This vivid and evocative story poem is characteristic of Robert Browning’s dramatic verse. In the first video at the bottom of this post, he can be heard reciting a portion of the poem at a dinner party in April 1889. When friends gathered at the Edison home to listen to the recording on an anniversary of Browning’s death, a London Times story reported that it was the first time a voice had been heard beyond the grave. The second video is a modern animation.
How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix
by Robert Browning
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he:
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
“Good speed!” cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew,
“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through.
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace—
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.
’Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld ’twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime—
So Joris broke silence with “Yet there is time!”
At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past;
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray;
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track,
And one eye’s black intelligence—ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance;
And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.
By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, “Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her;
“We’ll remember at Aix”—for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh;
’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Delhem a dome spire sprung white,
And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!
“How they’ll greet us!”—and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.
Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer—
Clapped my hands, laughed and sung, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is friends flocking around,
As I sate with his head twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.
Robert Browning’s Voice:
Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an English poet, known for his dramatic verse. Considered one of the foremost poets of the Victorian era, Browning was born the same year as Charles Dickens. He was married to poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.