Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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know:
One more half-hour of her saved I She 's dead

now, Sirs !
While I was running on at such a rate.
Friends should have plucked me by the sleeve :

I went
Too much o' the trivial outside of her face
And the pnritv that shone there — plain to me,
Not to yon, what more natural ? Nor am I
Infatui^ed, — oh, I saw, be sure I
Her brow had not the right line, leaned too

much.
Painters would say ; they like the straight-up

Gkeek:
This seemed bent somewhat with an invisible

crown
Of martyr and saint, not such as art ap proves.
And how the dark orbs dwelt deep underneath.
Looked out of such a sad sweet heaven on me I
The lips, compressed a little, came forward too.
Careful for a whole world of sin and pain.
That was the face, her husband makes his plea,
He sought just to disfigure, — no offence
Beyona that ! Sirs, let us be rational I
He needs must vindicate his honor. — ay,
Yet shirks, the coward, in a clown's disguise.
Away from the scene, endeavors to escape.
Now, had he done so, slain and left no trace
O' the slaver, — what were vindicated, pray ?
You had found his wife disfigured or a come,
For what and by whom ? It is too palpable 1
Then, here 's another point involving law :
I use this argument to show you meant
No calumny against us by that title
O' the sentence, — liars try to twist it so :
What penalty it bore, I had to pav
Till further proof should follow of innocence —
Probationis ob dtfectum, — proof?
How could yon get proof without trying us ?
You went through tne preliminary form.
Stopped there, contrived this sentence to amuse



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The adyenary. If the title ran

For more than fault imputed and not proyed,

That was a simple penman's error, else

A slip i' the phrase, — as when we say of you

** Charged with injustice " — which may either

be
Or not be, — 't is a name that sticks mean-
while.
Another relevant matter: fool that I ami
Not what I wish true, yet a point friends urge :
It is not true, — yet, since friends think it

helps, —
She only tried me when some others failed —
Berai with Conti, whom I told 70u of,
And Guillichini, Quido's kinsfolk botL
And when abandoned by them, not before,
Turned to me. That's conolusiTe why she

turned.
Much good they got by the happy cowardice !
Conti is dead, poisoned a month ago :
Does that much strike you as a sin? Not

much.
After the present murder, — one mark more
On the Moor's skin, — what is black by blacker

still?
Conti had come here and told truth. And so
With GtdUichini ; he 's condemned of course
To Uie galleys, as a friend in this affair,
Tried and condemned for no one thing i' the

world,
A fortnight since by who but the Goyemor ? —
The just judge, who refused Pompilia help
At first blush, being her husband's friend, you

know.
There are two tales to suit the separate courts,
Arezzo and Rome : he tells you here, we fled
Alone, unhelped, — lays stress on the main

fault.
The spiritual sin, Rome looks to : but elsewhere
He likes best we should break in. steal, bear off,
Be fit to brand and pillory and flog —
That's the charge goes to the neart of the

Goyemor:
If these unroiest me, you and I may yet
Conyerse, Vinoenzo Marzi-Medioi 1
Oh, Sirs, there are worse men than you, I say I
More easily duped, I mean ; this stupid lie,
Its liar neyer dared propound in Rome,
He gets Arezzo to receiye. — nay more.
Gets Florence and the Duke to authorize I
This is their Rota's sentence, their Granduke
Signs and seals I Rome for me henceforward

— Rome,
Where better men are, — most of all, that man
The Au^rustinian of the Hospital,
Who wntes the letter, —he confessed, he says.
Many a dying person, neyer one
So sweet and true and pure and beautifuL
A good man I Will you make him Pope one

day?
Not that he is not good too, this we haye —
But old, —else he would have his word to

speak.
His truth to teach the world : I thirst for truth.
But shall not drink it till I reach the source.

Sirs, I am c^niet again. Tou see, we are
So yery intiable, she and I,



Who had conceiyably been otherwise.
Forget distemperature add idle heat I
Apart from truth's sake, what's to moye so

much ?
Pompilia will be presently with God ;
I am, on earthy as good as out of it,
A relegated pnest ; when exile ends,
I mean to do my duty and liye long.
She and I are mere strangers now : but priests
Should stud^ passion ; how else cure mankind,
Who come for help in passionate extremes ?
I do but play with an miagined life
Of who, unfettered by a yow, unblessed
By the higher call, — since you will haye it

so,—
Leads it companioned by the woman there.
To liye, and see her learn, and learn by her.
Out of the low obscure and petty worla —
Or only see one purpose and one will
Eyolye themselyes i' the world, change wrong

to right:
To haye to do with nothing but the true.
The good, the eternal — and these, not alone
In the main current of the general life,
But small experiences of every day.
Concerns of the particular heurth and home :
To learn not onlv by a comet's rush
But a rose's birth, — not by the grandeur,

God, —
But the comfort, Christ. All this, how far

away I
Mere delectation, meet for a minute's dream ! —
Just as a drudging student trims his- lamp.
Opens his Flutarcua, puts him in the place
Of Roman, Grecian ; draws the patched gown

dose.
Dreams, ** Thus should I fight, save or rule the

•world!"-
Then smilingly, contentedly, awakes
To the old soktary nothingness.
So I, from such communion, pass content . • •

great, just, good God I Miserable me !



VII

POMPILIA

I am just seyenteen years and five months old.
And, if I lived one day more, three full weeks ;
'T is writ so in the church's register,
Lorenzo in Ludna, all my names
At length, rx> many names for one poor child,
— Francesca Camilla Vittoria Any la
Pompilia ComparinL — laughable I
Also 't is writ that I was married there
Four years ago : and they will add. I hope.
When they insert my death, a word or two, —
Omittinfi^ all about the mode of death, —
This, in its place, this which one cares to know,
That I had Deen a mother of a son
Exactly two weeks. It will be through grace
O' the Curate, not through any claim I have :
Because the boy was bom at, so baptized
Close to, the Villa, in the proper church:
A pretty church, I say no word against,
Tet strangex^like, — while this Lorenzo aeems



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POMPILTA



509



My own partioiiliir place, I always say.
I used to wonder, wken I stood scaroe high
As the bed here, what the marble lion meant.
With half his body mshing from the wall,
Eating the figure of a prostrate man —

20 the rigrht, it is, of entry by the door) —
1 ominous sigrn to one baptized like me.
Married, and to be buried there, 1 hope.
And they should add, to have my life complete.
He is a bov and Gaetan b/ name —
Gaetano, tor a reason, — if the friar
Don Celesdne will ask this grace for me
Of Curate Ottoboni : he it was
Baptized me : he remembers my whole life
As I do his gray hair.

All these few things
I know are true, — will you remember them ?
Beoftuse time flies. The surgeon cared for me.
To count my wounds, — twenty-two dagger-
wounds.
Five deadly, but I do not suffer much —
Or too much pain, —and am to die to-night.

Oh how good God is that my babe was bora,
— Better than born, baptized and hid away
Before this hapi>ened, saie from being hurt !
That had been sin God could not well f orgire :
He was too young to smile and saye himself.
When they took, two days after he was born,
My babe away from me to be baptized
And hidden awhile, for fear Lis foe should

find,—
The coundy-woman, used to nursing babes.
Said, "Why take on so? where is the great loss?
These next three weeks he will but sleep and

feed,
Only begin to smile at the month's end ;
He would not know you, if you kept him here.
Sooner than that ; so, spend three merry weeks
Snug in the Villa, ^tting strong and stout.
And then I bring him back to be your own.
And both of you may steal to— we know

where!"
The month —there wants of it two weeks this

day I
Stin. I half fancied when I heard the knock
At the Villa in the dusk, it mi^ht prove she —
Come to say, " Since he smiles before the time,
Whv should I cheat you out of one good hour ?
Back I have brought him : speak to him and

^jud^I"
Now I shall never see him ; what is worse,
When he grows up and gets to be my age.
He will seem hardly more than a great boy ;
Andif heasks, " What was my mother like ? "
People may answer, "like girls of seven-

teen»' —
And how can he but think of this and that,
Ludas. Marias, Sofias, who titter or blush
When ne regards them as such boys may do ?
Therefore I wish some one will please to say
I looked already old though I was youne ;
Do I not . . . say, if yon are by to speak . . .
Look nearer twenty f No more like, at least.
Girls who look arch or redden when boys laufi^
Than the poor Virgin that I used to know
At onr street-corner in a lonely niche, —



The babe, that sat upon her knees, broke off, —
Thin white glazed clay, you pitied her the

more:
She, not the gay ones, always got my rose.

How happv those are who know how to write !
Such could write what their son should read in

time.
Had they a whole day to live out like me.
Also m^r name is not a conomon name,
" Pompilia," and may help to keep apart
A little the thing I am from what girls are.
But then how far away, how hard to find
Will anything about me have become.
Even if the boy bethink himself and ask I
No father that ever knew at all.
Nor ever had — no, never had, I say I
That is the truth, — nor any mother left.
Out of the little two weeks that she lived,
Fit for such memory as might assist :
As good too as no family, no name.
Not even poor old Pietro*s name, nor hers.
Poor kind unwise Violante, since it seems
They must not be my parents any more.
That IB why something put it in my head
To call the boy " Gaetano " — no old name
For sorrow's sake ; I looked up to the dcy
And took a new saint to begin anew.
One who has only been made saint — how long ?
Twenty-five years : so. carefuUer, perhaps.
To guard a namesake than those old saints grow.
Tired out by this time, — see my own five

saints I

On second thoughts, I hope he will regard

The history of me as what some one cueamed.

And get to disbelieve it at the last :

Since to myself it dwindles fast to that.

Sheer dreaming and impossibility, —

Just in four days too I All the seventeen years.

Not once did a suspicion vint me

How very different a lot is mine

From any other woman's in the world.

The reason must be, 't was by step and step

It got to grow so terrible and strange.

These strange woes stole on tiptoe, as it were.

Into my neighborhood and privacy.

Sat down where I sat^ laid them where I lay ;

And I was found familiarized with fear.

When friends broke in, held up a torch and

cried,
" Why, you Pompilia in the cavern thus.
How comes that arm of yours about a wolf ?
And JJie soft length, — bes in and out your feet
And laps you round the knee, — a snake it is ! "
And so on.

Well, and they are right enough.
By the torch they hold up now: for fint,

observe,
I never had a father, — no, nor yet
A mother : my own boy can say at least,
" I had a mother whom I kept two weeks I "
Not It;who little used to dou Dt ... J doubt
Good Pietro, kind Violante. gave me birth ?
Thev loved me always as I love my babe
( — Nearly so, that is— quite so could not

be—)



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Did for me all I meant to do for him.
Till one surprising day, three years ago.
They both declared, at Rome, before some

judge
In some court where the people flocked to hear,
That really I had neyer been their child.
Was a mere castaway, the careless crime
Of an unknown man, the crime and care too

much
Of a woman known too well, — little to these.
Therefore, of whom I was the flesh and blood :
What then to Pietro and Violante, both
No more my relatives than you or vou ?
Nothing to them 1 You know what they de-
dared.

So with my husband, — just such a surprise,
Such a mistake, in that relationship I
Every one says that husbands love their wives.
Guard them and guide them, give them

happiness;
'T is dutv, law, pleasure^ religion : well.
Ton see how much of this oomes true in mine I
People indeed would fain have somehow proved
He was no husband : but he did not hear.
Or would not wait, and so has killed us all.
Then there is . . . only let me name one more !
lliere is the friend, — men will not ask about.
But tell untruths of, and give nicknames to.
And think my lover, most surprise of all !
Do only hear, it is the priest they mean,
Giuseppe Cs^nsacohi : a priest — love.
And love me ! Well, yet people think he did.
I am married, he has taken priestly vows,
^ey know that, and yet go on^say, the same.
** Yes, how he loves you P» ** That was love *'

— they sajr.
When anvthmg is answered that they ask :
Or else "No wonder you love him " — they say.
Then they shake heads, pity much, scarcely

blame —
As if we neither of us lacked excuse.
And anyhow are punished to the full.
And downright love atones for everything !
Nav, I heard read out in the public court
Before the judge, in presence of my friends.
Letters 't was said the priest had sent to me.
And other letters sent him by myself,
We being lovers I

Listen what this is like !
When I was a mere child, my mother . . .

that's
Violante, you must let me call her so, *
Nor waste time, trying to unlearn the word, . . .
She brought a neighbor's child of my own age
To play with me of rainy afternoons •
Ana, smce there hung a tapestry on the wall.
We two agreed to find each other out
Among the %nres. '* Tisbe, that is you.
With half-moon on your hair-knot, spear in

hand,
Flying, but no wings, only the great scarf
Blown to a bluish rainbow at your back :
Gall off your hound and leave the stag

alone I"
'•—And there are you, Pompilia, such green

leaves



Flourishing out of your five finger-ends.
And an the rest of you so brown and rough :
Why is it you are turned a sort of tree ? ''
You know the figures never were ourselves
Though we nicknamed them so. Thus, all my

As well what was, as what, like this, was

not, —
Looks old. fantastic and impossible :
I touch a lairy thing that fades and fades.
— Even to my babe ! I thought, when he wae

bom.
Something began for once that would not end.
Nor change into a laugh at me, but stay
Forevermore, eternally quite mine.
Well, so he is, — but yet ti^ey bore him off.
The third day, lest my husbajid should lay~



And eaten him, and pji

Since they have saved him so, it was well done :



, and by means of him catch me.



Yet thence comes such confusion of what was
With what will be, — that late seems long ago.
And, what years should bring round, a^eady^

come.
Till even he withdraws into a dream
As the rest do: I fancy him grown great.
Strong, stem, a tall young man who tutors me»
Frowns with the others, **Poor imprudent

child!
Why did you venture out of the safe street ?
Why go so far from help to that lone house ?
Why open at the whisper and the knock ? '*

Six days ago when it was New Year's day.
We bent above the fire and talked of him.
What he should do when he was grown and

great.
Violante, Pietro, each had given the arm
I leant on, to walk by, from couch to chair
And fireside, — laughed, as Ilay safe at last,
" PompiUa's march from bed to board is made*.
Pompilia back again and with a babe,
Shall one day lend his arm and help her

walk I '^
Then we all wished each other more New

Years.
Pietro began to scheme — ** Our cause ia

giuned;
The law is stronger than a wicked man :
Let him henceforth go his way, leave us ours I
We will avoid the ci^, tempt no more
The greedy ones bjr feasting and puttde, —
Live at the other villa, we know where.
Still farther off, and we can watch the babe
Grow fast in the good air ; and wood is cheap
And wine sincere outside the city gate.
I still have two or three old friends will grope
Their way along the mere half-mile of roi^
With staff and lantern on a moonless night
When one needs talk : they 'U find me, never

fear.
And I 'U find them a flask of the old sort

yet!"
Violante said, " Yoi» chatter like a crow :
Pompilia tires o' the tattle, and shall to bed :
Do not too much the first day, — somewhat

more
To-morrow, and, the next, begin the cape



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POMPILIA



5"



And hood and ooat I I hare spnn wool

enonrh."
Oh. what a happy friendly eve was that I

And^ next day, ahoat noon, oat Fietro went —
He was so happy and would talk so mnoh,
Until Vlolante pushed and laughed him forth
Sight-seeing in the oold, — ** So much to see
r the churches I Swathe your throat three

times I " she cried,
** And, ahoTe all, heware the slippery ways.
And brinsp us all the news by supper-time ! "
He came hack late, laid by cloak, staff and hat.
Powdered so thick with snow it made us laugh.
Boiled a great log upon the ash o' the hearth,
And bade Violante treat us to a flask,
Because he had obeyed her faithfully.
Gone sight-see thionfi^ the seTen, and found no

church
To his mind like San GioTanni — ** There's the

fold.
And all the sheep together, big as cats I
And such a shepneroT. half the size of life.
Starts up and hears the angel " — when, at the

door,
A tap: we started up : you know the rest.

Pietro at least had done no harm, I know ;

Nor eren Violante, so much harm as makes

Such rerenge lawful. Certainly she erred —

Did wrong, how shall I dare say otherwise ? —

In telling that first falsehood, buying me

From my Door faulty mother at a price,

To pass on upon Pietro as his dula.

If one shoula take my babe, give him a name,

Say he was not Gaetano and my own.

But that some other woman made his mouth

And hands and feet, — how very false were that !

No good could come of that ; and all harm did.

Tet if a stranger were to represent

** Needs must you either give your babe to me

And let me call him mine f orevermore.

Of let your husband get him " — ah, my God,

That were a trial I refuse to fooe I

Well, just so here : it proved wrong but seemed

ri^t
To poor Violante — for there lay, she said.
My poor real dying mother in her rags.
Who put me from ner with the life and all,
Pov^y. pain, shame and disease at once.
To die the easier by what price I fetched —
Also (I hope) because I should be spared
Sorrow and sin, — why may not that have

helped?
y^ father, — he was no one, any one, —
The worse, the likelier, —call nim, — he who

came.
Was wicked for his pleasure, went his way^
And left no trace to track by ; there remamed
Nothing but me, the unnecessary life.
To catch up or let fall, —and yet a thing ^
She could make happy, be made happy with.
This poor Violante, — who would frown there-
at?

Well, God, you see ! Gk>d plants us where we

grow.
It is not that, because a bud is bom



At a wild brier^s end, full i' the wild beast^s

way.
We ought to pluck and put it out of reach
On the oak-tree top, — say, *^ There the bud

belongs 1"
She thought, moreover, real lies were lies told
For harm's sake; whereas this had good at

heart,
GkK>d for my mother, good for me, and good
For Pietro who was meant to love a babe,
And needed one to make his life of use.
Receive his house and land when he should

die.
Wrong, wrong, and always wrong I how plainly

wron^!
For see, this fault kept pricking, as faults do.
All the same at her heart: this falsehood

hatched.
She could not let it go nor keep it fast.
She told me so, — the first time I was found
Locked in her arms once more after the pain.
When the nuns let me leave them and go

home.
And both of us cried all the cares away, —
This it was set her on to make amends,
This brought about the marriage — rimply

this!
Do let me speak for her you blame so much I
When Paul, my husband's brother, found me

out.
Heard there was wealth for who should marry

me.
So, came and made a speech to ask my hand
For Guide, — she, instead of piercing straight
Through the pretence to the ignoble truth.
Fancied she saw Qod*a very finger point.
Designate just the time for planting me
(The wild-brier slip she plucked to love and

wear)
In soil when I could strike real root, and grow.
And get to be the thing I called myself :
For. wife and husband aro one flesn. God says.
Ana I, whose parents seemed such and wero

none.
Should in a husband have a husband now,
find nothing, this time, but was what it
led.



— An truth and no confusion any more.^

I know she meant all good to me, all pain

To herself,— since how could it be aught but

pain
To give me up, so, from her very breast.
The wilding flower-tree-branch that, all those

years.
She had got used to feel for and find fixed ?
She meant well : has it been so ill i' the main ?
That is but fair to ask : one cannot pudge
Of what has been the ill or well of life.
The day that one is dying, —sorrows change
Into not altogether sorrow-like ;
I do see strangeness but scarce misery.
Now it is over, and no danger more.
My child is safe j thero seems not so much pam.
It comes, most hke, that I am just absolved.
Purged of the past, the foul in me, washed

fair,—
One cannot both have and not have, you

know, —



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512



THE RING AND THE BOOK



BeinfiT right now, I am happy and color things.
Tea, ererybody that leaves fife sees all
Softened and bettered : so with other sights :
To me at least was never evening jet
But seemed far beautifnller than its dsy,
For past is past.

There was a fancy came.
When Mmewhere, in the journey with my

friend^
We stepped mto a hovel to get food ;
And there began a yelp here, a bark there, —
Misanderstanoing creatures that were wroth
And vexed themselves and us till we retired.
The hovel is life : no matter what dogs bit
Or cat scratched in the hovel I break from.
All outside is lone field, moon and such peace —
Flowing in, filling up as with a sea
Whereon^ comes Someone, walks fast on the

white,
Jesus Christ's self, Don Celestine declares^
To meet me and calm all things back agam.

Beside, up to my marriage, thirteen years
Were, each day, happy as the day was long :
This may have made the change too terrible.
I know uiat when Violante told me first
The cavfUier — she meant to bring next mom.
Whom I must also let take, kiss my hand —
Would be at San Lorenzo the same eve
And marrv me, — which over, we should go
Home both of us without him as before.
And, till she bade speak, I must hold my

tcngue.
Such being the correct way with girl-brides,
JVom whom one word would inake a father

blush, —
I know, I say, that when she told me this,
— WeU, I no more saw sense in what she said
Than a lamb does in people dipping wool ;
Onlv lay down and let myself be dipped.
Ana when next day the cavalier who came —
C^nsbe had told me that the slim young man
With wings at head, and wings at feet, and

sword
^ireatening a monster, in our tapestry,
Would eat a girl else, — was a cavalier) —
When he proved Ghiido Franceschini, — old
And nothing like so tall as I myself^
Hook-noseaand yellow in a bush of beard.
Much like a thing I saw on a boy's wrist|
He called an owl and used for catching birds, —
And when he took my hand and made a smile —
Why, the uncomf ortableness of it all
Seemed hardly more important in the case^
Than — when one gives you, say, a coin to

spend —
^ newness or its oldness ; if the piece
Weigh properly and buy you what you wish.
No matter whether you get grime or glare I
Men take the coin, return jou grapes and figs.
Here, marriage was the coin, a dirty piece
Would purchase me the praise of thoeel loved :
About what else should I concern myself ?

So, hardly knowing what a husband meant,
I supposed this or any man would serve,
ITo wnit the worse for being so uncouth :



For I was ill once and a doctor came
With a ^reat ugly hat, no plume thereto.
Black jerkin and black buckles and black

sword.
And white sharp beard over the ru£P in front,
And oh so lean, so sour-faced and austere I —
Who felt my pulse, made me put out my tongue.
Then oped a phial, dripped a drop or two
Of a black bitter sometning, — I was cured I



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 101 of 198)