Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning

Count Gismond

AIX EN PROVENCE

I

Christ God who savest man, save most

Of men Count Gismond who saved me!

Count Gauthier, when he chose his post,

Chose time and place and company

To suit it; when he struck at length

My honour, ’twas with all his strength.

II

And doubtlessly ere he could draw

All points to one, he must have schemed!

That miserable morning saw

10

Few half so happy as I seemed,

While being dressed in queen’s array

To give our tourney prize away.

III

I thought they loved me, did me grace

To please themselves; ’twas all their deed;

God makes, or fair or foul, our face;

If showing mine so caused to bleed

My cousins’ hearts, they should have dropped

A word, and straight the play had stopped.

IV

They, too, so beauteous! Each a queen

20

By virtue of her brow and breast;

Not needing to be crowned, I mean,

As I do. E’en when I was dressed,

Had either of them spoke, instead

Of glancing sideways with still head!

V

But no: they let me laugh, and sing

My birthday song quite through, adjust

The last rose in my garland, fling

A last look on the mirror, trust

My arms to each an arm of theirs,

30

And so descend the castle-stairs —

VI

And come out on the morning-troop

Of merry friends who kissed my cheek,

And called me queen, and made me stoop

Under the canopy — a streak

That pierced it, of the outside sun,

Powdered with gold its gloom’s soft dun —

VII

And they could let me take my state

And foolish throne amid applause

Of all come there to celebrate

40

My queen’s-day — Oh I think the cause

Of much was, they forgot no crowd

Makes up for parents in their shroud!

VIII

However that be, all eyes were bent

Upon me, when my cousins cast

Theirs down; ’twas time I should present

The victor’s crown, but . . . there, ’twill last

No long time . . . the old mist again

Blinds me as then it did. How vain!

IX

See! Gismond’s at the gate, in talk

50

With his two boys: I can proceed.

Well, at that moment, who should stalk

Forth boldly — to my face, indeed —

But Gauthier, and he thundered “Stay!”

And all stayed. “Bring no crowns, I say!”

X

“Bring torches! Wind the penance-sheet

About her! Let her shun the chaste,

Or lay herself before their feet!

Shall she whose body I embraced

A night long, queen it in the day?

60

For honour’s sake no crowns, I say!”

XI

I? What I answered? As I live,

I never fancied such a thing

As answer possible to give.

What says the body when they spring

Some monstrous torture-engine’s whole

Strength on it? No more says the soul.

XII

Till out strode Gismond; then I knew

That I was saved. I never met

His face before, but, at first view,

70

I felt quite sure that God had set

Himself to Satan; who would spend

A minute’s mistrust on the end?

XIII

He strode to Gauthier, in his throat

Gave him the lie, then struck his mouth

With one back-handed blow that wrote

In blood men’s verdict there. North, South,

East, West, I looked. The lie was dead,

And damned, and truth stood up instead.

XIV

This glads me most, that I enjoyed

80

The heart of the joy, with my content

In watching Gismond unalloyed

By any doubt of the event:

God took that on him — I was bid

Watch Gismond for my part: I did.

XV

Did I not watch him while he let

His armourer just brace his greaves,

Rivet his hauberk, on the fret

The while! His foot . . . my memory leaves

No least stamp out, nor how anon

90

He pulled his ringing gauntlets on.

XVI

And e’en before the trumpet’s sound

Was finished, prone lay the false knight,

Prone as his lie, upon the ground:

Gismond flew at him, used no sleight

O’ the sword, but open-breasted drove,

Cleaving till out the truth he clove.

XVII

Which done, he dragged him to my feet

And said “Here die, but end thy breath

In full confession, lest thou fleet

100

From my first, to God’s second death!

Say, hast thou lied?” And, “I have lied

To God and her,” he said, and died.

XVIII

Then Gismond, kneeling to me, asked

What safe my heart holds, though no word

Could I repeat now, if I tasked

My powers for ever, to a third

Dear even as you are. Pass the rest

Until I sank upon his breast.

XIX

Over my head his arm he flung

110

Against the world; and scarce I felt

His sword (that dripped by me and swung)

A little shifted in its belt:

For he began to say the while

How South our home lay many a mile.

XX

So ‘mid the shouting multitude

We two walked forth to never more

Return. My cousins have pursued

Their life, untroubled as before

I vexed them. Gauthier’s dwelling-place

120

God lighten! May his soul find grace!

XXI

Our elder boy has got the clear

Great brow; tho’ when his brother’s black

Full eye shows scorn, it . . . Gismond here?

And have you brought my tercel back?

I just was telling Adela

How many birds it struck since May.

“Count Gismond: Aix in Provence” illustrates, in the person of the woman who relates to a friend an episode of her own life, the power of innate purity to raise up for her a defender when caught in the toils woven by the unsuspected envy and hypocrisy of her cousins and Count Gauthier, who attempt to bring dishonor upon her, on her birthday, with the seeming intention of honoring her. Her faith that the trial by combat between Gauthier and Gismond must end in Gismond’s victory and her vindication reflects most truly, as Arthur Symons has pointed out, the medieval atmosphere of chivalrous France.

124. Tercel: a male falcon.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/dramatic/poem4.html

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