Robert Browning
My Last Duchess (1842)

 

FERRARA

 

 

 

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,

 

Looking as if she were alive. I call

 

That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf's hands

4

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

 

Will't please you sit and look at her? I said

 

"Fra Pandolf'" by design, for never read

 

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

8

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,

12

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

 

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not

 

Her husband's presence only, called that spot

 

Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps

16

Fra 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

20

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

24

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

 

Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast,

 

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

 

The bough of cherries some officious fool

28

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

32

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

36

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

40

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,

44

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

48

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;

52

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,

56

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!


FERRARA: Alfonso II, duke of Ferrara in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century, is the presumed speaker of the poem.

3. Fra Pandolf: fictitious artist.

7. countenance: expression of the face.

16. mantle: a loose cloak or other covering.

49. Count: presumably Count Tyrol of Austria.

51. dowry: traditionally offered by the bride's father, it is the estate that a bride brings to her husband.

56. Claus of Innsbruck: fictitious sculptor.