The Confessional

Robert Browning

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It is a lie---their Priests, their Pope,
Their Saints, their ... all they fear or hope
Are lies, and lies---there! through my door
And ceiling, there! and walls and floor,
There, lies, they lie---shall still be hurled
Till spite of them I reach the world!


You think Priests just and holy men!
Before they put me in this den
I was a human creature too,
With flesh and blood like one of you,
A girl that laughed in beauty's pride
Like lilies in your world outside.


I had a lover---shame avaunt!
This poor wrenched body, grim and gaunt,
Was kissed all over till it burned,
By lips the truest, love e'er turned
His heart's own tint: one night they kissed
My soul out in a burning mist.


So, next day when the accustomed train
Of things grew round my sense again,
``That is a sin,'' I said: and slow
With downcast eyes to church I go,
And pass to the confession-chair,
And tell the old mild father there.


But when I falter Beltran's name,
``Ha?'' quoth the father; ``much I blame
``The sin; yet wherefore idly grieve?
``Despair not---strenuously retrieve!
``Nay, I will turn this love of thine
``To lawful love, almost divine;


``For he is young, and led astray,
``This Beltran, and he schemes, men say,
``To change the laws of church and state
``So, thine shall be an angel's fate,
``Who, ere the thunder breaks, should roll
``Its cloud away and save his soul.


``For, when he lies upon thy breast,
``Thou mayst demand and be possessed
``Of all his plans, and next day steal
``To me, and all those plans reveal,
``That I and every priest, to purge
``His soul, may fast and use the scourge.''


That father's beard was long and white,
With love and truth his brow seemed bright;
I went back, all on fire with joy,
And, that same evening, bade the boy
Tell me, as lovers should, heart-free,
Something to prove his love of me.


He told me what he would not tell
For hope of heaven or fear of hell;
And I lay listening in such pride!
And, soon as he had left my side,
Tripped to the church by morning-light
To save his soul in his despite.


I told the father all his schemes,
Who were his comrades, what their dreams;
``And now make haste,'' I said, ``to pray
``The one spot from his soul away;
``To-night he comes, but not the same
``Will look!'' At night he never came.


Nor next night: on the after-morn,
I went forth with a strength new-born.
The church was empty; something drew
My steps into the street; I knew
It led me to the market-place:
Where, lo, on high, the father's face!


That horrible black scaffold dressed,
That stapled block ... God sink the rest!
That head strapped back, that blinding vest,
Those knotted hands and naked breast,
Till near one busy hangman pressed,
And, on the neck these arms caressed ...


No part in aught they hope or fear!
No heaven with them, no hell!---and here,
No earth, not so much space as pens
My body in their worst of dens
But shall bear God and man my cry,
Lies---lies, again---and still, they lie!

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