Robert Browning

(1812-1889 / London / England)

Youth and Art


1 It once might have been, once only:
2 We lodged in a street together,
3 You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
4 I, a lone she-bird of his feather.

5 Your trade was with sticks and clay,
6 You thumbed, thrust, patted and polished,
7 Then laughed 'They will see some day
8 Smith made, and Gibson demolished.'

9 My business was song, song, song;
10 I chirped, cheeped, trilled and twittered,
11 'Kate Brown's on the boards ere long,
12 And Grisi's existence embittered!'

13 I earned no more by a warble
14 Than you by a sketch in plaster;
15 You wanted a piece of marble,
16 I needed a music-master.

17 We studied hard in our styles,
18 Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,
19 For air looked out on the tiles,
20 For fun watched each other's windows.

21 You lounged, like a boy of the South,
22 Cap and blouse--nay, a bit of beard too;
23 Or you got it, rubbing your mouth
24 With fingers the clay adhered to.

25 And I--soon managed to find
26 Weak points in the flower-fence facing,
27 Was forced to put up a blind
28 And be safe in my corset-lacing.

29 No harm! It was not my fault
30 If you never turned your eye's tail up
31 As I shook upon E in alt,
32 Or ran the chromatic scale up:

33 For spring bade the sparrows pair,
34 And the boys and girls gave guesses,
35 And stalls in our street looked rare
36 With bulrush and watercresses.

37 Why did not you pinch a flower
38 In a pellet of clay and fling it?
39 Why did not I put a power
40 Of thanks in a look, or sing it?

41 I did look, sharp as a lynx,
42 (And yet the memory rankles,)
43 When models arrived, some minx
44 Tripped up-stairs, she and her ankles.

45 But I think I gave you as good!
46 'That foreign fellow,--who can know
47 How she pays, in a playful mood,
48 For his tuning her that piano?'

49 Could you say so, and never say
50 'Suppose we join hands and fortunes,
51 And I fetch her from over the way,
52 Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?'

53 No, no: you would not be rash,
54 Nor I rasher and something over:
55 You've to settle yet Gibson's hash,
56 And Grisi yet lives in clover.

57 But you meet the Prince at the Board,
58 I'm queen myself at bals-paré,
59 I've married a rich old lord,
60 And you're dubbed knight and an R.A.

61 Each life unfulfilled, you see;
62 It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
63 We have not sighed deep, laughed free,
64 Starved, feasted, despaired,--been happy.

65 And nobody calls you a dunce,
66 And people suppose me clever:
67 This could but have happened once,
68 And we missed it, lost it for ever.

Submitted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

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