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3.3: My Last Duchess

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    3113
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    Robert Browning

    FERRARA

    That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

    Looking as if she were alive. I[1] call

    That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf[2]’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 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-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, ’twas 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 pretense

    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[3], though,

    Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

    Which Claus of Innsbruck[4] cast in bronze for me!

    —1842

    Contributors


    1. The Duke is based upon Alfonso II, fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533-97). In 1558, he married 14-year-old Lucrezia de’ Medici, who died in 1561 under suspicious circumstances. 
    2. Brother Pandolf, a fictitious painter from a monastic order. 
    3. Roman sea god, here depicted as subduing a mythical beast, half horse, half fish. 
    4. An imaginary sculptor. The reference may be an indirect compliment to Frederick of Innsbruck, Count of Tyrol, whose daughter Alfonso married in 1565. 
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