Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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In London now till, as in Florence erst,
A spirit laughs and leaps through every limb.
Ana lights my eye, and lifts me by the hair.
Letting me have my will again with these
— How title I the dead alive once more ?

Count Guido Franoesohini the Aretine,
Descended of an ancient house, though poor,
A beak-nosed bushy-bearded black-haired lord.
Lean, pallid* low 01 stature yet robust.
Fifty years old, — having four years ago
Married Pompilia Comparini, young,
Good, beautiful, at Rome, where she was bom«
And brought her to Arezzo, where they lived
Unhappy lives, whatever curse the cause, —
This husband, taking four accomplices.
Followed this wife to Rome, where she was fled
From their Arezzo to find peace aeain,
In convoy, eight months earlier, of a priest,
Aretine also, of still nobler birth,
Giuseppe Caponsaochi. — caught her there
Quiet in a villa on a Christmas night.
With only Pietro and Violante by.



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Both her putative parents ; killed the three,
Aged they, eeventy each, and she, seventeen.
And, two weeks since, the mother of his bahe
Pirst-bom and heir to what the style was

worth
O* the Gnido who determined, dared and did
This deed just as he purposed point by point.
Then, bent upon escape, but hotly pressed,
And captured with his co-mates that same

night.
He, broDffht to trial, stood on this defence —
Injury to nis honor caused the act ;
And since his wife was false, (as nuudfest^
By flight from home in such companionship,)
Death, jpunishment deserved of the false wife
And faithless parents who abetted her
I' the flight aforesaid, wronged nor God nor



** Nor false she, nor yet faithless they," replied
The accuser; *' cloaked and masked this

murder glooms ;
True was Pompilia, loval too the pair ;
Out of the man*s own heart a monster curled,
Which — crime coiled with connivancy at

crime —
His victim's breast, he tells yon, hatched and

reared;
Uncoil we and stretch stark the worm of hell I "
A month the trial swayed this way and that
Ere judgment settled down on Gmdo's guilt ;
Then was the Pope, that good Twelfth Innocent,
Appealed to : who well weighed what went be-
fore.
Affirmed the guilt and gave the guilty doom.

Let this old woe step on the stage again I
Act itself o*er anew for men to judee.
Not by the very sense and sight indeed —



(Which take at best imperfect oognizanoe.
Since, how heart moves brain, and how both

move hand.
What mortal ever in entirety saw ?)
— No dose of purer truth than man digests.
But truth with falsehood, milk that feeds nim

now.
Not strong meat he may get to bear some

day —
To wit, by voices we call evidence.
Uproar in the echo, live fact deadened down.
Talked over, bruited abroad, whispered away,
Tet helping na to all we seem to hear :
For how else know we save by worth of word ?

Here are the voices presently shall sound
In due succession. First, the world^s outcry
Around the rush and ripple of any fact
Fallen stonewise, plumo on the smooth face of

things;
The world's guess, as it crowds the bank o' the

pool.
At what were figure and substance, by their

splash:
Then, by vibrations in the general mind,
At depth of deed already out of reach.
This threefold murder oi the day before, —
Say, Half -Rome's feel after the vanished

truth ;
Honest enough, as the way is : all the same,



Harboring in the centre of its sense

A hidden germ of failure, shy but sure.

To neutrafize that honesty and leave

That feel fur truth at fault, as the way is too.

Some prepossession such as starts amiss.

By but a nair's breadth at the shoulder-blade.

The arm o' the feeler, dip he ne'er so bold ;

So leads arm waveringly, lets fall wide

0' the mark its finger, sent to find and fix

Truth at the bottom, that deceptive speck.

With this Half-Rome, — the source of swerving,

call
Over-belief in Guide's right and wrong
Rather than in Pompilia^s wrong and right :
Who shall say how, who shall say why r 'T is

^ there —
The instinctive theorizing whence a fact
Looks to the eye as the eye likes the look.
Gossip in a public place, a sample-speech.
Some worthy, with his previous hint to find
A husband's side the safer, and no whit
Aware he is not .^<acus the while, —
How such an one supposes and states fact
To whosoever of a multitude
Will listen, and perhaps prolong thereby
The not-unpleasant flutter at the breast.
Bom of a certain spectacle shut in
By the church Lorenzo opposite. So, they

lounge
Ifidway the mouth o' the street, on Corso side,
'Twixt palace Flano and palace Ruspoli,
Linger and listen ; keeping clear o' the crowd,
Yet wishful one could lend that crowd one's

eyes,
(So universal is its plague of squint)
And make hearts De^ our time that flutter

false:
— All for the truth's sake, mere truth, nothing

else!
How Half-Rome found for Guide much ex-



Next, from Rome's other half, the opposite

feel
For truth with a like swerve, like unsuccess, —
Or if success, by no skill but more luck.
This time, through siding rather with the wife
Because a fancy-^t inclined that way.
Than with the husband. One wears drab, one

pink;
Who wears pink, ask him ** Which shall win

the race.
Of coupled runners like as egg and egg ?"
*^ — Why, if I must choose, he with the pink

scarf."
Doubtless for some such reason choice fell here.
A piece of public talk to correspond
At the next stage of the story ; just a day
Let pass and new day brinsfs the proper change.
Another sample-speech i' the market-place
O' the Barberini by the Capucins ;
Where the old Triton, at his fountain-sport,
Bernini's creature plated to the paps,
Pu£E8 up steel sleet which breaks to diamond

dust,
A spray of sparkles snorted from his conch,
High over the caritellas, out o' the way
O' the motley merchandising multitude.



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THE RING AND THE BOOK



423



Oar murder has been done three days ago.
The fruet k over and gone, the aouth wind

langfas.
And, to the very tiles of each red roof
A-smoke i' the sunshine, Rome lies gold and

glad:
80, Usten how, to the other half of Rome,
Pompilia seemed a saint and martyr both I

Then, yet another day let oome and go.
With pause prelusive still of novelty.
Hear a fresh speaker ! — neither this nor that
Half-Rome aforesaid ; something bred of both :
One and one breed the inevitable three.
8ach is the personage haran^es you next ;
The elaborated product, teriium auid :
Rome's first commotion in subsiaenoe gives
The curd o' Uie cream, flower o' the wheat, as

it were,
And finer sense o* the city. Is this plain ?
You get a reasoned statement of the case.
Eventual verdict of the curious few
Who care to sift a business to the bran
Nor coarsely bolt it like the simpler sort.
Here, after ignorance, instruction speaks ;
Here, darity of candor, history's soul.
The critical mind, in short : no goenp-guMS.
What the superior social section thinks.
In person of some man of qualitv
Who — breathing musk from laoe-work and

brocade.
His solitaire amid the flow of frill.
Powdered peruke on nose, and bag at baek,
And cane dependent from the mmed wrist —
H a r angnes in silvery and selectest phrase
'Neath waxlight in a glorified saloon
Where mirrors multiply the girandole :
Courtiiu^ the approbation of no mob.
But Enunence This and All-Illustrious That
Who take snuff softly, range in well-bred ring,
Card-table-qnitters for observance* sake.
Around the argument, the rational word —
Still, spite its wei^t and worth, a sample-



How Quality dissertated on the case.

So much for Rome and rumor ; smoke comes

first:
Once let smoke rise untronbled, we descry
Clearlier what tongues of flame may spire and

spit
To eye and ear, each with appropriate tinge
According to its food, or pure or foul.
The actors, no mere rumors of the act.
Intervene. First you hear Count Guide's voice,
In a small chamber that adjoins the court,
Where Governor and Judges, summoned thenoe,
Tommati, Venturini and the rest,
find the accused ripe for declaring truth.
Soft-cushioned sits he ; yet shifts seat, shirks

touch.
As, with a twitohy brow and wincing lip
And cheek that changes to all kinds of white.
He proffers his defence, in tones subdued
Near to nuMsk-mildnesB now, so mournful seems
The obtuaer sense truth fails to satisfy ;
Now, moved, from pathos at the wrong oidured.
To passion ; for the natnral man is roused



At fools who first do wrong, then pour the blame
Of their wrong-doinj?, Satan-Uke, on Job.
Also his toDgue at tmies is hard to curb ;
Incisive, nigh satiric bites the phrase.
Rough-raw, yet somehow claiming privOege

— It is so hard for shrewdness to admit

FoUy means no harm when she culls black
white I

— Eruption momentary at the most.
Modified forthwith by a fall o' the fire.

Sage acquiescence ; for the world 's the worid,
And, what it errs in. Judges reotifv :
He feels he has a fist, then folds his arms
Crosswise and makes his mind up to be meek.
And never once does he detach his eye
From those ranged there to slay him or to save,
But doe his best man's-service for himself,
Despite, — what twitches brow and makes lip

winoe, —
His limbs' late taste of what was called the

Cord,
Or Vigil-torture more facetiously.
Even so ; they were wont to tease the truth
Out of loth witness (toying, trifling time)
Bj torture : 't was a trick, a vice of the ase.
Here, there and everywhere, what would yoa

have?
Religion uaed to tell Humanity
She gave him warrant or denied him course.
And since the course was much to his own mind,.
Of pinching flesh and pulling bone from bone
To nnh^iik truth a-hiaing in its hulls.
Nor whisper of a warning stopped Uie way,
He, in their jcunt behalf, the burlv slave.
Bestirred him, mauled and maimea all recusanti»
While, prim in place. Religion overlooked ;
And so nad done till doomsday, never a sign
Nor s<Nind of interference from her month.
But that at last the burly slave wiped brow.
Let eye give notice as if soul were there.
Muttered *^ 'T is a vile trick, foolish mrae than

vile,
ISiould have been counted sin ; I make it so:
At anv rate no more of it for me —
Nay, for I break the torture-engine thus I "
Then did Religion start up, stare amain.
Look round for help ana see none, smile and

^7
*'What, broken is the rack? WeU done o£

thee I
Did I f or^ret to abrogate its use ?
Be the mistake in common with us both I

— One more fault our blind lu^e shall answer f or^
Down in my book denounced though it must be
Somewhere. Henceforth find truth by milder

means I"
Ah but. Religion, did we wait for thee
To ope the book, that serves to sit upon^
And pick such place out, we should wait indeed!
That is all historv : and what is not now.
Was then, defendants found it to their cost.
How Guiao, after being tortured, spoke.

Also hear Caponsaochi who comes next,

Man and priest — could you comprehend the

coil f —
In days when that was rife which now is rare.
How, mingling each its multifarious wires.



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Now heayen, now earth, now heaven and earth

at once.
Had plucked at and perplexed their puppet

nere.
Played off the youn^ frank personable priest ;
8wom fast and tonsured plain heaven's celibate,
And yet earth's dear-accepted servitor,
A courtly spiritual Cupid, squire of dames
Bv law of love and mandate of the mode.
The Church's own, or why parade her seal.
Wherefore that chrism and consecratiye work ?
Yet verily the world's, or why go badged
A prince of sonneteers and lutanists,
Show color of each vanity in vogue
Borne with decorum due on blsmaeless breast ?
All that is changed now, as he tells the court
How he had played the part excepted at ;
Tells it, moreover, now the second time:
Since, for his cause of scandal, his own share
I' the flight from home and husband of the wife.
He has been censured, punished in a sort
By relegation, — exile, we should say.
To a short distance for a little time, ~
Whence he is summoned on a sudden now.
Informed that she, he thought to save, is lost,
And, in a breath, bidden re-teU his tale.
Since the first telling somehow missed effect.
And then advise in the matter. There stands he.
While the same grim black-panelled chamber



As though rubbed shiny with the sins of Rome
Told the same oak for ages — wave-washed wall
Against which sets a sea of wickedness.
There, where you yesterday heard Guide speak,
8peaks Caponsaochi ; and there face him too
Tonmiati, Y enturini and the rest
Who, eight months earlier, scarce repressed the

smile,
. Forewent the wink ; waived recognition so
Of peccadillos incident to youth,
Especially youth high-bom ; for youth means

love.
Vows can't change nature, priests are only men,
And love likes stratagem and subterfuge :
Which age, that once was youth, should recog-
nize.
May blame, but needs not press too hard upon.
Here sit the old Judges then, but with no grace
Of reverend carriage, magisterial port.
For why ? The accused of eight months since,

— the same ^
Who out the conscious figure of a fool.
Changed countenance, dropped bashful gaze to

ground.
While nesitating for an answer then, —
Now is grown judge himself, terrifies now
This, now the other culprit called a judge,
Whose turn it is to stammer and look stnmge.
As he speaks rapidly, angrily, speech that

smites:
And they keep silence, bear blow after blow.
Because the seeroing^oUtary man.
Speaking for God, mapr have an audience too.
Invisible, no discreet judge provokes.
How the priest Ci^Kmsacchi said his say.

Then a soul sighs its lowest and its last

After the loud ones, — so much breath remains



Unused by the f our^ys'-dying ; for she lived
Thus long, miraouloualv long, 't was thought.
Just that Pompilia might defend heiself .
How. while the hirelii^ and the alien stoop.
Comfort, yet question, — since the time is brie^
And folk, allowably inquisitive.
Encircle the low pallet where she lies
In the ^rood house that helps the poor to die, —
Pompilia tells the story of ner life.
For friend and lover, — leech and man of law
Do service; bus^ helpful ministrants
As varied in their caUing as their mind.
Temper and appe : and yet from all of these.
About the white bed under the arched roof.
Is somehow, as it were, evolved a one, —
Small separate sympatnies combined and lai^ge.
Nothings that were, grown something very

much:
As if the bystanders gave each his straw,
All he had, though a trifle in itself,
Which, plaited all together, made a Cross
Fit to die looking on and praying with.
Just as well as if ivory or gold.
So, to the common IdndliiMss she speaks.
There being scarce more privacy at the last
For mind than body : but she is used to bear.
And only unused to the brotherly look.
How she endeavored to explain her life.

Then, since a Trial ensued, a touch o' the same
To sober us, flustered with frothy talk.
And teach our common sense itshelplesBneas.
For why deal simply with divining-rod.
Scra|>e whero we fancy secret sources now.
And ignore law, the recognized machine.
Elaborate display of pipe and wheel
Framed to nnchoke, pump up and pour apace
Truth till a flowery foam shall wash the world ?
The patent truth-extraodng process, ~ ha ?
Let us make that grave mystery turn one wheel.
Give you a single grind of law at least !
One orator, of two on either side.
Shall teach us the puissance of the tongue
— That is, o' the pen which simulated tongue
On paper and saved all except the sound
Which never was. Law's speech beside law's

thought?
That were too stunning, too immense an odds :
That point of vantage law lets noblv pass.
One lawyer shall admit us to behold
The manner of the making out a case,
first fashion of a speech ; the chick in egg^
The masteroiece law's bcoom incubates.
How Don Giaointo of the ArcangeU,
Called Procurator of the Poor at Rome,
Now advocate for Guide and his mates, —
The ioUy learned man of middle age.
Cheek and jowl all in laps with fat and law.
Mirthful as mighty, vet, as great hearis use.
Despite the name and fame that tempt our flesh,
Constant to that devotion of the hearth.
Still captive in those dear domestic ties I —
How he, — having a cause to triumph with.
All kind of interests to keep intact.
More than one efficacious personage
To tranquillize, conciliate and secure.
And above all, public anxiety
To quiet, show its Guide in good hands, —



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425



Also, as if saoh bnrdeiis were too light,
A certain family-feast to olaim his care.
The birthday-hanqaet for the only son —
Patemitv at smiling strife with law —
How he brings both to buckle in one bond ;
And, thick at throat, with wateriah nndei^ye,
Toms to his task ana settles in his seat
And puts his ntmcet means inpractice now :
Wheexes oat law-phrase, whiffles Latin forth.
And, just as though roast lamb would neyer

Hakes kigic leYieate the big crime small :
Rubs palm on palm, rakes foot with itchy foot,
Conceives and mchoates the arfirnment.
Sprinkling each flower i4>propriate to the time,
— Oridian quip or Ciceronian crank,
A-bubble in the larvnz while he laughs.
As he had fritters aeep down frying there.
How he turns, twists, and tries the oily thing
Shall be — first speech for Quido 'gainst the

Fisc.
Then with a skip as it were from heel to head.
Leaving yonrselyes fill ui> the middle bulk
O* the Tnal, reconstruct its shape ausust,
Firom such exordium clap we to the close ;
Give you, if we dare wing to such a height.
The absolute ^lory in some full-grown speeoh
On the other side, some finished butterny.
Some breathing diamond-flake with leaf-gold

fans.
That takes the air, no trace of worm it was.
Or cabbage-bed it had nroduction from.
Giovambattista o* the fiottini, Fisc,
Pompilia*8 patron by the chance cf the hour.
To-morrow her persecutor, — composite, he.
As becomes who must meet such various calls —
Odds of age jmned in him with ends of youth.
A man of ready smile and facile tear.
Improvised hopes, despairs at ned and beck.
And language — ab, the gift of eloquence !
Language that goes, goes, easy as a glove.
O'er good and evil, smoothens both to one.
Rashness helps caution with him, fires the straw.
In free enthusiastic careless fit.
On the first proper pinnacle of rock
Which offers, as reward for all that zeal,
To lure some bark to founder and bring gain :
While calm sits Caution, nq>t with heavenward

eye,
A true confesBor's gaze, amid the glare
Beaconing to the breaker, death and hell.
*' Well done, thou good and faithful I " she 1^

proves:
*' Hadst thou let slip a fagot to the beach.
The crew mi^t surely spy thy precipice
And save their boat ; the simple and the slow
3fight so, forsooth, forestall tne wrecker's fee I
Let the next crew be wise and hail in time I "
Just so compounded is the outside man.
Blue juvenile pure eye and pippin cheek,
And brow all prematurely aoued and sMimed
With sudden a^, bright devastated hair.^
Ah, but you miss the very tones o' the voice.
The scrannel pipe that screams in heights of

head.
As, in his modest studio, all alone,
The tail wight stands a-tiptoe, strives and

strains.



Both eyes shut, like the cookaiel that would

crow.
Tries to his own sdf amorously o'er
What never will be uttered else than so —
Since to the four walls. Forum and Mars' HiH,
Speaks out the poesy which, pemied, turns

prose.
Clavecinist debarred his instrument,
He yet thrums — shirking neither turn nor trill,
Wiui desperate fincer on dumb table-edge —
The sovereign rondo, shall conclude his 8mte^
Charm an imaginary audience there,
From old Corelli to young Haendel. both
I' the flesh at Rome, ere ne pe^roe go print
The cold black score, mere music for the



The last speech against Guide and his gang,
With special end to prove Pompilia pure.
How the Fisc v i nd i cates Pompuia's tame.

Then comes the all but end, the ultimate
Judgment save yours. Pope Innocent the

Twelfth,
Simple, sagacious, mild yet resolute.
With prudence, probilnr and — what beside
From the other world he feels impress at times.
Having attained to fonrscoreyears and six, —
How, when the court found Cniido and the rest
Guilty, but law supplied a subterfuge
And passed the final sentence to the Pope,
He, bringing his intelligence to bear
This last time on what ball behoves him drop
In the urn, or white or black, does drop a black.
Send five souls more to jost precede his own.
Stand him in stead and witness, if need were.
How he is wont to do God's work on earth.
The manner of his sitting out the dim
Droop of a sombre February day
In the plain closet where he does such work.
With, from all Peter's treasury, one stool.
One table and one lathen cruomx.
There sits the Pope, his thoughts for company ;
Grave but not sad, — nay, something like a

cheer ^
Leaves the lips free to be benevolent,
Which^ all day long, did duty firm and fast.
A cherishing uiere is of foot and knee,
A chafing loose-skinned large-veined hand with



What steward but knows when stewardship

earns its wage.
May levy praise, anticipate the lord ?
He reads, notes, lays the papers down at last.
Muses, then takes a turn about the room ;
Unclasps a huge tome in an antique guise.
Primitive print and tongue half obsolete.
That stanos him in diunial stead ; opes page.
Finds place where falls the passage to be conned
Acooroing to an order long in use :
And, as he comes upon the evening's chance,
Starts somewhat, solemnizes straight his smile.
Then reads aloud that portion first to last.
And at the end lets fiow his own thoughts forth
Likewise aloud, for respite and relief.
Till by the dreary relics of the west
Wan through the half-moon window, all his

light.
He bows the head while the lips move in prayer,



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Writes some three brief lines, wigoa and seals

the same.
Tinkles a hand-bell, Hds the obseqnions Sir
Who puts foot presently o* the closet«ill
He watched outside of, bear as supersoribed •
That mandate to the (Joyemor forthwith :
Then heaves abroad his cares in one good sigh.
Traverses corridor with no arm's help.
And so to sop as a clear conscience should.
The manner of the judgment of the Pope.

Then must speak Guide yet a second time,
Satan's old saw being apt here — skin for skin.
All a man hath that will he me for life.
While life was graspable ana gainable.
And bird-like buzzed her wings round Ghudo's

brow.
Not much truth stiffened out the web of words
He wove to catch her : when awa^ she flew
And death came, death's breath nvelled up the

lies.
Left bare the metal thread, the fibre fine
Of truth, i' the spinning : Uie true words shone

last.
How Guide, to another purpose quite.
Speaks and despairs, the hist night ot his life.
In that New Prison by Castle Angelo
At the bridge-foot: the same man, another

Toice.
On a stone bench in a dose fetid cell.
Where the hot rapor of an agony.
Struck into drops on the ooldwall, runs down -*
Horrible worms made out of sweat and tears —
There crouch, wellnigh to the knees in dungeon-
straw.
Lit by the sole lamp suffered for their sake.
Two awe-struck figures, this a Cardinal,
That an Abate, both of old styled friends
O' the thingpart man, put monster in the midst.
So changed is Francesohini's gentle blood.
The tiger-cat screams now, that whined before.
That pried and tried and trod so ^ingeriy,
Till in its silkiness the trap-teeth joined ;
Tlien you know how the bristHng fury foams.
They usten, this wrapped in his folds of red,
While his feet fumble for the filth below ;
The other, as beseems a stouter heart.
Working his best with beads and cross to ban
The enemy that comes in like a fiood
Spite of the standard set up, verily
And in no trope at all, against him there :
For at the prison-j^te, just a few steps
Outside, already, in the doubtful dawn.
Thither, from tnis side and from that, slow

sweep
And setde down in silence solidly.
Crow-wise, the frightful Brotherhood of Death.
Black-hatted and olack-hooded huddle they.
Black rosaries a-dan^ling from each waist ;
So take they their gnm station at the door,
Torches lit, skuU-and-croesbones-banner spread.
And that gigantic Christ with open arms.
Grounded. Nor lacks there aught but that the

group
Break forth, intone the lamentable psalm,
**Out of the deeps. Lord, have I cried to

theel"-
When inside, from the true profound, a sign



Shall bear intelligence that the foe is foiled.



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 84 of 198)