Paracelsus, by Robert Browning

Part IV

Paracelsus Aspires

Scene. — Colmar in Alsatia: an Inn. 1528.

Paracelsus, Festus.

Paracelsus [to Johannes Oporinus, his Secretary].

Sic itur ad astra! Dear Von Visenburg

Is scandalized, and poor Torinus paralysed,

And every honest soul that Basil holds

Aghast; and yet we live, as one may say,

Just as though Liechtenfels had never set

So true a value on his sorry carcass,

And learned Pütter had not frowned us dumb.

We live; and shall as surely start to morrow

For Nuremberg, as we drink speedy scathe

To Basil in this mantling wine, suffused

A delicate blush, no fainter tinge is born

I’ the shut heart of a bud. Pledge me, good John —

“Basil; a hot plague ravage it, and Pütter

“Oppose the plague!” Even so? Do you too share

Their panic, the reptiles? Ha, ha; faint through these,

Desist for these! They manage matters so

At Basil, ’t is like: but others may find means

To bring the stoutest braggart of the tribe

Once more to crouch in silence — means to breed

A stupid wonder in each fool again,

Now big with admiration at the skill

Which stript a vain pretender of his plumes:

And, that done — means to brand each slavish brow

So deeply, surely, ineffaceably,

That henceforth flattery shall not pucker it

Out of the furrow; there that stamp shall stay

To show the next they fawn on, what they are,

This Basil with its magnates — fill my cup —

Whom I curse soul and limb. And now despatch,

Despatch, my trusty John; and what remains

To do, whate’er arrangements for our trip

Are yet to be completed, see you hasten

This night; we’ll weather the storm at least: to-morrow

For Nuremberg! Now leave us; this grave clerk

Has divers weighty matters for my ear:

[Oporinus goes out.

And spare my lungs. At last, my gallant Festus,

I am rid of this arch-knave that dogs my heels

As a gaunt crow a gasping sheep; at last

May give a loose to my delight. How kind,

How very kind, my first best only friend!

Why, this looks like fidelity. Embrace me!

Not a hair silvered yet? Right! you shall live

Till I am worth your love; you shall be pround,

And I— but let time show! Did you not wonder?

I sent to you because our compact weighed

Upon my conscience —(you recall the night

At Basil, which the gods confound!)— because

Once more I aspire. I call you to my side:

You come. You thought my message strange?

Festus.

                      So strange

That I must hope, indeed, your messenger

Has mingled his own fancies with the words

Purporting to be yours.

Paracelsus.

            He said no more,

’T is probable, than the precious folk I leave

Said fiftyfold more roughly. Well-a-day,

’T is true! poor Paracelsus is exposed

At last; a most egregious quack he proves:

And those he overreached must spit their hate

On one who, utterly beneath contempt,

Could yet deceive their topping wits. You heard

Bare truth; and at my bidding you come here

To speed me on my enterprise, as once

Your lavish wishes sped me, my own friend!

Festus.

What is your purpose, Aureole?

Paracelsus.

                Oh, for purpose,

There is no lack of precedents in a case

Like mine; at least, if not precisely mine,

The case of men cast off by those they sought

To benefit.

Festus.

     They really cast you off?

I only heard a vague tale of some priest,

Cured by your skill, who wrangled at your claim,

Knowing his life’s worth best; and how the judge

The matter was referred to, saw no cause

To interfere, nor you to hide your full

Contempt of him; nor he, again, to smother

His wrath thereat, which raised so fierce a flame

That Basil soon was made no place for you.

Paracelsus.

The affair of Liechtenfels? the shallowest fable,

The last and silliest outrage — mere pretence!

I knew it, I foretold it from the first,

How soon the stupid wonder you mistook

For genuine loyalty — a cheering promise

Of better things to come — would pall and pass;

And every word comes true. Saul is among

The prophets! Just so long as I was pleased

To play off the mere antics of my art,

Fantastic gambols leading to no end,

I got huge praise: but one can ne’er keep down

Our foolish nature’s weakness. There they flocked,

Poor devils, jostling, swearing and perspiring,

Till the walls rang again; and all for me!

I had a kindness for them, which was right;

But then I stopped not till I tacked to that

A trust in them and a respect — a sort

Of sympathy for them; I must needs begin

To teach them, not amaze them, “to impart

“The spirit which should instigate the search

“Of truth,” just what you bade me! I spoke out.

Forthwith a mighty squadron, in disgust,

Filed off —“the sifted chaff of the sack,” I said,

Redoubling my endeavours to secure

The rest. When lo! one man had tarried so long

Only to ascertain if I supported

This tenet of his, or that; another loved

To hear impartially before he judged,

And having heard, now judged; this bland disciple

Passed for my dupe, but all along, it seems,

Spied error where his neighbours marvelled most;

That fiery doctor who had hailed me friend,

Did it because my by-paths, once proved wrong

And beaconed properly, would commend again

The good old ways our sires jogged safely o’er,

Though not their squeamish sons; the other worthy

Discovered divers verses of St. John,

Which, read successively, refreshed the soul,

But, muttered backwards, cured the gout, the stone,

The colic and what not. Quid multa? The end

Was a clear class-room, and a quiet leer

From grave folk, and a sour reproachful glance

From those in chief who, cap in hand, installed

The new professor scarce a year before;

And a vast flourish about patient merit

Obscured awhile by flashy tricks, but sure

Sooner or later to emerge in splendour —

Of which the example was some luckless wight

Whom my arrival had discomfited,

But now, it seems, the general voice recalled

To fill my chair and so efface the stain

Basil had long incurred. I sought no better,

Only a quiet dismissal from my post,

And from my heart I wished them better suited

And better served. Good night to Basil, then!

But fast as I proposed to rid the tribe

Of my obnoxious back, I could not spare them

The pleasure of a parting kick.

Festus.

                You smile:

Despise them as they merit!

Paracelsus.

              If I smile,

’T is with as very contempt as ever turned

Flesh into stone. This courteous recompense,

This grateful . . . Festus, were your nature fit

To be defiled, your eyes the eyes to ache

At gangrene-blotches, eating poison-blains,

The ulcerous barky scurf of leprosy

Which finds — a man, and leaves — a hideous thing

That cannot but be mended by hell fire,

— I would lay bare to you the human heart

Which God cursed long ago, and devils make since

Their pet nest and their never-tiring home.

Oh, sages have discovered we are born

For various ends — to love, to know: has ever

One stumbled, in his search, on any signs

Of a nature in us formed to hate? To hate?

If that be our true object which evokes

Our powers in fullest strength, be sure ’t is hate!

Yet men have doubted if the best and bravest

Of spirits can nourish him with hate alone.

I had not the monopoly of fools,

It seems, at Basil.

Festus.

          But your plans, your plans!

I have yet to learn your purpose, Aureole!

Paracelsus.

Whether to sink beneath such ponderous shame,

To shrink up like a crushed snail, undergo

In silence and desist from further toil,

and so subside into a monument

Of one their censure blasted? or to bow

Cheerfully as submissively, to lower

My old pretensions even as Basil dictates,

To drop into the rank her wits assign me

And live as they prescribe, and make that use

Of my poor knowledge which their rules allow,

Proud to be patted now and then, and careful

To practise the true posture for receiving

The amplest benefit from their hoofs’ appliance

When they shall condescend to tutor me?

Then, one may feel resentment like a flame

Within, and deck false systems in truth’s garb,

And tangle and entwine mankind with error,

And give them darkness for a dower and falsehood

For a possession, ages: or one may mope

Into a shade through thinking, or else drowse

Into a dreamless sleep and so die off.

But I— now Festus shall divine! — but I

Am merely setting out once more, embracing

My earliest aims again! What thinks he now?

Festus.

Your aims? the aims? — to Know? and where is found

The early trust . . .

Paracelsus.

           Nay, not so fast; I say,

The aims — not the old means. You know they made me

A laughing-stock; I was a fool; you know

The when and the how: hardly those means again!

Not but they had their beauty; who should know

Their passing beauty, if not I? Still, dreams

They were, so let them vanish, yet in beauty

If that may be. Stay: thus they pass in song!

[He sings.

Heap cassia, sandal-buds and stripes

Of labdanum, and aloe-balls,

Smeared with dull nard an Indian wipes

From out her hair: such balsam falls

Down sea-side mountain pedestals,

From tree-tops where tired winds are fain,

Spent with the vast and howling main,

To treasure half their island-gain.

And strew faint sweetness from some old

Egyptian’s fine worm-eaten shroud

Which breaks to dust when once unrolled;

Or shredded perfume, like a cloud

From closet long to quiet vowed,

With mothed and dropping arras hung,

Mouldering her lute and books among,

As when a queen, long dead, was young.

Mine, every word! And on such pile shall die

My lovely fancies, with fair perished things,

Themselves fair and forgotten; yes, forgotten,

Or why abjure them? So, I made this rhyme

That fitting dignity might be preserved;

No little proud was I; though the list of drugs

Smacks of my old vocation, and the verse

Halts like the best of Luther’s psalms.

Festus.

                     But, Aureole,

Talk not thus wildly and madly. I am here —

Did you know all! I have travelled far, indeed,

To learn your wishes. Be yourself again!

For in this mood I recognize you less

Than in the horrible despondency

I witnessed last. You may account this, joy;

But rather let me gaze on that despair

Than hear these incoherent words and see

This flushed cheek and intensely-sparkling eye.

Paracelsus.

Why, man, I was light-hearted in my prime

I am light-hearted now; what would you have?

Aprile was a poet, I make songs —

’T is the very augury of success I want!

Why should I not be joyous now as then?

Festus.

Joyous! and how? and what remains for joy?

You have declared the ends (which I am sick

Of naming) are impracticable.

Paracelsus.

               Ay,

Pursued as I pursued them — the arch-fool!

Listen: my plan will please you not, ’t is like,

But you are little versed in the world’s ways.

This is my plan —(first drinking its good luck)—

I will accept all helps; all I despised

So rashly at the outset, equally

With early impulses, late years have quenched:

I have tried each way singly: now for both!

All helps! no one sort shall exclude the rest.

I seek to know and to enjoy at once,

Not one without the other as before.

Suppose my labour should seem God’s own cause

Once more, as first I dreamed — it shall not baulk me

Of the meanest earthliest sensualest delight

That may be snatched; for every joy is gain,

And gain is gain, however small. My soul

Can die then, nor be taunted —“what was gained?”

Nor, on the other hand, should pleasure follow

As though I had not spurned her hitherto,

Shall she o’ercloud my spirit’s rapt communion

With the tumultuous past, the teeming future,

Glorious with visions of a full success.

Festus.

Success!

Paracelsus.

    And wherefore not? Why not prefer

Results obtained in my best state of being,

To those derived alone from seasons dark

As the thoughts they bred? When I was best, my youth

Unwasted, seemed success not surest too?

It is the nature of darkness to obscure.

I am a wanderer: I remember well

One journey, how I feared the track was missed,

So long the city I desired to reach

Lay hid; when suddenly its spires afar

Flashed through the circling clouds; you may conceive

My transport. Soon the vapours closed again,

But I had seen the city, and one such glance

No darkness could obscure: nor shall the present —

A few dull hours, a passing shame or two,

Destroy the vivid memories of the past.

I will fight the battle out; a little spent

Perhaps, but still an able combatant.

You look at my grey hair and furrowed brow?

But I can turn even weakness to account:

Of many tricks I know, ’t is not the least

To push the ruins of my frame, whereon

The fire of vigour trembles scarce alive,

Into a heap, and send the flame aloft.

What should I do with age? So, sickness lends

An aid; it being, I fear, the source of all

We boast of: mind is nothing but disease,

And natural health is ignorance.

Festus.

                 I see

But one good symptom in this notable scheme.

I feared your sudden journey had in view

To wreak immediate vengeance on your foes

’T is not so: I am glad.

Paracelsus.

            And if I please

To spit on them, to trample them, what then?

’T is sorry warfare truly, but the fools

Provoke it. I would spare their self-conceit

But if they must provoke me, cannot suffer

Forbearance on my part, if I may keep

No quality in the shade, must needs put forth

Power to match power, my strength against their strength,

And teach them their own game with their own arms —

Why, be it so and let them take their chance!

I am above them like a god, there’s no

Hiding the fact: what idle scruples, then,

Were those that ever bade me soften it,

Communicate it gently to the world,

Instead of proving my supremacy,

Taking my natural station o’er their head,

Then owning all the glory was a man’s!

— And in my elevation man’s would be.

But live and learn, though life’s short, learning, hard!

And therefore, though the wreck of my past self,

I fear, dear Pütter, that your lecture-room

Must wait awhile for its best ornament,

The penitent empiric, who set up

For somebody, but soon was taught his place;

Now, but too happy to be let confess

His error, snuff the candles, and illustrate

(Fiat experientia corpore vili)

Your medicine’s soundness in his person. Wait,

Good Pütter!

Festus.

      He who sneers thus, is a god!

Paracelsus.

Ay, ay, laugh at me! I am very glad

You are not gulled by all this swaggering; you

Can see the root of the matter! — how I strive

To put a good face on the overthrow

I have experienced, and to bury and hide

My degradation in its length and breadth;

How the mean motives I would make you think

Just mingle as is due with nobler aims,

The appetites I modestly allow

May influence me as being mortal still —

Do goad me, drive me on, and fast supplant

My youth’s desires. You are no stupid dupe:

You find me out! Yes, I had sent for you

To palm these childish lies upon you, Festus!

Laugh — you shall laugh at me!

Festus.

               The past, then, Aureole,

Proves nothing? Is our interchange of love

Yet to begin? Have I to swear I mean

No flattery in this speech or that? For you,

Whate’er you say, there is no degradation;

These low thoughts are no inmates of your mind,

Or wherefore this disorder? You are vexed

As much by the intrusion of base views,

Familiar to your adversaries, as they

Were troubled should your qualities alight

Amid their murky souls; not otherwise,

A stray wolf which the winter forces down

From our bleak hills, suffices to affright

A village in the vales — while foresters

Sleep calm, though all night long the famished troop

Snuff round and scratch against their crazy huts.

These evil thoughts are monsters, and will flee.

Paracelsus.

May you be happy, Festus, my own friend!

Festus.

Nay, further; the delights you fain would think

The superseders of your nobler aims,

Though ordinary and harmless stimulants,

Will ne’er content you. . . .

Paracelsus.

               Hush! I once despised them,

But that soon passes. We are high at first

In our demand, nor will abate a jot

Of toil’s strict value; but time passes o’er,

And humbler spirits accept what we refuse:

In short, when some such comfort is doled out

As these delights, we cannot long retain

Bitter contempt which urges us at first

To hurl it back, but hug it to our breast

And thankfully retire. This life of mine

Must be lived out and a grave thoroughly earned:

I am just fit for that and nought beside.

I told you once, I cannot now enjoy,

Unless I deem my knowledge gains through joy;

Nor can I know, but straight warm tears reveal

My need of linking also joy to knowledge:

So, on I drive, enjoying all I can,

And knowing all I can. I speak, of course,

Confusedly; this will better explain — feel here!

Quick beating, is it not? — a fire of the heart

To work off some way, this as well as any.

So, Festus sees me fairly launched; his calm

Compassionate look might have disturbed me once,

But now, far from rejecting, I invite

What bids me press the closer, lay myself

Open before him, and be soothed with pity;

I hope, if he command hope, and believe

As he directs me — satiating myself

With his enduring love. And Festus quits me

To give place to some credulous disciple

Who holds that God is wise, but Paracelsus

Has his peculiar merits: I suck in

That homage, chuckle o’er that admiration,

And then dismiss the fool; for night is come.

And I betake myself to study again,

Till patient searchings after hidden lore

Half wring some bright truth from its prison; my frame

Trembles, my forehead’s veins swell out, my hair

Tingles for triumph. Slow and sure the morn

Shall break on my pent room and dwindling lamp

And furnace dead, and scattered earths and ores;

When, with a failing heart and throbbing brow,

I must review my captured truth, sum up

Its value, trace what ends to what begins,

Its present power with its eventual bearings,

Latent affinities, the views it opens,

And its full length in perfecting my scheme.

I view it sternly circumscribed, cast down

From the high place my fond hopes yielded it,

Proved worthless — which, in getting, yet had cost

Another wrench to this fast-falling frame.

Then, quick, the cup to quaff, that chases sorrow!

I lapse back into youth, and take again

My fluttering pulse for evidence that God

Means good to me, will make my cause his own.

See! I have cast off this remorseless care

Which clogged a spirit born to soar so free,

And my dim chamber has become a tent,

Festus is sitting by me, and his Michal . . .

Why do you start? I say, she listening here,

(For yonder — Würzburg through the orchard-bough!)

Motions as though such ardent words should find

No echo in a maiden’s quiet soul,

But her pure bosom heaves, her eyes fill fast

With tears, her sweet lips tremble all the while!

Ha, ha!

Festus.

   It seems, then, you expect to reap

No unreal joy from this your present course,

But rather . . .

Paracelsus.

        Death! To die! I owe that much

To what, at least, I was. I should be sad

To live contented after such a fall,

To thrive and fatten after such reverse!

The whole plan is a makeshift, but will last

My time.

Festus.

    And you have never mused and said,

“I had a noble purpose, and the strength

“To compass it; but I have stopped half-way,

“And wrongly given the first-fruits of my toil

“To objects little worthy of the gift.

“Why linger round them still? why clench my fault?

“Why seek for consolation in defeat,

“In vain endeavours to derive a beauty

“From ugliness? why seek to make the most

“Of what no power can change, nor strive instead

“With mighty effort to redeem the past

“And, gathering up the treasures thus cast down,

“To hold a steadfast course till I arrive

“At their fit destination and my own?”

You have never pondered thus?

Paracelsus.

               Have I, you ask?

Often at midnight, when most fancies come,

Would some such airy project visit me:

But ever at the end . . . or will you hear

The same thing in a tale, a parable?

You and I, wandering over the world wide,

Chance to set foot upon a desert coast.

Just as we cry, “No human voice before

“Broke the inveterate silence of these rocks!”

— Their querulous echo startles us; we turn:

What ravaged structure still looks o’er the sea?

Some characters remain, too! While we read,

The sharp salt wind, impatient for the last

Of even this record, wistfully comes and goes,

Or sings what we recover, mocking it.

This is the record; and my voice, the wind’s.

[He sings.

Over the sea our galleys went,

With cleaving prows in order brave

To a speeding wind and a bounding wave,

A gallant armament:

Each bark built out of a forest-tree

Left leafy and rough as first it grew,

And nailed all over the gaping sides,

Within and without, with black bull-hides,

Seethed in fat and suppled in flame,

To bear the playful billows’ game:

So, each good ship was rude to see,

Rude and bare to the outward view,

But each upbore a stately tent

Where cedar pales in scented row

Kept out the flakes of the dancing brine,

And an awning drooped the mast below,

In fold on fold of the purple fine,

That neither noontide nor starshine

Nor moonlight cold which maketh mad,

Might pierce the regal tenement.

When the sun dawned, oh, gay and glad

We set the sail and plied the oar;

But when the night-wind blew like breath,

For joy of one day’s voyage more,

We sang together on the wide sea,

Like men at peace on a peaceful shore;

Each sail was loosed to the wind so free,

Each helm made sure by the twilight star,

And in a sleep as calm as death,

We, the voyagers from afar,

Lay stretched along, each weary crew

In a circle round its wondrous tent

Whence gleamed soft light and curled rich scent,

And with light and perfume, music too:

So the stars wheeled round, and the darkness past,

And at morn we started beside the mast,

And still each ship was sailing fast.

Now, one morn, land appeared — a speck

Dim trembling betwixt sea and sky:

“Avoid it,” cried our pilot, “check

“The shout, restrain the eager eye!”

But the heaving sea was black behind

For many a night and many a day,

And land, though but a rock, drew nigh;

So, we broke the cedar pales away,

Let the purple awning flap in the wind,

And a statute bright was on every deck!

We shouted, every man of us,

And steered right into the harbour thus,

With pomp and pæan glorious.

A hundred shapes of lucid stone!

All day we built its shrine for each,

A shrine of rock for every one,

Nor paused till in the westering sun

We sat together on the beach

To sing because our task was done.

When lo! what shouts and merry songs!

What laughter all the distance stirs!

A loaded raft with happy throngs

Of gentle islanders!

“Our isles are just at hand,” they cried,

“Like cloudlets faint in even sleeping

“Our temple-gates are opened wide,

“Our olive-groves thick shade are keeping

“For these majestic forms”— they cried.

Oh, then we awoke with sudden start

From our deep dream, and knew, too late,

How bare the rock, how desolate,

Which had received our precious freight:

Yet we called out —“Depart!

“Our gifts, once given, must here abide.

“Our work is done; we have no heart

“To mar our work,"— we cried.

Festus.

In truth?

Paracelsus.

    Nay, wait: all this in tracings faint

On rugged stones strewn here and there, but piled

In order once: then follows — mark what follows!

“The sad rhyme of the men who proudly clung

“To their first fault, and withered in their pride.”

Festus.

Come back then, Aureole; as you fear God, come!

This is foul sin; come back! Renounce the past,

Forswear the future; look for joy no more,

But wait death’s summons amid holy sights,

And trust me for the event — peace, if not joy.

Return with me to Einsiedeln, dear Aureole!

Paracelsus.

No way, no way! it would not turn to good.

A spotless child sleeps on the flowering moss —

’T is well for him; but when a sinful man,

Envying such slumber, may desire to put

His guilt away, shall he return at once

To rest by lying there? Our sires knew well

(Spite of the grave discoveries of their sons)

The fitting course for such: dark cells, dim lamps,

A stone floor one may writhe on like a worm:

No mossy pillow blue with violets!

Festus.

I see no symptom of these absolute

And tyrannous passions. You are calmer now.

This verse-making can purge you well enough

Without the terrible penance you describe.

You love me still: the lusts you fear will never

Outrage your friend. To Einsiedeln, once more!

Say but the word!

Paracelsus.

         No, no; those lusts forbid:

They crouch, I know, cowering with half-shut eye

Beside you; ’t is their nature. Thrust yourself

Between them and their prey; let some fool style me

Or king or quack, it matters not — then try

Your wisdom, urge them to forego their treat!

No, no; learn better and look deeper, Festus!

If you knew how a devil sneers within me

While you are talking now of this, now that,

As though we differed scarcely save in trifles!

Festus.

Do we so differ? True, change must proceed,

Whether for good or ill; keep from me, which!

Do not confide all secrets: I was born

To hope, and you . . .

Paracelsus.

           To trust: you know the fruits!

Festus.

Listen: I do believe, what you call trust

Was self-delusion at the best: for, see!

So long as God would kindly pioneer

A path for you, and screen you from the world,

Procure you full exemption from man’s lot,

Man’s common hopes and fears, on the mere pretext

Of your engagement in his service — yield you

A limitless licence, make you God, in fact,

And turn your slave — you were content to say

Most courtly praises! What is it, at last,

But selfishness without example? None

Could trace God’s will so plain as you, while yours

Remained implied in it; but now you fail,

And we, who prate about that will, are fools!

In short, God’s service is established here

As he determines fit, and not your way,

And this you cannot brook. Such discontent

Is weak. Renounce all creatureship at once!

Affirm an absolute right to have and use

Your energies; as though the rivers should say —

“We rush to the ocean; what have we to do

“With feeding streamlets, lingering in the vales,

“Sleeping in lazy pools?” Set up that plea,

That will be bold at least!

Paracelsus.

              ’T is like enough.

The serviceable spirits are those, no doubt,

The East produces: lo, the master bids —

They wake, raise terraces and garden-grounds

In one night’s space; and, this done, straight begin

Another century’s sleep, to the great praise

Of him that framed them wise and beautiful,

Till a lamp’s rubbing, or some chance akin,

Wake them again. I am of different mould.

I would have soothed my lord, and slaved for him

And done him service past my narrow bond,

And thus I get rewarded for my pains!

Beside, ’t is vain to talk of forwarding

God’s glory otherwise; this is alone

The sphere of its increase, as far as men

Increase it; why, then, look beyond this sphere?

We are his glory; and if we be glorious,

Is not the thing achieved?

Festus.

              Shall one like me

Judge hearts like yours? Though years have changed you much,

And you have left your first love, and retain

Its empty shade to veil your crooked ways,

Yet I still hold that you have honoured God.

And who shall call your course without reward?

For, wherefore this repining at defeat

Had triumph ne’er inured you to high hopes?

I urge you to forsake the life you curse,

And what success attends me? — simply talk

Of passion, weakness and remorse; in short,

Anything but the naked truth — you choose

This so-despised career, and cheaply hold

My happiness, or rather other men’s.

Once more, return!

Paracelsus.

         And quickly. John the thief

Has pilfered half my secrets by this time:

And we depart by daybreak. I am weary,

I know not how; not even the wine-cup soothes

My brain to-night . . .

Do you not thoroughly despise me, Festus?

No flattery! One like you needs not be told

We live and breathe deceiving and deceived.

Do you not scorn me from your heart of hearts,

Me and my cant, each petty subterfuge,

My rhymes and all this frothy shower of words,

My glozing self-deceit, my outward crust

Of lies which wrap, as tetter, morphew, furfair

Wrapt the sound flesh? — so, see you flatter not!

Even God flatters: but my friend, at least,

Is true. I would depart, secure henceforth

Against all further insult, hate and wrong

From puny foes; my one friend’s scorn shall brand me:

No fear of sinking deeper!

Festus.

              No, dear Aureole!

No, no; I came to counsel faithfully.

There are old rules, made long ere we were born,

By which I judge you. I, so fallible,

So infinitely low beside your mighty

Majestic spirit! — even I can see

You own some higher law than ours which call

Sin, what is no sin — weakness, what is strength.

But I have only these, such as they are,

To guide me; and I blame you where they bid,

Only so long as blaming promises

To win peace for your soul: the more, that sorrow

Has fallen on me of late, and they have helped me

So that I faint not under my distress.

But wherefore should I scruple to avow

In spite of all, as brother judging brother,

Your fate is most inexplicable to me?

And should you perish without recompense

And satisfaction yet — too hastily

I have relied on love: you may have sinned,

But you have loved. As a mere human matter —

As I would have God deal with fragile men

In the end — I say that you will triumph yet!

Paracelsus.

Have you felt sorrow, Festus? —’t is because

You love me. Sorrow, and sweet Michal yours!

Well thought on: never let her know this last

Dull winding-up of all: these miscreants dared

Insult me — me she loved:— so, grieve her not!

Festus.

Your ill success can little grieve her now.

Paracelsus.

Michal is dead! pray Christ we do not craze!

Festus.

Aureole, dear Aureole, look not on me thus!

Fool, fool! this is the heart grown sorrow-proof —

I cannot bear those eyes.

Paracelsus.

             Nay, really dead?

Festus.

’T is scarce a month.

Paracelsus.

           Stone dead! — then you have laid her

Among the flowers ere this. Now, do you know,

I can reveal a secret which shall comfort

Even you. I have no julep, as men think,

To cheat the grave; but a far better secret.

Know, then, you did not ill to trust your love

To the cold earth: I have thought much of it:

For I believe we do not wholly die.

Festus.

Aureole!

Paracelsus.

    Nay, do not laugh; there is a reason

For what I say: I think the soul can never

Taste death. I am, just now, as you may see,

Very unfit to put so strange a thought

In an intelligible dress of words;

But take it as my trust, she is not dead.

Festus.

But not on this account alone? you surely,

— Aureole, you have believed this all along?

Paracelsus.

And Michal sleeps among the roots and dews,

While I am moved at Basil, and full of schemes

For Nuremberg, and hoping and despairing,

As though it mattered how the farce plays out,

So it be quickly played. Away, away!

Have your will, rabble! while we fight the prize,

Troop you in safety to the snug back-seats

And leave a clear arena for the brave

About to perish for your sport! — Behold!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/paracelsus/part4.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32