"Heaven's Gift Takes Earth's Abatement"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Browning wrote this poem as an epilogue to dedicate a volume of poetry to his wife, Elizabeth Browning. In it, he discusses the importance of a private existence for the artist apart from his public personage. "God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures/ Boasts two soulsides, one to face the world with,/ One to show a woman he loves her!" The poet wishes he could turn to a new medium to express his love for a woman as did Dante, who painted to honor Beatrice, or as did Rafael, who wrote a century of sonnets for his love. These evidences of love are more precious to other lovers than are all the masterpieces that the artists created in their fields. An artist wishes, at least once, to be only a man and to be judged for the joy of his love and not by the critical standards applicable to his public performance. There follows a lengthy comparison between the poet and the prophet. Both Moses and the poet live with heaven-sent gifts which, at times, they may wish to ignore but cannot:

. . . no artist lives and loves, that longs not
Once, and only once, for one only
(Ah the prize!), to find his love a language
Fit and fair and simple and sufficient–
Using nature that's an art to others,
Not, this one time, art that's turned his nature.
. . .
So to be the man and leave the artist,
Gain the man's joy, miss the artist's sorrow.
Wherefore? Heaven's gift takes earth's abatement!
He who smites the rock and spreads the water,
. . .
Even he, the minute makes immortal,
Proves, perchance, but mortal in the minute,
Desecrates, belike, the deed in doing.