A Poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
What shall we add now? He is dead.
And I who praise and you who blame,
With wash of words across his name,
Find suddenly declared instead–
“On Sunday, third of August, dead.’
Which stops the whole we talked to-day.
I quickened to a plausive glance
At his large general tolerance
By common people’s narrow way,
Stopped short in praising. Dead, they say.
And you, who had just put in a sort
Of cold deduction–“rather, large
Through weakness of the continent marge,
Than greatness of the thing contained’–
Broke off. Dead!–there, you stood restrained.
As if we had talked in following one
Up some long gallery. “Would you choose
An air like that? The gait is loose–
Or noble.’ Sudden in the sun
An oubliette winks. Where is he? Gone.
Dead. Man’s “I was’ by God’s “I am’–
All hero-worship comes to that.
High heart, high thought, high fame, as flat
As a gravestone. Bring your Jacet jam–
The epitaph’s an epigram.
Dead. There’s an answer to arrest
All carping. Dust’s his natural place?
He’ll let the flies buzz round his face
And, though you slander, not protest?
–From such an one, exact the Best?
Opinions gold or brass are null.
We chuck our flattery or abuse,
Called Caesar’s due, as Charon’s dues,
I’ the teeth of some dead sage or fool,
To mend the grinning of a skull.
Be abstinent in praise and blame.
The man’s still mortal, who stands first,
And mortal only, if last and worst.
Then slowly lift so frail a fame,
Or softly drop so poor a shame.