Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

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Ah, but — that husband, what the wonder

werel —
If, far from casting thus away the rag
Smeared with the plague, his hand had chanced

Sewn to his pillow by Locusta's wile. —
Far from abolishing, root, stem and branch.
The misprrowth of infectious mistletoe
Foisted mto his stock for honest graft, —

If he repudiate not, renounce nowise.

But, guarding, ^ding me, maintain my cau8&

By making it his own, (what other way ?)

— To keep my name for me, he call it nis.
Chum it of who would take it by their lie, —
To save my wealth for me — or babe of mine
Their lie was framed to beggar at the birth —
He bid them loose grasp, give our gold again :
H he become no p^tner with the pair

Even in a game which, played adroitly, gives
Its winner life's great wonderful new chance, —
Of marrying, to wit, a second time, —
Ah. if he did thus, what a friend were he I
Anger he might show, — who can stamp out

Yet spread no black o' the brand ? — yet, rough

In the act. as whose baro feet feel embers

What grace were his, what gratitude were

mine I "
Such protestation should have been my wife's.
Lookmg for this, do I exact too much ?
Why, here 's the — word for word so much, no

more —
Avowal she made, her pure spontaneous speech
To mv brother the Abate at first blush.
Ere the good impulse had begun to fade :
So did she make confession for the pair.
So pour forth praises in her own behalf.
" Ay, the false letter," interpose my lords —
** The simulated writing, — 't was a trick :
You traced the signs, she merely marked the

The product was not hers but yours." Alack,
I want no mora impulsion to tell truth
From the other tnck, the torture inside there I
I confess all — let it be understood —
And deny nothing I If I baffle you so.
Can so fence, in the plentitude of ri|:ht.
That my poor lathen dagger puts aside
Each pass o' the Bilboa, beats yon all the

same, —
What matters inefficiency of blade ?
Mine and not hers the letter, — conceded, lords I
Impute to me that practice ! — take as proved
I taught mv wife her duty, made her see
What it behoved her see and say and do.
Feel in her heart and with her tongue declare.
And, whether sluggish or recalcitrant.
Forced her to take the right step, I myself
Was marohing in marital rectitude I
Why, who finds fault hero, say the tale be true ?
Would not my lords commena the priest whose

Seized on the sick, morose or moribund.
By the palsy-smitten finger, made it cross
His brow correctly at the critical time ?

— Or answered for the inarticulate babe
At baptism, in its stead declared the faith.
And saved what else would perish unprofessed ?
True, the incapable hand may rally yet.
Renounce the sign with renovated strongth, —
The babe may grow up man and Molinist, —
And so Pompilia, set in the good path

And left to go alone thero, soon might see
That too frank-forward, all too simple-steaight
Her step was, and decline to tread the rough.

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When here lay, tempting foot, the meadow-flide.
And there the coppice rang with dnging-hirde 1
Soon ehe diBOovered ehe was young and fair,
That many in Arexzo knew as mnch. —
Yes. this next onp of bittemeee, my lords,
Haa to begin go nlHng, drop by drop,
Its measnre np of full disgust for me,
Filtered into by evei^ noisome drain —
Societv^s sink toward which all moisture runs.
Would not you prophesy — *'She on whose

brow is stamped
The note of the imputation that we know, —
Rightly or wrongly mothered with a whore, —
Such an one, to oisproTe the frightful charge.
What will she but exaggerate chastity.
Err in excess of wifehood, as it were.
Renounce eren leyities permitted vouth.
Though not youth struck to age oy a thunder-
Cry * wolf ' i' the sheepfold, where 's the sheep

dares bleat.
Knowing the she^ierd listens for a cnrowl ? "
So you expect. How did the devil decree ?
Why, m^ lords, just the contrary of course I
It was m the nouse from the window, at the

From the hassock, — where the theatre lent its

Or staging for the public show left space, —
That sdllPompilia needs must find herself
Tiannching her looks forth, letting looks reply
As arrows to a challenge ; on all sides
Brer new contribution to her lap.
Till one day, what is it knocks at my denched

But the cup full, curse-collected all for me ?
And I must needs drink, drmk this gallant's

That minion's prayer, the other fop's reproach.
And come at tbo dregs to — Oaponsacchil

I, — chin deep in a marsh of misery,
StrufiKling to extricate my name and fame
And iortune from the marsh would drown them


My &oe the sole unstrangled part of me, —
I must haTc this new gad-fly m that face.
Must free me from the attacking lover too I
Men say I batUed ungracefully enough —
Was hush, uncouth and ludicrous beyond
The prc^r part o' the husband : have it so I
Tour loraships are considerate at least —
Yoa order me to speak in my defence
Plainly, expect no quavering tuneful trills
As when you bid a sin^ solace you, —
Nor look that I shall give it, for a grace,
Stans pede in uno : — you remember well
In the one case, 't is a plainaoiu' too severe.
This stonr of m^ wrongs, — and that I ache
And need a chair, in the other. Ask you me
Why, when I felt this trouble flap my face.
Already pricked with every shiune could

Wlien, with her parents, my wife plagued me

WliT I enforced not exhortation mild
To leaye whore's-tricks and let mv brows alone,
Witk mulct of comfits, promise ox perfume f

** Far from that I No, you took the opposite

Breathed threatenings, rage and slaufi^terP*

What you will!
And the end has come, the doom is verily

Unhindered by the threatening. See fate'a

Full on each face of the dead guilty three !
Look at them well, and now, lords, look at

Tell me : if on that day when I found first
That Caponsacchi thought the nearest way
To his cnurch was some half-mile round by my

And that he so admirecL shall I suppose.
The manner of the swallows' come-and-go
Between the prc^ o' the window overhead, —
That window nappening to be my wife's, —
As to stand gaadng by the hour on high.
Of May-eves, while she sat and let him smile, —
If I, — instead of threatening, talking big,
l^owing hair-powder, a prodi^ous pinch,
For poison in a bottle, — making believe
At desperate doings with a bauble-sword.
And otner bugaboo-and-baby-work, —
Had, with the vulgarest household implement,
Cidmly and quietly cut off, clean through bona.
But one joint of one finger of my wife.
Saying, For listening to the serenade, ^
Here^ jTour ring-finger shorter a full third :
Be certain I will slice away next joint.
Next time that anybody underneath
Seems somehow to be sauntering as he hoped
A flower would eddy out of your hand to nis.
While you please miget with the branch above
O' the rose-tree in the terrace I " — had I done

Why, there had followed a quick sharp scream^

some pain.
Much calling for plaister, damage to the dress,
A somewhat sulky countenance next day,
Perhaps reproach e s, — but reflections too !
I don't hear much of harm that Malchus did
After the incident of the ear, my lords I
Saint Peter took the efiSloacious way ;
Malchus was sore but silenced for his life :
He did not hang himself i' the Potter's field
Like Judas, who was trusted with the bag
And treated to sops after he proved a thief.
So, by this time, my true and obedient wife
Might have been telling beads with a gloved

hand ;
Awkward a little at prickinflr hearts and darts
On sampler possiblv, but well otherwise :
Not where Rome shudders now to see her lie.
I give that for the course a wise man takes ;
I took the other howerer, tried the fool's,
The lighter remedy, brandished rapier dread
With cork-ball at the tip, boxed MiEdchus' ear
Instead of severing the cartilage.
Called her a terrible nickname and the like.
And there an end : and what was the end of

What was the good effect o' the gentle course ?
Why, one night I went drowsily to bed.
Dropped asleep suddenly, not suddenly woke.
But aid wake with rougn rousing and loud cry,

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To find noon in my faoe, a crowd in my room,
Fomes in my brain, fire in my throat, my wife
Gone God knows whither, — rifled yestore-

And ransacked money-eoffer. ** What does it

The servants had been drugged too, stared and

** It must be that onr lady has eloped I "

— "Whither and with whom?" — "With

whom but the Canon's self ?
One recognizes Gaponsaoohi there I " —
/B^ this time the admiring neighborhood
Jomed choms round me while I rubbed my

eyes) *
*^ *T is months since their intelligence began, —
A comedy the town was privy to, —
He wrote and she wrote, she spoke, he re-
And going in and out your house last nig[ht
'Warn easy work for one ... to be plam with

you . , .
Aoonstomed to do both, at dusk and dawn
When yon were absent, — at the villa, yon

Where husbandry required the master-mind.
Did not you know ? Why, we all knew, you

And presently, bit bv bit, the full and true
Particulars of the tale were volunteered
With all the breathless zeal of friendship —

Matters were managed : at the seventh hour of

night" . . .

— "Later, at daybreak" . . . "Gaponsacohi

— " While you and all your household slept like

Drugged as your supper was with drowsy
stuff" ...

— " And your own cousin Ghiillichini too —
-Either or both entered your dwelling-place.

Plundered it at their pleasure, made prize of

Indudinf voup wife "... — " Oh, your wife

lea the way,
•Out of doors, on to the gate" . . . —"But

gates are shut.
In a decent town, to darkness and such deeds :
They climbed the wall— your lady must be

lithe —
At the gap, the broken bit " . . . — "Torrione,

true I
' To escape the questioning guard at the proper

Clemente, where at the inn, hard by, *the

Just outside, a calash in readiness
Took the two principals^ all alone at last,
To gate San Spirito, which overlooks the road,
Lei^ to Perugia, Rome and liberty."
Bit by bit thus made-up mosaic-wise.
Flat lay my fortune, — tessellated floor.
Imperishable tracery devils should foot
And frolic it on, around my broken gods,
Over my desecrated hearth.

So much
For the terrible effect of threatening. Sirs I

Well, this

^ I was shaken wide awake,
J v-j^ somewhat unpoisoned

Then, set on horseback and bid seek the lost,

I started alone, head of me, heart of me

fire, and each limb as languid . . . ah, sweet

Bethink you I — poison-torture, try persuade
The next refractory Molinist with that I . . .
Floundered through day and night, another day
And yet another niffht, and so at last.
As Lucifer kept faUing to find hell,
Tumbled into the court-yard of an inn
At the end, and fell on whom I thought to

Even Gaponsacohi, — what part once was priest,
Gast to the winds now with the cassock-rags :
In cape and sword a cavalier confessed.
There stood he chiding dilatory grooms,
Ghafinff that only horseflesh and no team
Of eafijefl would supply the last relay.
Whirl him along the league, the one poet more
Between the couple and Rome and liberty.
'T was dawn, the couple were rested in a sort,
And though the laay, tired, — the tenderer

sex, — ^
Still lingered in her chamber, — to adjust
The limp hair, look for any blush astray, —
She would descend in a twinkling, — "Have

you out
The horses therefore I "

So did I find my wife.
Is the case complete ? Do your ejres here sea

with mine?
Even the parties dared deny no one
Point out of all these points.

What follows next?
*' Why, that then was the time," you interpose,
" Or then or never, while the fact was fresn.
To take the natural vengeance : there and thus
Thejjr and you, — somebody had stuck a sword
Beside you while he pushed you on your

horse, —
'T was requisite to slay the couple. Gount 1 "
Just so my friends say — " Kill ! " they cry in

a breath.
Who presently, when matters grow to a head
And I do kill the offending ones indeed, —
When crime of theirs, only surmised before,
Ispatent, proved indiiaputably now, —
When remedy for wrong, untried at the time.
Which law professes shall not fail a Mend,
Is thrice tried now, found threefold worse than

null, —
When what might turn to transient shade, who

^ knows ?
Solidifies into a blot which breaks
Hell's black off in pale flakes for fear of

mine, —
Then, when I claim and take revenge — "So

They cry — "so little reverence for the Iaw ? "

Listen, my masters, and <1i»«:i«gniali here !
At first, I called in law to act and help :
Seeing I did so. " Whv, 't is clear," they cry,
" Ton shrank from eallant readiness and risk.
Were coward: the thing 's inexplicable else."

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Sweet mj lords, let the thing be I I fall flat,
Flaj the reed, not the oak, to breath of man.
Only^infonn my ignorance I Sajistand
ConTioted of the haviiu^ been afraid.
Proved a poltroon, no Con bnt a lamb, —
Does that deprive me of m j right of lamb
And give m j fleece and flesh to the first wolf ?
Are ennnchs, women, children^ shieldleos quite
Against attack their own timidity tempts ?
Oowardioe were misf orttme and no crime I

— Take it ihat way, since I am fallen so low

I scarce dare bmah the fly that blows my face.
And thank the man who simply spits not

Unless the Court be generons, oomprehend
How one brought up at the verr feet of law
As I, awaits the grave GamaHers nod
£re he clench fist at outrage, — much less,


— How, ready enough to rise at the rig^t time,
I still could recognize no time mature
Unsanctioned by a move o' the judgment-seat.
So, mute in misery, eyed my masters here
Motionless till the authoritative word
Pronounced amercement. There 's the riddle

This is just why I slew nor her nor him.
But called in law, law's delegate in the place,
And bade arrest the flrnilty couple, Sirs !
We had some trouble to do so — you have

They braved me, — he with arrogance and

She, with a volubility of curse,
A eonversancy in the skiU of tooth
And claw to make suspicion seem absurd.
Nay, an alacrity to put to proof
At my own throat my own sword, teach me so
To trv conclusions better the next time, —
Which did the proper service with the mob.
They never tried to put on mask at all :
Two avowed lovers forcibly torn apart.
Upbraid the tyrant as in a playhouse scene.
Ay, and with proper clapping and applause
From the audience that enjoys the bold and

I kept still, said to myself, '^There's law!"

We searched the chamber where they passed

the night.
Found what confirmed the worst was feared be-
However needless confirmation now —
The witches' cirde intact, charms undisturbed
That raised the spirit ana snccubus, —letters,

to wit.
Love-laden, each the bag o' the bee that bore
Honey from lily and rose to Cupid's hive, —
Now, poetry in some rank blossom-bursty
Now, prose^ — ** Come here, go there, wait such

He 's at the villa, now he 's back again:
We are saved^ we are lost, we are lovers all the

AH in order, all complete, — even to a due
To the drowsiness that happed so (mportune —
No mystery, when I read. Of all things, find
What wine Sir Jealousy oeoides to drink —

Red wine ? Because a sleeping'tK'tioii, dust
Dropped into white, discolors wine and shows.**

— ** 01^ bnt we did not write a single word I
Somebody forged the letters in our name ! — '*
Both in a bres^ protested presently.
Aha, Sacchetti again I — '' &me," — iiuoth th«

" What meaneth this epistle, counsel me,
Ipick from out thy pLaioket and peruse^
Wherein my page averreth thou art white
And warm and wonderful 'twixt pap and


the Ladv, ** 't is a counterfeit I
Thy page did never stroke but Dian's breast.
The pretty hound I nurture for thy sake :
To lie were losel, — by my fay, no more ! "
And no more say I too, and spare the Court.

Ah, the Court I yes, I come to the Court's self ;
Such the case, so complete in fact uid proof.
I laid at the feet of law, — there sat my lords.
Here sit the^ now, so majr they ever sit
In easier attitude than suits my haunch t
In this same chamber did I bare my sores
O' the soul and not the body, — shun no shame,
Shrink from no probing of the ulcerous psrt.
Since confident in Natove, — which is God, —
That she who, for wise ends, concocts a plague.
Curbs, at the rig^t time, the plague's virulence

Law renovates even Lasams, — cures me !
Cnsar thou seekeet f To Cosar thou shalt go I
Cnsar 'sat Rome: to Rome accordingly !

The case was soon decided : both wetghtau cast
I' the balance, vibrate, neither kicks the beam.
Here away, thero awa^, this now and no^ that.
To every one o' my grievances law gave
Redress, could purbund eye but see the point.
The wife stood a convicted runa|:ate
Fnnn house and husband, — driven to such a

By what she somehow took for cruelty.

Oppression and imperifanent of life —

Not that such things wero, but that so they

seemed :
Therefore, the end conceded lawfuL (since
To save life thero 's no risk should stay our

It follows that all means to the lawful end
Aro lawful likewise, — i>oison, theft and flight.
As for the priest '9 part, did he meddle or miidLe,
Enough that he too thought life jeopardized ;
Conc^e him then the color chanty
Casts on a doubtful course, — if blackish white
Or whitish black, will charity hesitate f
What did he else but act the precept out.
Leave, like a provident shepherd, his safe flock
To follow the single lamb and strayaway ?
Best hope so and think so, — that the ticklish

I' the carriage, the tempting privacy, the last
Somewhat ambiguous accident at the inn,
— All may bcAr explanation: may? then,

Hie letters, — do they so incriminate ?
But what if the whole prove a prank o' the pea.

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Flight of the faney, none of theirs at all.
Bred of the yapors of my hrain belike.
Or at worst mere exercise of schc^ar Vwit
In the courtly Caponaacchi : verse, conyict?
Did not Gatmliis write less seemly once ?
Yet doctus and unblemished he abides.
Wherefore so ready to infer the worst ?
Still, I did righteoosly in brinsing: doubts
For the law to solve, — take tne solution now !
** Seeing^ that the said associates, wife and

Bear themselves not without some touch of

— EUse why the pother, scandal and outcry
Which trouble our peace and require chastise-
We, for complicity in Pompilia*s flight
Ana deviatiim, and carnal mteroourse
WiUi Uie same, do set aside and relegate
The Canon Caponsacohi for three years
At Givita in the neighborhood of Rome :
And we consign Pompilia to the care
Of a certain Ssterhood of penitents
I' the city's self, expert to deal with such.'*
Word for wcvd, there 's your judgment I Read

it, lords.
Re-otter your deliberate penalty
For the crime yourselves establish! Your

award —
Who chop a man's right-hand off at the wrist
For tradng with forefinger words in wine
O* the table of a drinking-booth that bear
Ininpretation as they mocked the Church !
— Who brand a woman bl|U)k between the

For sinning by connection with a Jew:
While for Uie Jew's self — pudency be dumb I —
You mete out punishment such and such, yet so
Punish the adultery of wife and priest I
Take note of that, before the Molinists do,
And read me rig^t the riddle, since rig^t must

While I stood rapt away with wonderment,
Voices broke in upon my mood and muse.
** Do you sleep ? '* began the friends at either

** The case is settled, — you willed it should be

so —
None of our counsel, always recollect I
With law's award, budge! Back into your

Your betters shall arrange the rest for you.
We 'U enter a new action, claim divorce :
Your maniage was a cheat themselves allow :
You erred i' the person, — might have married

Your sister or your daughter unaware.
We 'U gain you, that way, liberty at least.
Sure of so much by law's own showing. Up
And off with you and your unluckiness —
Leave us to oury the blunder, sweep things

smooth ! "
I was in humble frame of mind, be sure !
I bowed, betook me to my place again.
Station by station I retraced the road.
Touched at this hostel, passed this post-house by.
Where, fresh-remembered yet, the fugitives
Had risen to the heroic stature : still —

** That was the bench they sat on, — there 's

the board
They took the meal at, — yonder garden-ground
They leaned across the gate of," — ever a word
O' the Helen and the Paris, with'* Ha! you're

The . . . mnoh-oonmuserated husband ? "

By step, across the pelting, did I reach
Arezzo, underwent the archway's grin.
Traversed the length of sarcasm in ike street.
Found myself in my horrible house once more.
And after a colloquy ... no word assists !
With the mother and the brothers, stiffened me
Straight out from head to foot as dead man

And, thus prepared for life as he for hell.
Marched to the public Square and met the

Apologize for the pincers, palliate screws ?
Ply me with such toy-trifles, I entreat !
Trust who has tried both sulphur and sops-in-

I played the man as I best might, bade friends
Put non-essentials by and face the &ot.
^* What need to hang myself as you advise ?
The paramour is bamshed, — the ocean's width*
Or the suburb's length. — to Ultima Thqle, say.
Or Proxima Civitas, what 's the odds of name
And place ? He 's banished, and the fact 's the

thing .

Why shoulcl law banish innocence an inch f
Here 's guilt then, what else do I care to know ?
The adulteress lies imprisoned, — whether in a
well t— —1

With bricks above and a snake for company.

Or tied by a garter to a bedpost, — much

I mind what's little, — least's enough and to

spare !
The little fillip on the coward's cheek
Serves as though crab-tree cudgel broke his

Law has pronounced there 's punishment, less

or more:
And I take note o' the fact and use it thus —
For the first flaw in the original bond,
I claim release. My contract was to wed
The daughter of Pietro and Violante. Both
Protest they never had a child at alL
Then I have never made a contract: good 1
Candel me quick the thing pretended one.
I shall be me. What matter if hurried over
The harbor-boom by a great favoring tide.
Or the last of a spent ripple that lifts and

leaves ?
The Abate is about it. Laugh who wins !
You shall not laugh me out of faith in law !
I listen, through all your noise, to Rome I "

Rome spoke.
Li three months letters thence !idmoiiiBhed me,
** Your plan for the divorce is all mistake.
It would hold, now, had you, taking thought to

Rachel of the blue eye and golden hair.
Found swarth-skinned Leah cumber oouoli

next day :
But Rachel, blue-eyed golden-haired aright,

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ProTing to be onlv Laban^s child, not Lot*B,
Kemains yonn all the same forerermore.
No whit to the pnnxwe is ^our plea : yon err
r the iierson and tne qnabty — nowise
In the individnal, — that 's the case in point ! ^
Ton go to the ground, — are met by a orosB-snit
For separation, of the Rachel herCj
From bed and board, — she is the injured one,
Ton did the wrong and have to answer it.
As for the circnmstance of imprisonment
And color it lends to this your new attack,
NeTer fear, that point is considered too !
The durance is already at an end ;
The couTent-qniet preyed upon her healtlu
She is transferred now to her parents* house
—No-parents, when that cheats and plunders

But parentage again confessed in full.
When such comession pricks and plagues you

more —
As now — for, this their house is not the house
In Via Yittoria wherein neighbors* watch
Might incommode the freedom of your wife,
But a certain yiUa smothered up in vines
At the town's edge by the gate i' the Pauline

Out of eye-reach, out of ea^^hot, little and lone.
Whither a friend, — at Givita, we hope,
A good half-dozen-hours* ride off, — might,

Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 95 of 198)