27 September 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 3

Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession

Plus ne suis ce que j'ai été
Et ne le sçaurois jamais être.
– Marot

Non dubito, quip titulus libri nostri raritate suâ quamplurimos alliciat ad legendum: inter quos nonnulli obliquæ opinionis, mente languidi, multi etiam maligni, et in ingenium nostrum ingrati accedent, qui temerariâ suâ ignorantiâ, vix conspecto titulo clamabunt: Nos vetita docere, hæresium semina jacere: piis auribus offendiculo, præclaris ingeniis scandalo esse:… adeò conscientiæ suæ consulentes, ut nec Apollo, nec Musæ omnes, neque Angelus de cælo me ab illorum execratione vindicare queant: quibus et ego nunc consulo, ne scripta nostra legant, nec intelligant, nec neminerint: nam noxia sunt, venenosa sunt: Acherontis ostium est in hoc libro, lapides loquitur, caveant, ne cerebrum illis excutiat. Vos autem, qui æquâ mente ad legendum venitis, si tantam prutentiæ discretionem adhibueritis, quantam in melle legendo apes, jam securi legite. Puto namque vos et utilitatis haud parùm et voluptatis plurimùm accepturos. Quod si qua repereritis, quæ vobis non placeant, mittite illa, nec utimini. NAM ET EGO VOBIS ILLA NON PROBO, SED NARRO. Cœtera tamen propterea non respute… Ideo, si quid liberius dictum sit, ignoscite adolescentiæ nostræ, qui minor quam adolescens hoc opus composui.
– H. Cor. Agrippa, De Occult. Phil.
London, January, 1833.
V. A. XX.

Pauline, mine own, bend o'er me—thy soft breast

Shall pant to mine—bend o'er me—thy sweet eyes,

And loosened hair, and breathing lips, arms

Drawing me to thee—these build up a screen

To shut me in with thee, and from all fear,

So that I might unlock the sleepless brood

Of fancies from my soul, their lurking place,

Nor doubt that each would pass, ne'er to return

To one so watched, so loved, and so secured.

But what can guard thee but thy naked love?

Ah, dearest; whoso sucks a poisoned wound

Envenoms his own veins,—thou art so good,

So calm—if thou should'st wear a brow less light

For some wild thought which, but for me, were kept

From out thy soul, as from a sacred star.

Yet till I have unlocked them it were vain

To hope to sing; some woe would light on me;

Nature would point at one, whose quivering lip

Was bathed in her enchantments—whose brow burned

Beneath the crown, to which her secrets knelt;

Who learned the spell which can call up the dead,

And then departed, smiling like a fiend

Who has deceived God. If such one should seek

Again her altars, and stand robed and crowned

Amid the faithful: sad confession first,

Remorse and pardon, and old claims renewed,

Ere I can be—as I shall be no more.

I had been spared this shame, if I had sate

By thee for ever, from the first, in place

Of my wild dreams of beauty and of good,

Or with them, as an earnest of their truth.

No thought nor hope, having been shut from thee,

No vague wish unexplained—no wandering aim

Sent back to bind on Fancy's wings, and seek

Some strange fair world, where it might be a law;

But doubting nothing, had been led by thee,

Thro' youth, and saved, as one at length awaked,

Who has slept thro' a peril. Ah! vain, vain!

Thou lovest me—the past is in its grave,

Tho' its ghost haunts us—till this much is ours,

To cast away restraint, lest a worse thing

Wait for us in the darkness. Thou lovest me,

And thou art to receive not love, but faith,

For which thou wilt be mine, and smile, and take

All shapes, and shames, and veil without a fear

That form which music follows like a slave;

And I look to thee, and I trust in thee,

As in a Northern night one looks alway

Unto the East for morn, and spring a joy.

Thou seest then my aimless, hopeless state,

And resting on some few old feelings, won

Back by thy beauty, would'st that I essay

The task, which was to me what now thou art:

And why should I conceal one weakness more?

Thou wilt remember one warm morn, when Winter

Crept aged from the earth, and Spring's first breath

Blew soft from the moist hills—the black-thorn boughs,

So dark in the bare wood; when glistening

In the sunshine were white with coming buds,

Like the bright side of a sorrow—and the banks

Had violets opening from sleep like eyes—

I walked with thee, who knew not a deep shame

Lurked beneath smiles and careless words, which sought

To hide it—till they wandered and were mute;

As we stood listening on a sunny mound

To the wind murmuring in the damp copse,

Like heavy breathings of some hidden thing

Betrayed by sleep—until the feeling rushed

That I was low indeed, yet not so low

As to endure the calmness of thine eyes;

And so I told thee all, while the cool breast

I leaned on altered not its quiet beating;

And long ere words, like a hurt bird's complaint,

Bade me look up and be what I had been,

I felt despair could never live by thee.

Thou wilt remember:—thou art not more dear

Than song was once to me; and I ne'er sung

But as one entering bright halls, where all

Will rise and shout for him Sure I must own

That I am fallen—having chosen gifts

Distinct from theirs—that I am sad—and fain

Would give up all to be but where I was;

Not high as I had been, if faithful found—

But low and weak, yet full of hope, and sure

Of goodness as of life—that I would lust

All this gay mastery of mind, to sit

Once more with them, trusting in truth and love.

And with an aim—not being what I am.

Oh, Pauline! I am ruined! who believed

That tho' my soul had floated from its sphere

Of wide dominion into the dim orb

Of self—that it was strong and free as ever:—

It has conformed itself to that dim orb,

Reflecting all its shades and shapes, and now

Must stay where it alone can be adored.

I have felt this in dreams—in dreams in which

I seemed the fate from which I fled; I felt

A strange delight in causing my decay;

I was a fiend, in darkness chained for ever

Within some ocean-cave; and ages rolled,

Till thro' the cleft rock, like a moonbeam, came

A white swan to remain with me; and ages

Rolled, yet I tired not of my first joy

In gazing on the peace of its pure wings.

And then I said, "It is most fair to me,

"Yet its soft wings must sure have suffered change

"From the thick darkness—sure its eyes are dim—

"Its silver pinions must be cramped and numbed

"With sleeping ages here; it cannot leave me,

"For it would seem, in light, beside its kind,

"Withered—tho' here to me most beautiful."

And then I was a young witch, whose blue eyes,

As she stood naked by the river springs,

Drew down a god—I watched his radiant form

Growing less radiant—and it gladdened me;

Till one morn, as he sat in the sunshine

Upon my knees, singing to me of heaven,

He turned to look at me, ere I could lose

The grin with which I viewed his perishing.

And he shrieked and departed, and sat long

By his deserted throne—but sunk at last,

Murmuring, as I kissed his lips and curled

Around him, "I am still a god—to thee."

Still I can lay my soul bare in its fall,

For all the wandering and all the weakness

Will he a saddest comment on the song.

And if, that done, I can be young again,

I will give up all gained as willingly

As one gives up a charm which shuts him out

From hope, or part, or care, in human kind.

As life wanes, all its cares, and strife, and toil,

Seem strangely valueless, while the old trees

Which grew by our youth's home—the waving mass

Of climbing plants, heavy with bloom and dew—

The morning swallows with their songs like words,—

All these seem clear and only worth our thoughts.

So aught connected with my early life—

My rude songs or my wild imaginings,

How I look on them—most distinct amid

The fever and the stir of after years!

I ne'er had ventured e'en to hope for this,

Had not the glow I felt at His award,

Assured me all was not extinct within.

Him whom all honor—whose renown springs up

Like sunlight which will visit all the world;

So that e'en they who sneered at him at first,

Come out to it, as some dark spider crawls

From his foul nest, which some lit torch invades,

Yet spinning still new films for his retreat.—

Thou didst smile, poet,—but can we forgive?

Sun-treader—life and light be thine for ever;

Thou art gone from us—years go by—and spring

Gladdens, and the young earth is beautiful,

Yet thy songs come not—other bards arise,

But none like thee—they stand—thy majesties,

Like mighty works which tell some Spirit there

Hath sat regardless of neglect and scorn,

Till, its long task completed, it hath risen

And left us, never to return: and all

Rush in to peer and praise when all in vain.

The air seems bright with thy past presence yet,

But thou art still for me, as thou hast been

When I have stood with thee, as on a throne

With all thy dim creations gathered round

Like mountains,—and I felt of mould like them,

And creatures of my own were mixed with them,

Like things half-lived, catching and giving life.

But thou art still for me, who have adored,

Tho' single, panting but to hear thy name,

Which I believed a spell to me alone,

Scarce deeming thou wert as a star to men—

As one should worship long a sacred spring

Scarce worth a moth's flitting, which long grasses cross,

And one small tree embowers droopingly,

Joying to see some wandering insect won.

To live in its few rushes—or some locust

To pasture on its boughs—or some wild bird

Stoop for its freshness from the trackless air,

And then should find it but the fountain-head,

Long lost, of some great river—washing towns

And towers, and seeing old woods which will live

But by its banks, untrod of human foot,

Which, when the great sun sinks, lie quivering

In light as some thing lieth half of life

Before God's foot—waiting a wondrous change

—Then girt with rocks which seek to turn or stay

Its course in vain, for it does ever spread

Like a sea's arm as it goes rolling on,

Being the pulse of some great country—so

Wert thou to me—and art thou to the world.

And I, perchance, half feel a strange regret,

That I am not what I have been to thee:

Like a girl one has loved long silently,

In her first loveliness, in some retreat,

When first emerged, all gaze and glow to view

Her fresh eyes, and soft hair, and lips which bleed

Like a mountain berry. Doubtless it is sweet

To see her thus adored—but there have been

Moments, when all the world was in his praise,

Sweeter than all the pride of after hours.

Yet, Sun-treader, all hail!—from my heart's heart

I bid thee hail!—e'en in my wildest dreams,

I am proud to feel I would have thrown up all

The wreaths of fame which seemed o'er-hanging me,

To have seen thee, for a moment, as thou art.

And if thou livest—if thou lovest, spirit!

Remember me, who set this final seal

To wandering thought—that one so pure as thou

Could never die. Remember me, who flung

All honor from my soul—yet paused and said,

"There is one spark of love remaining yet,

"For I have nought in common with him—shapes

"Which followed him avoid me, and foul forms

"Seek me, which ne'er could fasten on his mind;

"And tho' I feel how low I am to him,

"Yet I aim not even to catch a tone

"Of all the harmonies which he called up,

"So one gleam still remains, altho' the last"

Remember me—who praise thee e'en with tears,

For never more shall I walk calm with thee;

Thy sweet imaginings are as an air,

A melody, some wond'rous singer sings,

Which, though it haunt men oft in the still eve,

They dream not to essay; yet it no less,

But more is honored. I was thine in shame,

And now when all thy proud renown is out,

I am a watcher, whose eyes have grown dim

With looking for some star—which breaks on him,

Altered and worn, and weak, and full of tears.

Autumn has come—like Spring returned to us,

Won from her girlishness—like one returned

A friend that was a lover—nor forgets

The first warm love, but full of sober thoughts

Of fading years; whose soft mouth quivers yet

With the old smile—but yet so changed and still!

And here am I the scoffer, who have probed

Life's vanity, won by a word again

Into my old life—for one little word

Of this sweet friend, who lives in loving me,

Lives strangely on my thoughts, and looks, and words,

As fathoms down some nameless ocean thing

Its silent course of quietness and joy

O dearest, if indeed, I tell the past,

May'st thou forget it as a sad sick dream;

Or if it linger—my lost soul too soon

Sinks to itself, and whispers, we shall be

But closer linked—two creatures whom the earth

Bears singly—with strange feelings, unrevealed

But to each other; or two lonely things

Created by some Power, whose reign is done,

Having no part in God, or his bright world,

I am to sing; whilst ebbing day dies soft,

As a lean scholar dies, worn o'er his book,

And in the heaven stars steal out one by one,

As hunted men steal to their mountain watch.

I must not think—lest this new impulse die

In which I trust. I have no confidence,

So I will sing on—fast as fancies come

Rudely—the verse being as the mood it paints.

I strip my mind bare—whose first elements

I shall unveil—not as they struggled forth

In infancy, nor as they now exist,

That I am grown above them, and can rule them,

But in that middle stage when they were full,

Yet ere I had disposed them to my will;

And then I shall show how these elements

Produced my present state, and what it is.

I am made up of an intensest life,

Of a most clear idea of consciousness

Of self—distinct from all its qualities,

From all affections, passions, feelings, powers;

And thus far it exists, if tracked in all,

But linked in me, to self-supremacy,

Existing as a centre to all things,

Most potent to create, and rule, and call

Upon all things to minister to it;

And to a principle of restlessness

Which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel, all—

This is myself; and I should thus have been,

Though gifted lower than the meanest soul.

And of my powers, one springs up to save

From utter death a soul with such desires

Confined to clay—which is the only one

Which marks me—an imagination which

Has been an angel to me—coming not

In fitful visions, but beside me ever,

And never failing me; so tho' my mind

Forgets not—not a shred of life forgets—

Yet I can take a secret pride in calling

The dark past up—to quell it regally.

A mind like this must dissipate itself,

But I have always had one lode-star; now,

As I look back, I see that I have wasted,

Or progressed as I looked toward that star—

A need, a trust, a yearning after God,

A feeling I have analysed but late,

But it existed, and was reconciled

With a neglect of all I deemed His laws,

Which yet, when seen in others, I abhorred.

I felt as one beloved, and so shut in

From fear—and thence I date my trust in signs

And omens—for I saw God everywhere;

And I can only lay it to the fruit

Of a sad after-time that I could doubt

Even His being—having always felt

His presence—never acting from myself,

Still trusting in a hand that leads me through

All dangers; and this feeling still has fought

Against my weakest reason and resolves.

And I can love nothing—and this dull truth

Has come the last—but sense supplies a love

Encircling me and mingling with my life.

These make myself—for I have sought in vain

To trace how they were formed by circumstance,

For I still find them—turning my wild youth

Where they alone displayed themselves, converting

All objects to their use—now see their course!

They came to me in my first dawn of life,

Which passed alone with wisest ancient books,

All halo-girt with fancies of my own,

And I myself went with the tale,—a god,

Wandering after beauty—or a giant,

Standing vast in the sunset—an old hunter,

Talking with gods—or a high-crested chief,

Sailing with troops of friends to Tenedos;—

I tell you, nought has ever been so clear

As the place, the time, the fashion of those lives.

I had not seen a work of lofty art,

Nor woman's beauty, nor sweet nature's face,

Yet, I say, never morn broke clear as those

On the dim clustered isles in the blue sea:

The deep groves, and white temples, and wet caves—

And nothing ever will surprise me now—

Who stood beside the naked Swift-footed,

Who bound my forehead with Proserpine's hair.

An' strange it is, that I who could so dream,

Should e'er have stooped to aim at aught beneath—

Aught low, or painful, but I never doubted;

So as I grew, I rudely shaped my life

To my immediate wants, yet strong beneath

Was a vague sense of power folded up—

A sense that tho' those shadowy times were past,

Their spirit dwelt in me, and I should rule.

Then came a pause, and long restraint chained down

My soul, till it was changed. I lost myself,

And were it not that I so loathe that time,

I could recall how first I learned to turn

My mind against itself; and the effects,

In deeds for which remorse were vain, as for

The wanderings of delirious dream; yet thence

Came cunning, envy, falsehood, which so long

Have spotted me—at length I was restored,

Yet long the influence remained; and nought

But the still life I led, apart from all,

Which left my soul to seek its old delights,

Could e'er have brought me thus far back to peace.

As peace returned, I sought out some pursuit:

And song rose—no new impulse—but the one

With which all others best could be combined.

My life has not been that of those whose heaven

Was lampless, save where poesy shone out;

But as a clime, where glittering mountain-tops,

And glancing sea, and forests steeped in light,

Give back reflected the far-flashing sun;

For music, (which is earnest of a heaven,

Seeing we know emotions strange by it,

Not else to be revealed) is as a voice,

A low voice calling Fancy, as a friend,

To the green woods in the gay summer time.

And she fills all the way with dancing shapes,

Which have made painters pale; and they go on

While stars look at them, and winds call to them,

As they leave life's path for the twilight world,

Where the dead gather. This was not at first,

For I scarce knew what I would do. I had

No wish to paint, no yearning—but I sang.

      And first I sang, as I in dream have seen,

Music wait on a lyrist for some thought,

Yet singing to herself until it came.

I turned to those old times and scenes, where all

That's beautiful had birth for me, and made

Rude verses on them all; and then I paused—

I had done nothing, so I sought to know

What mind had yet achieved. No fear was mine

As I gazed on the works of mighty bards,

In the first joy at finding my own thoughts

Recorded, and my powers exemplified,

And feeling their aspirings were my own.

And then I first explored passion and mind;

And I began afresh; I rather sought

To rival what I wondered at, than form

Creations of my own; so much was light

Lent back by others, yet much was my own

      I paused again—a change was coming on,

I was no more a boy—the past was breaking

Before the coming, and like fever worked.

I first thought on myself—and here my powers

Burst out. I dreamed not of restraint, but gazed

On all things: schemes and systems went and came,

And I was proud (being vainest of the weak),

In wandering o'er them, to seek out some one

To be my own; as one should wander o'er

The white way for a star.

On one, whom praise of mine would not offend,

Who was as calm as beauty—being such

Unto mankind as thou to me, Pauline,

Believing in them, and devoting all

His soul's strength to their winning back to peace;

Who sent forth hopes and longings for their sake,

Clothed in all passion's melodies, which first

Caught me, and set me, as to a sweet task,

To gather every breathing of his songs,

And woven with them there were words, which seemed

A key to a new world; the muttering

Of angels, of something unguessed by man.

How my heart beat, as I went on, and found

Much there! I felt my own mind had conceived,

But there living and burning; soon the whole

Of his conceptions dawned on me; their praise

Is in the tongues of men; men's brows are high

When his name means a triumph and a pride;

So my weak hands may well forbear to dim

What then seemed my bright fate: I threw myself

To meet it. I was vowed to liberty,

Men were to be as gods, and earth as heaven.

And I—ah! what a life was mine to be,

My whole soul rose to meet it. Now, Pauline,

I shall go mad if I recall that time.

      O let me look back, e'er I leave for ever

The time, which was an hour, that one waits

For a fair girl, that comes a withered hag.

And I was lonely—far from woods and fields,

And amid dullest sights, who should be loose

As a stag—yet I was full of joy—who lived

With Plato—and who had the key to life.

And I had dimly shaped my first attempt,

And many a thought did I build up on thought,

As the wild bee hangs cell to cell—in vain;

For I must still go on: my mind rests not.

'Twas in my plan to look on real life,

Which was all new to me; my theories

Were firm, so I left them, to look upon

Men, and their cares, and hopes, and fears, and joys;

And, as I pondered on them all, I sought

How best life's end might be attained—an end

Comprising every joy. I deeply mused.

And suddenly, without heart-wreck, I awoke

As from a dream—I said, 'twas beautiful,

Yet but a dream; and so adieu to it.

As some world-wanderer sees in a far meadow

Strange towers, and walled gardens, thick with trees,

Where singing goes on, and delicious mirth,

And laughing fairy creatures peeping over,

And on the morrow, when he comes to live

For ever by those springs, and trees, fruit-flushed

And fairy bowers—all his search is vain.

Well I remember…

First went my hopes of perfecting mankind,

And faith in them—then freedom in itself,

And virtue in itself—and then my motives' ends,

And powers and loves; and human love went last.

I felt this no decay, because new powers

Rose as old feelings left—wit, mockery,

And happiness; for I had oft been sad.

Mistrusting my resolves: but now I cast

Hope joyously away—I laughed and said,

"No more of this"—I must not think; at length

I look'd again to see how all went on.

My powers were greater—as some temple seemed

My soul, where nought is changed, and incense rolls

Around the altar—only God is gone,

And some dark spirit sitteth in His seat!

So I passed through the temple: and to me

Knelt troops of shadows; and they cried, "Hail, king!

"We serve thee now, and thou shalt serve no more!

"Call on us, prove us, let us worship thee!"

And I said, "Are ye strong—let fancy bear me

"Far from the past."—And I was borne away

As Arab birds float sleeping in the wind,

O'er deserts, towers, and forests, I being calm;

And I said, "I have nursed up energies,

"They will prey on me." And a band knelt low,

And cried, "Lord, we are here, and we will make

"A way for thee—in thine appointed life

"O look on us!" And I said, "Ye will worship

"Me; but my heart must worship too." They shouted,

"Thyself—thou art our king!" So I stood there


And buoyant and rejoicing was the spirit

With which I looked out how to end my days;

I felt once more myself—my powers were mine;

I found that youth or health so lifted me,

That, spite of all life's vanity, no grief

Came nigh me—I must ever be light-hearted;

And that this feeling was the only veil

Betwixt me and despair: so if age came,

I should be as a wreck linked to a soul

Yet fluttering, or mind-broken, and aware

Of my decay. So a long summer morn

Found me; and e'er noon came, I had resolved

No age should come on me, ere youth's hopes went,

For I would wear myself out—like that morn

Which wasted not a sunbeam—every joy

I would make mine, and die; and thus I sought

To chain my spirit down, which I had fed

With thoughts of fame. I said, the troubled life

Of genius seen so bright when working forth

Some trusted end, seems sad, when all in vain—

Most sad, when men have parted with all joy

For their wild fancy's sake, which waited first,

As an obedient spirit, when delight

Came not with her alone, but alters soon,

Coming darkened, seldom, hasting to depart,

Leaving a heavy darkness and warm tears.

But I shall never lose her; she will live

Brighter for such seclusion—I but catch

A hue, a glance of what I sing; so pain

Is linked with pleasure, for I ne'er may tell

The radiant sights which dazzle me; but now

They shall be all my own, and let them fade

Untold—others shall rise as fair, as fast.

And when all's done, the few dim gleams transferred,—

(For a new thought sprung up—that it were well

To leave all shadowy hopes, and weave such lays

As would encircle me with praise and love;

So I should not die utterly—I should bring

One branch from the gold forest, like the night

Of old tales, witnessing I had been there,)—

And when all's done, how vain seems e'en success,

And all the influence poets have o'er men!

'Tis a fine thing that one, weak as myself,

Should sit in his lone room, knowing the words

He utters in his solitude shall move

Men like a swift wind—that tho' he be forgotten,

Fair eyes shall glisten when his beauteous dreams

Of love come true in happier frames than his.

Ay, the still night brought thoughts like these, but morn

Came, and the mockery again laughed out

At hollow praises, and smiles, almost sneers;

And my soul's idol seemed to whisper me

To dwell with him and his unhonoured name—

And I well knew my spirit, that would be

First in the struggle, and again would make

All bow to it; and I would sink again.

And then know that this curse will come on us,

To see our idols perish—we may wither,

Nor marvel—we are clay; but our low fate

Should not extend them, whom trustingly,

We sent before into Time's yawning gulf,

To face what e'er may lurk in darkness there—

To see the painter's glory pass, and feel

Sweet music move us not as once, or worst,

To see decaying wits ere the frail body

Decays. Nought makes me trust in love so really,

As the delight of the contented lowness

With which I gaze on souls I'd keep for ever

In beauty—I'd be sad to equal them;

I'd feed their fame e'en from my heart's best blood,

Withering unseen, that they might flourish still.

Pauline, my sweet friend, thou dost not forget

How this mood swayed me, when thou first wert mine,

When I had set myself to live this life,

Defying all opinion. Ere thou camest

I was most happy, sweet, for old delights

Had come like birds again; music, my life,

I nourished more than ever, and old lore

Loved for itself, and all it shows—the king

Treading the purple calmly to his death,

—While round him, like the clouds of eve, all dusk,

The giant shades of fate, silently flitting,

Pile the dim outline of the coming doom,

—And him sitting alone in blood, while friends

Are hunting far in the sunshine; and the boy,

With his white breast and brow and clustering curls

Streaked with his mother's blood, and striving hard

To tell his story ere his reason goes,

And when I loved thee, as I've loved so oft,

Thou lovedst me, and I wondered, and looked in

My heart to find some feeling like such love,

Believing I was still what I had been;

And soon I found all faith had gone from me,

And the late glow of life—changing like clouds,

'Twas not the morn-blush widening into day,

But evening, coloured by the dying sun

While darkness is quick hastening:—I will tell

Sly state as though 'twere none of mine—despair

Cannot come near me—thus it is with me.

Souls alter not, and mine must progress still;

And this I knew not when I flung away

My youth's chief aims. I ne'er supposed the

Of what few I retained; for no resource

Awaits me—now behold the change of all.

I cannot chain my soul, it will not rest

In its clay prison; this most narrow sphere—

It has strange powers, and feelings, and desires,

Which I cannot account for, nor explain,

But which I stifle not, being bound to trust

All feelings equally—to hear all sides:

Yet I cannot indulge them, and they live,

Referring to some state or life unknown.…

My selfishness is satiated not,

It wears me like a flame; my hunger for

All pleasure, howsoe'er minute, is pain;

I envy—how I envy him whose mind

Turns with its energies to some one end!

To elevate a sect, or a pursuit,

However mean—so my still baffled hopes

Seek out abstractions; I would have but one

Delight on earth, so it were wholly mine;

One rapture all my soul could fill—and this

Wild feeling places me in dream afar,

In some wide country, where the eye can see

No end to the far hills and dales bestrewn

With shining towers and dwellings. I grow mad

Well-nigh, to know not one abode but holds

Some pleasure—for my soul could grasp them all,

But must remain with this vile form. I look

With hope to age at last, which quenching much,

May let me concentrate the sparks it spares.

This restlessness of passion meets in me

A craving after knowledge: the sole proof

Of a commanding will is in that power

Repressed; for I beheld it in its dawn,

That sleepless harpy, with its budding wings,

And I considered whether I should yield

All hopes and fears, to live alone with it,

Finding a recompense in its wild eyes;

And when I found that I should perish so,

I bade its wild eyes close from me for ever;—

And I am left alone with my delights,—

So it lies in me a chained thing—still ready

To serve me, if I loose its slightest bond—

I cannot but be proud of my bright slave.

And thus I know this earth is not my sphere,

For I cannot so narrow me, but that

I still exceed it; in their elements

My love would pass my reason—but since here

Love must receive its object from this earth,

While reason will be chainless, the few truths

Caught from its wanderings have sufficed to quell

All love below;—then what must be that love

Which, with the object it demands, would quell

Reason, tho' it soared with the seraphim?

No—what I feel may pass all human love,

Yet fall far short of what my love should be;

And yet I seem more warped in this than aught

For here myself stands out more hideously.

I can forget myself in friendship, fame,

Or liberty, or love of mighty souls.

But I begin to know what thing hate is—

To sicken, and to quiver, and grow white,

And I myself have furnished its first prey.

All my sad weaknesses, this wavering will,

This selfishness, this still decaying frame…

But I must never grieve while I can pass

Far from such thoughts—as now—Andromeda!

And she is with me—years roll, I shall change,

But change can touch her not—so beautiful

With her dark eyes, earnest and still, and hair

Lifted and spread by the salt-sweeping breeze;

And one red-beam, all the storm leaves in heaven,

Resting upon her eyes and face and hair,

As she awaits the snake on the wet beach,

By the dark rock, and the white wave just breaking

At her feet; quite naked and alone,—a thing

You doubt not, nor fear for, secure that God

Will come in thunder from the stars to save her.

Let it pass—I will call another change.

I will be gifted with a wond'rous soul,

Yet sunk by error to men's sympathy,

And in the wane of life; yet only so

As to call up their fears, and there shall come

A time requiring youth's best energies;

And straight I fling age, sorrow, sickness off,

And I rise triumphing over my decay.

And thus it is that I supply the chasm

'Twixt what I am and all that I would be.

But then to know nothing—to hope for nothing—

To seize on life's dull joys from a strange tear,

Lest, being them, all's lost, and nought remains

There's some vile juggle with my reason here—

I feel I but explain to my own loss

These impulses—they live no less the same.

Liberty! what though I despair—my blood

Rose not at a slave's name proudlier than now,

And sympathy obscured by sophistries.

Why have not I sought refuge in myself,

But for the woes I saw and could not stay—

And love!—do I not love thee, my Pauline?

I cherish prejudice, lest I be left

Utterly loveless—witness this belief

In poets, tho' sad change has come there too;

No more I leave myself to follow them:

Unconsciously I measure me by them.

Let me forget it; and I cherish most

My love of England—how her name—a word

Of her's in a strange tongue makes my heart beat!…

Pauline, I could do any thing—not now—

All's fever—but when calm shall come again—

I am prepared—I have made life my own—

I would not be content with all the change

One frame should feel—but I have gone in thought

Thro' all conjuncture—I have lived all life

When it is most alive—where strangest fate

New shapes it past surmise—the tales of men

Bit by some curse—or in the grasp of doom

Half-visible and still increasing round,

Or crowning their wide being's general aim.…

These are wild fancies, but I feel, sweet friend,

As one breathing his weakness to the ear

Of pitying angel—dear as a winter flower.

A slight flower growing alone, and offering

Its frail cup of three leaves to the cold sun,

Yet and confiding, like the triumph

Of a child—and why am I not worthy thee?

I can live all the life of plants, and gaze

Drowsily on the bees that flit and play,

Or bare my breast for sunbeams which will kill,

Or open in the night of sounds, to look

For the dim stars; I can mount with the bird,

Leaping airily his pyramid of leaves

And twisted boughs of some tall mountain tree,

Or rise cheerfully springing to the heavens—

Or like a fish breathe in the morning air

In the misty sun-warm water—or with flowers

And trees can smile in light at the sinking sun,

Just as the storm comes—as a girl would look

On a departing lover—most serene.

Pauline, come with me—see how I could build

A home for us, out of the world; in thought—

I am inspired—come with me, Pauline!

Night, and one single ridge of narrow path

Between the sullen river and the woods

Waving and muttering—for the moonless night

Has shaped them into images of life,

Like the upraising of the giant-ghosts,

Looking on earth to know how their sons fare.

Thou art so close by me, the roughest swell

Of wind in the tree-tops hides not the panting

Of thy soft breasts; no—we will pass to morning—

Morning—the rocks, and vallies, and old woods.

How the sun brightens in the mist, and here,—

Half in the air, like creatures of the place,

Trusting the element—living on high boughs

That swing in the wind—look at the golden spray,

Flung from the foam-sheet of the cataract,

Amid the broken rocks—shall we stay here

With the wild hawks?—no, ere the hot noon come

Dive we down—safe;—see this our new retreat

Walled in with a sloped mound of matted shrubs,

Dark, tangled, old and green—still sloping down

To a small pool whose waters lie asleep

Amid the trailing boughs turned water plants

And tall trees over-arch to keep us in,

Breaking the sunbeams into emerald shafts,

And in the dreamy water one small group

Of two or three strange trees are got together,

Wondering at all around—as strange beasts herd

Together far from their own land—all wildness—

No turf nor moss, for boughs and plants pave all,

And tongues of bank go shelving in the waters,

Where the pale-throated snake reclines his head,

And old grey stones lie making eddies there;

The wild mice cross them dry-shod—deeper in—

Shut thy soft eyes—now look—still deeper in:

This is the very heart of the woods—all round,

Mountain-like, heaped above us; yet even here

One pond of water gleams—far off the river

Sweeps like a sea, barred out from land; but one—

One thin clear sheet has over-leaped and wound

Into this silent depth, which gained, it lies

Still, as but let by sufferance; the trees bend

O'er it as wild men watch a sleeping girl,

And thro' their roots long creeping plants stretch out

Their twined hair, steeped and sparkling; farther on,

Tall rushes and thick flag-knots have combined

To narrow it; so, at length, a silver thread

It winds, all noiselessly, thro' the deep wood,

Till thro' a cleft way, thro' the moss and stone,

It joins its parent-river with a shout.

Up for the glowing day—leave the old woods:

See, they part, like a ruined arch, the sky!

Nothing but sky appears, so close the root

And grass of the hill-top level with the air—

Blue sunny air, where a great cloud floats, laden

With light, like a dead whale that white birds pick,

Floating away in the sun in some north sea.

Air, air—fresh life-blood—thin and searching air—

The clear, dear breath of God, that loveth us:

Where small birds reel and winds take their delight.

Water is beautiful, but not like air.

See, where the solid azure waters lie,

Made as of thickened air, and down below,

The fern-ranks, like a forest spread themselves,

As tho' each pore could feel the element;

Where the quick glancing serpent winds his way—

Float with me there, Pauline, but not like air.

Down the hill—stop—a clump of trees, see, set

On a heap of rocks, which look o'er the far plains,

And envious climbing shrubs would mount to rest,

And peer from their spread boughs. There they wave, looking

At the muleteers, who whistle as they go

To the merry chime of their morning bells and all

The little smoking cots, and fields, and banks,

And copses, bright in the sun; my spirit wanders.

Hedge-rows for me—still, living, hedge-rows, where

The bushes close, and clasp above, and keep

Thought in—I am concentrated—I feel;—

But my soul saddens when it looks beyond;

I cannot be immortal, nor taste all.

O God! where does this tend—these straggling aims!

What would I have? what is this "sleep," which seems

To bound all? can there be a "waking" point

Of crowning life? The soul would never rule—

It would be first in all things—it would have

Its utmost pleasure filled—but that complete

Commanding for commanding sickens it.

The last point that I can trace is, rest beneath

Some better essence than itself—in weakness;

This is "myself"—not what I think should be,

And what is that I hunger for but God?

My God, my God! let me for once look on thee

As tho' nought else existed: we alone.

And as creation crumbles, my soul's spark

Expands till I can say, "Even from myself

"I need thee, and I feel thee, and I love thee;

"I do not plead my rapture in thy works

"For love of thee—or that I feel as one

"Who cannot die—but there is that in me

"Which turns to thee, which loves, or which should love."

Why have I girt myself with this hell-dress?

Why have I laboured to put out my life?

Is it not in my nature to adore,

And e'en for all my reason do I not

Feel him, and thank him, and pray to him? Now.

Can I forego the trust that he loves me?

Do I not feel a love which only ONE…

O thou pale form, so dimly seen, deep-eyed,

I have denied thee calmly—do I not

Pant when I read of thy consummate deeds,

And burn to see thy calm pure truths out-flash

The brightest gleams of earth's philosophy?

Do I not shake to hear aught question thee?…

If I am erring save me, madden me,

Take from me powers, and pleasures—let me die

Ages, so I see thee: I am knit round

As with a charm, by sin and lust and pride,

Yet tho' my wandering dreams have seen all shapes

Of strange delight, oft have I stood by thee—

Have I been keeping lonely watch with thee,

In the damp night by weeping Olivet,

Or leaning on thy bosom, proudly less—

Or dying with thee on the lonely cross—

Or witnessing thy bursting from the tomb!

A mortal, sin's familiar friend doth here

Avow that he will give all earth's reward,

But to believe and humbly teach the faith,

In suffering, and poverty, and shame,

Only believing he is not unloved.…

And now, my Pauline, I am thine for ever!

I feel the spirit which has buoyed me up

Deserting me: and old shades gathering on;

Yet while its last light waits, I would say much,

And chiefly, I am glad that I have said

That love which I have ever felt for thee,

But seldom told; our hearts so beat together,

That speech is mockery, but when dark hours come:

And I feel sad; and thou, sweet, deem'st it strange;

A sorrow moves me, thou canst not remove.

Look on this lay I dedicate to thee,

Which thro' thee I began, and which I end,

Collecting the last gleams to strive to tell

That I am thine, and more than ever now—

That I am sinking fast—yet tho' I sink

No less I feel that thou hast brought me bliss,

And that I still may hope to win it back.

Thou know'st, dear friend, I could not think all calm,

For wild dreams followed me, and bore me off,

And all was indistinct. Ere one was caught

Another glanced: so dazzled by my wealth,

Knowing not which to leave nor which to choose,

For all my thoughts so floated, nought was fixed—

And then thou said'st a perfect bard was one

Who shadowed out the stages of all life,

And so thou badest me tell this my first stage:—

'Tis done: and even now I feel all dim the shift

Of thought. These are my last thoughts; I discern

Faintly immortal life, and truth, and good.

And why thou must be mine is, that e'en now,

In the dim hush of night—that I have done—

With fears and sad forebodings: I look thro'

And say, "E'en at the last I have her still,

"With her delicious eyes as clear as heaven,

"When rain in a quick shower has beat down mist,

"And clouds float white in the sun like broods of swans."

How the blood lies upon her cheek, all spread

As thinned by kisses; only in her lips

It wells and pulses like a living thing,

And her neck looks, like marble misted o'er

With love-breath, a dear thing to kiss and love,

Standing beneath me—looking out to me,

As I might kill her and be loved for it.

Love me—love me, Pauline, love nought but me;

Leave me not. All these words are wild and weak,

Believe them not, Pauline. I stooped so low

But to behold thee purer by my side,

To show thou art my breath—my life—a last

Resource—an extreme want: never believe

Aught better could so look to thee, nor seek

Again the world of good thoughts left for me.

There were bright troops of undiscovered suns.

Each equal in their radiant course. There were

Clusters of far fair isles, which ocean kept

For his own joy, and his waves broke on them

Without a choice. And there was a dim crowd

Of visions, each a part of the dim whole.

And a star left his peers and came with peace

Upon a storm, and all eyes pined for him,

And one isle harboured a sea-beaten ship,

And the crew wandered in its bowers, and plucked

Its fruits, and gave up all their hopes for home.

And one dream came to a pale poet's sleep,

And he said, "I am singled out by God,

"No sin must touch me." I am very weak,

But what I would express is,—Leave me not,

Still sit by me—with beating breast, and hair

Loosened—watching earnest by my side,

Turning my books, or kissing me when I

Look up—like summer wind. Be still to me

A key to music's mystery, when mind fails,

A reason, a solution and a clue,

You see I have thrown off my prescribed rules:

I hope in myself—and hope, and pant, and love—

You'll find me better—know me more than when

You loved me as I was. Smile not; I have

Much yet to gladden you—to dawn on you.

No more of the past—I'll look within no more—

I have too trusted to my own wild wants—

Too trusted to myself—to intuition.

Draining the wine alone in the still night,

And seeing how—as gathering films arose,

As by an inspiration life seemed bare

And grinning in its vanity, and ends

Hard to be dreamed of, stared at me as fixed,

And others suddenly became all foul,

As a fair witch turned an old hag at night.

No more of this—we will go hand in hand,

I will go with thee, even as a child,

Looking no further than thy sweet commands.

And thou hast chosen where this life shall be—

The land which gave me thee shall be our home,

Where nature lies all wild amid her lakes

And snow-swathed mountains, and vast pines all girt

With ropes of snow—where nature lies all bare,

Suffering none to view her but a race

Most stinted and deformed—like the mute dwarfs

Which wait upon a naked Indian queen.

And there (the time being when the heavens are thick

With storms) I'll sit with thee while thou dost sing

Thy native songs, gay as a desert bird

Who crieth as he flies for perfect joy,

Or telling me old stories of dead knights,

Or I will read old lays to thee—how she,

The fair pale sister, went to her chill grave

With power to love, and to be loved, and live.

Or will go together, like twin gods

Of the infernal world, with scented lamp

Over the dead—to call and to awake—

Over the unshaped images which lie

Within my mind's cave—only leaving all

That tells of the past doubts. So when spring comes,

And sunshine comes again like an old smile,

And the fresh waters, and awakened birds,

And budding woods await us—I shall be

Prepared, and we will go and think again,

And all old loves shall come to us—but changed

As some sweet thought which harsh words veiled before;

Feeling God loves us, and that all that errs,

Is a strange dream which death will dissipate;

And then when I am firm we'll seek again

My own land, and again I will approach

My old designs, and calmly look on all

The works of my past weakness, as one views

Some scene where danger met him long before

Ah! that such pleasant life should be but dreamed!

But whate'er come of it—and tho' it fade,

And tho' ere the cold morning all be gone

As it will be;—tho' music wait for me,

And fair eyes and bright wine, laughing like sin,

Which steals back softly on a soul half saved;

And I be first to deny all, and despise

This verse, and these intents which seem so fair;

Still this is all my own, this moment's pride,

No less I make an end in perfect joy.

E'en in my brightest time, a lurking fear

Possessed me. I well knew my weak resolves,

I felt the witchery that makes mind sleep

Over its treasures—as one half afraid

To make his riches definite—but now

These feelings shall not utterly be lost,

I shall not know again that nameless care,

Lest leaving all undone in youth, some new

And undreamed end reveal itself too late:

For this song shall remain to tell for ever,

That when I lost all hope of such a change

Suddenly Beauty rose on me again.

No less I make an end in perfect joy,

For I, having thus again been visited,

Shall doubt not many another bliss awaits,

And tho' this weak soul sink, and darkness come,

Some little word shall light it up again,

And I shall see all clearer and love better;

I shall again go o'er the tracts of thought,

As one who has a right; and I shall live

With poets—calmer—purer still each time,

And beauteous shapes will come to me again,

And unknown secrets will be trusted me,

Which were not mine when wavering—but now

I shall be priest and lover, as of old.

Sun-treader, I believe in God, and truth,

And love; and as one just escaped from death

Would bind himself in bands of friends to feel

He lives indeed—so, I would lean on thee;

Thou must be ever with me—most in gloom

When such shall come—but chiefly when I die,

For I seem dying, as one going in the dark

To fight a giant—and live thou for ever,

And be to all what thou hast been to me—

All in whom this wakes pleasant thoughts of me,

Know my last state is happy—free from doubt,

Or touch of fear. Love me and wish me well!

About the author:

1812-1889. Robert Browning, a British poet and playwright, is best remembered for his dramatic monologue poems, such as "Porphyria's Lover." His first published poem, "Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession," appeared in 1833; it did not sell well.

For further reading:

Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 7, No. 3, where "Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession" ran on September 27, 2007. List other work with these same labels: poetry, classic.

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