The Two Poets of Croisic
Category: Verse
Genres: Epic poem
Level 8.39 1:05 h
The Two Poets of Croisic is an 1878 poem by Robert Browning. In it the poet explores his attitude to fame and everything that comes with it.

The Two Poets of Croisic

Robert Browning

The Two Poets of Croisic

Written immediately after La Saisiaz, being dated January 15, 1878.

Such a starved bank of moss
Till, that May-morn,
Blue ran the flash across:
Violets were born!

Sky — what a scowl of cloud
Till, near and far,
Ray on ray split the shroud:
Splendid, a star!

World — how it walled about
Life with disgrace
Till God’s own smile came out:
That was thy face!


“Fame!” Yes, I said it and you read it. First,
Praise the good log-fire! Winter howls without.
Crowd closer, let us! Ha, the secret nursed
Inside yon hollow, crusted roundabout
With copper where the clamp was, — how the burst
Vindicates flame the stealthy feeder! Spout
Thy splendidest — a minute and no more?
So soon again all sobered as before?


Nay, for I need to see your face! One stroke
Adroitly dealt, and lo, the pomp revealed!
Fire in his pandemonium, heart of oak
Palatial, where he wrought the works concealed
Beneath the solid-seeming roof I broke,
As redly up and out and off they reeled
Like disconcerted imps, those thousand sparks
From fire’s slow tunnelling of vaults and arcs!


Up, out, and off, see! Were you never used, —
You now, in childish days or rather nights, —
As I was, to watch sparks fly? not amused
By that old nurse-taught game which gave the sprites
Each one his title and career, — confused
Belief ’t was all long over with the flights
From earth to heaven of hero, sage, and bard,
And bade them once more strive for Fame’s award?


New long bright life! and happy chance befell —
That I know — when some prematurely lost
Child of disaster bore away the bell
From some too-pampered son of fortune, crossed
Never before my chimney broke the spell!
Octogenarian Keats gave up the ghost,
While — never mind Who was it cumbered earth —
Sank stifled, span-long brightness, in the birth.


Well, try a variation of the game!
Our log is old ship-timber, broken bulk.
There’s sea-brine spirits up the brimstone flame,
That crimson-curly spiral proves the hulk
Was saturate with — ask the chloride’s name
From somebody who knows! I shall not sulk
If yonder greenish tonguelet licked from brass
Its life, I thought was fed on copperas.


Anyhow, there they flutter! What may be
The style and prowess of that purple one?
Who is the hero other eyes shall see
Than yours and mine? That yellow, deep to dun —
Conjecture how the sage glows, whom not we
But those unborn are to get warmth by! Son
O’ the coal, — as Job and Hebrew name a spark, —
What bard, in thy red soaring, scares the dark?


Oh and the lesser lights, the dearer still
That they elude a vulgar eye, give ours
The glimpse repaying astronomic skill
Which searched sky deeper, passed those patent powers
Constellate proudly, — swords, scrolls, harps, that fill
The vulgar eye to surfeit, — found best flowers
Hid deepest in the dark, — named unplucked grace
Of soul, ungathered beauty, form or face!


Up with thee, mouldering ash men never knew,
But I know! flash thou forth, and figure bold,
Calm and columnar as yon flame I view!
Oh and I bid thee, — to whom fortune doled
Scantly all other gifts out — bicker blue,
Beauty for all to see, zinc’s uncontrolled
Flake-brilliance! Not my fault if these were shown,
Grandeur and beauty both, to me alone.


No! as the first was boy’s play, this proves mere
Stripling’s amusement: manhood’s sport be grave!
Choose rather sparkles quenched in mid career,
Their boldness and their brightness could not save
(In some old night of time on some lone drear
Sea-coast, monopolized by crag or cave)
— Save from ignoble exit into smoke,
Silence, oblivion, all death-damps that choke!


Launched by our ship-wood, float we, once adrift
In fancy to that land-strip waters wash,
We both know well! Where uncouth tribes made shift
Long since to just keep life in, billows dash
Nigh over folk who shudder at each lift
Of the old tyrant tempest’s whirlwind-lash
Though they have built the serviceable town
Tempests but tease now, billows drench, not drown.


Croisic, the spit of sandy rock which juts
Spitefully northward, bears nor tree nor shrub
To tempt the ocean, show what Guérande shuts
Behind her, past wild Batz whose Saxons grub
The ground for crystals grown where ocean gluts
Their promontory’s breadth with salt: all stub
Of rock and stretch of sand, the land’s last strife
To rescue a poor remnant for dear life.


And what life! Here was, from the world to choose,
The Druids’ chosen chief of homes: they reared
— Only their women, — ‘mid the slush and ooze
Of yon low islet, — to their sun, revered
In strange stone guise, — a temple. May-dawn dews
Saw the old structure levelled; when there peered
May’s earliest eve-star, high and wide once more
Up towered the new pile perfect as before:


Seeing that priestesses — and all were such —
Unbuilt and then rebuilt it every May,
Each alike helping — well, if not too much!
For, ‘mid their eagerness to outstrip day
And get work done, if any loosed her clutch
And let a single stone drop, straight a prey
Herself fell, torn to pieces, limb from limb,
By sisters in full chorus glad and grim.


And still so much remains of that gray cult,
That even now, of nights, do women steal
To the sole Menhir standing, and insult
The antagonistic church-spire by appeal
To power discrowned in vain, since each adult
Believes the gruesome thing she clasps may heal
Whatever plague no priestly help can cure:
Kiss but the cold stone, the event is sure!


Nay more: on May-morns, that primeval rite
Of temple-building, with its punishment
For rash precipitation, lingers, spite
Of all remonstrance; vainly are they shent,
Those girls who form a ring and, dressed in white,
Dance round it, till some sister’s strength be spent:
Touch but the Menhir, straight the rest turn roughs
From gentles, fall on her with fisticuffs.


Oh and, for their part, boys from door to door
Sing unintelligible words to tunes
As obsolete: “scraps of Druidic lore,”
Sigh scholars, as each pale man importunes
Vainly the mumbling to speak plain once more.
Enough of this old worship, rounds and runes!
They serve my purpose, which is but to show
Croisic to-day and Croisic long ago.


What have we sailed to see, then, wafted there
By fancy from the log that ends its days
Of much adventure ’neath skies foul or fair,
On waters rough or smooth, in this good blaze
We two crouch round so closely, bidding care
Keep outside with the snow-storm? Something says
“Fit time for story-telling!” I begin —
Why not at Croisic, port we first put in?


Anywhere serves: for point me out the place
Wherever man has made himself a home,
And there I find the story of our race
In little, just at Croisic as at Rome.
What matters the degree? the kind I trace.
Druids their temple, Christians have their dome:
So with mankind; and Croisic, I’ll engage,
With Rome yields sort for sort, in age for age.


No doubt, men vastly differ: and we need
Some strange exceptional benevolence
Of nature’s sunshine to develop seed
So well, in the less-favored clime, that thence
We may discern how shrub means tree indeed
Though dwarfed till scarcely shrub in evidence.
Man in the ice-house or the hot-house ranks
With beasts or gods: stove-forced, give warmth the thanks!


While, is there any ice-checked? Such shall learn
I am thankworthy, who propose to slake
His thirst for tasting how it feels to turn
Cedar from hyssop-on-the-wall. I wake
No memories of what is harsh and stern
In ancient Croisic-nature, much less rake
The ashes of her last warmth till out leaps
Live Hervé Riel, the single spark she keeps.


Take these two, see, each outbreak, — spirt and spirt
Of fire from our brave billet’s either edge
Which — call maternal Croisic ocean-girt!
These two shall thoroughly redeem my pledge.
One flames fierce gules, its feebler rival — vert,
Heralds would tell you: heroes, I allege,
They both were: soldiers, sailors, statesmen, priests,
Lawyers, physicians — guess what gods or beasts!


None of them all, but — poets, if you please!
“What, even there, endowed with knack of rhyme,
Did two among the aborigines
Of that rough region pass the ungracious time
Suiting, to rumble-tumble of the sea’s,
The songs forbidden a serener clime?
Or had they universal audience — that’s
To say, the folk of Croisic, ay, and Batz?”


Open your ears! Each poet in his day
Had such a mighty moment of success
As pinnacled him straight, in full display,
For the whole world to worship — nothing less!
Was not the whole polite world Paris, pray?
And did not Paris, for one moment — yes,
Worship these poet-flames, our red and green,
One at a time, a century between?


And yet you never heard their names! Assist,
Clio, Historic Muse, while I record
Great deeds! Let fact, not fancy, break the mist
And bid each sun emerge, in turn play lord
Of day, one moment! Hear the annalist
Tell a strange story, true to the least word!
At Croisic, sixteen hundred years and ten
Since Christ, forth flamed yon liquid ruby, then.


Know him henceforth as René Gentilhomme
— Appropriate appellation! noble birth
And knightly blazon, the device wherefrom
Was “Better do than say”! In Croisic’s dearth
Why prison his career while Christendom
Lay open to reward acknowledged worth?
He therefore left it at the proper age
And got to be the Prince of Condé’s page.


Which Prince of Condé, whom men called “The Duke,”
— Failing the king, his cousin, of an heir,
(As one might hold hap, would, without rebuke,
Since Anne of Austria, all the world was ware,
Twenty-three years long sterile, scarce could look
For issue) — failing Louis of so rare
A godsend, it was natural the Prince
Should hear men call him “Next King” too, nor wince.

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