Robert Browning
My Last Duchess (1842)






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


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,


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, 'twas not


Her husband's presence only, called that spot


Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps


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


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, 'twas 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!

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.