Robert Browning

My Last Duchess

[Published 1842, this poem is based on the life of Alfonso II, duke of Ferrara in the sixteenth century. The duke's first wife died after three years of marriage. The poem is written in the form of the duke addressing the agent sent by the prospective father-in-law to negotiate marriage terms.]

Notes added at right.

FERRARA

   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             Brother Pandolf, an imaginary painter
   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, 'twas 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, '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 chuse
   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                   Generosity
   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.