One Word More "Never Dares The Man Put Off The Prophet"

Robert Browning

"Never Dares The Man Put Off The Prophet"

(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 soul-sides, 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 own 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. As an example, Browning cites the parallel of Moses, God's prophet, who must have been ever afraid of desecrating "the deed in doing," proving "perchance, but mortal in the minute." The artist, like the prophet, must appear always perfect in his chosen profession, for each suffers the artist's sorrow:

Thus old memories mar the actual triumph;
Thus the doing savors of disrelish;
Thus achievement lacks a gracious somewhat;
. . .
For he bears an ancient wrong about him,
Sees and knows again the phalanxed faces,
. . .
Oh, the crowd must have emphatic warrant!
Theirs, the Sinai-forehead's cloven brilliance
Right-arm's rod-sweep, tongue's imperial fiat.
Never dares the man put off the prophet.