The Poems Speak for Themselves

— The meeting was over, and the members had gone home. Upon the library table, in the twilight, lay the sole testimony to the afternoon’s activity, — a fat volume of Dr. Berdoe’s Browning Encyclopædia, Mrs. Sutherland ORR’S sturdy lift le Browning Handbook, and an insignificant copy of the Poems of Robert Browning. The Handbook and the Encyclopedia were silent. Their power for utterance — at least that which was ascribed to them — had already had full play. Not so the Poems. They had suffered much during the afternoon, and, until now, had had no chance to speak for themselves. Therefore : —

“ They culled me obscure ! ” cried Childe Roland. “Obscure! And they read that miserable ‘explanation,’” — the now helpless Encyclopædia shrank between its covers, — “ an ‘ explanation ’ which is far more obscure than I am myself, besides being utterly false.”

“ What I object to,” said the Last Duchess scornfully, “ is this thinking that we need any explanation at all.”

“ Why can’t they just take us for what we ’re worth ? ” gloomily remarked the Lost Leader.

“ No student of Browning ever accepts anything upon its face value. We are all enigmas to be found out, riddles to be guessed,” quoth Master Hugues.

“ Neither are we to be enjoyed ; we are solely matters for study and research,” chuckled Fra Lippo Lippi. “But, zooks! we ought to be used to it by this time, though.”

“ You have an easy enough time of it,” grumbled Caliban. “ Think of what I have to endure.”

“ Ah, but there’s no denying, Caliban, that your acquaintance is hard to make. First impressions count for simply nothing, in your case. The worst is when they pretend (for it is pretense, nothing else) that so plain a statement as I make is non-understandable.”

It was Christina who spoke.

“ I never want to hear again the names Corson, or Nettlesliip, or Mrs. Sutherland Orr, or Dr. Berdoe,” solemnly announced Count Gismond.

“ Nor I, nor I,” chimed in Abt Vogler and the Patriot.

There was silence for some moments. Then said Andrea del Sarto : —

“ Did you see them burrowing into natural history this afternoon ? They actually thought that ‘ cue-owl ’ was of more importance than all the rest of me put together.”

“ I ’ll believe anything of them,” said the Pied Piper, “except that they ever once caught at the true meaning of any of us.”

“ Obscure ! ” again hissed Childe Roland.

“ They once spent a whole afternoon trying to find out something about ‘The Eight,’” said Fra Lippo Lippi. ‘“The magistrates of Florence ’ wasn’t enough,— oh dear, no ! It must he their names, and how old they were, and the color of their eyes, and ” —

“ I remember it,” interrupted Respectability. “They seized upon me at that same meeting, and such a going over as they gave Guizot and Montalembert! ”

“ That’s nothing! ” cried the Statue and the Bust. “ Think of all I’ve put up with from them! I” —

“ My friends ” — began Rabbi Ben Ezra.

“ It’s all right,” smiled Pippa.

“ It will be right some time,” supplemented Saul.

“ But I don’t want to be poetry of the future,” complained Childe Roland. “I am poetry of the present, and why people can’t ” —

“ They will some day,” continued Rabbi Ben Ezra. “So long, of course, as they view us through a medium merely, we are obscure, all of us, even Evelyn Hope. But just give us a chance to be seen in our true colors, let us but once speak for ourselves, and Robert Browning will be no more misunderstood.”

“ It’s sure to come,” said Pippa.

“ We have only to wait,” said Saul.

“ Obscure ! ” again cried the unpacified Childe Roland.

Just here the president of the Browning Club reëntered her library. Unmindful as ever of what the wonder-verse was saying, she picked up the volume of Poems and carefully stowed it away upon the bookshelf. She then returned to the Encyclopædia and Handbook, and resumed her interesting and vital researches regarding Andrea del Sarto’s “cue-owl.”