The Lost Leader
Robert Browning [More Titles by Browning
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat--
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote;
They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver,
So much was theirs who so little allowed;
How all our copper had gone for his service!
Rags--were they purple, his heart had been proud!
We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye, 10
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die!
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us, 13
Burns, Shelley, were with us,--they watch from their graves! 14
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,
He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!
We shall march prospering--not through his presence;
Songs may inspirit us,--not from his lyre:
Deeds will be done,--while he boasts his quiescence,
Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire: 20
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more devil's-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life's night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part--the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!
Best fight on well, for we taught him--strike gallantly,
Menace our heart ere we master his own; 30
Then let him receive the new knowledge and wait us,
Pardoned in heaven, the first by the throne!
The desertion of the liberal cause by Wordsworth, Southey, and others,
is the germinal idea of this poem. But Browning always strenuously
insisted that the resemblance went no further; that _The Lost
Leader_ is no true portrait of Wordsworth, though he became
poet-laureate. _The Lost Leader_ is a purely ideal conception,
developed by the process of idealization from an individual who serves
as a "lay figure."
13. =Shakespeare= was more of an aristocrat, surely, than a democrat.
Milton had championed the cause of liberty in prose and poetry, and
had worked for it as Cromwell's Latin secretary.
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Robert Browning's poem: The Lost Leader