Act IV

Robert Browning



Puc. What Luria will do? Ah, ’tis yours, fair Sir,
Your and your subtle-witted master’s part,
To tell me that; I tell you what he can.

Jac. Friend, you mistake my station! I observe
The game, watch how my betters play, no more.

Puc.    But mankind are not pieces—there s your fault!
You cannot push them, and, the first move made,
Lean back to study what the next should be,
In confidence that when ’tis fixed upon,
You’ll find just where you left them, blacks and whites:
Men go on moving when your hand’s away.
You build, I notice, firm on Luria’s faith
This whole time,—firmlier than I choose to build,
Who never doubted it—of old, that is—
With Luria in his ordinary mind:
But now, oppression makes the wise man mad—
How do I know he will not turn and stand
And hold his own against you, as he may?
Suppose that he withdraws to Pisa—well,—
Then, even if all happens to your wish,
Which is a chance. . . . 

Jac.                                Nay—’twas an oversight,
Not waiting till the proper warrant came:
You could not take what was not ours to give.
But when at night the sentence really comes,
And Florence authorizes past dispute
Luria’s removal and your own advance,
You will perceive your duty and accept?

Puc. Accept what? muster-rolls of soldiers’ names?
An army upon paper?—I want men,
Their hearts as well as hands—and where’s a heart
That’s not with Luria, in the multitude
I come from walking thro’ by Luria’s side?
You gave him to them, set him on to grow,
Head-like, upon their trunk, one blood feeds both,
They feel him there, and live, and well know why!
—For they do know, if you are ignorant,
Who kept his own place and respected theirs,
Managed their ease, yet never spared his own.
All was your deed: another might have served—
There’s peradventure no such dearth of men—
But you chose Luria—so they grew to him
And now, for nothing they can understand,
Luria s removed, off is to roll the head—
The body’s mime—much I shall do with it!

Jac. That’s at the worst!

Puc.                                    No—at the best, it is!
Best, do you hear? I saw them by his side;
Only we two with Luria in the camp
Are left that know the secret? You think that?
Hear what I saw: from rear to van, no heart
But felt the quiet patient hero there
Was wronged, nor in the moveless ranks an eye
But glancing told its fellow the whole story
Of that convicted silent knot of spies
Who passed thro’ them to Florence; they might pass—
No breast but gladlier beat when free of them!
Our troops will catch up Luria, close him round,
Lead him to Florence as their natural lord,
Partake his fortunes, live or die with him!

Jac. And by mistake catch up along with him
Puccio, no doubt, compelled in self-despite
To still continue Second in Command!

Puc. No, Sir, no second nor so fortunate!
Your tricks succeed with me too well for that!
I am as you have made me, and shall die
A mere trained fighting hack to serve your end;
With words, you laugh at while they leave your mouth,
For my life’s rules and ordinance of God!
I have to do my duty, keep my faith,
And earn my praise, and guard against my blame,
As I was trained. I shall accept your charge,
And fight against one better than myself,
And my own heart’s conviction of his worth—
That, you may count on!—just as hitherto
I have gone on, persuaded I was wronged,
Slighted, and al! the terms we learn by rote,—
Al! because Luria superseded me—
Because the better nature, fresh-inspired,
Mounted above me to its proper place!
What mattered all the kindly graciousness,
And cordial brother’s bearing? This was clear—
I, once the captain, was subaltern now,
And so must keep complaining like a fool!
Go, take the curse of a lost man, I say!
You neither play your puppets to the end,
Nor treat the real man,—for his realness’ sake
Thrust rudely in their place,—with such regard
As might console them for their altered rank.
Me, the mere steady soldier, you depose
For Luria, and here’s all that he deserves!
Of what account, then, are my services?
One word for all: whatever Luria does,
—If backed by his indignant troops he turns
In self-defence and Florence goes to ground,—
Or for a signal, everlasting shame,
He pardons you, and simply seeks his friends
And heads the Pisan and the Lucchese troops
—And if I, for you ingrates past belief,
Resolve to fight against a man called false,
Who, inasmuch as he is true, fights there—
Whichever way he wins, he wins for me,
For every soldier, for the common good
Sir, chronicling the rest, omit not this!

As they go, enter LURIA and HUSAIN,

Hus. Saw’st thou?—For they are gone! The world lies bare
Before thee, to be tasted, felt and seen
Like what it is, now Florence goes away!
Thou livest now, with men art man again!
Those Florentines were eyes to thee of old;
But Braccio, but Domizia, gone is each—
There lie beneath thee thine own multitudes—
Sawest thou?

Lur.                I saw.

Hus.                    Then, hold thy course, my King!
The years return. Let thy heart have its way!
Ah, they would play with thee as with all else?
Turn thee to use, and fashion thee anew,
Find out God’s fault in thee as in the rest?
Oh, watch but, listen only to those men
Once at their occupation! Ere ye know,
The free great heaven is shut, their stifling pall
Drops till it frets the very tingling hair—
So weighs it on our head,—and, for the earth,
Our common earth is tethered up and down,
Over and across—hero shalt thou move, they say!

Lur.    Ay, Husain?

Hus.                    So have they spoiled all beside
So stands a man girt round with Florentines,
Priests, greybeards, Braccios, women, boys and spies,
All in one tale, each singing the same song,
How thou must house, and live at bed and board,
Take pledge and give it, go their every way,
Breathe to their measure, make thy blood beat time
With theirs—or—all is nothing—thou art lost—
A savage. . . . how shouldst thou perceive as they?
Feel glad to stand ’neath God’s close naked hand!
Look up to it! Why, down they pull thy neck,
Lest it crush thee, who feel’st it and wouldst kiss,
Without their priests that needs must glove it first,
Lest peradventure it should wound thy lip!
Love Woman! Why, a very beast thou art!
Thou must. . . . 

Lur.                Peace, Husain!

Hus.                                    Ay, but, spoiling all,
For all, else true, things substituting false,
That they should dare spoil, of all instincts, thine!
Should dare to take thee with thine instincts up,
Thy battle-ardours, like a ball of fire,
And class them and allow them place and play
So far, no farther—unabashed the while!
Thou with the soul that never can take rest—
Thou born to do, undo, and do again,
But never to be still,—wouldst thou make war?
Oh, that is commendable, just and right!
Come over, say they, have the honour due
In living out thy nature! Fight thy best—
It is to be for Florence not thyself!
For thee, it were a horror and a plague—
For us, when war is made for Florence, see,
How all is changed—the fire that fed on earth
Now towers to heaven!—

Lur.                                And what sealed up so long
My Husain’s mouth?

Hus.                        Oh, friend, oh, lord—for me,
What am I?—I was silent at thy side,
That am a part of thee—It is thy hand,
Thy foot that glows when in the heart fresh blood
Boils up, thou heart of me! Now live again!
Again love as thou likest, hate as free!
Turn to no Braccios nor Domizias now,
To ask, before thy very limbs dare move,
If Florence’ welfare be concerned thereby!

Lur. So clear what Florence must expect of me?

Hus. Both armies against Florence! Take revenge!
Wide, deep—to live upon, in feeling now,—
And after, in remembrance, year by year—
And, with the dear conviction, die at last!
She lies now at thy pleasure—pleasure have!
Their vaunted intellect that gilds our sense,
And blends with life, to show it better by,
—How think’st thou?—I have turned that light on them!
They called our thirst of war a transient thing;
The battle-element must pass away
From life, they said, and leave a tranquil world:
—Master, I took their light and turned it full
On that dull turgid vein they said would burst
And pass away; and as I looked on Life,
Still everywhere I tracked this, though it hid
And shifted, lay so silent as it thought,
Changed oft the hue yet ever was the same:
Why, ’twas all fighting, all their nobler life!
All work was fighting, every harm—defeat,
And every joy obtained—a victory!
Be not their dupe!
                            —Their dupe? That hour is past!
Here stand’st thou in the glory and the calm!
All is determined! Silence for me now!

[HUSAIN goes.

Lur. Have I heard all?

Dom. [advancing from the background.] No, Luria,
                I am here!
Not from the motives these have urged on thee,
Ignoble, insufficient, incomplete,
And pregnant each with sure seeds of decay,
As failing of sustainment from thyself,
—Neither from low revenge, nor selfishness,
Nor savage lust of power, nor one, nor all,
Shalt thou abolish Florence! I proclaim
The angel in thee, and reject the spirits
Which ineffectual crowd about his strength,
And mingle with his work and claim a share!
—Inconsciously to the augustest end
Thou hast arisen: second not in rank
So much as time, to him who first ordained
That Florence, thou art to destroy, should be—
Yet him a star, too, guided, who broke first
The pride of lonely power, the life apart,
And made the eminences, each to each,
Lean o’er the level world and let it lie
Safe from the thunder henceforth ’neath their arms—
So the few famous men of old combined,
And let the multitude rise underneath,
And reach them, and unite—so Florence grew!
Braccio speaks well, it was well worth the price.
But when the sheltered Many grew in pride
And grudged the station of the glorious ones,
Who, greater than their kind, are truly great
Only in voluntary servitude—
Time was for thee to rise, and thou art here.
Such plague possessed this Florence—who can tell
The mighty girth and greatness at the heart
Of those so noble pillars of the grove
She pulled down in her envy? Who as I,
The light weak parasite born but to twine
Round each of them and, measuring them, so live?
My light love keeps the matchless circle safe,
My slender life proves what has past away!
I lived when they departed; lived to cling
To thee, the mighty stranger; thou would’st rise
And burst the thraldom, and avenge, I knew.
I have done nothing; all was thy strong heart:
But a bird’s weight can break the infant tree
Which after holds an aery in its arms,
And ’twas my care that nought should warp thy spire
From rising to the height; the roof is reached—
Break through and there is all the sky above!
Go on to Florence, Luria! ’Tis man’s cause!
Fail thou, and thine own fall is least to dread!
Thou keepest Florence in her evil way,
Encouragest her sin so much the more—
And while the bloody past is justified,
Thou all the surelier dost work against
The men to come, the Lurias yet unborn,
Who, greater than thyself, are reached o’er thee
That giv’st the vantage-ground their foes require,
As o’er my prostrate House thyself was’t reached!
Man calls thee—God shall judge thee: all is said,
The mission of my House fulfilled at last!
And the mere woman, speaking for herself,
Reserves speech; it is now no woman’s time.

[DOMIZIA goes.

Lur. So at the last must figure Luria, then!
Doing the various work of all his friends,
And answering every purpose save his own.
No doubt, ’tis well for them to wish; for him—
After the exploit what is left? Perchance
A little pride upon the swarthy brow,
At having brought successfully to bear
’Gainst Florence’ self her own especial arms,—
Her craftiness, impelled by fiercer strength
From Moorish blood than feeds the northern wit—
But after!—once the easy vengeance willed,
Beautiful Florence at a word laid low
—(Not in her Domes and Towers and Palaces,
Not even in a dream, that outrage!)—low,
As shamed in her own eyes henceforth for ever,
Low, for the rival cities round to see
Conquered and pardoned by a hireling Moor!
—For him, who did the irreparable wrong,
What would be left, his life’s illusion fled,—
What hope or trust in the forlorn wide world?
How strange that Florence should mistake me so!
How grew this? What withdrew her faith from me?
Some cause! These fretful-blooded children talk
Against their mother,—they are wronged, they say—
Notable wrongs a smile makes up again!
So, taking fire at each supposed offence,
They may speak rashly, suffer for rash speech—
But what could it have been in word or deed
That injured me? Some one word spoken more
Out of my heart, and all had changed perhaps!
My fault, it must have been,—for what gain they?
Why risk the danger? See, what I could do!
And my fault, wherefore visit upon them,
My Florentines? The generous revenge,
I meditate! To stay here passively,
Go at their summons, be as they dispose—
Why, if my very soldiers keep their ranks,
And if I pacify my chiefs, what then?
I ruin Florence—teach her friends mistrust—
Confirm her enemies in harsh belief—
And when she finds one day, as she must find,
The strange mistake, and how my heart was hers,
Shall it console me, that my Florentines
Walk with a sadder step, a graver face,
Who took me with such frankness, praised me so,
At the glad outset! Had they loved me less,
They had less feared what seemed a change in me.
And after all, who did the harm? Not they!
How could they interpose with those old fools
In the council? Suffer for those old fools’ sakes—
They, who made pictures of me, sang the songs
About my battles? Ah, we Moors get blind
Out of our proper world where we can see!
The sun that guides is closer to us! There—
There, my own orb! He sinks from out the sky!
Why, there! a whole day has he blessed the land,
My land, our Florence all about the hills,
The fields and gardens, vineyards, olive-grounds,
All have been blest—and yet we Florentines
With minds intent upon our battle here,
Found that he rose too soon, or else too late,
Gave us no vantage, or gave Pisa more—
And so we wronged him! Does he turn in ire
To burn the earth, that cannot understand?
Or drop out quietly, and leave the sky,
His task once ended? Night wipes blame away:
Another morning from my East shall rise
And find all eyes at leisure, more disposed
To watch it and approve its work, no doubt.
So, praise the new sun, the successor praise!
Praise the new Luria, and forget the old!
                            [Taking a phial from his breast.
—Strange! This is all I brought from my own Land
To help me—Europe would supply the rest,
All needs beside, all other helps save this!
I thought of adverse fortune, battles lost,
The natural upbraidings of the loser,
And then this quiet remedy to seek
At end of the disastrous day—                [He drinks.
                                            ’Tis sought!
This was my happy triumph-morning: Florence
Is saved: I drink this, and ere night,—die!—Strange!

Luria - Contents    |     Act V

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