“’Touch him ne’er
so lightly, into song he broke:
Soil so quick-receptive,—not one feather-seed,
Not one flower-dust fell, but straight its fall awoke
Vitalising virtue: song would song succeed
Sudden as spontaneous—prove a poet soul!’
Rock’s the song-soil rather, surface hard and bare:
Sun and dew their mildness, storm and frost their rage
Vainly both expend,—few flowers awaken there:
Quiet in its cleft broods—what the after age
Knows and names a pine, a nation’s heritage.”
[Footnote 56: Pietro of Abano was an Italian physician, alchemist and philosopher, born at Abano, near Padua, in 1246, died about 1320. He had the reputation of a wizard, and was imprisoned by the Inquisition. He was condemned to be burnt; he died in prison, and his dead body was ordered to be burnt; but as that had been taken away by his friends, the Inquisition burnt his portrait. His reputed antipathy to milk and cheese, with its natural analogy, suggested the motive of the poem. The book referred to in it is his principal work, Conciliator differentiarum quae inter philosophos et medicos versantur. Mantua, 1472.]
[Published in March, 1883
(Poetical Works, 1889, pp.
The name Jocoseria (mentioned by Browning in its original connection, Melander’s “Jocoseria,” in the notes to Paracelsus) expresses very cleverly the particular nature of the volume, in its close union and fusion of grave and gay. The book is not, as a whole, so intense or so brilliant as the first and second series of Dramatic Idyls, but one or two of the shorter poems are, in their way, hardly excelled by anything in either volume.
The longest poem, though by no means the best is the imaginary Rabbinical legend of Jochanan Hakkadosh (John the Saint), which Browning, with a touch of learned quizzicalness, states in his note “to have no better authority than that of the treatise, existing dispersedly, in fragments of Rabbinical writing, [the name, ’Collection of many Lies,’ follows in Hebrew,] from which I might have helped myself more liberally.” It is written in terza rima, like Doctor —— in the second series of Dramatic Idyls, and is supposed to be told by “the Jew aforesaid” in order to “make amends and justify our Mishna.” That it may to some extent do, but it seems to me that its effectiveness as an example of the serio-grotesque style would have been heightened by some metre less sober and placid than the terza rima; by rhythm and rhyme as audacious and characteristic as the rhythm and the rhymes of Pietro of Abano, for instance.