Dramatic Romances, by Robert Browning

A Light Woman

1

So far as our story approaches the end,

Which do you pity the most of us three?

My friend, or the mistress of my friend

With her wanton eyes, or me?

2

My friend was already too good to lose,

And seemed in the way of improvement yet,

When she crossed his path with her hunting noose

And over him drew her net.

3

When I saw him tangled in her toils,

10

A shame, said I, if she adds just him

To her nine-and-ninety other spoils,

The hundredth for a whim!

4

And before my friend be wholly hers,

How easy to prove to him, I said,

An eagle’s the game her pride prefers,

Though she snaps at a wren instead!

5

So, I gave her eyes my own eyes to take,

My hand sought hers as in earnest need,

And round she turned for my noble sake,

20

And gave me herself indeed.

6

The eagle am I, with my fame in the world,

The wren is he, with his maiden face.

You look away and your lip is curled?

Patience, a moment’s space!

7

For see, my friend goes shaking and white;

He eyes me as the basilisk:

I have turned, it appears, his day to night,

Eclipsing his sun’s disk.

8

And I did it, he thinks, as a very thief:

30

“Though I love her — that, he comprehends—

One should master one’s passions (love, in chief)

And be loyal to one’s friends!”

9

And she — she lies in my hand as tame

As a pear late basking over a wall;

Just a touch to try and off it came;

’Tis mine — can I let it fall?

10

With no mind to eat it, that’s the worst!

Were it thrown in the road, would the case assist?

’Twas quenching a dozen blue-flies’ thirst

40

When I gave its stalk a twist.

11

And I— what I seem to my friend, you see:

What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess:

What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?

No hero, I confess.

12

’Tis an awkward thing to play with souls,

And matter enough to save one’s own:

Yet think of my friend, and the burning coals

He played with for bits of stone!

13

One likes to show the truth for the truth;

50

That the woman was light is very true:

But suppose she says — Never mind that youth!

What wrong have I done to you?

14

Well, any how, here the story stays,

So far at least as I understand;

And, Robert Browning, you writer of plays,

Here’s a subject made to your hand!

“A Light Woman” is the story of a dramatic situation brought about by the speaker’s intermeddling to save his less sophisticated friend from a light woman’s toils. He deflects her interest and wins her heart, and this is the ironical outcome: his friendly, dispassionate act makes him seem to his friend a disloyal passion’s slave; his scorn of the light woman teaches him her genuineness, and proves himself lighter than she; his futile assumption of the god manoeuvring souls makes the whole story dramatically imply, in a way dear to Browning’s heart, the sacredness and worth of each individuality.

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/browning/robert/dramatic/poem15.html

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50