Pambo

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Pambo  (1883) 
by Robert Browning



Suppose that we part (work done, comes play)
     With a grave tale told in crambo
— As our hearty sires were wont to say —
     Whereof the hero is Pambo?

Do you happen to know who Pambo was?
     Nor I — but this much have heard of him:
He entered one day a college-class,
     And asked — was it so absurd of him? —

"May Pambo learn wisdom ere practise it?
     In wisdom I fain would ground me:
Since wisdom is centred in Holy Writ,
     Some psalm to the purpose expound me!"

"That psalm," the Professor smiled, "shall be
     Untroubled by doubt which dirtieth
Pellucid streams when an ass like thee
     Would drink there — the Nine-and-thirtieth.

"Verse First: I said I will look to my ways
     That I with my tongue offend not.

How now? Why stare? Art struck in amaze?
     Stop, stay! The smooth line hath an end knot!

"He's gone! — disgusted my text should prove
     Too easy to need explaining?
Had he waited, the blockhead might find I move
     To matter that pays remaining!"

Long years went by, when — "Ha, who's this?
     Do I come on the restive scholar
I had driven to Wisdom's goal, I wis,
     But that he slipped the collar?

"What? Arms crossed, brow bent, thought-immersed?
     A student indeed! Why scruple
To own that the lesson proposed him first
     Scarce suited so apt a pupil?

"Come back! From the beggarly elements
     To a more recondite issue
We pass till we reach, at all events,
     Some point that may puzzle . . . Why 'pish' you?"

From the ground looked piteous up the head;
     "Daily and nightly, Master,
Your pupil plods thro' that text you read,
     Yet gets on never the faster.

"At the self-same stand, — now old, then young!
     I will look to my ways — were doing
As easy as saying! — that I with my tongue
     Offend not — and 'scape pooh-poohing

"From sage and simple, doctor and dunce?
     Ah, nowise! Still doubts so muddy
The stream I would drink at once, — but once!
     That — thus I resume my study!"

     Brother, brother, I share the blame,
          Arcades sumus ambo!
     Darkling, I keep my sunrise-aim,
          Lack not the critic's flambeau,
     And look to my ways, yet, much the same,
          Offend with my tongue — like Pambo!