An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Kar

Robert Browning 1812 (Camberwell) – 1889 (Venice)

Karshish, the picker-up of learning's crumbs,
   The not-incurious in God's handiwork
   (This man's-flesh he hath admirably made,
   Blown like a bubble, kneaded like a paste,
   To coop up and keep down on earth a space
   That puff of vapour from his mouth, man's soul)
   --To Abib, all-sagacious in our art,
   Breeder in me of what poor skill I boast,
   Like me inquisitive how pricks and cracks
  Befall the flesh through too much stress and strain,
  Whereby the wily vapour fain would slip
  Back and rejoin its source before the term,--
  And aptest in contrivance (under God)
  To baffle it by deftly stopping such:--
  The vagrant Scholar to his Sage at home
  Sends greeting (health and knowledge, fame with peace)
  Three samples of true snakestone--rarer still,
  One of the other sort, the melon-shaped,
  (But fitter, pounded fine, for charms than drugs)
  And writeth now the twenty-second time.

   My journeyings were brought to Jericho;
  Thus I resume. Who studious in our art
  Shall count a little labour unrepaid?
  I have shed sweat enough, left flesh and bone
  On many a flinty furlong of this land.
  Also, the country-side is all on fire
  With rumours of a marching hitherward:
  Some say Vespasian cometh, some, his son.
  A black lynx snarled and pricked a tufted ear;
  Lust of my blood inflamed his yellow balls:
  I cried and threw my staff and he was gone.
  Twice have the robbers stripped and beaten me,
  And once a town declared me for a spy;
  But at the end, I reach Jerusalem,
  Since this poor covert where I pass the night,
  This Bethany, lies scarce the distance thence
  A man with plague-sores at the third degree
  Runs till he drops down dead. Thou laughest here!
  'Sooth, it elates me, thus reposed and safe,
  To void the stuffing of my travel-scrip
  And share with thee whatever Jewry yields
  A viscid choler is observable
  In tertians, I was nearly bold to say;
  And falling-sickness hath a happier cure
  Than our school wots of: there's a spider here
  Weaves no web, watches on the ledge of tombs,
  Sprinkled with mottles on an ash-grey back;
  Take five and drop them . . . but who knows his mind,
  The Syrian runagate I trust this to?
  His service payeth me a sublimate
  Blown up his nose to help the ailing eye.
  Best wait: I reach Jerusalem at morn,
  There set in order my experiences,
  Gather what most deserves, and give thee all--
  Or I might add, Judea's gum-tragacanth
  Scales off in purer flakes, shines clearer-grained,
  Cracks 'twixt the pestle and the porphyry,
  In fine exceeds our produce. Scalp-disease
  Confounds me, crossing so with leprosy--
   Thou hadst admired one sort I gained at Zoar--
  But zeal outruns discretion. Here I end.

   Yet stay: my Syrian blinketh gratefully,
  Protesteth his devotion is my price--
  Suppose I write what harms not, though he steal?
  I half resolve to tell thee, yet I blush,
  What set me off a-writing first of all.
  An itch I had, a sting to write, a tang!
  For, be it this town's barrenness--or else
  The Man had something in the look of him--
  His case has struck me far more than 'tis worth.
  So, pardon if--(lest presently I lose
  In the great press of novelty at hand
  The care and pains this somehow stole from me)
  I bid thee take the thing while fresh in mind,
  Almost in sight--for, wilt thou have the truth?
  The very man is gone from me but now,
  Whose ailment is the subject of discourse.
  Thus then, and let thy better wit help all!

  'Tis but a case of mania--subinduced
  By epilepsy, at the turning-point
  Of trance prolonged unduly some three days:
  When, by the exhibition of some drug
  Or spell, exorcization, stroke of art
  Unknown to me and which 'twere well to know,
  The evil thing out-breaking all at once
  Left the man whole and sound of body indeed,--
  But, flinging (so to speak) life's gates too wide,
  Making a clear house of it too suddenly,
  The first conceit that entered might inscribe
  Whatever it was minded on the wall
  So plainly at that vantage, as it were,
  (First come, first served) that nothing subsequent
  Attaineth to erase those fancy-scrawls
  The just-returned and new-established soul
  Hath gotten now so thoroughly by heart
  That henceforth she will read or these or none.
  And first--the man's own firm conviction rests
  That he was dead (in fact they buried him)
  --That he was
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on April 07, 2023

3:46 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic pentameter
Characters 4,394
Words 744
Stanzas 4
Stanza Lengths 20, 41, 17, 21

Robert Browning

Robert Browning was the father of poet Robert Browning. more…

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