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A Tale
by [?]


(Epilogue to “The Two Poets of Croisic.”)

 
What a pretty tale you told me
Once upon a time
--Said you found it somewhere (scold me!)
Was it prose or was it rhyme,
Greek or Latin? Greek, you said,
While your shoulder propped my head.

Anyhow there’s no forgetting
This much if no more,
That a poet (pray, no petting!)
Yes, a bard, sir, famed of yore,
Went where suchlike used to go,
Singing for a prize, you know.

Well, he had to sing, nor merely
Sing but play the lyre;
Playing was important clearly
Quite as singing: I desire,
Sir, you keep the fact in mind
For a purpose that’s behind.

There stood he, while deep attention
Held the judges round,
–Judges able, I should mention,
To detect the slightest sound
Sung or played amiss: such ears
Had old judges, it appears!

None the less he sang out boldly,
Played in time and tune,
Till the judges, weighing coldly
Each note’s worth, seemed, late or soon,
Sure to smile “In vain one tries
Picking faults out: take the prize!”

When, a mischief! Were they seven
Strings the lyre possessed?
Oh, and afterwards eleven,
Thank you! Well, sir,–who had guessed
Such ill luck in store?–it happed
One of those same seven strings snapped.

All was lost, then! No! a cricket
(What “cicada”? Pooh!)
–Some mad thing that left its thicket
For mere love of music–flew
With its little heart on fire,
Lighted on the crippled lyre.

So that when (Ah joy!) our singer
For his truant string
Feels with disconcerted finger,
What does cricket else but fling
Fiery heart forth, sound the note
Wanted by the throbbing throat?

Ay and, ever to the ending,
Cricket chirps at need,
Executes the hand’s intending,
Promptly, perfectly,–indeed
Saves the singer from defeat
With her chirrup low and sweet.

Till, at ending, all the judges
Cry with one assent
“Take the prize–a prize who grudges
Such a voice and instrument?
Why, we took your lyre for harp,
So it shrilled us forth F sharp!”

Did the conqueror spurn the creature
Once its service done?
That’s no such uncommon feature
In the case when Music’s son
Finds his Lotte’s power too spent 65
For aiding soul development.

No! This other, on returning
Homeward, prize in hand,
Satisfied his bosom’s yearning:
(Sir, I hope you understand!)
–Said “Some record there must be
Of this cricket’s help to me!”

So, he made himself a statue:
Marble stood, life size;
On the lyre, he pointed at you,
Perched his partner in the prize;
Never more apart you found
Her, he throned, from him, she crowned.

That’s the tale: its application?
Somebody I know
Hopes one day for reputation
Thro’ his poetry that’s–Oh,
All so learned and so wise
And deserving of a prize!

If he gains one, will some ticket
When his statue’s built,
Tell the gazer “‘Twas a cricket
Helped my crippled lyre, whose lilt
Sweet and low, when strength usurped
Softness’ place i’ the scale, she chirped?

“For as victory was nighest,
While I sang and played,–
With my lyre at lowest, highest,
Right alike,–one string that made
‘Love’ sound soft was snapt in twain
Never to be heard again,–

“Had not a kind cricket fluttered,
Perched upon the place
Vacant left, and duly uttered
‘Love, Love, Love,’ whene’er the bass
Asked the treble to atone
For its somewhat sombre drone.”

But you don’t know music! Wherefore
Keep on casting pearls
To a–poet? All I care for
Is–to tell him that a girl’s
“Love” comes aptly in when gruff
Grows his singing, (There, enough!)

NOTE

The source of the story is an epigram given in Mackail’s Select Epigrams from Greek Anthology. It is one of the happiest pieces of Browning’s lighter work.

65. =Lotte=, or Charlotte. A character in Goethe’s Sorrows of Werther, said to be drawn from the heroine of one of Goethe’s earlier love-affairs.