Thursday, March 29, 2007

PT: My Last Duchess


MY LAST DUCHESS

Ferrara


That's my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Fra Pandolf" by design, for never read
STrangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its eatnest 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, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much," or, "Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-blush 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 what'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 'twas all one! My favor 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
Somehoe -- 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'een then would some be stopping; and I chose
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 pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though this fair daughter's self, as I avowed
As 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!

--Robert Browning (1812-1889)


(O.J. Who? -- A masterpiece indeed. Rhymed and in iambic pentameter, too! Did you read it all the way through? What happened to the Duchess? Should we have been told, or is enough said in the white spaces between the words?)

Painting of Lucrezia deMedici, the real Duchess to Alphonse II of Ferrara.

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14 comments:

Norma said...

Yes, I always want to know--what happened. 900 year old name. Wow.

Good choice for today's assignment. My PT is up.

Kimberley McGill said...

The "content" between the lines says it all for me! Thanks for digging this one out - I remember it from my Lit class.

pepektheassassin said...

As to what happened, I think he left his gloves behind....

Tammy said...

I kept up but reading between the lines was way over my head :) Loved the chance to learn and read old poetry.

paris parfait said...

I remember this poem from college. Excellent choice for the prompt.

Rethabile said...

Masterful. Despite the "twas" and "what'er" utterances, it doesn't sound all that uncontemporary. Very few people can manage that.

gautami tripathy said...

Thank you for posting Robert Browning. I love his works. It goes so well with the panting.

chiefbiscuit said...

I presume GT means painting!!! :)

I have read this poem before and had that same feeling of heartless menace. I just love how the ending emphasises how the speaker sees the Duchess as just another of his possessions.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Thanks for sharing. I don't remember this from school. We were woefully lacking in a good grounding in poetry before the 20th Century.

wendy said...

I feel dumb...I don't undestand it...was she a tease..a flirt...oh, I knoew I should have finished college.....

Remiman said...

I enjoy reading Robert Browning, although I must confess the meanings, if they come at all, come only after many readings. That said, I'm sure I've met this lady and her owner too, here in our own times!
A perfect choice for the prompt.
rel

pepektheassassin said...

Yeah, I think she was a flirt. She "smiled" at everybody. Then she "stopped" smiling altogether. He did her in, and got away with it. Like somebody else we all know. Like chief says, she was something he owned, like the statue he shows off at the end.

Thanks for all the comments! This was fun.

k said...

Perhaps a flirt, yes. Perhaps an innocent flirt. Perhaps a sweet and gentle one, who simply liked to smile back at the sights that smiled at her and made her glad.

I do not like killers. I especially don't like killers of sweetness or innocence. I most especially don't like a killer of the same sweetness that drew him to her in the first place. Now add, a killer who pretended to love and cherish her as a human, instead of just another thing that he owned.

Oh, his nine hundred year old name was of great and superceding value! yes, and justified his trashing of what may well have been pure and plain goodness within her. Just because she didn't kill it off herself when it glowed for anyone else but him.

With great and subtle skill, Browning captured and then displayed the underlying sinister quality of this man.

Chad said...

Fantastic!