Pippa Passes: Part III: Evening

A poem by Robert Browning

Scene. Inside the Turret on the Hill above Asolo. 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
That lean out of their topmost fortress look
And listen, mountain men, to what we say,
Hand under chin of each grave earthy face.
Up and show faces all of you! "All of you!"
That's the king dwarf with the scarlet comb; old Franz,
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 virtues; he is old beside,
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 not? 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 cicala laughs "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
To 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
Which 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? 'T is 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 only here.
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? I find
The wry spoilt branch 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 try 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 time,
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," saith God
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 pomps
That triumph at the heels of June the god
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,
Disparting 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
He was by the very god,
Who ever in the darkness strode
Backward and forward, keeping watch
O'er his brazen bowls, such rogues to catch!
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.
'T is 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,
Seeing 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 at the city, on the throne,
And brave 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?
'T is 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. PoorGirls sitting on the steps.


1st 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!


2nd Girl
I? This sunset
To finish.


3rd 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,
Let sit and 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!"


2nd Girl
How she can lie!


3rd Girl
Look there by the nails!


2nd Girl.
What makes your fingers red?


3rd Girl
Dipping them into wine to write bad words with
On the bright table: how he laughed!


1st 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!



3rd 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 rubved the chalk-mark out, how tall you were
Twisted your starling's neck, broken his cage,
Made a dung-hill of your garden!


1st 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'erhead
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.


3rd 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 spoiled at least!


1st 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.


2nd 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.
I 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!


4th 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.


2nd Girl
Why, there! Is not that Pippa
We are to talk to, under the window, quick,
Where the lights are?


1st Girl
That she? No, or she would sing.
For the Intendant said . . .


3rd 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!


2nd 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 heartful 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!


3rd 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.

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