Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning

Instans Tyrannus


Of the million or two, more or less

I rule and possess,

One man, for some cause undefined,

Was least to my mind.


I struck him, he grovelled of course—

For, what was his force?

I pinned him to earth with my weight

And persistence of hate:

And he lay, would not moan, would not curse,


As his lot might be worse.


“Were the object less mean, would he stand

At the swing of my hand!

For obscurity helps him and blots

The hole where he squats.”

So, I set my five wits on the stretch

To inveigle the wretch.

All in vain! Gold and jewels I threw,

Still he couched there perdue;

I tempted his blood and his flesh,


Hid in roses my mesh,

Choicest cates and the flagon’s best spilth:

Still he kept to his filth.


Had he kith now or kin, were access

To his heart, did I press:

Just a son or a mother to seize!

No such booty as these.

Were it simply a friend to pursue

‘Mid my million or two,

Who could pay me in person or pelf


What he owes me himself!

No: I could not but smile through my chafe:

For the fellow lay safe

As his mates do, the midge and the nit,

— Through minuteness, to wit.


Then a humour more great took its place

At the thought of his face,

The droop, the low cares of the mouth,

The trouble uncouth

‘Twixt the brows, all that air one is fain


To put out of its pain.

And, “no!” I admonished myself,

“Is one mocked by an elf,

Is one baffled by toad or by rat?

The gravamen’s in that!

How the lion, who crouches to suit

His back to my foot,

Would admire that I stand in debate!

But the small turns the great

If it vexes you, that is the thing!


Toad or rat vex the king?

Though I waste half my realm to unearth

Toad or rat, ’tis well worth!”


So, I soberly laid my last plan

To extinguish the man.

Round his creep-hole, with never a break

Ran my fires for his sake;

Over-head, did my thunder combine

With my underground mine:

Till I looked from my labour content


To enjoy the event.


When sudden . . . how think ye, the end?

Did I say “without friend”?

Say rather, from marge to blue marge

The whole sky grew his targe

With the sun’s self for visible boss,

While an Arm ran across

Which the earth heaved beneath like a breast

Where the wretch was safe prest!

Do you see? Just my vengeance complete,


The man sprang to his feet,

Stood erect, caught at God’s skirts, and prayed!

— So, I was afraid!

“Instans Tyrannus” is a despot’s confession of one of his own experiences which showed him the inviolability of the weakest man who is in the right and who can call the spiritual force of good to his aid against the utmost violence or cunning. —“Instans Tyrannus,” or the threatening tyrant, suggested by Horace, third Ode in Book III:

“Justum et tenacem proposti vlrum,

Non civium ardor prava jubentium,

Non vultus instantis tyranni,” etc.

[The just man tenacious of purpose is not to be turned aside by the heat of the populace nor the brow of the threatening tyrant.]


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50