Robert Browning


My Last Duchess


Dramatic Lyrics


    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.
5   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
10   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
15   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
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
    She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
25   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
30   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
35   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
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,
    Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
45   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
50   Is ample warrant that no just pretense
    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,
55   Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
    Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.

First published 1842.

Contributed by Robert Clark.