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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Robert Browning 1812–89

Youth and Art


IT once might have been, once only:

We lodged in a street together,

You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,

I, a lone she-bird of his feather.

Your trade was with sticks and clay,

You thumb’d, thrust, patted and polish’d,

Then laugh’d, “They will see, some day,

Smith made, and Gibson demolish’d.”

My business was song, song, song:

I chirp’d, cheep’d, trill’d and twitter’d,

“Kate Brown ’s on the boards ere long,

And Grisi’s existence embitter’d!”

I earn’d, no more by a warble

Than you by a sketch in plaster;

You wanted a piece of marble,

I needed a music-master.

We studied hard in our styles,

Chipp’d each at a crust like Hindoos,

For air, look’d out on the tiles,

For fun, watch’d each other’s windows.

You lounged, like a boy of the South,

Cap and blouse—nay, a bit of beard too;

Or you it, rubbing your mouth

With fingers the clay adher’d to.

And I—soon managed to find

Weak points in the flower-fence facing,

Was forced to put up a blind

And be safe in my corset-lacing.

No harm! It was not my fault

If you never turn’d your eye’s tail up

As I shook upon E in alt,

Or ran the chromatic scale up:

For spring bade the sparrows pair,

And the boys and girls gave guesses,

And stalls in our street look’d rare

With bulrush and watercresses.

Why did not you pinch a flower

In a pellet of clay and fling it?

Why did not I put a power

Of thanks in a look, or sing it?

I did look, sharp as a lynx,

(And yet the memory rankles)

When models arriv’d, some minx

Tripp’d up stairs, she and her ankles.

But I think I gave you as good!

“That foreign fellow,—who can know

How she pays, in a playful mood,

For his tuning her that piano?”

Could you say so, and never say,

“Suppose we join hands and fortunes,

And I fetch her from over the way,

Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?”

No, no: you would not be rash,

Nor I rasher and something over;

You’ve to settle yet Gibson’s hash,

And Grisi yet lives in clover.

But you meet the Prince at the Board,

I ’m queen myself at bals-parés,

I ’ve married a rich old lord,

And you ’re dubb’d knight and an R. A.

Each life ’s unfulfill’d, you see;

It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:

We have not sigh’d deep, laugh’d free,

Starv’d, feasted, despair’d,—been happy;

And nobody calls you a dunce,

And people suppose me clever;

This could but have happen’d once,

And we miss’d it, lost it forever.