My Last Duchess (Robert Browning)

My Last Duchess

by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will ‘t please you sit and look at her? I said
‘Frà Pandolf’ by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ‘t was not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, ‘Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,’ or ‘Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:’ such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ‘t was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, ‘Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark’—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will ‘t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

_____________________________________________________

 

To my last Duchess,

You are missed. You are missed by your beautiful white skin, your lips red as blood. You are missed by how you were so easy-going. By how you were so easily gone. You are missed by your laugh that cuts through silence like a knife. You might be wondering how I still seem to remember every part of you, your personality and your proceedings, as if you only left this world little days ago. As it occurs, I still marvel at your looks everyday. Fra Pandolf has been so kind to immortalise you in the form of a painting, so your presence will be available by only the draw of a curtain. Though do not think that just any soul can pull said curtain; from now on I will be the only man to spectate your beauty. I must say, it was spectacular to view Pandolf’s process of painting you. From the blush on your cheeks to the way your mantle used to fall, I thought I was the only one who knew you so intimately detailed. But I guess it would be foolish to think that I, a Duke with a nine-hundred-years-old name, possessor of anything you and your family could ever love, would deserve any other ranking than all those lovely gentlemen you would ride around the gardens with, let alone get close enough to you to see how well God sculpted you. At least your limitless beauty and lack of dignity led to a beautiful painting, which I can now adore whenever I have the desire to. It is simply a great addition to my art collection. It looks beautiful besides my sculpture of Neptune. Claus of Innsbruck beautifully cast the taming of that sea-horse in bronze. I would say taming is kind of a recurring theme in my collection, although Neptune seems to be a lot more proficient at domesticating than I happen to be. Another Duchess, another try, let’s just say. I should now get back to my guests downstairs as my absence will lead to neither the growth of my marriage portion nor the increased amount of respect this young girl might still have for me. Let’s hope she’s much like you, as someday I aspire to become much as mighty as Neptune has shown himself to this world to be.

With regards,

Your Duke

by Merel Smeets

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