Robert Browning.

The complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning online

. (page 98 of 198)
Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 98 of 198)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


And touch up an odd phrase in tmie of need,
(He, he I) — and someoody helps yon, my son I
Therefore, don't prove so mdispensable
At die Fieve, sit more loose i' the seat, nor

grow
A fixture by attendance mom and eve I
Arezzo 's iust a haven midway Rome —
Rome 's the eventual harbor.— make for port.
Crowd sail, crack cordage I And your cargo

be
A polished presence, a genteel manner, wit
At will, ana tact at ever^ pore of vou I
I sent our lump of leaTmn|r, Brother Clout,
And Father Slouch, our piece of piety.
To see Rome and try suit the CaidinaL
Thither they dump-dumped, beads and book

in hand,



Digitized by



Google



GIUSEPPE CAPONSACCHI



493



And ever nnoe 't k meat for man and maid
How both flopped down, prayed bloHning on

bent pate
Bald many an inch beyond the tonanre's need,
Neyer onoe dreaming, the two moony dolta.
There 'a nothing moTea his Eminenoe ao mnoh
As — far from all thia awe at lanetitade —
Heada that wag, eyea that twinkle, modified

mirth
At the eloeet-leoturee on the Latin tongne
A lady learns so much by, we know where.
Why, body o' Baoohos, you should erave his

role
For pansea in the eleeiao oonplei^chasms
Permissible only to Catolhis I There !
Now go to duty : brisk, break Piisoian's head
By reading the day's offioe — there 's no help.
Ton Ve Ovid in your poke to plaster that ;
Amen 's at the end of all : thensup with me ! "

Well, after three or f onr ^eara of this life.

In proeeontion of my oalhng, I

Found myself at the theatre one night

With a brother Canon, in a mood and mind

Proper enough for the place, amused or no :

When I saw enter, stand, and seat herself

A lady, young, tall, beautiful, strange and sad.

It was as when, in our cathedral onoe,

As I got yawningly through matin-song,

I a&w/aochini bear a burden up.

Base it on the high-altar, break awa:r

A board or two, and leave the thing inside

Lofty and lone : and lo, when next 1 looked.

There was the Rafael I I was still one stare.

When — "Nay, 1*11 make her give you back

your gaze " —
Said Canon Conti ; and at the word he tossed
A paper-twist of comfits to her lap.
And dodged and in a trice waa at my back
Nodding from over my shoulder. Then she

turned.
Looked our wa^, smiled the beautiful sad

strange smile.
** Is not she fair? 'Tis my new cousin,*' said

he:
'*The fellow lurking there i' the bUck o' the

box
Is Gnido, the old scapegrace : she 's his wife.
Married three years since : how his Coimtship

sulksl
He has brought little back from Rome beside,
After the bragging, bullying. A fair face,
Ajid — they do say — a pocketful of gold
When he can worry both her parents dead.
I doo't go much there, for the chamber 's cold
And the coffee pale. I got a turn at first
Paying my duty : I observed the:^ crouched
— The two old frightened family spectres —

dose
In a comer, each on each like mouse on mouse
I* the cat's cage : ever since, I stay at home.
HaUo, there's Ghiido, the black, mean and



Bends his brows on us — please to bend your

own
On the shapely nether limbs of Li^t-akirtB

there
By way of a diversion I I was a fool



To fling the sweetmeats. Pmdenoe, for God's

To-morrow 1 11 make my peace, e'en tell some

fib.
Try if I oan't ^nd means to take yon there."

That night and next day did the gaze endure.
Burnt to my brain, as sunbeam through shut

eyes,
And not once changed the beautiful sad strange

smile.
At vespers Conti leaned beside my seat
I ' the choir, — part said, part sang — " Jn ex-cd"

ais —
AH 's to no purpose ; I have louted low.
But he saw you staring— giita «ti6 — don't in-
cline
To know yon nearer ; him we would not hold
For Hercules, — the man would lick your shoe
If you and certain efficacious friends
Managed him warilv, — but there 's the wife :
Spare ner, because he beats her, as it is.
She 's breaking her heart quite ^t enough —

iomfti —
Soj be ^on rational and make amends
With httle Light^skirts yonder — t n tenda
SeairUHHHHrum, Ah, you rogue I Every one

knows
What great dame she makes jealous: one

against one.
Play, and win both I "

Sirs, ere the week was out,
I saw and said to myself, " Light«kirts hides

teeth
Would make a dog sick, — the great dame

shows spite
Should drive a cat mad : 't is but poor work

this —
Counting one's fingers till the sonnet 's erowned.
I doubt much if Marino really be
A better bard than Dante after all.
'T is more amusing to go pace at eve
r the Duomo, — watch the day's last gleam

outside
Turn, as into a skirt of Qod's own robe,
Those lancet-windows' jewelled miracle, —
Than go eat the Archbishop's ortolans,
Digest his jokes. Luckily Lent is near :
Who cares to look will find me in my stall
At the Pieve, constant to this faith at least —
Never to write a canzonet any more."

So, next week, 't was my patron spoke abrupt.
In altered guise, ^* Youn^ man, can it be true
That after all your promise of sound fruit.
Ton have kept away from Countess younger

old
And gone play truant in church all day long ?
Are you turning Molinist?" I answered

quick :
** Sir, what if I turned Christian ? It might be.
The tact is, I am troubled in my mind,
Beset and pressed hard^ by some novel thoughts.
This your Arezzo is a limited world ;
There 's a strange Pope, — 't is said, a priest

who thinks.
Rome is the port, you say : to Rome I go.
I will live alone, one does so in a crowd.



Digitized by



Google



494



THE RING AND THE BOOK



And look into mj heart a litUe." ** Lent
Ended" — I toli friends, — "I shall go to
Rome.*'

One ereningr I was sitting: in a nrnse

Over the opened ^* Sununa," darkened round

By the mid-Maroh twi%ht, thinking how my

life
Had shaken under me, — broke short indeed
And showed the gap 'twizt what is, what

should be, —
And into what abysm the soul may slip,
Leave aspiration here, achievement there.
Lacking omnipotence to connect ex tremcM —
Thinking moreover . . . oh, thinking, if you

like,
iHow utterly dissociated was I
A priest and celibate, from the sad strange

wife
Of Guido, — just as an instance to the point.
Naught more, —how I had a whole store of

strengths
Eating into my heart, which craved employ,
And uie, perhaps, need of a finger*s help, —
And yet there was no way in the wide world
To stretch out mine and so relieve m vself , —
How when the page o' the ** Summa '' preached

its best.
Her smile kept glowing out of it, as to mock
The silence we could break by no one word, —
There came a tap without the chamber-door.
And a whisper, when I bade who tapped speak

out.
And, in obedience to my summons, last
Li glided a masked muffled mystenr,
Laid lightly a letter on the opened book.
Then stood with folded arms and foot demure,
Pointing as if to mark the minutes* flight.

I took the letter, read to the effect
That she, I lately flung the comfits to.
Had a warm heart to give me in exchan^.
And gave it, — loved me and confessed it thus.
And bade me render thanks by word of mouth.
Going that night to such a side o* the house
Where the small terrace overhangs a street
Blind and deserted, not the street in front :
Her husband being away, the surly patch,
At his viUa of Vittiano.

"And you?" -I asked:
•* What may you be ? " ** Count Guide's kind of

maid —
Most of us have two functions in his house.
We an hate him, the lady suffers much,
'T is just we show compassion, furnish help.
Specially since her choice is fixed so well.
What answer may I bring to cheer the sweet
Pompilia?"

Then I took a pen and wrote :
** No more of this I That you are fair, I know :
But other thoughts now occupy my mind.
I should not thus have playea the insensible
Once on a time. What made you — may one

ask —
Marry your hideous husband ? 'T was a fault.
•And now you taste the fruit of it. FarewelL"



" There I " smiled I as she snatched it and waa

gone —
'* There, let the jealous miscreant, — Guido'a

Whose mean soul grins through this transparent

trick, —
Be balked so far, defrauded of his aim !
What fund of satisfaction to the knave.
Had I kicked this his messen^r down stairs.
Trussed to the middle of her impudence.
And set his heart at ease so I No, indeed I
There 's the reply which he shall turn and twist
At pleasure, snuff at till his brain grow drunk.
As the bear does when he finds a scented glove
That puzzles him, — a hand and yet no hand,
Of other perfume than his own foul paw !
Last month, I had doubtless chosen to pUj the

dupe.
Accepted the mock-invitation, kept
The sham appointment, cudgel beneath cloak.
Prepared myself to pull the aroointer's sdif
Out of the window trom his hiding-place
Behind the gown of this part-messenger
Part-mistress who would personate the wife.
Such had seemed once a jest permissible :
Now, I am not i' the mood."

Back next mom brought
The messenger, a second letter in hand.
** Tou are cruel, Thyrsis, and Myrtilla moans
Neglected but adores you, makes request
For mercy : why is it you dare not come t
Such virtue is scarce natural toyour age :
Tou must love some one else ; Ihear you do.
The Baron's daughter or the Advocate's wife.
Or both, — all 's one, would yon make me the

third-
I take the crumbs from table gratefully
Nor grudge who feasts there. *Faith, I blush

and blaze I
Tet if I break all bounds, there *s reason sure.
Are you determinedly bent on Rome?
I am wretched here, a monster tortures me :
Carry me with you ! Come and say you will I
Concert this very evening ! Do not write 1
I am ever at the window of my room
Over the terrace, at the Ave. Come ! "

I questioned — lifting half the woman's mask
To let her smile loose. **So, you gave my

line
To the merry lady?" '*She kissed off the

wax,
And put what paper was not kissed away
In her bosom to go bum : but merry, no 1
She we^t all night when evening brought no

fnend,
Alone^the unkind missive at her breast ;
Thus Philomel, the thorn at her breast too.
Sings" . . . ''Writes this second letter?'*

"Even so!
Then she may peep at vespers forth ? " —

*' What risk
Do we run o' the husband ?" — ** Ah, — no

risk at all !
He is more stupid even than jealous. Ah —
That was the reason ? Whv, the man *s away I
Beside, his bugbear is that friend of yours.
Fat little Canon Conti. He fears him.



Digitized by



Google



GIUSEPPE CAPONSACCHI



495



How should he dieam of yon? I told yon

troth:
fle goes to the villa at Vittiano — *t is
The time when Spring-sap rises in the vine —
Speoids the night there. And then his wife 's a
^chUd:
Does he think a child outwits him ? A mere

child:
Tet so full-grown, a dish for any duke.
Don't quarrel longer with such cates, but

come 1 "

I wrote, ** In yain do you solicit roe.
I am a priest : and you are wedded wife,
Whatever kind of brute your husband prove.
I have scruples, in short. Yet should you

reallv show
Sign at the window . . . but nay, best be

good!
Hy thoughts are elsewhere." — ** Take her

ihati"

— "Again
Let the incarnate meanness, cheat and spy,
Mean to the marrow of him, make his heart
His food, anticipate helFs worm once more I
Let him watch shivering at the window —ay,
And let this hvbrid, this his light-of-love
And laokey-o^■lies, — a safe economy, —
Paid with embracings for the rank brass

eoin,—
Let her report and make him chuckle o'er
The breakdown of my resolution now.
And lour at disappcnntment in good time !
—So tantatiie and so enrage by turns.
Until the two fall each on the other like
Two fiunished spiders, as the coveted fly.
That toys long, leaves their net and them at

lastr*

And so the misaves followed thick and fast
For a month, say, — I still came at every turn
On the soft sly adder, endlong 'neath my tread.
I was met i' the street, made sign to in the

church,
A slip was found i' the door^ill, scribbled word
*Twixt nage and page o' the prayer-book in my

place.
A ommpled thing drooped even before my feet.
Poshed through the olind, above the terraoe-

rail,
As I passed, by day, the verv window once.
And ever from comers woula be peering up
The m e s seng er, with the sel&ame demimd,
'' Obdurate still, no flesh but adamant ?
Nothing to cure the wound, assuage the throe
O* the sweetest lamb that ever loved a bear ? "
And ever my one answer in one tone —
** Go your ways, temptress ! Let a priest read,

pray,
Unplagued of vain talk, vimons not for him !
Li the end. yonUl have your will and ruin

me I*'

One day, a variation : thus I read :

*^ You have rained little by timidity.

My husband nas found out my love at length.

Sees cousin Conti was the stalking^iorse.

And you the game he covered, poor fat soul I



My husband is a formidable foe,
Will stick at nothing to destroy you. Stand
Prepared, or better, run till you reach Rome I
I bade you visit me, when the last place
My tyrant would have turned suspicious at,
Or cared to seek you in, was . . . why say,

where?
But now all's changed: beside, the season's

past
At the villa, — wants the master's eye no more.
Anyhow, I beseech you, sta^ away
Fnun the window I He might well be posted

there."

I wrote — "You raise my courage, or call up
My curiosity, who am but man.
Tell him he owns the palace, not the street
Under — that 's his and yours and mine alike.
If it should please me pad the nath this eve.
Guide will have two troubles, nrst to get
Into a rage and then get out again.
Be cautious, though : at the Ave ! "

You of the court
When I stood question here and reached this

point
O' the narrative, —search notes and see and say
If some one did not interpose with smile
And sneer. " And prithee why so confident
That the nusband must, of all needs, not the

wife.
Fabricate thus, — what if the lady loved ?
What if she wrote the letters?"

Learned Sir,
I told you there 's a picture in our church.
Well, if a low-browed verger sidled up
Bringing me, like a blotch, on his prod's point,
A traumzed scorpion, let the reptile writhe.
And then said, "See a thing that Rafael



This venom issued from Madonna's mouth 1 "
I should reply, " Rather, the soul of you
Has issued from your body, like from like.
By way of the ordure-comer I "

But no less,
I tired of the same long black teasing lie
Obtruded thus at everjr tum ; the pest
Was far too near the picture, anprhow :
One does Madonna service, making downs
Remove their dung-heap from the sacrist]^*
" I will to the window, as he temptsL" said I :
" Yes, whom the easv love has fauea allure.
This new bait of adventure tempts, — thinks

he.
Though the imprisoned lady keeps afar,
There will they lie in ambush, heads alert,
Kith, kin, and Count mustered to bite mv heel
No mother nor brother viper of the brood
Shall scuttle off without the instractive

bruise!"

So I went : crossed street and street : ** The

next street's turn,
I stand beneath the terrace, see, above.
The black of the ambush-window. Then, in

place
Of hand's throw of soft prelude over lute.
And cough that clears way for the ditty



Digitized by



Google



496



THE RING AND THE BOOK



I began to lan^ already — ** he will haye
* Oat of the hole yon hide in, on to the front.
Count Gnido Franoeeohini, show yonnelf !
Hear wh»t a man thinks of a thing like yon.
And alter, take this foulness in your face 1 ' ''

The words lay liying on my lip, I made

The one torn more — and there at the window

stood;
Framed in its hlaok sqnare length, with lamp

in hand,
Pompilia ; the same great, grave, griefiEol air
As stands i' the dnsk, on altar that I know.
Left alone with one moonbeam in her oeU,
Our Lady of all the Sorrows. Ere I knelt —
Assured myself that she was flesh and blood —
She had looked one look and vanished.

I thought — " Just so : .
It was herself, they have set her there to'

watoh —
Stationed to see some wedding-band go by.
On fair pretence that she must bless the bride.
Or wait some funeral with friends wind past.
And crave peace for the corpse that claims its

due.
She never dreams they used her for a snare,
And now withdraw the bait has served its turn.
Well done, the husband, who shall fare the

worse!"
And on my Up again was — ** Out with thee,
Ouido I " when all at once she reappeared ;
But, this time, on the terrace overhead,
So dose above me, she could almost touch
My head if she bent down ; and she did bend.
While I stood still as stone, all eye, all ear.

She began — ** You have sent me letters. Sir :
I have read none, I can neither read nor write ;
But she you gave them to, a woman here.
One of tne people in whose power I am.
Partly explained their sense, I think, to me
Obliged to listen while she inculcates
Hiat you, a priest, can dare love me, a wife.
Desire to live or die as I shall bid,
(SbB makes me listen if I will or no)
Because you saw my face a single time.
It cannot be she says the thing you mean ;
Such wickedness were deadly to us both :
But good true love would help me now so

much —
I tell myself, you may mean good and true.
Ton o£Per me, I seem to understand.
Because I am in poverty and starve.
Much money, where one piece would save my

life.
The silver cup upon the altar-cloth
Is neither vours to give nor mine to take ;
But I might take one bit of bread therefrom.
Since I am starving, and return the rest,
Tet do no harm : tnis is my very case.
I am in that strait, I may not dare abstain
From so much of assistance as would bring
The guilt of theft on neither vou nor me ;
But no superfluous partide of lud.
I think, if you will let me state my case.
Even had you been so fancy-fevered here.
Not your sound self, you must grow healthy



Care only to bestow what I can take.
That it is only you in the wide world.
Knowing me nor in thought nor word nor deed.
Who, all unprompted save by your own heart.
Come proffering assistance now, — were strange
But that my whole life is so strange t as strange
It is, mv husband whom I have not wronged
Should hate and harm me. For hk own soul's

sake.
Hinder the harm I But there is somethinflr

more.
And that the strangest : it has got to be
Somehow for my sake too, and ^et not mine,
— This is a riddle — for some kmd of sake
Not any clearer to myself than you.
And yet as certain as that I draw breath, —
I would fain live, not die — oh no, not die I
My case is, I was dwelling happily
At Rome with those dear Comparini, called
Father and mother to me ; when at once
I found I had become Coimt Guide's wife :
Who then, not waiting for a moment, changed
Into a fury of fire, if once he was
Merelj a man : his face threw fire at mine.
He laid a hand on me that burned all peace.
All joy, an hope, and last all fear away.
Dipping the bou^h of life, so pleasant once.
In nre which shrivelled leaf and bud alike.
Bulling not only present life but past.
Which yon might think was said beyond his

reach.
He reached it, though, since that beloved pair.
My father once, my mother all those years.
That loved me so, now say I dreamed a dream
And bid me wake, henceforth no child of theiiB^
Never in all the time their child at all.
Do you understand ? I cannot : yet so it is.
Just so I say of you that proffer help :
I cannot understand what prompts your soul,
I simply needs must see tiiat it is so,
Only one strange and wonderful thing more.
They came here with me, those two dear ones,

kept
All the old love up, till my husband, till
His people here so tortured them, they fled.
And now, is it because I fiTow in flesh
And spirit one with him tneir torturer.
That they, renouncing him, must cast off me ?
If I were graced by God to have a child.
Could I one day deny God graced me so ?
Then, since m^r husband hates me, I shall break
No law that rei^fns in this fell house of hate,
Bv using — lettmg have effect so much
Of hate as hides me from that whole of hate
Would take my life which I want and must

have —
Just as I take from your excess of love
Enough to save my ufe with, all I need.
The Archbishop said to murder me were sin :
Mv leavinp^ Guido were a kind of death
With no sm, — more death j he must answer for.
Hear now what death to him and life to you
I wish to pay and owe. Take me to Rome I
You go to Rome, the servant makes me hear.
Take me as you would take a dog, I think,
Masterless Irat for stranras to imiltreat :
Take me home like that— leave me in tfa6

house



Digitized by



Google



GIUSEPPE CAPONSACCHI



497



Where the father and the mother are ; and soon
The^ 'U oome to know and call me hr my name.
Their child onoe more, since child I am, for

all
They now forget me, which is the worst o' the

dream —
And the way to end dreams is to break them,

standi
Walk, go : then help me tostand, walk, and go I
The Qovemor said the strong should help the

weak :
Ton know how weak the strongest women are.
How could I find my way there by myself f
I cannot even call out, make them hear —
Just as in dreams : I have tried and proved the

fact.
I have told this story and more to good great

men.
The Archbishop and the Governor : they smiled.

* Stop vonr mouth, fair one 1 ' — pnMntly they

frowned,

* Get you gone, disengage you from our feet ! *
I went in my despair to an old priest.

Only a friar, no great man like these two.
But good, the Augustinian, people name
Romano, — he couessed me two months since :
He fears God, why then needs he fear the

world?
And when he questioned how it came about
That I was found in danger of a sin —
Despair of anv help from providence, —

* That is a case too common, the wives die
Or live, but do not sin so deep as this ' -^
Then I told — what I never will tell you —
How. worse than husband's hate, I had to bear
The love — soliciting to shame called love —
Of his brother, — the young idle priest i* the

house
'Vnth only the devil to meet there. *This is

grave—
Tes, we must interfere : I counsel, — write
To those who used to be your parents once.
Of dangers here, bid them convey you hence 1 '

* But,' said I, * when I neither read, nor write ? '
Then he took pitv and promised * I will write.'
If he did so, — why, they are dumb or dead :
Either they give no credit to the tale.

Or else, wrapped wholly up in their own joy
Of such escape, they care not who cries, stul
I' the clutches. Anyhow, no word arrives.
All such extravagance and dreadfulness
Seems incident to dreaming, cured one way, —
Wake me 1 The letter I received this mom.
Said — if the woman spoke your yery sense —
' You would die for me : ' I can believe it now :
For now the dream gets to involve yourself*
First of all, you seemed wicked and not good.
In writing me those letters : you came in
Liike a thief upon me. I this morning said
In in^ extrenu^, entreat the thief 1
Try if he have m him no honest touch !
A thief might save me from a murderer.
*T wasa thief said the last kind word to Christ:
Christ took the kindness and forgave the theft :
And so did I prepare what I now say.
But now, that you stand and I see your &u>e.



Though you have never uttered word yet, —

well, I know.
Here too has been dream-work, delusion too.
And that at no time, you with the eyes here.
Ever intended to do wrong bv me.
Nor wrote such letters therefore. It is false.
And you are true, have been true, will be true.
To Bome then, — when is it you take me there ?
Each minute lost is mortal. When?— I ask."

I answered, " It shall be when it can be.
I will go hence and do your pleasure, find
The sure and speedy means of travel, then
Come back and take you to your friends in

Rome.
There wants a carriage, money and the rest, —
A day's work by to-morrow at this time.
How shall I see you and assure esci^M? "

She replied, ** Pass, to-morrow at this hour.
If I am at Uie open window, well :
If I am absent, drop a handkerchief
And walk bv 1 Ishall see from where I watch.
And know that all is done. Return next eve.
And next, and so till we canmeet and sneak f "
" To-morrow at thi^ hour I pass," said t.
She was withdrawn.

Here is another point
I bid you pause at. When I told thus tar.
Some one said, subtly, ** Here at least was found
Tour confidence in error, — you perceived
The spirit of the letters, in a soit.
Had been the lady's, if the body should be
Supplied bv Guide : say, he f oiged them all !
Here was the unf orged uust — she sent for you.



read her



Spontaneously elected you to help,
— What men call, loved you: Guido



Gave it expression to assure the world



Online LibraryRobert BrowningThe complete poetic and dramatic works of Robert Browning → online text (page 98 of 198)