Pippa Passes

Robert Browning

III.—EVENING. Inside the Turret. LUIGI and his MOTHER entering.

    Mother.     If there blew wind, you’d hear a long sigh, easing
The utmost heaviness of music’s heart.

    Luigi.     Here in the archway?

    Mother.                Oh no, no—in farther,
Where the echo is made, on the ridge.

    Luigi.                            Here surely, then.
How plain the tap of my heel as I leaped up!
Hark—‘Lucius Junius!’ The very ghost of a voice,
Whose body is caught and kept by . . . what are those?
Mere withered wallflowers, waving overhead?
They seem an elvish group with thin bleached hair
Who lean out of their topmost fortress—looking
And listening, mountain men, to what we say,
Hands under chin of each grave earthy face:
Up and show faces all of you!—‘All of you!
That’s the king’s dwarf with the scarlet comb; now hark—
Come down and meet your fate! Hark—‘Meet your fate!

    Mother.     Let him not meet it, my Luigi—do not
Go to his City! putting crime aside,
Half of these ills of Italy are feigned:
Your Pellicos and writers for effect,
Write for effect.

    Luigi.     Hush! say A. writes, and B.

    Mother.     These A.’s and B’s write for effect, I say.
Then, evil is in its nature loud, while good!
Is silent; you hear each petty injury,
None of his daily virtues; he is old,
Quiet, and kind, and densely stupid. Why
Do A. and B. not kill him themselves?

    Luigi.                                    They teach
Others to kill him—me—and, if I fail,
Others to succeed; now, if A. tried and failed,
I could not teach that: mine’s the lesser task.
Mother, they visit night by night . . . 

    Mother.                                —You, Luigi?
Ah, will you let me tell you what you are?

    Luigi.     Why net? Oh, the one thing you fear to hint,
You may assure yourself I say and say
Ever to myself; at times—nay, even as now
We sit, I think my mind is touched—suspect
All is not sound: but is not knowing that,
What constitutes one sane or otherwise?
I know I am thus—so all is right again!
I laugh at myself as through the town I walk,
And see men merry as if no Italy
Were suffering; then I ponder—‘I am rich,
Young, healthy; why should this fact trouble me,
More than it troubles these?’ But it does trouble!
No—trouble’s a bad word—for as I walk
There’s springing and melody and giddiness,
And old quaint turns and passages of my youth—
Dreams long forgotten, little in themselves—
Return to me—whatever may amuse me,
And earth seems in a truce with me, and heaven
Accords with me, all things suspend their strife,
The very cicale laugh ‘There goes he, and there!
Feast him, the time is short; he is on his way
For the world’s sake: feast him this once, our friend!’
And in return for all this, I can trip
Cheerfully up the scaffold-steps. I go
This evening, mother!

    Mother.                But mistrust yourself—
Mistrust the judgment you pronounce on him.

    Luigi.     Oh, there I feel—am sure that I am right!

    Mother.     Mistrust your judgment, then, of the mere means
Of this wild enterprise: say, you are right,—
How should one in your state e’er bring to pass
What would require a cool head, a cold heart,
And a calm hand? You never will escape.

    Luigi.     Escape—to even wish that, would spoil all!
The dying is best part of it. Too much
Have I enjoyed these fifteen years of mine,
To leave myself excuse for longer life—
Was not life pressed down, running o’er with joy,
That I might finish with it ere my fellows
Who, sparelier feasted, make a longer stay?
I was put at the board-head, helped to all
At first; I rise up happy and content.
God must be glad one loves His world so much!
I can give news of earth to all the dead
Who ask me:—last year’s sunsets, and great stars
That had a right to come first and see ebb
The crimson wave that drifts the sun away—
Those crescent moons with notched and burning rims
That strengthened into sharp fire, and there stood,
Impatient of the azure—and that day
In March, a double rainbow stopped the storm—
May’s warm, slow, yellow moonlit summer nights—
Gone are they, but I have them in my soul

    Mother.     (He will not go!)

    Luigi.                                You smile at me! ’Tis true,—
Voluptuousness, grotesqueness, ghastliness,
Environ my devotedness as quaintly
As round about some antique altar wreathe
The rose festoons, goats’ horns, and oxen’s skulls.

    Mother.     See now: you reach the city, you must cross
His threshold—how?

    Luigi.                Oh, that’s if we conspired!
Then would come pains in plenty, as you guess—
But guess not how the qualities most fit
For such an office, qualities I have,
Would little stead me otherwise employed,
Yet prove of rarest merit here, here only.
Every one knows for what his excellence
Will serve, but no one ever will consider
For what his worst defect might serve; and yet
Have you not seen me range our coppice yonder
In search of a distorted ash?—it happens
The wry spoilt branch’s a natural perfect bow!
Fancy the thrice-sage, thrice-precautioned man
Arriving at the palace on my errand!
No, no! I have a handsome dress packed up—
White satin here, to set off my black hair.
In I shall march—for you may watch your life out
Behind thick walls, make friends there to betray you;
More than one man spoils everything. March straight—
Only, no clumsy knife to fumble for.
Take the great gate, and walk (not saunter) on
Thro’ guards and guards—I have rehearsed it all
Inside the Turret here a hundred times!
Don’t ask the way of whom you meet, observe!
But where they cluster thickliest is the door
Of doors; they’ll let you pass—they’ll never blab
Each to the other, he knows not the favourite,
Whence he is bound and what’s his business now.
Walk in—straight up to him; you have no knife:
Be prompt, how should he scream? Then, out with you!
Italy, Italy, my Italy!
You’re free, you’re free! Oh mother, I could dream
They got about me—Andrea from his exile,
Pier from his dungeon, Gualtier from his grave!

    Mother.     Well, you shall go. Yet seems this patriotism
The easiest virtue for a selfish man
To acquire! He loves himself—and next, the world—
If he must love beyond,—but nought between:
As a short-sighted man sees nought midway
His body and the sun above. But you
Are my adored Luigi—ever obedient
To my least wish, and running o’er with love—
I could not call you cruel or unkind.
Once more, your ground for killing him?—then go!

    Luigi.     Now do you ask me, or make sport of me?
How first the Austrians got these provinces . . . 
(If that is all, I’ll satisfy you soon)
—Never by conquest, but by cunning, for
That treaty whereby . . . 

    Mother.                                Well?

    Luigi.                            (Sure he’s arrived
The tell-tale cuckoo: spring’s his confidant,
And he lets out her April purposes!)
Or . . . better go at once to modern times.
He has . . . they have . . . in fact, I understand
But can’t restate the matter; that’s my boast:
Others could reason it out to you, and prove
Things they have made me feel.

    Mother.                        Why go to-night?
Morn’s for adventure. Jupiter is now
A morning-star. I cannot hear you, Luigi!

    Luigi.     ‘I am the bright and morning-star,’ God saith—
And, ‘to such an one I give the morning-star!’
The gift of the morning-star—have I God’s gift
Of the morning-star?

    Mother.                    Chiara will love to see
That Jupiter an evening-star next June.

    Luigi.     True, mother. Well for those who live through June!
Great noontides, thunder-storms, all glaring pumps
Which triumph at the heels of the god June
Leading his revel through our leafy world.
Yes, Chiara will be here.

    Mother.                        In June: remember,
Yourself appointed that month for her coming.

    Luigi.     Was that low noise the echo?

    Mother.                            The night-wind.
She must be grown—with her blue eyes upturned
As if life were one long and sweet surprise:
In June she comes.

    Luigi.                We were to see together
The Titian at Treviso—there, again!

[From without is heard the voice of PIPPA, singing

A king lived long ago,
In the morning of the world,
When earth was nigher heaven than now:
And the king’s locks curled
Disporting o’er a forehead full
As the milk-white space ’twixt horn and horn
Of some sacrificial bull—
Only calm as a babe new-born:
For he was got to a sleepy mood,
So safe from all decrepitude,
Age with its bane, so sure gone by,
(The Gods so loved him while he dreamed.)
That, having lived thus long, there seemed
No need the king should ever die.

    Luigi.     No need that sort of king should ever die!

Among the rocks his city was:
Before his palace, in the sun,
He sat to see his people pass,
And judge them every one
From its threshold of smooth stone.
They haled him many a valley-thief
Caught in the sheep-pens—robber-chief,
Swarthy and shameless—beggar-cheat—
Spy-prowler—or rough pirate found
On the sea-sand left aground;
And sometimes clung about his feet,
With bleeding lip and burning cheek,
A woman, bitterest wrong to speak
Of one with sullen, thickset brows:
And sometimes from the prison-house
The angry priests a pale wretch brought,
Who through some chink had pushed and pressed,
On knees and elbows, belly and breast,
Worm-like into the temple,—caught
At last there by the very God,
Who ever in the darkness strode
Backward and forward, keeping watch
O’er his brazen bowls, such rogues to catch!
And these, all and every one,
The king judged, sitting in the sun.

    Luigi.     That king should still judge sitting in the sun!

His councillors, on left and right,
Looked anxious up,—but no surprise
Disturbed the king’s old smiling eyes,
Where the very blue had turned to white.
’Tis said, a Python scared one day
The breathless city, till he came,
With forky tongue and eyes on flame,
Where the old king sat to judge alway;
But when he saw the sweepy hair,
Girt with a crown of berries rare
Which the God will hardly give to wear
To the maiden who singeth, dancing bare
In the altar-smoke by the pine-torch lights,
At his wondrous forest rites,—
Beholding this, he did not dare
Approach that threshold in the sun,
Assault the old king smiling there.
Such grace had kings when the world begun!

[PIPPA passes.

    Luigi.     And such grace have they, now that the world ends!
The Python in the city, on the throne,
And grave men, God would crown for slaying him,
Lurk in bye-corners lest they fall his prey,
Are crowns yet to be won, in this late time,
Which weakness makes me hesitate to reach?
’Tis God’s voice calls, how could I stay? Farewell!


Talk by the way, while PIPPA is passing from the Turret to the Bishop’s brother’s House, close to the Duomo. S. Maria. Poor Girls sitting on the steps.

    First Girl.     There goes a swallow to Venice—the stout seafarer!
Seeing those birds fly, makes one wish for wings.
Let us all wish; you, wish first!

    Second Girl.                            I? This sunset
To finish—

    Third Girl.     That old—somebody I know,
Greyer and older than my grandfather,
To give me the same treat he gave last week—
Feeding me on his knee with fig-peckers,
Lampreys, and red Breganze-wine, and mumbling
The while some folly about how well I fare,
To be let eat my supper quietly:
Since had he not himself been late this morning
Detained at—never mind where,—had he not . . . 
‘Eh, baggage, had I not!’—

    Second Girl.                    How she can lie!

    Third Girl.     Look there—by the nails!

    Second Girl.     What makes your fingers red?

    Third Girl.     Dipping them into wine to write bad words with.
On the bright table: how he laughed!

    First Girl.                                    My turn.
Spring’s come and summer’s coming: I would wear
A long loose gown, down to the feet and hands,
With plaits here, close about the throat, all day:
And all night lie, the cool long nights, in bed—
And have new milk to drink—apples to eat,
Deuzans and junetings, leather-coats . . . ah, I should say,
This is away in the fields—miles!

    Third Girl.                            Say at once
You’d be at home: she’d always be at home!
Now comes the story of the farm among
The cherry orchards, and how April snowed
White blossoms on her as she ran: why, fool,
They’ve rubbed out the chalk-mark of how tall you were,
Twisted your starling’s neck, broken his cage,
Made a dunghill of your garden!

    First Girl.                            They, destroy
My garden since I left them? well—perhaps!
I would have done so: so I hope they have!
A fig-tree curled out of our cottage wall;
They called it mine, I have forgotten why,
It must have been there long ere I was born:
Cric—cric—I think I hear the wasps o’er-head
Pricking the papers strung to flutter there
And keep off birds in fruit-time—coarse long papers,
And the wasps eat them, prick them through and through.

    Third Girl.     How her mouth twitches! Where was I?—before
She broke in with her wishes and long gowns
And wasps—would I be such a fool!—Oh, here!
This is my way—I answer every one
Who asks me why I make so much of him—
(If you say, you love him—straight ‘he’ll not be gulled!’)
‘He that seduced me when I was a girl
Thus high—had eyes like yours, or hair like yours,
Brown, red, white,’—as the case may be—that pleases!
See how that beetle burnishes in the path—
There sparkles he along the dust! and, there—
Your journey to that maize-tuft’s spoilt at least!

    First Girl.     When I was young, they said if you killed one
Of those sunshiny beetles, that his friend
Up there, would shine no more that day nor next.

    Second Girl.     When you were young? Nor are you young, that’s true!
How your plump arms, that were, have dropped away!
Why, I can span them! Cecco beats you still?
No matter, so you keep your curious hair.
A wish they’d find a way to dye our hair
Your colour—any lighter tint, indeed,
Than black: the men say they are sick of black,
Black eyes, black hair!

    Fourth Girl.     Sick of yours, like enough!
Do you pretend you ever tasted lampreys
And ortolans? Giovita, of the palace,
Engaged (but there’s no trusting him) to slice me
Polenta with a knife that had cut up
An ortolan.

    Second Girl.     Why, there; is not that Pippa
We are to talk to, under the window,—quick,—
Where the lights are?

    First Girl.            No—or she would sing;
For the Intendant said . . . 

    Third Girl.                    Oh, you sing first—
Then, if she listens and comes close . . . I’ll tell you,
Sing that song the young English noble made,
Who took you for the purest of the pure,
And meant to leave the world for you—what fun!

    Second Girl.     [Sings.]

You’ll love me yet!—and I can tarry
Your love’s protracted growing:
June reared that bunch of flowers you carry,
From seeds of April’s sowing.

I plant a heart full now: some seed
At least is sure to strike,
And yield—what you’ll not pluck indeed,
Not love, but, may be, like!

You’ll look at least on love’s remains,
A grave’s one violet
Your look?—that pays a thousand pains.
What’s death!—You’ll love me yet!

    Third Girl.     [To PIPPA who approaches.]
Oh, you may come closer—we shall not eat you! Why, you seem the very person that the great rich handsome Englishman has fallen so violently in love with! I’ll tell you all about it.

Pippa Passes - Contents    |     IV - Night

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