Robert Browning

(1812-1889 / London / England)

A Serenade At The Villa


I.

That was I, you heard last night,
When there rose no moon at all,
Nor, to pierce the strained and tight
Tent of heaven, a planet small:
Life was dead and so was light.

II.

Not a twinkle from the fly,
Not a glimmer from the worm;
When the crickets stopped their cry,
When the owls forbore a term,
You heard music; that was I.

III.

Earth turned in her sleep with pain,
Sultrily suspired for proof:
In at heaven and out again,
Lightning!---where it broke the roof,
Bloodlike, some few drops of rain.

IV.

What they could my words expressed,
O my love, my all, my one!
Singing helped the verses best,
And when singing's best was done,
To my lute I left the rest.

V.

So wore night; the East was gray,
White the broad-faced hemlock-flowers:
There would be another day;
Ere its first of heavy hours
Found me, I had passed away.

VI.

What became of all the hopes,
Words and song and lute as well?
Say, this struck you---``When life gropes
``Feebly for the path where fell
``Light last on the evening slopes,

VII.

``One friend in that path shall be,
``To secure my step from wrong;
``One to count night day for me,
``Patient through the watches long,
``Serving most with none to see.''

VIII.

Never say---as something bodes---
``So, the worst has yet a worse!
``When life halts 'neath double loads,
``Better the taskmaster's curse
``Than such music on the roads!

IX.

``When no moon succeeds the sun,
``Nor can pierce the midnight's tent
``Any star, the smallest one,
``While some drops, where lightning rent,
``Show the final storm begun---

X.

``When the fire-fly hides its spot,
``When the garden-voices fail
``In the darkness thick and hot,---
``Shall another voice avail,
``That shape be where these are not?

XI.

``Has some plague a longer lease,
``Proffering its help uncouth?
``Can't one even die in peace?
``As one shuts one's eyes on youth,
``Is that face the last one sees?''

XII.

Oh how dark your villa was,
Windows fast and obdurate!
How the garden grudged me grass
Where I stood---the iron gate
Ground its teeth to let me pass!

Submitted: Sunday, May 13, 2001

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