Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning

Time’s Revenges

I’ve a Friend, over the sea;

I like him, but he loves me.

It all grew out of the books I write;

They find such favour in his sight

That he slaughters you with savage looks

Because you don’t admire my books.

He does himself though — and if some vein

Were to snap tonight in this heavy brain,

To-morrow month, if I lived to try,


Round should I just turn quietly,

Or out of the bedclothes stretch my hand

Till I found him, come from his foreign land

To be my nurse in this poor place,

And make my broth and wash my face

And light my fire and, all the while,

Bear with his old good-humoured smile

That I told him “Better have kept away

Than come and kill me, night and day,

With, worse than fever throbs and shoots,


The creaking of his clumsy boots.”

I am as sure that this he would do,

As that Saint Paul’s is striking two.

And I think I rather . . . woe is me!

— Yes, rather would see him than not see,

If lifting a hand could seat him there

Before me in the empty chair

To-night, when my head aches indeed,

And I can neither think nor read

Nor make these purple fingers hold


The pen; this garret’s freezing cold!

And I’ve a Lady — there he wakes,

The laughing fiend and prince of snakes

Within me, at her name, to pray

Fate send some creature in the way

Of my love for her, to be down-torn,

Upthrust and outward-borne,

So I might prove myself that sea

Of passion which I needs must be!

Call my thoughts false and my fancies quaint


And my style infirm and its figures faint,

All the critics say, and more blame yet,

And not one angry word you get.

But, please you, wonder I would put

My cheek beneath that lady’s foot

Rather than trample under mine

That laurels of the Florentine,

And you shall see how the devil spends

A fire God gave for other ends!

I tell you, I stride up and down


This garret, crowned with love’s best crown,

And feasted with love’s perfect feast,

To think I kill for her, at least,

Body and soul and peace and fame,

Alike youth’s end and manhood’s aim,

— So is my spirit, as flesh with sin,

Filled full, eaten out and in

With the face of her, the eyes of her,

The lips, the little chin, the stir

Of shadow round her mouth; and she


— I’ll tell you — calmly would decree

That I should roast at a slow fire,

If that would compass her desire

And make her one whom they invite

To the famous ball tomorrow night.

There may be heaven; there must be hell;

Meantime, there is our earth here — well!

“Time’s Revenges.” An author soliloquizes in his garret over the fact that he possesses a friend who loves him and would do anything in his power to serve him, but for whom he cares almost nothing. At the same time he himself loves a woman to such distraction that he counts himself crowned with love’s best crown while sacrificing his soul, his body, his peace, and his fame in brooding on his love, while she could calmly decree that he should roast at a slow fire if it would compass her frivolously ambitious designs. Thus his indifference to his friend is avenged by the indifference the lady shows toward him. 46. The Florentine: Dante. Used here, seemingly, as a symbol of the highest attainments in poesy, his (the speaker’s) reverence for which is so great that he would rather put his cheek under his lady’s foot than that poetry should suffer any indignity at his hands; yet in spite of all the possibilities open to him through his enthusiasm for poetry, he prefers wasting his entire energies upon one unworthy of him.


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