Pippa Passes

Robert Browning

II—NOON. Over Orcana. The House of JULES, who crosses its threshold with PHENE: she is silent, on which JULES begins

Do not die, Phenel I am yours now, you
Are mine now; let fate reach me how she likes,
If you’ll not die—so, never die! Sit here—
My work-room’s single seat. I overlean
This length of hair and lustrous front; they turn
Like an entire flower upward: eyes—lips—last
Your chin—no, last your throat turns—’tis their scent
Pulls down my face upon you! Nay, look ever
This one way till I change, grow you—I could
Change into you, Beloved!
                                        You by me,
And I by you; this is your hand in mine,
And side by side we sit: all’s true. Thank God!
I have spoken: speak, you!
                                        O, my life to come!
My Tydeus must be carved, that’s there in clay;
Yet how be carved, with you about the chamber?
Where must I place you? When I think that once
This room-full of rough block-work seemed my heaven
Without you! Shall I ever work again,
Get fairly into my old ways again,
Bid each conception stand while, trait by trait,
My hand transfers its lineaments to stone?
Will my mere fancies live near you, my truth—
The live truth, passing and repassing me,
Sitting beside me?
                        Now speak!
                                        Only, first,
See, all your letters! Was’t not well contrived?
Their hiding-place is Psyche’s robe; she keeps
Your letters next her skin: which drops out foremost?
Ah,—this that swam down like a first moonbeam
Into my world!
                        Again those eyes complete
Their melancholy survey, sweet and slow,
Of all my room holds; to return and rest
On me, with pity, yet some wonder too—
As if God bade some spirit plague a world,
And this were the one moment of surprise
And sorrow while she took her station, pausing
O’er what she sees, finds good, and must destroy!
What gaze you at? Those? Books, I told you of;
Let your first word to me rejoice them, too:
This minion, a Coluthus, writ in red
Bistre and azure by Bessarion’s scribe—
Read this line . . . no, shame—Homer’s be the Greek
First breathed me from the lips of my Greek girl!
My Odyssey in coarse black vivid type
With faded yellow blossoms ’twist page and page,
To mark great places with due gratitude;
He said, and on Antinous directed
A bitter shaft
’ . . . a flower blots out the rest!
Again upon your search? My statues, then!
—Ah, do not mind that—better that will look
When cast in bronze—an Almaign Kaiser, that,
Swart-green and gold, with truncheon based on hip.
This, rather, turn to! What, unrecognized?
I thought you would have seen that here you sit
As I imagined you,—Hippolyta,
Naked upon her bright Numidian horse!
Recall you this, then? ‘Carve in bold relief’—
So you commanded—‘carve, against I come,
A Greek, in Athens, as our fashion was,
Feasting, bay-filleted and thunder-free,
Who rises ’neath the lifted myrtle-branch:
Praise those who slew Hipparchus,” cry the guests,
While o’er thy head the singer’s myrtle waves
As erst above our champions’: stand up, all!
See, I have laboured to express your thought!
Quite round, a cluster of mere hands and arms,
(Thrust in all senses, all ways, from all sides,
Only consenting at the branch’s end
They strain toward) serves for frame to a sole face,
The Praiser’s, in the centre—who with eyes
Sightless, so bend they back to light inside
His brain where visionary forms throng up,
Sings, minding not that palpitating arch
Of hands and arms, nor the quick drip of wine
From the drenched leaves o’erhead, nor crowns cast off,
Violet and parsley crowns to trample on—
Sings, pausing as the patron-ghosts approve,
Devoutly their unconquerable hymn!
But you must say a ‘well’ to that—say, ‘well!’
Because you gaze—am I fantastic, sweet?
Gaze like my very life’s-stuff, marble—marbly
Even to the silence! why, before I found
The real flesh Phene, I inured myself
To see, throughout all nature, varied stuff
For better nature’s birth by means of art.
With me, each substance tended to one form
Of beauty—to the human archetype—
On every side occurred suggestive germs
Of that—the tree, the flower—or take the fruit,—
Some rosy shape, continuing the peach,
Curved beewise o’er its bough; as rosy limbs,
Depending, nestled in the leaves; and just
From a cleft rose-peach the whole Dryad sprang.
But of the stuffs one can be master of,
How I divined their capabilities!
From the soft-rinded smoothening facile chalk
That yields your outline to the air’s embrace,
Half-softened by a halo’s pearly gloom;
Down to the crisp imperious steel, so sure
To cut its one confided thought clean out
Of all the world. But marble! ’v;neath my tools
More pliable than jelly—as it were
Some clear primordial creature dug from depths
In the earth’s heart, where itself breeds itself,
And whence all baser substance may be worked;
Refine it off to air, you may,—condense it
Down to the diamond;—is not metal there,
When o’er the sudden specks my chisel trips?
—Not flesh, as flake off flake I scale, approach,
Lay bare those bluish veins of blood asleep?
Lurks flame in no strange windings where, surprised
By the swift implement sent home at once,
Flushes and glowings radiate and hover
About its track?
                        Phene? what—why is this?
That whitening cheek, those still-dilating eyes!
Ah, you will die—I knew that you would die!

PHENE begins, on his having long remained silent.

Now the end’s coming; to be sure, it must
Have ended sometime! Tush, why need I speak
Their foolish speech? I cannot bring to mind
One half of it, besides; and do not care
For old Natalia now, nor any of them
Oh, you—what are you?—if I do not try
To say the words Natalia made me learn,
To please your friends,—it is to keep myself
Where your voice lifted me, by letting it
Proceed: but can it? Even you, perhaps,
Cannot take up, now you have once let fall,
The music’s life, and me along with that—
No, or you would! We’ll stay, then, as we are:
Above the world.
                        You creature with the eyes!
If I could look for ever up to them,
As now you let me,—I believe, all sin,
All memory of wrong done or suffering borne,
Would drop down, low and lower, to the earth
Whence all that’s low comes, and there touch and stay
—Never to overtake the rest of me,
All that, unspotted, reaches up to you,
Drawn by those eyes! What rises is myself,
Not so the shame and suffering; but they sink,
Are left, I rise above them. Keep me so,
Above the world!
                    But you sink, for your eyes
Are altering—altered! Stay—‘I love you, love you’ . . . 
I could prevent it if I understood:
More of your words to me: was’t in the tone
Or the words, your power?
                        Or stay—I will repeat
Their speech, if that contents you! Only, change
No more, and I shall find it presently
—Far back here, in the brain yourself filled
Natalia threatened me that harm would follow
Unless I spoke their lesson to the end,
But harm to me, I thought she meant, not you
Your friends,—Natalia said they were your friends
And meant you well,—because, I doubted it,
Observing (what was very strange to see)
On every face, so different in all else,
The same smile girls like us are used to bear,
But never men, men cannot stoop so low;
Yet your friends, speaking of you, used that smile,
That hateful smirk of boundless self-conceit
Which seems to take possession of this world
And make of God their tame confederate,
Purveyor to their appetites . . . you know!
But no—Natalia said they were your friends,
And they assented while they smiled the more,
And all came round me,—that thin Englishman
With light, lank hair seemed leader of the rest;
He held a paper—‘What we want,’ said he,
Ending some explanation to his friends—
‘Is something slow, involved and mystical,
To hold Jules long in doubt, yet take his taste
And lure him on, so that, at innermost
Where he seeks sweetness’ soul, he may find—this!
—As in the apple’s core, the noisome fly:
For insects on the rind are seen at once,
And brushed aside as soon, but this is found
Only when on the lips or loathing tongue:
And so he read what I have got by heart—
I’ll speak it,—‘Do not die, love! I am yours’ . . . 
Stop—is not that, or like that, part of words
Yourself began by speaking? Strange to lose
What cost such pains to learn! Is this more right?

I am a painter who cannot paint;
In my life, a devil rather than saint,
In my brain, as poor a creature too:
No end to al! I cannot do!
Yet do one thing at least I can—
Love a man, or hate a man
Supremely: thus my lore began.
Through the Valley of Love I went,
In its lovingest spot to abide,
And just on the verge where I pitched my tent,
I found Hate dwelling beside.
(Let the Bridegroom ask what the painter meant,
Of his Bride, of the peerless Bride!)
And further, I traversed Hate’s grove,
In its hatefullest nook to dwell;
But lo, where I flung myself prone, couched Love
Where the deepest shadow fell.
(The meaning—those black bride’s-eye: above,
Not the painter’s lip should tell!)

‘And here,’ said he, ‘Jules probably will ask,
You have black eyes, love,—you are, sure enough,
My peerless bride,—so, do you tell, indeed,
What needs some explanation—what means this?

—And I am to go on, without a word—

So, I grew wiser in Love and Hate,
From simple, that I was of late.
For once, when I loved, I would enlace
Breast, eyelids, hands, feet, form and face
Of her I loved, in one embrace—
As if by mere love I could love immensely!
And when I hated, I would plunge
My sword, and wipe with the first lunge
My foe’s whole life out, like a spunge—
As if by mere hate I could hate intensely!
But now I am wiser, know better the fashion
How passion seeks aid from its opposite passion,
And if I see cause to love more, or hate more
Than ever man loved, ever hated, before—
And seek in the Valley of Love,
The spot, or the spot in Hate’s Grove,
Where my soul may the sureliest reach
The essence, nought less, of each,
The Hate of all Hates, or the Love
Of all Loves, in its Valley or Grove,—
I find them the very warders
Each of the other’s borders.
I love most, when Love is disguised
In Hate; and when Hate is surprised
In Love, then I hate most: ask
How Love smiles through hate’s iron casque,
Hate grins through Love’s rose-braided mask,—
And how, having hated thee,
I sought long and painfully
To wound thee, and not prick
The skin, but pierce to the quick—
Ask this, my Jules, and be answered straight
By thy bride—how the painter Lutwyche can hate!

JULIS interposes.

Lutwyche! who else? But all of them, no doubt,
Hated me: they at Venice—presently
Their turn, however! You I shall not meet:
If I dreamed saying this would wake me!
What’s here, this gold—we cannot meet again,
Consider—and the money was but meant
For two years’ travel, which is over now,
All chance, or hope, or care, or need of it!
This—and what comes from selling these, my casts
And books, and medals, except . . . let them go
Together, so the produce keeps you safe,
Out of Natalia’s clutches!—If by chance
(For all’s chance here) I should survive the gang
At Venice, root out all fifteen of them,
We might meet somewhere, since the world is wide,

[From without is heard the voice of PIPPA, singing

Give her but a least excuse to love me!
How—can this arm establish her above me,
If fortune fired her as my lady there,
There already, to eternally reprove me?
(‘Hist’—said Kate the queen;
But ‘Oh’—cried the maiden, binding her tresses,
’Tis only a page that carols unseen
Crumbling your hounds their messes!’

Is she wronged?—To the rescue of her honour,
My heart
Is she poor?—What costs it to be styled a donor?
Merely an earth’s to cleave, a sea’s to part!
But that fortune should have thrust all this upon her!
(‘Nay, list,’-bade Kate the queen;
And still cried the maiden, binding her tresses,
‘’Tis only a page that carols unseen
Fitting your hawks their jesses!’)

[PIPPA passes.

JULES resumes

What name was that the little girl sang forth?
Kate? The Cornaro, doubtless, who renounced
The crown of Cyprus to be lady here
At Asolo, where still the peasants keep
Her memory; and songs tell how many a page
Pined for the grace of one so far above
His power of doing good to, as a queen—
‘She never could be wronged, be poor,’ he sighed,
‘For him to help her!’
                        Yes, a bitter thing
To see our lady above all need of us;
Yet so we look ere we will love; not I,
But the world looks so. If whoever loves
Must he, in some sort, god or worshipper,
The blessing or the blest one, queen or page,
Why should we always choose the page’s part?
Here is a woman with utter need of me,—
I find myself queen here, it seems!
                                How strange!
Look at the woman here with the new soul,
Like my own Psyche’s,—fresh upon her lips
Alit, the visionary butterfly,
Waiting my word to enter and make bright,
Or flutter off and leave all blank as first.
This body had no soul before, but slept
Or stirred, was beauteous or ungainly, free
From taint or foul with stain, as outward things
Fastened their image on its passiveness:
Now, it will wake, feel, live—or die again!
Shall to produce form out of unshaped stuff
Be Art—and, further, to evoke a soul
From form, be nothing? This new soul is mine!

Now, to kill Lutwyche, what would that do?—save
A wretched dauber, men will hoot to death
Without me, from their laughter! Oh, to hear
God’s voice plain as I heard it first, before
They broke in with that laughter! I heard them
Henceforth, not God.
                To Ancona—Greece—some isle!
I wanted silence only: there is clay
Everywhere. One may do whate’er one likes
In Art: the only thing is, to make sure
That one does like it—which takes pains to know.
Scatter all this, my Phene—this mad dream!
Who, what is Lutwyche, what Natalia’s friends,
What the whole world except our love—my own,
Own Phene? But I told you, did I not,
Ere night we travel for your land—some isle
With the sea’s silence on it? Stand aside—
I do but break these paltry models up
To begin Art afresh. Shall I meet Lutwyche,
And save him from my statue’s meeting him?
Some unsuspected isle in the far seas!
Like a god going through his world there stands
One mountain for a moment in the dusk,
Whole brotherhoods of cedars on its brow;
And you are ever by me while I gaze
—Are in my arms as now—as now—as now
Some unsuspected isle in the far seas!
Some unsuspected isle in far-off seas!

Talk by the way, while PIPPA is passing from Orcana to the Turret. Two or three of the Austrian Police loitering with BLUPHOCKS, an English vagabond just in view of the Turret.

    Bluphocks.1     So, that is your Pippa, the, little girl who passed us singing? Well, your Bishop’s Intendant’s money shall be honestly earned:—now, don’t make me that sour face because I bring the Bishop’s name into the business—we know he can have nothing to do with such horrors—we know that he is a saint and all that a Bishop should be, who is a great man besides. Oh! were but every worm a maggot, Every fly a grig, Every bough a Christmas faggot, Every tune a jig! In fact, I have abjured all religions; but the last I inclined to, was the Armenian—for I have travelled, do yet: see, and at Koenigsberg, Prussia Improper (so styled because there’s a sort of bleak hungry sun there,) you might remark over a venerable house-porch, a certain Chaldee inscription; and brief as it is, a mere glance at it used absolutely to change the mood of every bearded passenger. In they turned, one and all; the young and lightsome, with no irreverent pause, the aged and decrepit, with a sensible alacrity,—’twas the Grand Rabbi’s abode, in short. Struck with curiosity, I lost no time in learning Syriac—(these are vowels, you dogs,—follow my stick’s end in the mud—Celarent, Darii, Ferio!) and one morning presented myself spelling-book in hand, a, b, c,—I picked it out letter by letter, and what was the purport of this miraculous posy? Some cherished legend of the Past, you’ll say—‘How Moses hocus-pocust Egypt’s land with fly and locust,’—or, ‘How to Jonah sounded harshish, Get thee up and go to Tarshish,’—or, ‘How the angel meeting Balaam, Straight his ass returned a salaam—’ In no wise! ‘Shackabrach—Boach—somebody or other—Isaach, Re-cei-ver, Pur-cha-ser and Ex-chan-ger of—Stolen Goods!’ So, talk to me of the religion of a bishop! I have renounced all bishops save Bishop Beveridge—mean to live so—and die—As some Greek dog-sage, dead and merry, Hellward bound in Charon’s wherry—With food for both worlds, under and upper, Lupine-seed and Hecate’s supper, And never an obolus . . . (Though thanks to you, or this Intendant through you, or this Bishop through his Intendant—I possess a burning pocketfull of zwanzigers) . . . To pay the Stygian ferry!

    First Policeman.     There is the girl, then; go and deserve them the moment you have pointed out to us Signor Luigi and his mother. (To the rest) I have been noticing a house yonder, this long while: not a shutter unclosed since morning!

    Second Policeman.     Old Luca Gaddi’s, that owns the silk-mills here: he dozes by the hour, wakes up, sighs deeply, says he should like to be Prince Metternich, and then dozes again, after having bidden young Sebald, the foreigner, set his wife to playing draughts: never molest such a household, they mean well.

    Bluphocks.     Only, cannot you tell me something of this little Pippa, I must have to do with? One could make something of that name—Pippa—that is, short for Felippa—rhyming to Panurge consults Hertrippa—Believ’st thou, King Agrippa? Something might be done with that name.

    Second Policeman.     Put into rhyme that your head and a ripe musk-melon would not be dear at half a zwanziger! Leave this fooling, and look out: the afternoon’s over or nearly so.

    Third Policeman.     Where in this passport of Signor Luigi does our Principal instruct you to watch him so narrowly? There? what’s there beside a simple signature? (That English fool’s busy watching.)

    Second Policeman.     Flourish all round—‘Put all possible obstacles in his way;’ oblong dot at the end—‘Detain him till further advices reach you;’ scratch at bottom—‘Send him back on pretence of some informality in the above;’ ink-spirt on right-hand side, (which is the case here)—‘Arrest him at once.’ Why and wherefore, I don’t concern myself, but my instructions amount to this: if Signor Luigi leaves home to-night for Vienna, well and good—the passport deposed with us for our visa is really for his own use, they have misinformed the Office, and he means well; but let him stay over to-night—there has been the pretence we suspect, the accounts of his corresponding and holding intelligence with the Carbonari are correct, we arrest him at once, to-morrow comes Venice, and presently, Spielberg. Bluphocks makes the signal, sure enough! That is he, entering the turret with his mother, no doubt.

1.    ‘He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust’    [back]

Pippa Passes - Contents    |     III - Evening

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