Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


The Morgue

By Robert Browning (1812–1889)

Apparent Failure

NO, for I ’ll save it! Seven years since,

I passed through Paris, stopped a day

To see the baptism of your Prince;

Saw, made my bow, and went my way:

Walking the heat and headache off,

I took the Seine-side, you surmise,

Thought of the Congress, Gortschakoff,

Cavour’s appeal and Buol’s replies,

So sauntered till—what met my eyes?

Only the Doric little Morgue!

The dead-house where you show your drowned:

Petrarch’s Vaucluse makes proud the Sorgue,

Your Morgue has made the Seine renowned.

One pays one’s debt in such a case;

I plucked up heart and entered,—stalked,

Keeping a tolerable face

Compared with some whose cheeks were chalked:

Let them! No Briton ’s to be balked!

First came the silent gazers; next,

A screen of glass, we ’re thankful for;

Last, the sight’s self, the sermon’s text,

The three men who did most abhor

Their life in Paris yesterday,

So killed themselves: and now, enthroned

Each on his copper couch, they lay

Fronting me, waiting to be owned.

I thought, and think, their sin ’s atoned.

Poor men, God made, and all for that!

The reverence struck me; o’er each head

Religiously was hung its hat,

Each coat dripped by the owner’s bed,

Sacred from touch: each had his berth,

His bounds, his proper place of rest,

Who last night tenanted on earth

Some arch, where twelve such slept abreast,—

Unless the plain asphalte seemed best.

How did it happen, my poor boy?

You wanted to be Buonaparte

And have the Tuileries for toy,

And could not, so it broke your heart?

You, old one by his side, I judge,

Were, red as blood, a socialist,

A leveller! Does the Empire grudge

You ’ve gained what no Republic missed?

Be quiet, and unclench your fist!

And this,—why, he was red in vain,

Or black,—poor fellow that is blue!

What fancy was it turned your brain?

O, women were the prize for you!

Money gets women, cards and dice

Get money, and ill-luck gets just

The copper couch and one clear nice

Cool squirt of water o’er your bust,

The right thing to extinguish lust!

It ’s wiser being good than bad;

It ’s safer being meek than fierce:

It ’s fitter being sane than mad.

My own hope is, a sun will pierce

The thickest cloud earth ever stretched;

That, after Last, returns the First,

Though a wide compass round be fetched;

That what began best, can’t end worst,

Nor what God blessed once, prove accurst.