The very night is clinging
Closer to Venice’ streets to leave one space Above me, whence thy face
May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.
Say after me, and try to say
My very words, as if each word
Came from you of your own accord, 10 In your own voice, in your own way:
“This woman’s heart and soul and brain Are mine as much as this gold chain
She bids me wear, which (say again) I choose to make by cherishing
A precious thing, or choose to fling Over the boat-side, ring by ring.”
And yet once more say . . . no word more! Since words are only words. Give o’er!
Unless you call me, all the same, 20 Familiarly by my pet name,
Which if the Three should hear you call, And me reply to, would proclaim
At once our secret to them all.
Ask of me, too, command me, blame– Do, break down the partition-wall
‘Twixt us, the daylight world beholds Curtained in dusk and splendid folds!
What’s left but–all of me to take? I am the Three’s: prevent them, slake 30 Your thirst! ‘Tis said, the Arab sage,
In practising with gems, can loose
Their subtle spirit in his cruce
And leave but ashes: so, sweet mage, Leave them my ashes when thy use
Sucks out my soul, thy heritage!
Past we glide, and past, and past!
What’s that poor Agnese doing
Where they make the shutters fast?
Grey Zanobi’s just a-wooing 40 To his couch the purchased bride:
Past we glide!
Past we glide, and past, and past!
Why’s the Pucci Palace flaring
Like a beacon to the blast?
Guests by hundreds, not one caring If the dear host’s neck were wried:
Past we glide!
The moth’s kiss, first!
Kiss me as if you made believe 50 You were not sure, this eve,
How my face, your flower, had pursed Its petals up; so, here and there
You brush it, till I grow aware
Who wants me, and wide ope I burst..
The bee’s kiss, now!
Kiss me as if you entered gay
My heart at some noonday,
A bud that dares not disallow
The claim, so all is rendered up, 60 And passively its shattered cup
Over your head to sleep I bow.
What are we two?
I am a Jew,
And carry thee, farther than friends can pursue, To a feast of our tribe;
Where they need thee to bribe
The devil that blasts them unless he imbibe. Thy . . . Scatter the vision for ever! And now As of old, I am I, thou art thou! 70
Say again, what we are?
The sprite of a star,
I lure thee above where the destinies bar My plumes their full play
Till a ruddier ray
Than my pale one announce there is withering away Some . . . Scatter the vision forever! And now, As of old, I am I, thou art thou!
Oh, which were best, to roam or rest? The land’s lap or the water’s breast? 80 To sleep on yellow millet-sheaves,
Or swim in lucid shallows just
Eluding water-lily leaves,
An inch from Death’s black fingers, thrust To lock you, whom release he must;
Which life were best on Summer eves?
He speaks, musing.
Lie back; could thought of mine improve you? >From this shoulder let there spring
A wing; from this, another wing;
Wings, not legs and feet, shall move you! 90 Snow-white must they spring, to blend
With your flesh, but I intend
They shall deepen to the end,
Broader, into burning gold,
Till both wings crescent-wise enfold Your perfect self, from ‘neath your feet To o’er your head, where, lo, they meet
As if a million sword-blades hurled Defiance from you to the world!
Rescue me thou, the only real! 100 And scare away this mad ideal
That came, nor motions to depart!
Thanks! Now, stay ever as thou art!
Still he muses.
What if the Three should catch at last Thy serenader? While there’s cast
Paul’s cloak about my head, and fast Gian pinions me, Himself has past
His stylet thro’ my back; I reel;
And . . . is it thou I feel?
They trail me, these three godless knaves, 110 Past every church that saints and saves, Nor stop till, where the cold sea raves
By Lido’s wet accursed graves,
They scoop mine, roll me to its brink, And . . . on thy breast I sink!
She replies, musing.
Dip your arm o’er the boat-side, elbow-deep, As I do: thus: were death so unlike sleep, Caught this way? Death’s to fear from flame or steel, Or poison doubtless; but from water–feel! Go find the bottom! Would you stay me? There! 120 Now pluck a great blade of that ribbon-grass To plait in where the foolish jewel was, I flung away: since you have praised my hair, ‘Tis proper to be choice in what I wear.
Row home? must we row home? Too surely Know I where its front’s demurely
Over the Giudecca piled;
Window just with window mating,
Door on door exactly waiting,
All’s the set face of a child: 130 But behind it, where’s a trace
Of the staidness and reserve,
And formal lines without a curve,
In the same child’s playing-face?
No two windows look one way
O’er the small sea-water thread
Below them. Ah, the autumn day
I, passing, saw you overhead!
First, out a cloud of curtain blew, Then a sweet cry, and last came you– 140 To catch your lory that must needs
Escape just then, of all times then, To peck a tall plant’s fleecy seeds,
And make me happiest of men.
I scarce could breathe to see you reach So far back o’er the balcony
To catch him ere he climbed too high Above you in the Smyrna peach
That quick the round smooth cord of gold, This coiled hair on your head, unrolled, 150 Fell down you like a gorgeous snake
The Roman girls were wont, of old,
When Rome there was, for coolness’ sake To let lie curling o’er their bosoms.
Dear lory, may his beak retain
Ever its delicate rose stain
As if the wounded lotus-blossoms
Had marked their thief to know again!
Stay longer yet, for others’ sake
Than mine! What should your chamber do? 160 –With all its rarities that ache
In silence while day lasts, but wake At night-time and their life renew,
Suspended just to pleasure you
Who brought against their will together These objects, and, while day lasts, weave Around them such a magic tether
That dumb they look: your harp, believe, With all the sensitive tight strings
Which dare not speak, now to itself 170 Breathes slumberously, as if some elf
Went in and out the chords, his wings Make murmur wheresoe’er they graze,
As an angel may, between the maze
Of midnight palace-pillars, on
And on, to sow God’s plagues, have gone Through guilty glorious Babylon.
And while such murmurs flow, the nymph Bends o’er the harp-top from her shelI
As the dry limpet for the Iymph 180 Come with a tune he knows so well.
And how your statues’ hearts must swell! And how your pictures must descend
To see each other, friend with friend! Oh, could you take them by surprise,
You’d find Schidone’s eager Duke
Doing the quaintest courtesies
To that prim saint by Haste-thee-Luke! And, deeper into her rock den,
Bold Castelfranco’s Magdalen 190 You’d find retreated from the ken
Of that robed counsel-keeping Ser– As if the Tizian thinks of her,
And is not, rather, gravely bent
On seeing for himself what toys
Are these, his progeny invent,
What litter now the board employs
Whereon he signed a document
That got him murdered! Each enjoys
Its night so well, you cannot break 200 The sport up, so, indeed must make
More stay with me, for others’ sake.
To-morrow, if a harp-string, say,
Is used to tie the jasmine back
That overfloods my room with sweets, Contrive your Zorzi somehow meets
My Zanze! If the ribbon’s black,
The Three are watching: keep away!
Your gondola–let Zorzi wreathe
A mesh of water weeds about 210 Its prow, as if he unaware
Had struck some quay or bridge-foot stair! That I may throw a paper out
As you and he go underneath.
There’s Zanze’s vigilant taper; safe are we. Only one minute more to-night with me?
Resume your past self of a month ago! Be you the bashful gallant, I will be
The lady with the colder breast than snow. Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand 220 More than I touch yours when I step to land, And say, “All thanks, Siora!”–
Heart to heart
And lips to lips! Yet once more, ere we part, Clasp me and make me thine, as mine thou art!
[He is surprised, and stabbed.
It was ordained to be so, sweet!–and best Comes now, beneath thine eyes, upon thy breast. Still kiss me! Care not for the cowards! Care Only to put aside thy beauteous hair
My blood will hurt! The Three, I do not scorn To death, because they never lived: but I 230 Have lived indeed, and so–(yet one more kiss)–can die!
“In a Gondola” is a lyric dialogue between two Venetian lovers who have stolen away in a gondola spite of “the three”–“Himself’,” perhaps a husband, and “Paul” and “Gian,” her brothers–whose vengeance discovers them at the end, but not before their love and danger have moved them to weave a series of lyrical fancies, and led them to a climax of emotion which makes Life so deep a joy that Death is of no account.
“The first stanza was written,” writes Browning, “to illustrate Maclise’s picture, for which he was anxious to get some line or two. I had not seen it, but from Forster’s description, gave it to him in his room impromptu . . . . When I did see it I thought the serenade too jolly, somewhat, for the notion I got from Forster, and I took up the subject in my own way.”
113. Lido’s . . . graves: Jewish tombs were there.
127. Giudecca: a canal of Venice.
155. Lory: a kind of parrot.
186. Schidone’s eager Duke: an imaginary painting by Bartolommeo Schidone of Modena (1560-1616).
188. Haste-thee-Luke: the English form of the nickname, Luca-f-presto, given Luca Giordano (1632-1705), a Neapolitan painter, on account of his constantly being goaded on in his work by his penurious and avaricious father.
190. Castelfranco: the Venetian painter, Giorgione, called Castelfranco, because born there, 1478, died 1511.
193. Tizian: (1477-1516). The pictures are all imaginary, but suggestive of the style of each of these artists.
[Mr. Alfred Domett, C.M.G., author of “Ranolf and Amohia,” full of descriptions of New Zealand scenery.]
What’s become of Waring
Since he gave us all the slip,
Chose land-travel or seafaring,
Boots and chest or staff and scrip, Rather than pace up and down
Any longer London town?
Who’d have guessed it from his lip
Or his brow’s accustomed bearing,
On the night he thus took ship
Or started landward?–little caring 10 For us, it seems, who supped together
(Friends of his too, I remember)
And walked home thro’ the merry weather, The snowiest in all December.
I left his arm that night myself
For what’s-his-name’s, the new prose-poet Who wrote the book there, on the shelf– How, forsooth, was I to know it
If Waring meant to glide away
Like a ghost at break of day? 20 Never looked he half so gay!
He was prouder than the devil:
How he must have cursed our revel!
Ay and many other meetings,
Indoor visits, outdoor greetings,
As up and down he paced this London, With no work done, but great works undone, Where scarce twenty knew his name.
Why not, then, have earlier spoken, Written, bustled? Who’s to blame 30 If your silence kept unbroken?
“True, but there were sundry jottings, Stray-leaves, fragments, blurrs and blottings, Certain first steps were achieved
Already which (is that your meaning?) Had well borne out whoe’er believed
In more to come!” But who goes gleaning Hedgeside chance-glades, while full-sheaved Stand cornfields by him? Pride, o’erweening Pride alone, puts forth such claims 40 O’er the day’s distinguished names.
Meantime, how much I loved him,
I find out now I’ve lost him.
I who cared not if I moved him,
Who could so carelessly accost him, Henceforth never shall get free
Of his ghostly company,
His eyes that just a little wink
As deep I go into the merit
Of this and that distinguished spirit– 50 His cheeks’ raised colour, soon to sink, As long I dwell on some stupendous
And tremendous (Heaven defend us!)
Penman’s latest piece of graphic.
Nay, my very wrist grows warm
With his dragging weight of arm.
E’en so, swimmingly appears,
Through one’s after-supper musings, 60 Some lost lady of old years
With her beauteous vain endeavour
And goodness unrepaid as ever;
The face, accustomed to refusings,
We, puppies that we were . . . Oh never Surely, nice of conscience, scrupled
Being aught like false, forsooth, to? Telling aught but honest truth to?
What a sin, had we centupled
Its possessor’s grace and sweetness! 70 No! she heard in its completeness
Truth, for truth’s a weighty matter, And truth, at issue, we can’t flatter!
Well, ’tis done with; she’s exempt
>From damning us thro’ such a sally; And so she glides, as down a valley,
Taking up with her contempt,
Past our reach; and in, the flowers Shut her unregarded hours.
Oh, could I have him back once more, 80 This Waring, but one half-day more!
Back, with the quiet face of yore,
So hungry for acknowledgment
Like mine! I’d fool him to his bent. Feed, should not he, to heart’s content? I’d say, “to only have conceived,
Planned your great works, apart from progress, Surpasses little works achieved!”
I’d lie so, I should be believed.
I’d make such havoc of the claims 90 Of the day’s distinguished names
To feast him with, as feasts an ogress Her feverish sharp-toothed gold-crowned child! Or as one feasts a creature rarely
Captured here, unreconciled
To capture; and completely gives
Its pettish humours license, barely Requiring that it lives.
The glory is departed! 100 Travels Waring East away?
Who, of knowledge, by hearsay,
Reports a man upstarted
Somewhere as a god,
Hordes grown European-hearted,
Millions of the wild made tame
On a sudden at his fame?
In Vishnu-land what Avatar?
Or who in Moscow, toward the Czar,
With the demurest of footfalls 110 Over the Kremlin’s pavement bright
With serpentine and syenite,
Steps, with five other Generals
That simultaneously take snuff,
For each to have pretext enough
And kerchiefwise unfold his sash
Which, softness’ self, is yet the stuff To hold fast where a steel chain snaps,
And leave the grand white neck no gash? Waring in Moscow, to those rough 120 Cold northern natures born perhaps,
Like the lambwhite maiden dear
>From the circle of mute kings
Unable to repress the tear,
Each as his sceptre down he flings, To Dian’s fane at Taurica,
Where now a captive priestess, she alway Mingles her tender grave Hellenic speech With theirs, tuned to the hailstone-beaten beach As pours some pigeon, from the myrrhy lands 130 Rapt by the whirlblast to fierce Scythian strands Where breed the swallows, her melodious cry Amid their barbarous twitter!
In Russia? Never! Spain were fitter! Ay, most likely ’tis in Spain
That we and Waring meet again
Now, while he turns down that cool narrow lane Into the blackness, out of grave Madrid
All fire and shine, abrupt as when there’s slid Its stiff gold blazing pall 140 >From some black coffin-lid.
Or, best of all,
I love to think
The leaving us was just a feint;
Back here to London did he slink,
And now works on without a wink
Of sleep, and we are on the brink
Of something great in fresco-paint: Some garret’s ceiling, walls and floor,
Up and down and o’er and o’er 150 He splashes, as none splashed before
Since great Caldara Polidore.
Or Music means this land of ours
Some favour yet, to pity won
By Purcell from his Rosy Bowers–
“Give me my so-long promised son,
Let Waring end what I begun!”
Then down he creeps and out he steals Only when the night conceals
His face; in Kent ’tis cherry-time, 160 Or hops are picking: or at prime
Of March he wanders as, too happy,
Years ago when he was young,
Some mild eve when woods grew sappy And the early moths had sprung
To life from many a trembling sheath Woven the warm boughs beneath;
While small birds said to themselves What should soon be actual song,
And young gnats, by tens and twelves, 170 Made as if they were the throng
That crowd around and carry aloft
The sound they have nursed, so sweet and pure, Out of a myriad noises soft,
Into a tone that can endure
Amid the noise of a July noon
When all God’s creatures crave their boon, All at once and all in tune,
And get it, happy as Waring then,
Having first within his ken 180 What a man might do with men:
And far too glad, in the even-glow, To mix with the world he meant to take
Into his hand, he told you, so–
And out of it his world to make,
To contract and to expand
As he shut or oped his hand.
Oh Waring, what’s to really be?
A clear stage and a crowd to see!
Some Garrick, say, out shall not he 190 The heart of Hamlet’s mystery pluck?
Or, where most unclean beasts are rife, Some Junius–am I right?–shall tuck
His sleeve, and forth with flaying-knife! Some Chatterton shall have the luck
Of calling Rowley into life!
Some one shall somehow run a muck
With this old world for want of strife Sound asleep. Contrive, contrive
To rouse us, Waring! Who’s alive? 200 Our men scarce seem in earnest now.
Distinguished names!–but ’tis, somehow, As if they played at being names
Still more distinguished, like the games Of children. Turn our sport to earnest
With a visage of the sternest!
Bring the real times back, confessed Still better than our very best!
“When I last saw Waring . . .”
(How all turned to him who spoke! 210 You saw Waring? Truth or joke?
In land-travel or sea-faring?)
“We were sailing by Triest
Where a day or two we harboured:
A sunset was in the West,
When, looking over the vessel’s side, One of our company espied
A sudden speck to larboard.
And as a sea-duck flies and swims
At once, so came the light craft up, 220 With its sole lateen sail that trims
And turns (the water round its rims Dancing, as round a sinking cup)
And by us like a fish it curled,
And drew itself up close beside,
Its great sail on the instant furled, And o’er its thwarts a shrill voice cried, (A neck as bronzed as a Lascar’s)
‘Buy wine of us, you English Brig?
Or fruit, tobacco and cigars? 230 A pilot for you to Triest?
Without one, look you ne’er so big, They’ll never let you up the bay!
We natives should know best.’
I turned, and ‘just those fellows’ way,’ Our captain said, ‘The ‘long-shore thieves Are laughing at us in their sleeves.’
“In truth, the boy leaned laughing back; And one, half-hidden by his side
Under the furled sail, soon I spied, 240 With great grass hat and kerchief black, Who looked up with his kingly throat,
Said somewhat, while the other shook His hair back from his eyes to look
Their longest at us; then the boat, I know not how, turned sharply round,
Laying her whole side on the sea
As a leaping fish does; from the lee Into the weather, cut somehow
Her sparkling path beneath our bow 250 And so went off, as with a bound,
Into the rosy and golden half
O’ the sky, to overtake the sun
And reach the shore, like the sea-calf Its singing cave; yet I caught one
Glance ere away the boat quite passed, And neither time nor toil could mar
Those features: so I saw the last
Of Waring!”–You? Oh, never star
Was lost here but it rose afar! 260 Look East, where whole new thousands are! In Vishnu-land what Avatar?
“Waring.” In recounting the sudden disappearance from among his friends of a man proud and sensitive, who with fine powers of intellect yet incurred somewhat of disdain because of his failure to accomplish anything permanent, expression is given to the deep regret experienced by his friends now that he has left them, his absence having brought them to a truer realization of his worth. If only Waring would come back, the speaker, at least, would give him the sympathy and encouragement he craved instead of playing with his sensibilities as he had done. Conjectures are indulged in as to Waring’s whereabouts. The speaker prefers to think of him as back in London preparing to astonish the world with some great masterpiece in art, music, or literature. Another speaker surprises all by telling how he had seen the `’last of Waring ‘ in a momentary meeting at Trieste, but the first speaker is certain that the star of Waring is destined to rise again above their horizon.
1. Waring: Alfred Domett (born at Camberwell Grove, Surrey, May 20, 1811), a friend of Browning’s, distinguished as a poet and as a Colonial statesman and ruler. His first volume of poems was published in 1832. Some verses of his in Blackwood’s, 1837, attracted much attention to him as a rising young poet. In 1841 he was called to the bar, and in 1841 went out to New Zealand among the earliest settlers. There he lived for thirty years, filling several important official positions. His unceremonious departure for New Zealand with no leave-takings was the occasion of Browning’s poem, which is said by Mrs. Orr to give a lifelike sketch of Domett’s character. His ” star” did, however, rise again for his English friends, for he returned to London in 1871. The year following saw the publication of his “Ranolf and Amohia,” a New Zealand poem, in the course of which he characterizes Browning as “Subtlest Asserter of the Soul in Song.” He met Browning again in London, and was one of the vice-presidents of the London Browning Society. Died Nov.12, 1877.
15. I left his arm that night myself: George W. Cooke points out that in his Living Authors of England Thomas Powell describes this incident, the “young author” mentioned being himself: “We have a vivid recollection of the last time we saw him. It was at an evening party, a few days before he sailed from England; his intimate friend, Mr. Browning, was also present. It happened that the latter was introduced that evening for the first time to a young author who had just then appeared in the literary world. This, consequently, prevented the two friends from conversation, and they parted from each other without the slightest idea on Mr. Browning’s part that he was seeing his old friend Domett for the last time. Some days after, when he found that Domett had sailed, he expressed in strong terms to the writer of this sketch the self-reproach he felt at having preferred the conversation of a stranger to that of his old associate.”
54. Monstr’-inform’-ingens-horrend-ous: a slight transposition of part of a line in Virgil describing Polyphemus, “Monstrum horrendum informe ingens,” a monster horrid, misshapen, huge.
55. Demoniaco-seraphic: these two lines form a compound of adjectives humorously used by Browning to express the inferiority of the writers he praised to Waring.
99. Ichabod: “Ichabod, the glory is departed.” I Samuel IV. 21.
112. syenite: Egyptian granite
122. Lamb-white maiden: Iphigenia, who was borne away to Taurus by Diana, when her father, Agamemnon, was about to sacrifice her to obtain favorable winds for his expedition to Troy.
152. Caldara Polidore: Surnamed da Caravaggio. He was born in Milan in 1492, went to Rome and was employed by Raphael to paint the friezes in the Vatican. He was murdered by a servant in Messina, 1543.
155. Purcell: an eminent English musician, composer of church music, operas, songs, and instrumental music. (1658-1695).–Rosy Bowers: One of Purcell’s most celebrated songs. “‘From Rosie Bowers’ is said to have been set in his last sickness, at which time he seems to have realized the poetical fable of the Swan and to have sung more sweetly as he approached nearer his dissolution, for it seems to us as if no one of his productions was so elevated, so pleasing, so expressive, and throughout so perfect as this” (Rees’s Cyclopaedia, 1819).
19O. Garrick: David, an English actor, celebrated especially for his Shakespearian parts (1716-1779).
193. Junius: the assumed name of a political writer who in 1769 began to issue in London a series of famous letters which opposed the ministry in power, and denounced several eminent persons with severe invective and pungent sarcasm.
195. Some Chatterton shall have the luck of calling Rowley into life: the chief claim to celebrity of Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) is the real or pretended discovery of poems said to have been written in the fifteenth century by Thomas Rowley, a priest of Bristol, and found in Radcliffe church, of which Chatterton’s ancestors had been sextons for many years. They are now generally considered Chatterton’s own.
“Give” and “It-shall-be-given-unto-you”
Grand rough old Martin Luther
Bloomed fables-flowers on furze,
The better the uncouther:
Do roses stick like burrs?
A beggar asked an alms
One day at an abbey-door,
Said Luther; but, seized with qualms, The abbot replied, “We’re poor!”
“Poor, who had plenty once,
When gifts fell thick as rain: 10 But they give us nought, for the nonce,
And now should we give again?”
Then the beggar, “See your sins!
Of old, unless I err,
Ye had brothers for inmates, twins, Date and Dabitur.
“While Date was in good case
Dabitur flourished too:
For Dabitur’s lenten face
No wonder if Date rue. 20
“Would ye retrieve the one?
Try and make plump the other!
When Date’s penance is done,
Dabitur helps his brother.
“Only, beware relapse!”
The Abbot hung his head.
This beggar might be perhaps
An angel, Luther said.
“The Twins” versifies a story told by Martin Luther in his “Table Talk,” in which the saying, “Give and it shall be given unto you,” is quaintly personified by the Latin words equivalent in meaning: Date, “Give,” and Dabitur, “It-shall-be-given-unto-you.”
I. Martin Luther: (1483-1546), the leader of the Reformation.
A LIGHT WOMAN
So far as our story approaches the end, Which do you pity the most of us three? My friend, or the mistress of my friend
With her wanton eyes, or me?
My friend was already too good to lose, And seemed in the way of improvement yet, When she crossed his path with her hunting noose And over him drew her net.
When I saw him tangled in her toils,
A shame, said I, if she adds just him 10 To her nine-and-ninety other spoils,
The hundredth for a whim!
And before my friend be wholly hers,
How easy to prove to him, I said, An eagle’s the game her pride prefers,
Though she snaps at a wren instead!
So, I gave her eyes my own eyes to take, My hand sought hers as in earnest need, And round she turned for my noble sake,
And gave me herself indeed. 20
The eagle am I, with my fame in the world, The wren is he, with his maiden face.
You look away and your lip is curled? Patience, a moment’s space!
For see, my friend goes shaking and white; He eyes me as the basilisk:
I have turned, it appears, his day to night, Eclipsing his sun’s disk.
And I did it, he thinks, as a very thief: “Though I love her–that, he comprehends– 30 One should master one’s passions (love, in chief) And be loyal to one’s friends!”
And she,–she lies in my hand as tame As a pear late basking over a wall;
Just a touch to try and off it came; ‘Tis mine,–can I let it fall?
With no mind to eat it, that’s the worst! Were it thrown in the road, would the case assist? ‘Twas quenching a dozen blue-flies’ thirst When I gave its stalk a twist. 40
And I,–what I seem to my friend, you see: What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess: What I seem to myself, do you ask of me? No hero, I confess.
‘Tis an awkward thing to play with souls, And matter enough to save one’s own:
Yet think of my friend, and the burning coals He played with for bits of stone!
One likes to show the truth for the truth; That the woman was light is very true: 50 But suppose she says,–Never mind that youth! What wrong have I done to you?
Well, any how, here the story stays,
So far at least as I understand;
And, Robert Browning, you writer of plays, Here’s a subject made to your hand!
“A Light Woman” is the story of a dramatic situation brought about by the speaker’s intermeddling to save his less sophisticated friend from a light woman’s toils. He deflects her interest and wins her heart, and this is the ironical outcome: his friendly, dispassionate act makes him seem to his friend a disloyal passion’s slave; his scorn of the light woman teaches him her genuineness, and proves himself lighter than she; his futile assumption of the god manoeuvring souls makes the whole story dramatically imply, in a way dear to Browning’s heart, the sacredness and worth of each individuality.
[I cannot agree with Porter and Clarke’s estimate of the speaker’s act as “friendly, dispassionate.” They fail to take into account his supercilious attitude toward the man he calls his friend, and he proves to be more self-serving–and more self-deceiving–than they are willing to admit. That is why it is a subject made to Browning’s hand.–Editor of the PG text]
THE LAST RIDE TOGETHER
I said–Then, dearest, since ’tis so, Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seemed meant for, fails, Since this was written and needs must be– My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness! Take back the hope you gave–I claim
Only a memory of the same,
–And this beside, if you will not blame, 10 Your leave for one more last ride with me.
My mistress bent that brow of hers;
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs When pity would be softening through,
Fixed me a breathing-while or two
With life or death in the balance: right! The blood replenished me again;
My last thought was at least not vain: I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride, 20 So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end tonight?
Hush! if you saw some western cloud
All billowy-bosomed, over-bowed
By many benedictions–sun’s
And moon’s and evening-star’s at once– And so, you, looking and loving best, Conscious grew, your passion drew
Cloud, sunset, moonrise, star-shine too, Down on you, near and yet more near, 30 Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!– Thus leant she and lingered–joy and fear! Thus lay she a moment on my breast.
Then we began to ride. My soul
Smoothed itself out, a long-cramped scroll Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
Past hopes already lay behind.
What need to strive with a life awry? Had I said that, had I done this,
So might I gain, so might I miss. 40 Might she have loved me? just as well
She might have hated, who can tell! Where had I been now if the worst befell? And here we are riding, she and I.
Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds? We rode; it seemed my spirit flew,
Saw other regions, cities new
As the world rushed by on either side. I thought,–All labour, yet no less 50 Bear up beneath their unsuccess
Look at the end of work, contrast
The petty done, the undone vast,
This present of theirs with the hopeful past! I hoped she would love me; here we ride.
What hand and brain went ever paired? What heart alike conceived and dared?
What act proved all its thought had been? What will but felt the fleshly screen? 60 We ride and I see her bosom heave.
There’s many a crown for who can reach. Ten lines, a statesman’s life in each!
The flag stuck on a heap of bones,
A soldier’s doing! what atones?
They scratch his name on the Abbey-stones. My riding is better, by their leave.
What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell What we felt only; you expressed 70 You hold things beautiful the best,
And pace them in rhyme so, side by side. ‘Tis something, nay ’tis much: but then, Have you yourself what’s best for men?
Are you–poor, sick, old ere your time– Nearer one whit your own sublime
Than we who never have turned a rhyme? Sing, riding’s a joy! For me, I ride.
And you, great sculptor–so, you gave A score of years to Art, her slave, 80 And that’s your Venus, whence we turn
To yonder girl that fords the burn! You acquiesce, and shall I repine?
What, man of music, you grown grey
With notes and nothing else to say, Is this your sole praise from a friend,
“Greatly his opera’s strains intend, Put in music we know how fashions end!”
I gave my youth; but we ride, in fine.
Who knows what’s fit for us? Had fate 90 Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being–had I signed the bond–
Still one must lead some life beyond, Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried. This foot once planted on the goal,
This glory-garland round my soul,
Could I descry such? Try and test!
I sink back shuddering from the quest. Earth being so good, would heaven seem best? Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.
And yet–she has not spoke so long! 100 What if heaven be that, fair and strong
At life’s best, with our eyes upturned Whither life’s flower is first discerned, We, fixed so, ever should so abide?
What if we still ride on, we two
With life for ever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity–
And heaven just prove that I and she Ride, ride together, forever ride? 110
“The Last Ride Together.” The rapture of a rejected lover in the one more last ride which he asks for and obtains, discovers for him the all-sufficing glory of love in itself. Soldiership, statesmanship, art are disproportionate in their results; love can be its own reward, yes, heaven itself.
THE PIED PIPER OF HAMELIN:
A CHILD’S STORY.
(Written for, and inscribed to, W. M. the Younger.)
Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side; A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.
They fought the dogs and killed the cats, And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats, And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles, Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats, And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats. 20
At last the people in a body
To the Town Hall came flocking
“‘Tis clear,” cried they, “our Mayor’s a noddy, And as for our Corporation–shocking To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can’t or won’t determine What’s best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you’re old and obese, To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking 30 To find the remedy we’re lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!” At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.
An hour they sat in council,
At length the Mayor broke silence: “For a guilder I’d my ermine gown sell,
I wish I were a mile hence!
It’s easy to bid one rack one’s brain– I’m sure my poor head aches again, 40 I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain.
Oh for a trap, a trap, a trap!”
Just as he said this, what should hap At the chamber door but a gentle tap?
“Bless us,” cried the Mayor, “what’s that?” (With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat; Nor brighter was his eye, nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous 50 For a plate of turtle green and glutinous) “Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”
“Come in!” the Mayor cried, looking bigger: And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head Was half of yellow and half of red,
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin, 60 And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin, But lips where smiles went out and in;
There was no guessing his kith and kin: And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire. Quoth one: “It’s as my great-grandsire,
Starting up at the Trump of Doom’s tone, Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!”
He advanced to the council-table 70 And, “Please your honours,” said he, “I’m able, By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun, That creep or swim or fly or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole and toad and newt and viper; And people call me the Pied Piper.”
(And here they noticed round his neck 80 A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the self-same cheque And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
“Yet,” said he, “poor piper as I am, In Tartary I freed the Cham,
Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats; 90 I eased in Asia the Nizam
Of a monstrous brood of vampyre-bats: And as for what your brain bewilders,
If I can rid your town of rats
Will you give me a thousand guilders?” “One? fifty thousand!”-was the exclamation Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.
Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept 100 In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept
To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled, And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled; And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered, You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling; And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling; And out of the houses the rats came tumbling. 110 Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats, Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats, Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins, Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives– Followed the Piper for their lives.
>From street to street he piped advancing, And step for step they followed dancing, 120 Until they came to the river Weser
Wherein all plunged and perished! –Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As he, the manuscript he cherished) To Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, “At the first shrill notes of the pipe, I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
Into a cider-press’s gripe: 130 And a moving away of pickle-tub-boards,
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards, And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks, And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks: And it seemed as if a voice
(Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery Is breathed) called out, ‘Oh rats, rejoice! The world is grown to one vast drysaltery! So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!’ 140 And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
All ready staved, like a great sun shone Glorious scarce an inch before me
Just as methought it said ‘Come, bore me!’ –I found the Weser roiling o’er me.”
You should have heard the Hamelin people Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple. “Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles, Poke out the nests and block up the holes! Consult with carpenters and builders, 150 And leave in our town not even a trace
Of the rats!”-when suddenly, up the face Of the Piper perked in the market-place, With a, “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”
A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue; So did the Corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock; And half the money would replenish
Their cellar’s biggest butt with Rhenish. 160 This sum to a wandering fellow
With a gipsy coat of red and yellow! “Beside,” quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink, Our business was done at the river’s brink; We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think. So, friend, we’re not the folks to shrink >From the duty of giving you something for drink, And a matter of money to put in your poke; But as for the guilders, what we spoke 170 Of them, as you very well know, was in joke. Beside, our losses have made us thrifty. A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!”
The Piper’s face fell, and he cried:
“No trifling! I can’t wait, beside! I’ve promised to visit by dinner time
Bagdat, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in, For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen, Of a nest of scorpions no survivor: 180 With him I proved no bargain-driver,
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver! And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe after another fashion.”
“How? cried the Mayor, “d’ye think I brook Being worse treated than a Cook?
Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald? You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst!” 190
Once more he stept into the street
And to his lips again
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane; And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling, Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering, Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering, 200 And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering, Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls, Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.
The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood As if they were changed into blocks of wood, Unable to move a step, or cry 210 To the children merrily skipping by,
–Could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper’s back. But how the Mayor was on the rack,
And the wretched Council’s bosoms beat, As the Piper turned from the High Street To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters! However he turned from South to West,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed, 220 And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
“He never can cross that mighty top! He’s forced to let the piping drop,
And we shall see our children stop!” When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side, A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed; And the Piper advanced and the children followed, And when all were in to the very last, 230 The door in the mountain-side shut fast. Did I say, all? No! One was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way; And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say,– “It’s dull in our town since my playmates left! I can’t forget that I’m bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see, Which the Piper also promised me.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land, 240 Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new; The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here, And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honeybees had lost their stings, And horses were born with eagles’ wings: And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured, 250 The music stopped and I stood still,
And found myself outside the hill,
Left alone against my will,
To go now limping as before,
And never hear of that country more!”
Alas, alas for Hamelin!
There came into many a burgher’s pate A text which says that heaven’s gate Opes to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle’s eye takes a camel in! 260 The mayor sent East, West, North and South To offer the Piper, by word of mouth,
Wherever it was men’s lot to find him Silver and gold to his heart’s content,
If he’d only return the way he went, And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw ’twas a lost endeavour, And Piper and dancers were gone for ever, They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly 270 If, after the day of the month and year, These words did not as well appear,
“And so long after what happened here On the Twenty-second of July
Thirteen-hundred and seventy-six:”
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat, They called it, the Pied Piper’s Street– Where any one playing on pipe or tabor
Was sure for the future to lose his labour. 280 Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
To shock with mirth a street so solemn; But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column, And on the great church-window painted
The same, to make the world acquainted How their children were stolen away,
And there it stands to this very day. And I must not omit to say
That in Transylvania there’s a tribe 290 Of alien people who ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbours lay such stress, To their fathers and mothers having risen Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land, But how or why, they don’t understand.
So, Willy, let me and you be wipers 300 Of scores out with all men–especially pipers! And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice, If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!
“The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” This clever versification of a well-known tale was written for the little son of the actor William Macready. According to Dr. Furnivall, the version used directly by Browning is from “The Wonders of the Little World: or A General History of Man,” by Nathaniel Wanley, published in 1578. There are, however, more incidents in common between the poem and the version given by Verstigan in his “Restitution of Decayed Intelligence” (1605). There are many other sources for the story, and it is not improbable that Browning knew more than one version. Tales similar to it occur also in Persia and China. For its kinship to myths of the wind as a musician, and as a psychopomp or leader of souls, see Baring-Gould, “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages”; John Fiske, “Myths and Myth-makers”; Cox, “Myths of the Aryan Races.”
–Hamlin, or Hamelin, is a town in the province of Hanover, Prussia.
THE FLIGHT OF THE DUCHESS
You’re my friend:
I was the man the Duke spoke to; I helped the Duchess to cast off his yoke, too; So here’s the tale from beginning to end, My friend!
Ours is a great wild country:
If you climb to our castle’s top, I don’t see where your eye can stop; For when you’ve passed the cornfield country, Where vineyards leave off, flocks are packed, 10 And sheep-range leads to cattle-tract,
And cattle-tract to open-chase,
And open-chase to the very base
Of the mountain where, at a funeral pace, Round about, solemn and slow,
One by one, row after row,
Up and up the pine-trees go,
So, like black priests up, and so
Down the other side again
To another greater, wilder country, 20 That’s one vast red drear burnt-up plain, Branched through and through with many a vein Whence iron’s dug, and copper’s dealt;
Look right, look left, look straight before– Beneath they mine, above they smelt,
Copper-ore and iron-ore,
And forge and furnace mould and melt, And so on, more and ever more,
Till at the last, for a bounding belt, Comes the salt sand hoar of the great sea shore 30 –And the whole is our Duke’s country.
I was born the day this present Duke was– (And O, says the song, ere I was old!) In the castle where the other Duke was– (When I was happy and young, not old!) I in the kennel, he in the bower:
We are of like age to an hour.
My father was huntsman in that day; Who has not heard my father say
That, when a boar was brought to bay, 40 Three times, four times out of five,
With his huntspear he’d contrive
To get the killing-place transfixed, And pin him true, both eyes betwixt?
And that’s why the old Duke would rather He lost a salt-pit than my father,
And loved to have him ever in call; That’s why my father stood in the hall
When the old Duke brought his infant out To show the people, and while they passed 50 The wondrous bantling round about,
Was first to start at the outside blast As the Kaiser’s courier blew his horn
Just a month after the babe was born. “And,” quoth the Kaiser’s courier,” since The Duke has got an heir, our Prince
Needs the Duke’s self at his side:” The Duke looked down and seemed to wince, But he thought of wars o’er the world wide, Castles a-fire, men on their march, 60 The toppling tower, the crashing arch;
And up he looked, and awhile he eyed The row of crests and shields and banners Of all achievements after all manners,
And “ay,” said the Duke with a surly pride. The more was his comfort when he died At next year’s end, in a velvet suit,
With a gilt glove on his hand, his foot In a silken shoe for a leather boot,
Petticoated like a herald, 70 In a chamber next to an ante-room,
Where he breathed the breath of page and groom, What he called stink, and they, perfume: –They should have set him on red Berold Mad with pride, like fire to manage!
They should have got his cheek fresh tannage Such a day as to-day in the merry sunshine! Had they stuck on his fist a rough-foot merlin! (Hark, the wind’s on the heath at its game! Oh for a noble falcon-lanner 80 To flap each broad wing like a banner,
And turn in the wind, and dance like flame!) Had they broached a white-beer cask from Berlin –Or if you incline to prescribe mere wine Put to his lips, when they saw him pine, A cup of our own Moldavia fine,
Cotnar for instance, green as May sorrel And ropy with sweet–we shall not quarrel.
So, at home, the sick tall yellow Duchess Was left with the infant in her clutches, 90 She being the daughter of God knows who: And now was the time to revisit her tribe. Abroad and afar they went, the two,
And let our people rail and gibe At the empty hall and extinguished fire, As loud as we liked, but ever in vain, Till after long years we had our desire, And back came the Duke and his mother again.
And he came back the pertest little ape That ever affronted human shape; 100 Full of his travel, struck at himself.
You’d say, he despised our bluff old ways? –Not he! For in Paris they told the elf Our rough North land was the Land of Lays, The one good thing left in evil days; Since the Mid-Age was the Heroic Time,
And only in wild nooks like ours Could you taste of it yet as in its prime, And see true castles, with proper towers, Young-hearted women, old-minded men, 110 And manners now as manners were then.
So, all that the old Dukes had been, without knowing it, This Duke would fain know he was, without being it; ‘Twas not for the joy’s self, but the joy of his showing it, Nor for the pride’s self, but the pride of our seeing it, He revived all usages thoroughly worn-out, The souls of them fumed-forth, the hearts of them torn-out: And chief in the chase his neck he perilled On a lathy horse, all legs and length,
With blood for bone, all speed, no strength; 120 –They should have set him on red Berold With the red eye slow consuming in fire, And the thin stiff ear like an abbey-spire!
Well, such as he was, he must marry, we heard: And out of a convent, at the word,
Came the lady, in time of spring.
–Oh, old thoughts they cling, they cling! That day, I know, with a dozen oaths
I clad myself in thick hunting-clothes Fit for the chase of urochs or buffle 130 In winter-time when you need to muffle.
But the Duke had a mind we should cut a figure, And so we saw the lady arrive:
My friend, I have seen a white crane bigger! She was the smallest lady alive,
Made in a piece of nature’s madness, Too small, almost, for the life and gladness That over-filled her, as some hive
Out of the bears’ reach on the high trees Is crowded with its safe merry bees: 140 In truth, she was not hard to please!
Up she looked, down she looked, round at the mead, Straight at the castle, that’s best indeed To look at from outside the walls:
As for us, styled the ” serfs and thralls,” She as much thanked me as if she had said it, (With her eyes, do you understand?)
Because I patted her horse while I led it; And Max, who rode on her other hand, Said, no bird flew past but she inquired 150 What its true name was, nor ever seemed tired– If that was an eagle she saw hover,
And the green and grey bird on the field was the plover. When suddenly appeared. the Duke:
And as down she sprung, the small foot pointed On to my hand,–as with a rebuke,
And as if his backbone were not jointed, The Duke stepped rather aside than forward And welcomed her with his grandest smile; And, mind you, his mother all the while 160 Chilled in the rear, like a wind to Nor’ward; And up, like a weary yawn, with its pullies Went, in a shriek, the rusty portcullis; And, like a glad sky the north-wind sullies, The lady’s face stopped its play,
As if her first hair had grown grey; For such things must begin some one day.
In a day or two she was well again;
As who should say, “You labour in vain! This is all a jest against God, who meant 170 I should ever be, as I am, content
And glad in his sight; therefore, glad I will be.” So, smiling as at first went she.
She was active, stirring, all fire–
Could not rest, could not tire–
To a stone she might have given life! (I myself loved once, in my day)
–For a shepherd’s, miner’s, huntsman’s wife, (I had a wife, I know what I say)
Never in all the world such an one! 180 And here was plenty to be done,
And she that could do it, great or small, She was to do nothing at all.
There was already this man in his post, This in his station, and that in his office, And the Duke’s plan admitted a wife, at most, To meet his eye, with the other trophies, Now outside the hall, now in it,
To sit thus, stand thus, see and be seen, At the proper place in the proper minute, 190 And die away the life between.
And it was amusing enough, each infraction Of rule–(but for after-sadness that came) To hear the consummate self-satisfaction With which the young Duke and the old dame Would let her advise, and criticise,
And, being a fool, instruct the wise, And, child-like, parcel out praise or blame: They bore it all in complacent guise,
As though an artificer, after contriving 200 A wheel-work image as if it were living, Should find with delight it could motion to strike him! So found the Duke, and his mother like him: The lady hardly got a rebuff–
That had not been contemptuous enough, With his cursed smirk, as he nodded applause, And kept off the old mother-cat’s claws.
So, the little lady grew silent and thin, Paling and ever paling,
As the way is with a hid chagrin; 210 And the Duke perceived that she was ailing, And said in his heart, “‘Tis done to spite me, But I shall find in my power to right me!” Don’t swear, friend! The old one, many a year, Is in hell, and the Duke’s self . . . you shall hear.
Well, early in autumn, at first winter-warning, When the stag had to break with his foot, of a morning, A drinking-hole out of the fresh tender ice That covered the pond till the sun, in a trice, Loosening it, let out a ripple of gold, 220 And another and another, and faster and faster Till, dimpling to blindness, the wide water rolled: Then it so chanced that the Duke our master Asked himself what were the pleasures in season, And found, since the calendar bade him be hearty, He should do the Middle Age no treason
In resolving on a hunting-party. Always provided, old books showed the way of it! What meant old poets by their strictures? And when old poets had said their say of it, 230 How taught old painters in their pictures? We must revert to the proper channels,
Workings in tapestry, paintings on panels, And gather up woodcraft’s authentic traditions: Here was food for our various ambitions, As on each case, exactly stated–
To encourage your dog, now, the properest chirrup Or best prayer to Saint Hubert on mounting your stirrup– We of the household took thought and debated. Blessed was he whose back ached with the jerkin 240 His sire was wont to do forest-work in;
Blesseder he who nobly sunk “ohs”
And “ahs” while he tugged on his grandsire’s trunk-hose; What signified hats if they had no rims on, Each slouching before and behind like the scallop, And able to serve at sea for a shallop, Loaded with lacquer and looped with crimson? So that the deer now, to make a short rhyme on’t, What with our Venerers, Prickers and Verderers, 250 Might hope for real hunters at length and not murderers, And oh the Duke’s tailor, he had a hot time on’t!
Now you must know that when the first dizziness Of flap-hats and buff-coats and jack-boots subsided, The Duke put this question, “The Duke’s part provided, Had not the Duchess some share in the business?” For out of the mouth of two or three witnesses Did he establish all fit-or-unfitnesses: And, after much laying of heads together, Somebody’s cap got a notable feather
By the announcement with proper unction 260 That he had discovered the lady’s function; Since ancient authors gave this tenet,
“When horns wind a mort and the deer is at siege, Let the dame of the castle prick forth on her jennet, And with water to wash the hands of her liege In a clean ewer with a fair toweling,
Let her preside at the disemboweling.” Now, my friend, if you had so little religion As to catch a hawk, some falcon-lanner, And thrust her broad wings like a banner 270 Into a coop for a vulgar pigeon;
And if day by day and week by week
You cut her claws, and sealed her eyes, And clipped her wings, and tied her beak, Would it cause you any great surprise If, when you decided to give her an airing, You found she needed a little preparing? –I say, should you be such a curmudgeon, If she clung to the perch, as to take it in dudgeon? Yet when the Duke to his lady signified, 280 Just a day before, as he judged most dignified, In what a pleasure she was to participate,– And, instead of leaping wide in flashes, Her eyes just lifted their long lashes, As if pressed by fatigue even he could not dissipate, And duly acknowledged the Duke’s fore-thought, But spoke of her health, if her health were worth aught, Of the weight by day and the watch by night, And much wrong now that used to be right, So, thanking him, declined the hunting– 290 Was conduct ever more affronting?
With all the ceremony settled–
With the towel ready, and the sewer Polishing up his oldest ewer,
And the jennet pitched upon, a piebald, Black-barred, cream-coated and pink eye-balled– No wonder if the Duke was nettled!
And when she persisted nevertheless,– Well, I suppose here’s the time to confess That there ran half round our lady’s chamber 300 A balcony none of the hardest to clamber; And that Jacynth the tire-woman, ready in waiting,
Stayed in call outside, what need of relating? And since Jacynth was like a June rose, why, a fervent Adorer of Jacynth of course was your servant; And if she had the habit to peep through the casement, How could I keep at any vast distance? And so, as I say, on the lady’s persistence, The Duke, dumb-stricken with amazement,
Stood for a while in a sultry smother, 310 And then, with a smile that partook of the awful, Turned her over to his yellow mother
To learn what was held decorous and lawful; And the mother smelt blood with a cat-like instinct, As her cheek quick whitened thro’ all its quince-tinct. Oh, but the lady heard the whole truth at once! What meant she?–Who was she?–Her duty and station, The wisdom of age and the folly of youth, at once, Its decent regard and its fitting relation– In brief, my friend, set all the devils in hell free 320 And turn them out to carouse in a belfry And treat the priests to a fifty-part canon, And then you may guess how that tongue of hers ran on! Well, somehow or other it ended at last
And, licking her whiskers, out she passed; And after her,–making (he hoped) a face Like Emperor Nero or Sultan Saladin, Stalked the Duke’s self with the austere grace Of ancient hero or modern paladin,
>From door to staircase–oh such a solemn 330 Unbending of the vertebral column!
However, at sunrise our company mustered; And here was the huntsman bidding unkennel, And there ‘neath his bonnet the pricker blustered, With feather dank as a bough of wet fennel; For the court-yard walls were filled with fog You might have cut as an axe chops a log– Like so much wool for colour and bulkiness; And out rode the Duke in a perfect sulkiness, Since, before breakfast, a man feels but queasily 340 And a sinking at the lower abdomen
Begins the day with indifferent omen. And lo, as he looked around uneasily,
The sun ploughed the fog up and drove it asunder This way and that from the valley under; And, looking through the court-yard arch, Down in the valley, what should meet him But a troop of Gipsies on their march? No doubt with the annual gifts to greet him.
Now, in your land, Gipsies reach you, only 350 After reaching all lands beside;
North they go, South they go, trooping or lonely And still, as they travel far and wide, Catch they and keep now a trace here, a trace there, That puts you in mind of a place here, a place there. But with us, I believe they rise out of the ground, And nowhere else, I take it, are found
With the earth-tint yet so freshly embrowned: Born, no doubt, like insects which breed on The very fruit they are meant to feed on. 360 For the earth-not a use to which they don’t turn it, The ore that grows in the mountain’s womb, Or the sand in the pits like a honeycomb, They sift and soften it, bake it and burn it– Whether they weld you, for instance, a snaffle With side-bars never a brute can baffle; Or a lock that’s a puzzle of wards within wards; Or, if your colt’s fore-foot inclines to curve inwards, Horseshoes they hammer which turn on a swivel And won’t allow the hoof to shrivel. 370 Then they cast bells like the shell of the winkle That keep a stout heart in the ram with their tinkle; But the sand-they pinch and pound it like otters; Commend me to Gipsy glass-makers and potters! Glasses they’ll blow you, crystal-clear, Where just a faint cloud of rose shall appear, As if in pure water you dropped and let die A bruised black-blooded mulberry;
And that other sort, their crowning pride, With long white threads distinct inside, 380 Like the lake-flower’s fibrous roots which dangle Loose such a length and never tangle,
Where the bold sword-lily cuts the clear waters, And the cup-lily couches with all the white daughters: Such are the works they put their hand to, The uses they turn and twist iron and sand to. And these made the troop, which our Duke saw sally Toward his castle from out of the valley, Men and women, like new-hatched spiders, Come out with the morning to greet our riders. 390 And up they wound till they reached the ditch, Whereat all stopped save one, a witch
That I knew, as she hobbled from the group, By her gait directly and her stoop,
I, whom Jacynth was used to importune To let that same witch tell us our fortune. The oldest Gipsy then above ground;
And, sure as the autumn season came round, She paid us a visit for profit or pastime, And every time, as she swore, for the last time. 400
And presently she was seen to sidle
Up to the Duke till she touched his bridle, So that the horse of a sudden reared up
As under its nose the old witch peered up With her worn-out eyes, or rather eye-holes Of no use now but to gather brine,
And began a kind of level whine Such as they used to sing to their viols When their ditties they go grinding
Up and down with nobody minding 410 And then, as of old, at the end of the humming Her usual presents were forthcoming
–A dog-whistle blowing the fiercest of trebles, (Just a sea-shore stone holding a dozen fine pebbles) Or a porcelain mouth-piece to screw on a pipe-end– And so she awaited her annual stipend.
But this time, the Duke would scarcely vouchsafe A word in reply; and in vain she felt With twitching fingers at her belt
For the purse of sleek pine-martin pelt, 420 Ready to put what he gave in her pouch safe– Till, either to quicken his apprehension, Or possibly with an after-intention,
She was come, she said, to pay her duty To the new Duchess, the youthful beauty. No sooner had she named his lady,
Than a shine lit up the face so shady, And its smirk returned with a novel meaning– For it struck him, the babe just wanted weaning; If one gave her a taste of what life was and sorrow, 430 She, foolish today, would be wiser tomorrow; And who so fit a teacher of trouble
As this sordid crone bent well-nigh double? So, glancing at her wolf-skin vesture,
(If such it was, for they grow so hirsute That their own fleece serves for natural fur-suit) He was contrasting, ’twas plain from his gesture, The life of the lady so flower-like and delicate With the loathsome squalor of this helicat. I, in brief, was the man the Duke beckoned 440 From out of the throng, and while I drew near He told the crone-as I since have reckoned By the way he bent and spoke into her ear With circumspection and mystery–
The main of the lady’s history,
Her frowardness and ingratitude:
And for all the crone’s submissive attitude I could see round her mouth the loose plaits tightening, And her brow with assenting intelligence brightening As though she engaged with hearty goodwill 450 Whatever he now might enjoin to fulfil, And promised the lady a thorough frightening.
And so, just giving her a glimpse
Of a purse, with the air of a man who imps The wing of the hawk that shall fetch the hernshaw, He bade me take the Gipsy mother
And set her telling some story or other Of hill or dale, oak-wood or fernshaw,
To wile away a weary hour
For the lady left alone in her bower, 460 Whose mind and body craved exertion
And yet shrank from all better diversion.
Then clapping heel to his horse, the mere curveter, Out rode the Duke, and after his hollo Horses and hounds swept, huntsman and servitor, And back I turned and bade the crone follow. And what makes me confident what’s to be told you Had all along been of this crone’s devising, Is, that, on looking round sharply, behold you, There was a novelty quick as surprising: 470 For first, she had shot up a full head in stature, And her step kept pace with mine nor faltered, As if age had foregone its usurpature,
And the ignoble mien was wholly altered, And the face looked quite of another nature, And the change reached too, whatever the change meant, Her shaggy wolf-skin cloak’s arrangement: For where its tatters hung loose like sedges, Gold coins were glittering on the edges, Like the band-roll strung with tomans 480 Which proves the veil a Persian woman’s: And under her brow, like a snail’s horns newly Come out as after the rain he paces, Two unmistakeable eye-points duly
Live and aware looked out of their places. So, we went and found Jacynth at the entry Of the lady’s chamber standing sentry;
I told the command and produced my companion, And Jacynth rejoiced to admit any one,
For since last night, by the same token, 490 Not a single word had the lady spoken:
They went in both to the presence together, While I in the balcony watched the weather.
And now, what took place at the very first of all, I cannot tell, as I never could learn it: Jacynth constantly wished a curse to fall On that little head of hers and burn it
If she knew how she came to drop so soundly Asleep of a sudden and there continue The whole time sleeping as profoundly 500 As one of the boars my father would pin you ‘Twixt the eyes where life holds garrison, –Jacynth forgive me the comparison!
But where I begin my own narration