A Response to “Cleon” by Robert Browning

(which has stuck with me for years)


Yon swimmer is an ode

Cleon says so

I paraphrase

To Proteus or something in authority

A tyrant in the Classical sense

A tyrant who knows virtue

They had those back then

And a patron

To the speaker of the poem

The writer of a letter


That does not hesitate to compliment

But also makes the case

For what is true

In your tyranny, perhaps

Argues Cleon

You might be missing something

When you elevate my art

Not that I don’t mind the support

Artists need that

But in understanding why the art is there

To tell you in itself

That life is better


Our art records and re-expresses

Interprets who we are and what we do

But the actions so much better

All the attributes that make us

They are real

Poets know this

Beyond an abstract exercise

So we will write

Sculpt words on paper

Into pieces that might find you

Whole, more whole for this


While replacing nothing

Enhancement, we hope

Greater clarity

A lesson, if we must

Learning in other ways

To trust


I recall because it comes to me,

Now and then

Having looked up nothing for a while

(the swimmer is a rower,

and Proteus is Protus

while English majors smoosh words to pass

the comprehensive)

But the epistle goes on meaning much

To me

I try to keep it real

Real enough,

As Cleon’s maker trusts

The last apostle who wrote letters

To the faithful


C L Couch



(from) “Cleon,” Robert Browning

. . .

The many years of pain that taught me art!

Indeed, to know is something, and to prove

How all this beauty might be enjoyed, is more:

But, knowing nought, to enjoy is something too.

Yon rower, with the moulded muscles there,

Lowering the sail, is nearer it than I.

I can write love-odes: thy fair slave’s an ode.

I get to sing of love, when grown too grey

For being beloved: she turns to that young man,

The muscles all a-ripple on his back.

I know the joy of kingship: well, thou art king!

. . .

I cannot tell thy messenger aright

Where to deliver what he bears of thine

To one called Paulus; we have heard his fame

. . .




(two places easily to find the poem)


Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Puerto Marina, Benalmádena, Spain

Momentos antes del inicio del Triatlón de Benalmádena.