My Last Duchess The Duke of Ferrara recalls his last wife. 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: 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) 10 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 20 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, 30 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 40 Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, E'en that 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 50 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! His Next Duchess A messenger spoken to in Browning's poem reports back to his lord, the next duchess's father. by Lawrence Jones My Lord, I’m now returned. His Grace, the Duke Sends his good wishes. Yet may I rebuke My lord? For yon Ferrara may be great, But it’s no place to trust your daughter’s fate. The hills of Tyrol rise to keep her here, Or she’ll become a painting on her bier, Or on his Grace’s wall, by friar painted. For I with former duchess was acquainted In private room, behind a private curtain, By private man, whose cruelty was certain. You must not send your girl to such a one Or she’ll become a poem overdone By one who loveliness cannot abide! For three full years his former duchess plied The halls and terrace, grounds, and court, then… hush! It seems she smiled too much and dared to blush When others, ’side the Duke, paid compliments, No matter were they rich or worth a pence. My Lord, the Duke related how he ne’er Will choose “to stoop,” by which he means to share His wishes or desires with anyone. This makes him hard to please, nor could she shun His presence, for he’s wont to notice all That happens in his orchard or his hall Or on his stairs or even in the rooms Nobility their privacy presumes. Trust not your daughter to this noble man, For noble-ness has not across the span Of these 900 years been good to he Who bears today the title clear and free. The arts are now his passion. There is no Blank spot on wall or landing, patio, Or terrace, but a new-commissioned piece Shows off the painter’s, sculptor’s, expertise. Your servant fears that people to His Grace Are much like works of art: they keep their place And add to trifling beauty, but they’re there To raise the Duke, make him extraordinaire. And when they cease to please him in some way – They do not even have to disobey – He simply has them exit from his life, No matter be they servant or his wife! I should not fail to mention, near the close Of our one-sided interview, he chose To compliment my Lord upon his kind And giving nature, and before we dined He twice brought up the dowry he intends To ask my Lord. I fear His Grace ascends To heights of unbelievability When he with unashamed agility Most quickly claimed it was my lady first In which his int’rest lay, as we conversed. And so, my Lord, your mercy now I crave For I will speak unto you as a knave: My lady in my Lord’s affection much is; You would do ill to make her his next duchess! The Rev. Dr. Lawrence Jones is a retired Presbyterian minister, residing in Bristol, Vermont. He is a member of Otter Creek Poets in Middlebury.