Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning

In a Gondola

He sings.

I send my heart up to thee, all my heart

In this my singing.

For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;

The very night is clinging

Closer to Venice’ streets to leave one space

Above me, whence thy face

May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.

She speaks.

Say after me, and try to say

My very words, as if each word

10

Came from you of your own accord,

In your own voice, in your own way:

“This woman’s heart and soul and brain

Are mine as much as this gold chain

She bids me wear, which (say again)

I choose to make by cherishing

A precious thing, or choose to fling

Over the boat-side, ring by ring.”

And yet once more say . . . no word more!

Since words are only words. Give o’er!

20

Unless you call me, all the same,

Familiarly by my pet name,

Which if the Three should hear you call,

And me reply to, would proclaim

At once our secret to them all.

Ask of me, too, command me, blame —

Do, break down the partition-wall

‘Twixt us, the daylight world beholds

Curtained in dusk and splendid folds!

What’s left but — all of me to take?

30

I am the Three’s: prevent them, slake

Your thirst! ’Tis said, the Arab sage,

In practising with gems, can loose

Their subtle spirit in his cruce

And leave but ashes: so, sweet mage,

Leave them my ashes when thy use

Sucks out my soul, thy heritage!

He sings.

I

Past we glide, and past, and past!

What’s that poor Agnese doing

Where they make the shutters fast?

40

Grey Zanobi’s just a-wooing

To his couch the purchased bride:

Past we glide!

II

Past we glide, and past, and past!

Why’s the Pucci Palace flaring

Like a beacon to the blast?

Guests by hundreds, not one caring

If the dear host’s neck were wried:

Past we glide!

She sings.

I

The moth’s kiss, first!

50

Kiss me as if you made believe

You were not sure, this eve,

How my face, your flower, had pursed

Its petals up; so, here and there

You brush it, till I grow aware

Who wants me, and wide ope I burst..

II

The bee’s kiss, now!

Kiss me as if you entered gay

My heart at some noonday,

A bud that dares not disallow

60

The claim, so all is rendered up,

And passively its shattered cup

Over your head to sleep I bow.

He sings.

I

What are we two?

I am a Jew,

And carry thee, farther than friends can pursue,

To a feast of our tribe;

Where they need thee to bribe

The devil that blasts them unless he imbibe.

Thy . . . Scatter the vision for ever! And now

70

As of old, I am I, thou art thou!

II

Say again, what we are?

The sprite of a star,

I lure thee above where the destinies bar

My plumes their full play

Till a ruddier ray

Than my pale one announce there is withering away

Some . . . Scatter the vision forever! And now,

As of old, I am I, thou art thou!

He muses.

Oh, which were best, to roam or rest?

80

The land’s lap or the water’s breast?

To sleep on yellow millet-sheaves,

Or swim in lucid shallows just

Eluding water-lily leaves,

An inch from Death’s black fingers, thrust

To lock you, whom release he must;

Which life were best on Summer eves?

He speaks, musing.

Lie back; could thought of mine improve you?

From this shoulder let there spring

A wing; from this, another wing;

90

Wings, not legs and feet, shall move you!

Snow-white must they spring, to blend

With your flesh, but I intend

They shall deepen to the end,

Broader, into burning gold,

Till both wings crescent-wise enfold

Your perfect self, from ‘neath your feet

To o’er your head, where, lo, they meet

As if a million sword-blades hurled

Defiance from you to the world!

100

Rescue me thou, the only real!

And scare away this mad ideal

That came, nor motions to depart!

Thanks! Now, stay ever as thou art!

Still he muses.

I

What if the Three should catch at last

Thy serenader? While there’s cast

Paul’s cloak about my head, and fast

Gian pinions me, Himself has past

His stylet thro’ my back; I reel;

And . . . is it thou I feel?

II
110

They trail me, these three godless knaves,

Past every church that saints and saves,

Nor stop till, where the cold sea raves

By Lido’s wet accursed graves,

They scoop mine, roll me to its brink,

And . . . on thy breast I sink!

She replies, musing.

Dip your arm o’er the boat-side, elbow-deep,

As I do: thus: were death so unlike sleep,

Caught this way? Death’s to fear from flame or steel,

Or poison doubtless; but from water — feel!

120

Go find the bottom! Would you stay me? There!

Now pluck a great blade of that ribbon-grass

To plait in where the foolish jewel was,

I flung away: since you have praised my hair,

’Tis proper to be choice in what I wear.

He speaks.

Row home? must we row home? Too surely

Know I where its front’s demurely

Over the Giudecca piled;

Window just with window mating,

Door on door exactly waiting,

130

All’s the set face of a child:

But behind it, where’s a trace

Of the staidness and reserve,

And formal lines without a curve,

In the same child’s playing-face?

No two windows look one way

O’er the small sea-water thread

Below them. Ah, the autumn day

I, passing, saw you overhead!

First, out a cloud of curtain blew,

140

Then a sweet cry, and last came you —

To catch your lory that must needs

Escape just then, of all times then,

To peck a tall plant’s fleecy seeds,

And make me happiest of men.

I scarce could breathe to see you reach

So far back o’er the balcony

To catch him ere he climbed too high

Above you in the Smyrna peach

That quick the round smooth cord of gold,

150

This coiled hair on your head, unrolled,

Fell down you like a gorgeous snake

The Roman girls were wont, of old,

When Rome there was, for coolness’ sake

To let lie curling o’er their bosoms.

Dear lory, may his beak retain

Ever its delicate rose stain

As if the wounded lotus-blossoms

Had marked their thief to know again!

Stay longer yet, for others’ sake

160

Than mine! What should your chamber do?

— With all its rarities that ache

In silence while day lasts, but wake

At night-time and their life renew,

Suspended just to pleasure you

Who brought against their will together

These objects, and, while day lasts, weave

Around them such a magic tether

That dumb they look: your harp, believe,

With all the sensitive tight strings

170

Which dare not speak, now to itself

Breathes slumberously, as if some elf

Went in and out the chords, his wings

Make murmur wheresoe’er they graze,

As an angel may, between the maze

Of midnight palace-pillars, on

And on, to sow God’s plagues, have gone

Through guilty glorious Babylon.

And while such murmurs flow, the nymph

Bends o’er the harp-top from her shelI

180

As the dry limpet for the Iymph

Come with a tune he knows so well.

And how your statues’ hearts must swell!

And how your pictures must descend

To see each other, friend with friend!

Oh, could you take them by surprise,

You’d find Schidone’s eager Duke

Doing the quaintest courtesies

To that prim saint by Haste-thee-Luke!

And, deeper into her rock den,

190

Bold Castelfranco’s Magdalen

You’d find retreated from the ken

Of that robed counsel-keeping Ser —

As if the Tizian thinks of her,

And is not, rather, gravely bent

On seeing for himself what toys

Are these, his progeny invent,

What litter now the board employs

Whereon he signed a document

That got him murdered! Each enjoys

200

Its night so well, you cannot break

The sport up, so, indeed must make

More stay with me, for others’ sake.

She speaks.

I

To-morrow, if a harp-string, say,

Is used to tie the jasmine back

That overfloods my room with sweets,

Contrive your Zorzi somehow meets

My Zanze! If the ribbon’s black,

The Three are watching: keep away!

II

Your gondola — let Zorzi wreathe

210

A mesh of water weeds about

Its prow, as if he unaware

Had struck some quay or bridge-foot stair!

That I may throw a paper out

As you and he go underneath.

There’s Zanze’s vigilant taper; safe are we.

Only one minute more to-night with me?

Resume your past self of a month ago!

Be you the bashful gallant, I will be

The lady with the colder breast than snow.

220

Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand

More than I touch yours when I step to land,

And say, “All thanks, Siora!”—

Heart to heart

And lips to lips! Yet once more, ere we part,

Clasp me and make me thine, as mine thou art!

[He is surprised, and stabbed.

It was ordained to be so, sweet! — and best

Comes now, beneath thine eyes, upon thy breast.

Still kiss me! Care not for the cowards! Care

Only to put aside thy beauteous hair

My blood will hurt! The Three, I do not scorn

230

To death, because they never lived: but I

Have lived indeed, and so —(yet one more kiss)— can die!

“In a Gondola” is a lyric dialogue between two Venetian lovers who have stolen away in a gondola spite of “the three”—“Himself,” perhaps a husband, and “Paul” and “Gian,” her brothers — whose vengeance discovers them at the end, but not before their love and danger have moved them to weave a series of lyrical fancies, and led them to a climax of emotion which makes Life so deep a joy that Death is of no account. “The first stanza was written,” writes Browning, “to illustrate Maclise’s picture, for which he was anxious to get some line or two. I had not seen it, but from Forster’s description, gave it to him in his room impromptu. . . . When I did see it I thought the serenade too jolly, somewhat, for the notion I got from Forster, and I took up the subject in my own way.”

113. Lido’s . . . graves: Jewish tombs were there.

127. Giudecca: a canal of Venice.

155. Lory: a kind of parrot.

186. Schidone’s eager Duke: an imaginary painting by Bartolommeo Schidone of Modena (1560–1616).

188. Haste-thee-Luke: the English form of the nickname, Luca-fà-presto, given Luca Giordano (1632–1705), a Neapolitan painter, on account of his constantly being goaded on in his work by his penurious and avaricious father.

190. Castelfranco: the Venetian painter, Giorgione, called Castelfranco, because born there, 1478, died 1511.

193. Tizian: (1477–1516). The pictures are all imaginary, but suggestive of the style of each of these artists.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32