Robert Browning


PUCCIO, as making a report to JACOPO

Puc. And here, your Captain must report the rest;
For, as I say, the main engagement over,
And Lucia’s special part in it performed,
How could subalterns like myself expect
Leisure or leave to occupy the field
And glean what dropped from his wide harvesting?
I thought, when Lucca at the battle’s end
Came up, just as the Pisan centre broke,
That Luria would detach me and prevent
The flying Pisans seeking what they found,
Friends in the rear, a point to rally by:
But no—more honourable proved my post!
I had the august captive to escort
Safe to our camp—some other could pursue,
Fight, and be famous; gentler chance was mine—
Tiburzio’s wounded spirit must be soothed!
He’s in the tent there.

Jac.                                    Is the substance down?
I write—“The vanguard beaten, and both wings
In full retreat—Tiburzio prisoner”—
And now,—“That they fell back and formed again
On Lucca’s coming.”—Why then, after all,
’Tis half a victory, no conclusive one?

Puc. Two operations where a sole had served.

Jac. And Luria’s fault was—?

Puc.                            Oh, for fault. . . . not much!
He led the attack, a thought impetuously,
—There’s commonly more prudence; now, he seemed
To hurry measures, otherwise well-judged;
By over concentrating strength, at first,
Against the enemy’s van, both sides escaped:
That’s reparable—yet it is a fault.


Jac. As good as a full victory to Florence,
With the advantage of a fault beside—
What is it, Puccio?—that by pressing forward
With too impetuous. . . . 

Brac.                                    The report anon!
Thanks, Sir—you have elsewhere a charge, I know.

[PUCCIO goes.
There’s nothing done but I would do again;
Yet, Lapo, it may be the Past proves nothing,
And Luria has kept faithful to the end!

Jac. I was for waiting.

Brac.                                Yes: so was not I!
He could not choose but tear that letter—true!
Still, certain of his tones, I mind, and looks—
You saw, too, witht fresher soul than I.
So, Porzio seemed an injured man, they say!
Well, I have gone upon the broad, sure ground.


Lur. [to PUC.] Say, at his pleasure I will see Tiburzio:
All’s at his pleasure.

Don. [to LUR.]            Were I not so sure
You would reject, as you do constantly,
Praise,—I might tel! you what you have deserved
Of Florence by this last and crowning feat:
But words are vain!

Lur.                        Nay, you may praise me now!
I want instruction every hour, I find,
On points where once I saw least need of it;
And praise, I have been used to do without,
Seems not so easy to dispense with now,
After a battle half one’s strength is gone—
And glorious passion in us once appeased,
Our reason’s calm cold dreadful voice begins.
All justice, power and beauty scarce appear
Monopolized by Florence, as of late,
To me, the stranger; you, no doubt, may know
Why Pisa needs must give her rival place;
And I am growing nearer you, perhaps,
For I, too, want to know and be assured,
When a cause ceases to reward itself,
Its friend needs fresh sustainments; praise is one,
And here stand you—you, Lady, praise me well!
But yours—(your pardon)—is unlearned praise:
To the motive, the endeavour, the heart’s self,
Your quick sense looks; you crown and call aright
The soul of the purpose, ere ’tis shaped as act,
Takes flesh i’ the world, and clothes itself a king;
But when the act comes, stands for what ’tis worth,
—Here’s Puccio, the skilled soldier; he’s my judge!
Was all well, Puccio?

Puc.                            All was. . . . must be well:
If we beat Lucca presently, as doubtless. . . . 
—No, there’s no doubt, we must—All was well done.

Lur. In truth? But you are of the trade, my Puccio!
You have the fellow-craftsman’s sympathy!
There’s none knows like a fellow of the craft,
The all unestimatted sum of pains
That go to a success the world can see;
They praise then, but the best they never know:
—But you know!—Oh, if envy mix with it,
Hate even, still the bottom praise of all,
Whatever be the dregs, that drop’s pure gold!
—For nothing’s like it; nothing else records
Those daily, nightly drippings in the dark
Of the heart’s blood, the world lets drop away
For ever. . . . So, pure gold that praise must be!
And I have yours, my soldier: yet the best
Is still to come—there’s one looks on apart
Whom all refers to, failure or success;
What’s done might be our best, our utmost work,
And yet inadequate to serve his need:
Here’s Braccio now, for Florence—here’s our service—
Well done for us, is it well done for him?
His chosen engine, tasked to its full strength
Answers his end?—Should he have chosen higher?
Do we help Florence, now our best is done?

Brac. This battle with the foregone services,
Saves Florence.

Lur.                    Why then, all is very well!
Here am I in the middle of my friends,
Who know me and who love me, one and all!
And yet. . . . ’tis like. . . . this instant while I speak
Is like the turning moment of a dream
When. . . . Ah, you are not foreigners like me!
Well then, one always dreams of friends at home,
And always comes, I say, the turning point
When something changes in the friendly eyes
That love and look on you. . . . so slight, so slight. . . . 
And yet it tells you they are dead and gone,
Or changed and enemies, for all their words,
And all is mockery, and a maddening show!
You, now, so kind here, all you Florentines,
What is it in your eyes. . . . those lips, those brows. . . . 
Nobody spoke it. . . . yet I know it well!—
Come now—this battle saves you, all’s at end,
Your use of me is o’er, for good, for evil,—
Come now, what’s done against me, while I speak,
In Florence? Come! I feel it in my blood,
My eyes, my hair, a voice is in my ear
That spite of all this smiling and kind speech
You are betraying me! What is it you do?
Have it your way, and think my use is over;
That you are saved and may throw off the mask—
Have it my way, and think more work remains
Which I could do,—so show you fear me not!
Or prudent be, or generous, as you choose,
But tell me—tell what I refused to know
At noon, lest heart should fail me! Well? That letter?
My fate is known at Florence! What is it?

Brac. Sir, I shall not conceal what you divine:
It is no novelty for innocence
To be suspected, but a privilege:
The after certain compensation comes.
Charges, I say not whether false or true,
Have been preferred against you some time since,
Which Florence was bound, plainly, to receive,
And which are therefore undergoing now
The due investigation. That is all.
I doubt not but your innocence will shine
Apparent and illustrious, as to me,
To them this evening, when the trial ends

Lur. My trial?

Dom.                    Florence, Florence to the end,
My whole heart thanks thee!

Puc. [to BRAC.]                    What is “Trial,” Sir?
It was not for a trial—surely, no—
I furnished you those notes from time to time?
I hold myself aggrieved—I am a man—
And I might speak,—ay, and speak mere truth, too,
And yet not mean at bottom of my heart
What should assist a—Trial, do you say?
You should have told me!

Dom.                                Nay, go on, go on!
His sentence! Do they sentence him? What is it?
The block? Wheel?

Brac.                        Sentence there is none as yet,
Nor shall I give my own opinion here
Of what it should be, or is like to be,
When it is passed, applaud or disapprove!
Up to that point, what is there to impugn?

Lur. They are right, then, to try me?

Brac.                                                    I assert,
Maintain, and justify the absolute right
Of Florence to do all she can have done
In this procedure,—standing on her guard,
Receiving even services like yours
With utmost fit suspicious wariness.
In other matters—keep the mummery up!
Take all the experiences of the whole world,
Each knowledge that broke thro’ a heart to life,
Each reasoning which, to work out, cost a brain,
—In other cases, know these, warrant these,
And then dispense with them—’tis very well!
Let friend trust friend, and love demand its like,
And gratitude be claimed for benefits,—
There’s grace in that—and when the fresh heart breaks,
The new brain proves a martyr, what of it?
Where is the matter of one moth the more
Singed in the candle, at a summer’s end?
But Florence is no simple John or James
To have his toy, his fancy, his conceit,
That he’s the one excepted man by fate,
And, when fate shows him he’s mistaken there,
Die with all good men’s praise, and yield his place
To Paul and George intent to try their chance:
Florence exists because these pass away;
She’s a contrivance to supply a type
Of Man, which men’s deficiencies refuse;
She binds so many, that she grows out of them—
Stands steady o’er their numbers, tho’ they change
And pass away—there’s always what upholds,
Always enough to fashion the great show!
As, see, yon hanging city, in the sun,
Of shapely cloud substantially the same!
A thousand vapours rise and sink again,
Are interfused, and live their life and die,—
Yet ever hangs the steady show i’ the air
Under the sun’s straight influence: that is well!
That is worth Heaven to hold, and God to bless!
And so is Florence,—the unseen sun above,
Which draws and holds suspended all of us—
Binds transient mists and vapours into one,
Differing from each and better than they all.
And shall she dare to stake this permanence
On any one man’s faith? Man’s heart is weak,
And its temptations many: let her prove
Each servant to the very uttermost
Before she grant him her reward, I say!

Dom. And as for hearts she chances to mistake,
That are not destined to receive reward,
Tho’ they deserve it, did she only know!
—What should she do for these?

Brac.                                        What does she not?
Say, that she gives them but herself to serve!
Here’s Luria—what had profited his strength,
When half an hour of sober fancying
Had shown him step by step the uselessness
Of strength exerted for its proper sake?
But the truth is, she did create that strength,
Drew to the end the corresponding means.
The world is wide—are we the only men?
Oh, for the time, the social purpose’ sake,
Use words agreed on, bandy epithets,
Call any man, sole Great and Wise and Good!
But shall we, therefore, standing by ourselves,
Insult our souls and God with the same speech?
There, swarm the ignoble thousands under Him—
What marks us from the hundreds and the tens?
Florence took up, turned all one way the soul
Of Luria with its fires, and here he stands!
She takes me out of all the world as him,
Fixing my coldness till like ice it stays
The fire! So, Braccio, Luria, which is best?

Lur. Ah, brave me? And is this indeed the way
To gain your good word and sincere esteem?
Am I the baited tiger that must turn
And fight his baiters to deserve their praise?
Obedience has no fruit then?—Be it so!
Do you indeed remember I stand here
The Captain of the conquering army,—mine—
With all your tokens, praise and promise, ready
To show for what their names were when you gave,
Not what you style them now you take away?
If I call in my troops to arbitrate,
And in their first enthusiastic thrill
Of victory, tell them how you menace me—
Commending to their plain instinctive sense,
My story first, your comment afterward,—
Will they take, think you, part with you or me?
When I say simply, I, the man they know,
Ending my work, ask payment, and find Florence
Has all this while provided silently
Against the day of pay and proving words,
By what you call my sentence that’s to come—
Will they sit waiting it complacently?
When I resist that sentence at their head
What will you do, my mild antagonist?

Brac. I will rise up like fire, proud and triumphant
That Florence knew you thoroughly and by me,
And so was saved: “See, Italy,” I’ll say,
“The need of our precautions—here’s a man
“Was far advanced, just touched on the reward
“Less subtle cities had accorded him—
“But we were wiser; at the end comes this!”
And from that minute all your strength will go—
The very stones of Florence cry against
The all-exacting, unenduring Luria,
Resenting her first slight probation thus,
As if he, only, shone and cast no shade,
He, only, walked the earth with privilege
Against suspicion, free from causing fear—
So, for the first inquisitive mother’s-word,
He turned, and stood on his defence, forsooth!
Reward? You will not be worth punishment!

Lur. And Florence knew me thus! Thus I have lived,—
And thus you, with the clear fine intellect,
Braccio, the cold acute instructed mind,
Out of the stir, so calm and unconfused,
Reported me—how could you otherwise!
Ay?—and what dropped from you, just now, more-over?
Your information, Puccio?—Did your skill
And understanding sympathy approve
Such a report of me? Was this the end?
Or is even this the end? Can I stop here—
You, Lady, with the woman’s stand apart,
The heart to see with, not those learned eyes,
. . . I cannot fathom why you should destroy
The unoffending man, you call your friend—
So, looking at the good examples here
Of friendship, ’tis but natural I ask
Had you a further end, in all you spoke,
Than profit to me, in those instances
Of perfidy from Florence to her chiefs—
All I remember now for the first time?

Dom. I am a daughter of the Traversari,
Sister of Porzio and of Berto both.
I have foreseen all that has come to pass.
I knew the Florence that could doubt their faith,
Must needs mistrust a stranger’s—holding back
Reward from them, must hold back his reward.
And I believed, the shame they bore and died,
He would not bear, but live and fight against—
Seeing he was of other stuff than they.

Lur. Hear them! All these against one Foreigner!
And all this while, where is in the whole world
To his good faith a single witness?

Tiburzio [who has entered during the preceding
dialogue.]                                    Here!
Thus I bear witness to it, not in word
But deed. I live for Pisa; she’s not lost
By many chances—much prevents from that!
Her army has been beaten, I am here,
But Lucca comes at last, one chance exists.
I rather had see Pisa three times lost
Than saved by any traitor, even by you.
The example of a traitor’s happy fortune
Would bring more evil in the end than good.
Pisa rejects such: save yourself and her!
I, in her name, resign forthwith to you
My charge,—the highest of her offices.
You shall not, by my counsel, turn on Florence
Her army, give her calumny that ground—
Nor bring it with you: be you all we gain,
And all she’ll lose, a head to deck some bridge,
And save the crown’s cost that should deck the head.
Leave her to perish in her perfidy,
Plague-stricken and stripped naked to all eyes,
A proverb and a by-word in all mouths!
Go you to Pisa—Florence is my place—
Leave me to tell her of the rectitude,
I, from the first, told Pisa, knowing it.
To Pisa!

Dom. Ah, my Braccio, are you caught?

Brac. Puccio, good soldier and selected man,
Whom I have ever kept beneath my eye,
Ready, as fit, to serve in this event
Florence, who clear foretold it from the first—
Thro’ me, she gives you the command and charge
She takes, thro’ me, from him who held it late!
A painful trial, very sore, was yours:
All that could draw out, marshal in array
The selfish passions ’gainst the public good—
Slights, scorns, neglects, were heaped on you to bear:
And ever you did bear and bow the head!
It had been sorry trial, to precede
Your feet, hold up the promise of reward
For luring gleam; your footsteps kept the track
Thro’ dark and doubt: take all the light at once!
Trial is over, consummation shines;
Well have you served, as well henceforth command!

Puc. No, no. . . . I dare not. . . . I am grateful, glad;
But Luria—you shall understand he’s wronged—
And he’s my Captain—this is not the way
We soldiers climb to fortune: think again!
The sentence is not even passed, beside!
I dare not. . . . where’s the soldier could?

Lur.                                                Now, Florence—
Is it to be?—You will know all the strength
Of the savage—to your neck the proof must go?
You will prove the brute nature? Ah, I see!
The savage plainly is impassible—
He keeps his calm way thro’ insulting words,
Sarcastic looks, sharp gestures—one of which
Would stop you, fatal to your finer sense:
But if he steadily advances, still
Without a mark upon his callous hide,
Thro’ the mere brushwood you grow angry with,
And leave the tatters of your flesh upon,
—You have to learn that when the true bar comes,
The thick mid forest, the real obstacle,
Which when you reach, you give the labour up,
Nor dash on, but lie down composed before,
—He goes against it, like the brute he is!
It falls before him, or he dies in his course!
I kept my course thro’ past ingratitude—
I saw—it does seem, now, as if I saw,
Could not but see, those insults as they fell,
—Ay, let them glance from off me, very like,
Laughing, perhaps, to think the quality
You grew so bold on, while you so despised
The Moor’s dull mute inapprehensive mood,
Was saving you; I bore and kept my course:
Now real wrong fronts me—see if I succumb!
Florence withstands me?—I will punish her!

At night my sentence will arrive, you say!
Till then I cannot, if I would, rebel—
—Unauthorised to lay my office down,
Retaining my full power to will and do:
After—is it to see. Tiburzio, thanks!
Go you are free—join Lucca. I suspend
All further operations till to-night.
Thank you, and for the silence most of all!
[To Brac.] Let my complacent bland accuser go,
And carry his self-approving head and heart
Safe thro’ the army which would trample him
Dead in a moment at my word or sign!
Go, Sir, to Florence; tell friends what I say—
That while I wait their sentence, theirs waits them!
[To Dom.] You, Lady,—you have black Italian eyes!
I would be generous if I might. . . . Oh, yes—
For I remember how so oft you seemed
Inclined at heart to break the barrier down
Which Florence makes God build between us both.
Alas, for generosity! this hour
Demands strict justice—bear it as you may!
I must—the Moor,—the Savage,—pardon you!
[To Puc.] Puccio, my trusty soldier, see them forth!—

Luria - Contents    |     Act IV

Back    |    Words Home    |    Robert Browning Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback