Gadget by The Blog Doctor.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Scene: 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 earnest glance,
But to myself they turn (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
Ans 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 faing
Half-flush that dies along her throat"; such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enohgh
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 drooping 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's stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even if you had skill
In speech - (which I hae 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, not doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. Thee 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, tho',
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

It is amazing that a man of such cold blooded and casual violence could have such power over life and death. Pity the "fair daughter" of the Count who is to replace the Duke's former wife who had been murdered by his order - "I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together". She was killed because of her natural innocence and natural sexuality. It is quite possible that the transgressions of the former Duchess were only in the mind of the Duke. The new wife had better be warned very carefully about the sort of deferential behaviour required by her new husband.

What makes the Duke even more frightening is that although he has the instincts and morals of a gangster, he has the patina of a gentleman and is a connoisseur of fine art.

1 comment:

Gigadibs said...

To be fair Alfonso II (the speaker) was the grandson of Lucretia Borgia, so it was in his blood so to speak.

The chilling part is that in certain parts of rennaisance Italy executing an unfaithful wife, simply wasn't a crime.

No different to so called "honour killings" today, except they are a crime - but not under Sharia law it seems.