Dramatic Romances by Robert Browning

Dramatic Romances

subjects: Classic & Pre-20th Century Poetry

Description

Many of the original titles given by Browning to the poems in this collection, as with its predecessor Dramatic Lyrics, are different from the ones he later gave them in various editions of his collected works. Since this book was originally self-published in a very small edition, these poems really only came to prominence in the later collections.

Excerpt

I

Hamelin Town's in Brunswick,
       By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
       But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
       From vermin, was a pity.

II

Rats!
They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
       And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
       And licked the soup from the cooks' own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men's Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women's chats
       By drowning their speaking
       With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

III

At last the people in a body
       To the Town Hall came flocking
"'Tis clear," cried they, "our Mayor's a noddy,
       And as for our Corporation--shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can't or won't determine
What's best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you're old and obese,
To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we're lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we'll send you packing!"
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.

IV

An hour they sat in council,
       At length the Mayor broke silence:
"For a guilder I'd my ermine gown sell,
       I wish I were a mile hence!
It's easy to bid one rack one's brain--
I'm sure my poor head aches again,
I've scratched it so, and all in vain.
Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!"
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
"Bless us," cried the Mayor, "what's that?"
(With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat;
Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
For a plate of turtle green and glutinous)
"Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!"

V

"Come in!" the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red,
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in;
There was no guessing his kith and kin:
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire.
Quoth one: "It's as my great-grandsire,
Starting up at the Trump of Doom's tone,
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!"

VI

He advanced to the council-table
And, "Please your honours," said he, "I'm able,
By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun,
That creep or swim or fly or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole and toad and newt and viper;
And people call me the Pied Piper."
(And here they noticed round his neck
       A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the self-same cheque
       And at the scarf's end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
"Yet," said he, "poor piper as I am,
In Tartary I freed the Cham,
       Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats;
I eased in Asia the Nizam
       Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats:
And as for what your brain bewilders,
       If I can rid your town of rats
Will you give me a thousand guilders?"
"One? fifty thousand!"-was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.