Sunday 17 May 2015


2015-20 Robert Browning: Pippa Passes - "All's right with the world"

Robert Browning [1812-1889] Pippa's Song

Pippa Passes is a verse drama by Robert Browning. It was published in 1841 as the first volume of his Bells and Pomegranates series. The author described the work as "the first of a series of dramatic pieces."  Charmed by the character of Pippa, Alfred Noyes pronounced Pippa Passes to be Browning's best.
Pippa, an innocent silk-winding girl rises on New Year's Day, her only day off for the whole year! Passing through the environs of Asolo, she radiates kindness and virtue all around. She sings as she goes, her song influencing others to act for the good, reminding them of the existence of a moral order. 
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Pippa Passes begins with a wondrous description of  daybreak --

Faster and more fast,
O’er night’s brim, day boils at last;
Boils, pure gold, o’er the cloud-cup’s brim
Where spurting and supprest it lay—
For not a froth-flake touched the rim
Of yonder gap in the solid gray
Of the eastern cloud, an hour away;

But forth one wavelet, then another, curled,
Till the whole sunrise, not to be supprest,
Rose, reddened, and its seething breast
Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world.

Oh, Day, if I squander a wavelet of thee,
A mite of my twelve-hours’ treasure,
The least of thy gazes or glances,
(Be they grants thou art bound to, or gifts above measure)
One of thy choices, or one of thy chances,
(Be they tasks God imposed thee, or freaks at thy pleasure)
—My Day, if I squander such labour or leisure,
Then shame fall on Asolo, mischief on me!
Thy long blue solemn hours serenely flowing,
Whence earth, we feel, gets steady help and good—
Thy fitful sunshine-minutes, coming, going,
As if earth turned from work in gamesome mood—
All shall be mine! But thou must treat me not
As the prosperous are treated, these who live
At hand here, and enjoy the higher lot,
In readiness to take what thou wilt give,
And free to let alone what thou refusest;
For, Day, my holiday, if thou ill-usest
Me, who am only Pippa,—old-year’s sorrow,
Cast off last night, will come again to-morrow—
Whereas, if thou prove gentle, I shall borrow
Sufficient strength of thee for new-year’s sorrow

All other men and women that this earth
Belongs to, who all days alike possess,
Make general plenty cure particular dearth,
Get more joy, one way, if another, less:
Thou art my single day, God lends to leaven
What were all earth else, with a feel of heaven,—
Sole light that helps me through the year thy sun’s!
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Now Wait!—even I already seem to share
In God’s love: what does New-year’s hymn declare?
What other meaning do these verses bear?
All service ranks the same with God:
If now, as formerly He trod
Paradise, His presence fills
Our earth, each only as God wills
Can work—God’s puppets, best and worst,
Are we; there is no last nor first.
Say not ‘a small event!’ Why ‘small?’
Costs it more pain than this, ye call
A ‘great event,’ should come to pass,
Than that? Untwine me from the mass
Of deeds which make up life, one deed
Power shall fall short in, or exceed!
And more of it, and more of it!—oh, yes—
I will pass by, and see their happiness,
And envy none—being just as great, no doubt,
Useful to men, and dear to God, as they!

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Pippa's song appears in the middle of Part I of Pippa Passes:

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