Act II

Robert Browning


Dom. Well, Florence, shall I reach thee, pierce thy heart
Thro’ all its safeguards? Hate is said to help—
Quicken the eye, invigorate the arm,
And this my hate, made up of many hates,
Might stand in scorn of visible instrument,
And will thee dead:—yet do I trust it not.
Nor Man’s devices, nor Heaven’s memory
Of wickedness forgot on Earth so soon,
But thy own nature,—Hell and thee I trust,
To keep thee constant in that wickedness,
Where my revenge may meet thee: turn aside
A single step, for gratitude, or shame,—
Grace but this Luria, this wild mass of rage
That I prepare to launch against thee now,
With other payment than thy noblest found,—
Give his desert for once its due reward,—
And past thee would my sure destruction roll.
But thou, who mad’st our House thy sacrifice,
It cannot be thou wilt except this Moor
From the accustomed fate of zeal and truth;
Thou wilt deny his looked-for recompense,
And then—I reach thee! Old and trained, my sire
Could bow down on his quiet broken heart,
Die awe-struck and submissive, when at last
The strange blow came for the expected wreath;
And Porzio passed in blind bewilderment
To exile, never to return,—they say,
Perplexed in his frank simple honest soul,
As if some natural law had changed,—how else
Could Florence, on plain fact pronouncing thus,
Judge Porzio’s actions worthy such an end?
But Berto, with the ever-passionate pulse,
—Oh that long night, its dreadful hour on hour,
In which no way of getting his fair fame
From their inexplicable charges free,
Was found, save pouring forth the impatient blood
To show its colour whether false or no!
My brothers never had a friend like me
Close in their need to watch the time, then speak,
—Burst with a wakening laughter on their dream,
Say, Florence was all falseness, so false here,—
And show them what a simple task remained—
To leave dreams, rise, and punish in God’s name
The City wedded to its wickedness—
None stood by them as I by Luria stand!
So, when the stranger cheated of his due
Turns on thee as his rapid nature bids,
Then, Florence, think, a hireling at thy throat
For the first outrage, think who bore thy last,
Yet mutely in forlorn obedience died!
lie comes. . . . his friend. . . . black faces in the camp
Where moved those peerless brows and eyes of old!


Dom. Well, and the movement—is it as you hope?
’Tis Lucca?

Lur.                Ah, the Pisan trumpet merely!
Tiburzio’s envoy, I must needs receive—

Don.    Whom I withdraw before; yet if I lingered
You could not wonder, for my time fleets fast;
The overtaking night brings such reward!—
And where will then be room for me?    Yet still
Remember who was first to promise it,
And envies those who also can perform!                [Goes.

Lur.    This trumpet from the Pisans?—

Hus.                                                        In the camp;
A very noble presence—Braccio’s visage
On Puccio’s body—calm and fixed and good;
A man I seem as I had seen before—
Most like, it was some statue had the face.

Lur. Admit him! This will prove the last delay!

Hus. Ay, friend, go on, and die thou going on!
Thou heard’st what the grave woman said but now:
To-night rewards thee! That is well to hear!
But stop not therefore; hear it, and go on!

Lur. Oh, their reward and triumph and the rest
They round me in the ears with, all day long?
All that, I never take for earnest, friend!
Well would it suit us,—their triumphal arch
Or storied pillar,—thee and me, the Moors!
But gratitude in those Italian eyes—
That, we shall get?

Hus.                        It is too cold an air—
Our sun rose out of yonder mound of mist—
Where is he now? So I trust none of them!

Lur.    Truly?

Hus.                I doubt and fear. There stands a wall
’Twixt our expansive and explosive race
And those absorbing, concentrating men!
They use thee!

Lur.                And I feel it, Husain; yes,
And care not—yes, an alien force like mine
Is only called to play its part outside
Their different nature; where its sole use seems
To fight with and keep off an adverse force
As alien,—which repelled, mine too withdraws;
Inside, they know not what to do with me;
So I have told them laughingly and oft,
But long since I prepared to learn the worst.

Hus.    What is the worst?

Lur.                                I will forestall them, Husain
And speak my destiny, they dare not speak—
Banish myself before they find the heart!
I will be first to say, “the work rewards!
“I know, for all your praise, my use is over,
“So may it be!—meanwhile ’tis best I go,
“And carry safe my memories of you all
“To other scenes of action, newer lands,”—
Thus leaving them confirmed in their belief
They would not easily have tired of me!
You think this hard to say?

Hus.                                    Say it or not,
So thou but go, so they but let thee go!
This hating people, that hate each the other,
And in one blandness to us Moors unite—
Locked each to each like slippery snakes, I say,
Which still in all their tangles, hissing tongue
And threatening tail, ne’er do each other harm;
While any creature of a better blood,
They seem to fight for, while they circle safe
And never touch it,—pines without a wound,
Withers away before their eyes and breath.
See thou, if Puccio come not safely out
Of Braccio’s grasp, this Braccio sworn his foe,
As Braccio safely from Domizia’s toils
Who hates him most!—But thou, the friend of all,
. . . . Come out of them!

Lur.                        The Pisan trumpet now!

Hus. Breathe free—it is an enemy, no friend!


Lur. He keeps his instincts, no new culture mars
Their perfect use in him; just so the brutes
Rest not, are anxious without visible cause,
When change is in the elements at work,
Which man’s trained senses fail to apprehend.
But here,—he takes the distant chariot-wheels
For thunder, festal fire for lightning’s flash,
The finer traits of cultivated life
For treachery and malevolence: I see!


Lur. Quick, sir, your message. I but wait your message
To sound the charge. You bring not overtures
For truce?—I would not, for your General’s sake,
You spoke of truce—a time to fight is come,
And whatsoe’er the fight’s event, he keeps
His honest soldier’s name to beat me with,
Or leaves me all himself to beat, I trust!

Tib.    I am Tiburzio.

Lur.                        You? ’Tis—yes. . . . Tiburzio!
You were the last to keep the ford i’ the valley
From Puccio, when I threw in succours there!
Why, I was on the heights—thro’ the defile
Ten minutes after, when the prey was lost;
You wore an open scull-cap with a twist
Of water-reeds—the plume being hewn away;
While I drove down my battle from the heights,
—I saw with my own eyes!

Tib.                                    And you are Luria
Who sent my cohort, that laid down its arms
In error of the battle-signal’s sense,
Back safely to me at the critical time—
One of a hundred deeds—I know you! Therefore
To none but you could I. . . . 

Lur.                                No truce, Tiburzio!

Tib. Luria, you know the peril’s imminent
On Pisa,—that you have us in the toils,
Us her last safeguard, all that intercepts
The rage of her implacablest of foes
From Pisa,—if we fall to-day, she falls.
Tho’ Lucca will arrive, yet, ’tis too late.
You have so plainly here the best of it,
That you must feel, brave soldier as you are,
How dangerous we grow in this extreme,
How truly formidable by despair.
Still, probabilities should have their weight—
The extremest chance is ours, but, that chance failing.
You win this battle. Wherefore say I this?
To be well apprehended when I add,
This danger absolutely comes from you.
Were you, who threaten thus, a Florentine. . . . 

Lur. Sir, I am nearer Florence than her sons.
I can, and have perhaps obliged the State,
Nor paid a mere son’s duty.

Tib.                                    Even so!
Were you the son of Florence, yet endued
With all your present nobleness of soul,
No question, what I must communicate
Would not detach you from her.

Lur.                                        Me, detach?

Tib. Time urges: you will ruin presently
Pisa, you never knew, for Florence’ sake
You think you know. I have from time to time
Made prize of certain secret missives sent
From Braccio here, the Commissary, home—
And knowing Florence otherwise, I piece
The entire chain out, from these its scattered links.
Your trial occupies the Signory;
They sit in judgment on your conduct now!
When men at home enquire into the acts
Which in the field e’en foes appreciate. . . . 
Brief, they are Florentines! You, saving them,
Will seek the sure destruction saviours find.

Lur. Tiburzio—

Tib.                    All the wonder is of course!
I am not here to teach you, nor direct,
Only to loyally apprise—scarce that.
This is the latest letter, sealed and safe,
As it left here an hour ago. One way
Of two thought free to Florence, I command.
The duplicate is on its road: but this,—
Read it, and then I shall have more to say.

Lur. Florence!

Tib.                    Now, were yourself a Florentine,
This letter, let it hold the worst it can,
Would be no reason you should fall away—
The Mother city is the mother still,
And recognition of the children’s service
Her own affair; reward—there’s no reward!
But you are bound by quite another tie;
Nor Nature shows, nor Reason, why at first
A foreigner, born friend to all alike,
Should give himself to any special State
More than another, stand by Florence’ side
Rather than Pisa’s—’tis as fair a city
You war against, as that you fight for—famed
As well as she in story, graced no less
With noble heads and patriotic hearts,—
Nor to a stranger’s eye would either cause,
Stripped of the cumulative loves and hates
Which take importance from familiar view,
Stand as the Right, and Sole to be upheld.
Therefore, should the preponderating gift
Of love and trust, Florence was first to throw,
Which made you hers not Pisa’s, void the scale,—
Old ties dissolving, things resume their place
And all begins again. Break seal and read!
At least let Pisa offer for you now!
And I, as a good Pisan, shall rejoice—
Tho’ for myself I lose, in gaining you,
This last fight and its opportunity;
The chance it brings of saving Pisa yet,
Or in the turn of battle dying so
That shame should want its extreme bitterness.

Lur. Tiburzio, you that fight for Pisa now
As I for Florence. . . . say my chance were yours!
You read this letter, and you find. . . . no, no!
Too mad!

Tib.                I read the letter, find they purpose
When I have crushed their foe, to crush me: well?

Lur. You, being their captain, what is it you do?

Tib. Why as it is, all cities are alike—
Pisa will pay me much as Florence you;
I shall be as belied, whate’er the event,
As you, or more: my weak head, they will say,
Prompted this last expedient, my faint heart
Entailed on them indelible disgrace,
Both which defects ask proper punishment.
Another tenure of obedience, mine!
You are no son of Pisa’s: break and read!

Lur. And act on what I read? What act were fit?
If the firm-fixed foundation of my faith
In Florence, which to me stands for Mankind,
—If that breaks up and, disemprisoning
From the abyss. . . . Ah friend, it cannot be!
You may be very sage, yet. . . . all the world
Having to fail, or your sagacity,
You do not wish to find yourself alone
What would the world be worth? Whose love be sure?
The world remains—you are deceived!

Tib.                                                    Your hand!
I lead the vanguard.—If you fall, beside,
The better—I am left to speak! For me,
This was my duty, nor would I rejoice
If I could help, it misses its effect:
And after all you will look gallantly
Found dead here with that letter in your breast!

Lur. Tiburzio—I would see these people once
And test them ere I answer finally!
At your arrival let the trumpet sound:
If mine returns not then the wonted cry.
It means that I believe—am Pisa’s!

Tib.                                                Well.            [Goes.

Lur. My heart will have it he speaks true! My blood
Beats close to this Tiburzio as a friend.
If he had stept into my watch-tent, night
And the wild desert full of foes around,
I should have broke the bread and given the salt
Secure, and, when my hour of watch was done,
Taken my turn to sleep between his knees,
Safe in the untroubled brow and honest cheek.
Oh, world, where all things pass and nought abides,
Oh, life the long mutation—is it so?
Is it with life as with the body’s change?
—Where, e’en tho’ better follow, good must pass,
Nor manhood’s strength can mate with boyhood’s grace,
Nor age’s wisdom, in its turn, find strength,
But silently the first gift dies away,
And tho the new stays, never both at once!
Life’s time of savage instinct’s o’er with me,
It fades and dies away, past trusting more,
As if to punish the ingratitude
With which I turned to grow in these new lights,
And learned to look with European eyes.
Yet it is better, this cold certain way,
Where Braccio’s brow tells nothing,—Puccio a mouth,
Domizia’s eyes reject the searcher—yes—
For on their calm sagacity I lean,
Their sense of right, deliberate choice of good,
Sure, as they know my deeds, they deal with me.
Yes, that is better—that is best of all!
Such faith stays when mere wild belief would go
Yes—when the desert creature’s heart, at fault
Amid the scattering tempest’s pillared sands,
Betrays its steps into the pathless drift—
The calm instructed eye of man holds fast
By the sole bearing of the visible star,
Sure that when slow the whirling wreck subsides,
The boundaries, lost now, shall be found again,—
The palm-trees and the pyramid over all.
Yes: I trust Florence—Pisa is deceived!


Brac. Noon’s at an end: no Lucca? You must fight.

Lur. Do you remember ever, gentle friends,
I am no Florentine?

Dom.                        It is yourself
Who still are forcing us importunately,
To bear in mind what else we should forget.

Lur. For loss!—For what I lose in being none!
No shrewd man, such as you yourselves respect,
But would remind you of the stranger’s loss
In natural friends and advocates at home,
Hereditary loves, even rivalships,
With precedents for honour and reward.
Still, there’s a gain, too! If you take it so,
The stranger’s lot has special gain as well!
Do you forget there was my own far East
I might have given away myself to, once,
As now to Florence, and for such a gift,
Stood there like a descended Deity?
There, worship greets us! what do I get here?

[Shows the letter.
See! Chance has put into my hand the means
Of knowing what I earn, before I work!
Should I fight better, should I fight the worse,
With your crown palpably before me? see!
Here lies my whole reward! Best know it now,
Or keep it for the end’s entire delight?

Brac. If you serve Florence as the vulgar serve,
For swordsman’s pay alone,—break seal and read
In that case, you will find your full desert!

Lur. Give me my one last happy moment, friends!
You need me now, and all the gratitude
This letter can contain will never balance
The after-feeling that your need’s at end!
This moment. . . . Oh, the East has use with you!
Its sword still flashes—is not flung aside
With the past praise, in a dark corner yet!
How say you? ’Tis not so with Florentines—
Captains of yours—for them, the ended war
Is but a first step to the peace begun
—He who did well in war, just earns the right
To begin doing well in peace, you know!
And certain my precursors,—would not such
Look to themselves in such a chance as this,
Secure the ground they trod upon, perhaps?
For I have heard, by fits, or seemed to hear,
Of strange occurrences, ingratitude,
Treachery even,—say that one of you
Surmised this letter carried what might turn
To harm hereafter, cause him prejudice—
What would he do?

Dom. [hastily.] Thank God and take revenge!
Turn her own force agarnst the city straight,
And even at the moment when the foe
Sounded defiance. . . . 

[TIBURZIO’S trumpet sounds in the distance.

Lur.                            Ah, you Florentines!
So would you do? Wisely for you, no doubt!
My simple Moorish instinct bids me sink
The obligation you relieve me from,
Still deeper! (to PUC.] Sound our answer, I should say!
And thus:—[tearing the paper]—The battle! That solves every doubt!

Luria - Contents    |     Act III

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