Asolando, Robert Browning
Asolando
Robert Browning
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Robert Browning (7 May 1812 – 12 December 1889) was an English poet and playwright whose dramatic monologues put him high among the Victorian poets. He was noted for irony, characterization, dark humour, social commentary, historical settings and challenging vocabulary and syntax. The greater part of Asolando was written in 1888–89, though in one instance at least an early poem was included in the collection. The title of the volume is explained in the dedication. The book, by a strange coincidence, was published on the day of Browning’s death.

Asolando

by
Robert Browning


Introduction

TO MRS. ARTHUR BRONSON

To whom but you, dear Friend, should I dedicate verses — some few written, all of them supervised, in the comfort of your presence, and with yet another experience of the gracious hospitality now bestowed on me since so many a year, — adding a charm even to my residences at Venice, and leaving me little regret for the surprise and delight at my visits to Asolo in bygone days?

I unite, you will see, the disconnected poems by a title-name popularly ascribed to the inventiveness of the ancient secretary of Queen Cornaro whose palace-tower still overlooks us: Asolare — “to disport in the open air, amuse one’s self at random.” The objection that such a word nowhere occurs in the works of the Cardinal is hardly important — Bembo was too thorough a purist to conserve in print a term which in talk he might possibly toy with: but the word is more likely derived from a Spanish source. I use it for love of the place, and in requital of your pleasant assurance that an early poem of mine first attracted you thither — where and elsewhere, at La Mura as Cà Alvisi, may all happiness attend you!

Gratefully and affectionately yours,R. B.

Asolo: October 15, 1889.

The greater part of Asolando was written in 1888–89, though in one instance at least an early poem was included in the collection. The title of the volume is explained in the dedication. The book, by a strange coincidence, was published on the day of Browning’s death.


Prologue

“The Poet’s age is sad: for why?
In youth, the natural world could show
No common object but his eye
At once involved with alien glow —
His own soul’s iris-bow.

“And now a flower is just a flower:
Man, bird, beast are but beast, bird, man —
Simply themselves, uncinct by dower
Of dyes which, when life’s day began,
Round each in glory ran.”

Friend, did you need an optic glass,
Which were your choice? A lens to drape
In ruby, emerald, chrysopras,
Each object — or reveal its shape
Clear outlined, past escape,

The naked very thing? — so clear
That, when you had the chance to gaze,
You found its inmost self appear
Through outer seeming — truth ablaze,
Not falsehood’s fancy-haze?

How many a year, my Asolo,
Since — one step just from sea to land —
I found you, loved yet feared you so —
For natural objects seemed to stand
Palpably fire-clothed! No —

No mastery of mine o’er these!
Terror with beauty, like the Bush
Burning but unconsumed. Bend knees,
Drop eyes to earthward! Language? Tush!
Silence ‘tis awe decrees.

And now? The lambent flame is — where?
Lost from the naked world: earth, sky,
Hill, vale, tree, flower, — Italia’s rare
O’er-running beauty crowds the eye —
But flame? The Bush is bare.

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