Paracelsus, Robert Browning
Robert Browning
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Paracelsus is a five-part epic poem written by Robert Browning and published in 1835. The poem is split into five parts called "Paracelsus Aspires", "Paracelsus Attains", "Paracelsus", "Paracelsus Aspires" and "Paracelsus Attains".


Robert Browning



Inscribed to
De Ripert-Monclar
His Affectionate Friend

March 15, 1835. R. B.

The dedication of Paracelsus was, in a degree, the payment of a debt, for it was the young count, four years older than Browning, and at the time a private agent in England between the Duchesse de Berri and her royalist friends in France, who suggested the subject to the poet. When first published Paracelsus had the following Preface: “I am anxious that the reader should not, at the very outset, — mistaking my performance for one of a class with which it has nothing in common, — judge it by principles on which it was never moulded, and subject it to a standard to which it was never meant to conform. I therefore anticipate his discovery, that it is an attempt, probably more novel than happy, to reverse the method usually adopted by writers whose aim it is to set forth any phenomena of the mind or the passions, by the operation of persons and events; and that, instead of having recourse to an external machinery of incidents to create and evolve the crisis I desire to produce, I have ventured to display somewhat minutely the mood itself in its rise and progress, and have suffered the agency by which it is influenced and determined, to be generally discernible in its effects alone, and subordinate throughout, if not altogether excluded: and this for a reason. I have endeavored to write a poem, not a drama: the canons of the drama are well known, and I cannot but think that, inasmuch as they have immediate regard to stage representation, the peculiar advantages they hold out are really such only so long as the purpose for which they were at first instituted is kept in view. I do not very well understand what is called a Dramatic Poem, wherein all those restrictions only submitted to on account of compensating good in the original scheme are scrupulously retained, as though for some special fitness in themselves — and all new facilities placed at an author’s disposal by the vehicle he selects, as pertinaciously rejected. It is certain, however, that a work like mine depends on the intelligence and sympathy of the reader for its success, — indeed were my scenes stars, it must be his coöperating fancy which, supplying all chasms, shall collect the scattered lights into one constellation — a Lyre or a Crown. I trust for his indulgence towards a poem which had not been imagined six months ago; and that even should he think slightingly of the present (an experiment I am in no case likely to repeat) he will not be prejudiced against other productions which may follow in a more popular, and perhaps less difficult form.”

Mr. Browning, senior, paid for the publication of Paracelsus. In its final form, as here given, it is greatly changed, not in structure but in phrase. Mr. Cooke states that the change affects nearly a third of the lines.


Aureolus Paracelsus, a student.
Festus and Michal, his friends.
Aprile, an Italian poet.

I. Paracelsus Aspires

Scene, Würzburg: a garden in the environs. 1512.

Festus, Paracelsus, Michal.

Paracelsus. Come close to me, dear friends; still closer; thus!
Close to the heart which, though long time roll by
Ere it again beat quicker, pressed to yours,
As now it beats — perchance a long, long time —
At least henceforth your memories shall make
Quiet and fragrant as befits their home.
Nor shall my memory want a home in yours —
Alas, that it requires too well such free
Forgiving love as shall embalm it there!
For if you would remember me aright,
As I was born to be, you must forget
All fitful, strange and moody waywardness
Which e’er confused my better spirit, to dwell
Only on moments such as these, dear friends!
— My heart no truer, but my words and ways
More true to it: as Michal, some months hence,
Will say, “this autumn was a pleasant time,”
For some few sunny days; and overlook
Its bleak wind, hankering after pining leaves.
Autumn would fain be sunny; I would look
Liker my nature’s truth: and both are frail,
And both beloved, for all our frailty.

Michal. Aureole!

Par. Drop by drop! she is weeping like a child!
Not so! I am content — more than content;
Nay, autumn wins you best by this its mute
Appeal to sympathy for its decay:
Look up, sweet Michal, nor esteem the less
Your stained and drooping vines their grapes bow down,
Nor blame those creaking trees bent with their fruit,
That apple-tree with a rare after-birth
Of peeping blooms sprinkled its wealth among!
Then for the winds — what wind that ever raved
Shall vex that ash which overlooks you both,
So proud it wears its berries? Ah, at length,
The old smile meet for her, the lady of this
Sequestered nest! — this kingdom, limited
Alone by one old populous green wall
Tenanted by the ever-busy flies.
Gray crickets and shy lizards and quick spiders,
Each family of the silver-threaded moss —
Which, look through near, this way, and it appears
A stubble-field or a cane-brake, a marsh
Of bulrush whitening in the sun: laugh now!
Fancy the crickets, each one in his house,
Looking out, wondering at the world — or best,
Yon painted snail with his gay shell of dew,
Travelling to see the glossy balls high up
Hung by the caterpillar, like gold lamps.

Mich. In truth we have lived carelessly and well.

Par. And shall, my perfect pair! — each, trust me, born
For the other; nay, your very hair, when mixed,
Is of one hue. For where save in this nook
Shall you two walk, when I am far away,
And wish me prosperous fortune? Stay: that plant
Shall never wave its tangles lightly and softly,
As a queen’s languid and imperial arm
Which scatters crowns among her lovers, but you
Shall be reminded to predict to me
Some great success! Ah see, the sun sinks broad
Behind Saint Saviour’s: wholly gone, at last!

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