My Last Duchess

- 1812-1889

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 't was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark'—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

More by Robert Browning

Two in the Campagna

I

I wonder do you feel to-day
        As I have felt since, hand in hand,
We sat down on the grass, to stray
        In spirit better through the land,
This morn of Rome and May? 


II

For me, I touched a thought, I know,
        Has tantalized me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw
        Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go. 


III

Help me to hold it! First it left
        The yellowing fennel, run to seed
There, branching from the brickwork’s cleft,
        Some old tomb’s ruin: yonder weed
Took up the floating weft, 


IV

Where one small orange cup amassed
        Five beetles,—blind and green they grope
Among the honey-meal: and last,
        Everywhere on the grassy slope
I traced it. Hold it fast! 


V

The champaign with its endless fleece
        Of feathery grasses everywhere!
Silence and passion, joy and peace,
        An everlasting wash of air—
Rome’s ghost since her decease. 


VI

Such life here, through such lengths of hours,
        Such miracles performed in play,
Such primal naked forms of flowers,
        Such letting nature have her way
While heaven looks from its towers! 


VII

How say you? Let us, O my dove,
        Let us be unashamed of soul,
As earth lies bare to heaven above!
        How is it under our control
To love or not to love? 


VIII

I would that you were all to me,
        You that are just so much, no more.
Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free!
        Where does the fault lie? What the core
O’ the wound, since wound must be? 


IX

I would I could adopt your will,
        See with your eyes, and set my heart
Beating by yours, and drink my fill
        At your soul’s springs,—your part my part
In life, for good and ill. 


X

No. I yearn upward, touch you close,
        Then stand away. I kiss your cheek,
Catch your soul’s warmth,—I pluck the rose
        And love it more than tongue can speak—
Then the good minute goes. 


XI

Already how am I so far
        Out of that minute? Must I go
Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
        Onward, whenever light winds blow,
Fixed by no friendly star? 


XII

Just when I seemed about to learn!
        Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern—
        Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.

My Star

All, that I know
   Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
   (Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
   Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
   They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
   They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
   Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.

Love in a Life

Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her,
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch's perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew,— 
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.

Yet the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune— 
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,—who cares?
But 'tis twilight, you see,—with such suites to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!