Popularity (Browning)

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Popularity  (1855) 
by Robert Browning


I

Stand still, true poet that you are!
      I know you; let me try and draw you.
Some night you'll fail us: when afar
      You rise, remember one man saw you,
Knew you, and named a star!

II

My star, God's glow-worm! Why extend
      That loving hand of his which leads you,
Yet locks you safe from end to end
      Of this dark world, unless he needs you,
Just saves your light to spend?

III

His clenched hand shall unclose at last,
      I know, and let out all the beauty:
My poet holds the future fast,
      Accepts the coming ages' duty,
Their present for this past.

IV

That day, the earth's feast-master's brow
      Shall clear, to God the chalice raising;
"Others give best at first, but thou
      Forever set'st our table praising,
Keep'st the good wine till now!"

V

Meantime, I'll draw you as you stand,
      With few or none to watch and wonder:
I'll say—a fisher, on the sand
      By Tyre the old, with ocean-plunder,
A netful, brought to land.

VI

Who has not heard how Tyrian shells
      Enclosed the blue, that dye of dyes
Whereof one drop worked miracles,
      And colored like Astarte's eyes
Raw silk the merchant sells?

    VII

And each bystander of them all
      Could criticise, and quote tradition
How depths of blue sublimed some pall
      —To get which, pricked a king's ambition;
Worth sceptre, crown and ball.

VIII

Yet there's the dye, in that rough mesh,
      The sea has only just o'er-whispered!
Live whelks, each lip's beard dripping fresh
      As if they still the water's lisp heard
Thro' foam the rock-weeds thresh.

IX

Enough to furnish Solomon
      Such hangings for his cedar-house,
That, when gold-robed he took the throne
      In that abyss of blue, the Spouse
Might swear his presence shone

X

Most like the centre-spike of gold
      Which burns deep in the blue-bell's womb,
What time, with ardors manifold,
      The bee goes singing to her groom,
Drunken and overbold.

XI

Mere conchs! not fit for warp or woof!
      Till cunning come to pound and squeeze
And clarify,—refine to proof
      The liquor filtered by degrees,
While the world stands aloof.

XII

And there's the extract, flasked and fine,
      And priced and salable at last!
And Hobbs, Nobbs, Stokes and Nokes combine
      To paint the future from the past,
Put blue into their line.

XIII

Hobbs hints blue,—straight he turtle eats:
      Nobbs prints blue,—claret crowns his cup:
Nokes outdares Stokes in azure feats,—
      Both gorge. Who fished the murex up?
What porridge had John Keats?

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.