Guest poem sent in by Pavithra Krishnan
(Poem #104) My Last Duchess
That's my last Duchess painted on the wall, Looking as if she were alive. I call That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands Worked busily a day, and there she stands. Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said "Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read Strangers like you that pictured countenance, The depth and passion of its earnest glance, But to myself they turned (since none puts by The curtain I have drawn for you, but I) And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, How such a glance came there; so, not the first Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not Her husband's presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps Frà Pandolf chanced to say, "Her mantle laps Over my Lady's wrist too much," or "Paint Must never hope to reproduce the faint Half-flush that dies along her throat"; such stuff Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough For calling up that spot of joy. She had A heart . . . how shall I say? . . . too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er She looked on, and her looks went everywhere. Sir, 'twas all one! My favour at her breast, The dropping of the daylight in the West, The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule She rode with round the terrace--all and each Would draw from her alike the approving speech, Or blush, at least. She thanked men,--good; but thanked Somehow . . . I know not how . . . as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame This sort of trifling? Even had you skill In speech--(which I have not)--to make your will Quite clear to such an one, and say, "Just this Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss, Or there exceed the mark"--and if she let Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse, --E'en then would be some stooping; and I chuse Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet The company below, then. I repeat, The Count your Master's known munificence Is ample warrant that no just pretence Of mine for dowry will be disallowed; Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go Together down, Sir! Notice Neptune, though, Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity, Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me.
I think this one is Great. A dramatic monologue and also the aristocratic, unapologetic explanation of a poikilothermic murderer. You read this poem as partial victim of the Duke's chillingly warped sense of reality. This is not Evil revelling in itself- but Evil masquerading as Righteousness... Deliciously creepy. The brutal arrogance of the supremely egotistical Duke and his veneer of consummate refinement are brought out masterfully in that telling line- "..and I choose/ Never to stoop." The 'inconclusive-ness' of the piece leaves the reader in horrified suspense (a pretty innovative decision on Browning's part- the use of open-endings as a technique had yet to catch on). A virtuoso performance by a fascinating character,an exquisitely handled script, and a title that is a dangerous revelation in itself. Pavithra Krishnan