Robert Browning Poems >>
Protus

Among these latter busts we count by scores,
Half-emperors and quarter-emperors,
Each with his bay-leaf fillet, loose-thonged vest,
Loricand low-browed Gorgon on the breast,---
One loves a baby face, with violets there,
Violets instead of laurel in the hair,
As those were all the little locks could bear.

Now read here. ``Protus ends a period
``Of empery beginning with a god;
``Born in the porphyry chamber at Byzant,
``Queens by his cradle, proud and ministrant:
``And if he quickened breath there, 'twould like fire
``Pantingly through the dim vast realm transpire.
``A fame that he was missing spread afar:
``The world from its four corners, rose in war,
``Till he was borne out on a balcony
``To pacify the world when it should see.
``The captains ranged before him, one, his hand
``Made baby points at, gained the chief command.
``And day by day more beautiful he grew
``In shape, all said, in feature and in hue,
``While young Greek sculptors, gazing on the child,
``Because with old Greek sculptore reconciled.
``Already sages laboured to condense
``In easy tomes a life's experience:
``And artists took grave counsel to impart
``In one breath and one hand-sweep, all their art---
``To make his graces prompt as blossoming
``Of plentifully-watered palms in spring:
``Since well beseems it, whoso mounts the throne,
``For beauty, knowledge, strength, should stand alone,
``And mortals love the letters of his name.''

---Stop! Have you turned two pages? Still the same.
New reign, same date. The scribe goes on to say
How that same year, on such a month and day,
``John the Pannonian, groundedly believed
``A Blacksmith's bastard, whose hard hand reprieved
``The Empire from its fate the year before,---
``Came, had a mind to take the crown, and wore
``The same for six years (during which the Huns
``Kept off their fingers from us), till his sons
``Put something in his liquor''---and so forth.
Then a new reign. Stay---``Take at its just worth''
(Subjoins an annotator) ``what I give
``As hearsay. Some think, John let Protus live
``And slip away. 'Tis said, he reached man's age
``At some blind northern court; made, first a page,
``Then tutor to the children; last, of use
``About the hunting-stables. I deduce
``He wrote the little tract `On worming dogs,'
``Whereof the name in sundry catalogues
``Is extant yet. A Protus of the race
``Is rumoured to have died a monk in Thrace,---
``And if the same, he reached senility.''

Here's John the Smith's rough-hammered head. Great eye,
Gross jaw and griped lips do what granite can
To give you the crown-grasper. What a man!