prize;

Never more apart you found

Her, he throned, from him, she crowned.

That's the tale: its application?

Somebody I know 80

Hopes one day for reputation

Thro' his poetry that's--Oh,

All so learned and so wise

And deserving of a prize!

If he gains one, will some ticket

When his statue's built,

Tell the gazer "'Twas a cricket

Helped my crippled lyre, whose lilt

Sweet and low, when strength usurped

Softness' place i' the scale, she chirped? 90

"For as victory was nighest,

While I sang and played,--

With my lyre at lowest, highest,

Right alike,--one string that made

'Love' sound soft was snapt in twain

Never to be heard again,--

"Had not a kind cricket fluttered,

Perched upon the place

Vacant left, and duly uttered

'Love, Love, Love,' whene'er the bass 100

Asked the treble to atone

For its somewhat sombre drone."

But you don't know music! Wherefore

Keep on casting pearls

To a--poet? All I care for

Is--to tell him that a girl's

"Love" comes aptly in when gruff

Grows his singing, (There, enough!)