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Selections from the Poems and Plays of Robert Browning By Robert Browning Characters: 3785

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Now you must know that when the first dizziness

Of flap-hats and buff-coats and jack-boots subsided,

The Duke put this question, "The Duke's part provided,

Had not the Duchess some share in the business?"255

For out of the mouth of two or three witnesses

Did he establish all fit-or-unfitnesses:

And, after much laying of heads together,

Somebody's cap got a notable feather

By the announcement with proper unction260

That he had discovered the lady's function;

Since ancient authors gave this tenet,

"When horns wind a mort and the deer is at siege,

Let the dame of the castle prick forth on her jennet,

And, with water to wash the hands of her liege265

In a clean ewer with a fair toweling,

Let her preside at the disemboweling."

Now, my friend, if you had so little religion

As to catch a hawk, some falcon-lanner,

And thrust her broad wings like a banner270

Into a coop for a vulgar pigeon;

And if day by day and week by week

You cut her claws, and sealed her eyes,

And clipped her wings, and tied her beak,

Would it cause you any great surprise275

If, when you decided to give her an airing,

You found she needed a little preparing?

-I say, should you be such a curmudgeon,

If she clung to the perch, as to take it in dudgeon?

Yet when the Duke to his lady signified,280

Just a day before, as he judged most dignified,

In what a pleasure she was to participate-

And, instead of leaping wide in flashes,

Her eyes just lifted their long lashes,

As if pressed by fatigue even he could not dissipate,285

And duly acknowledged the Duke's forethought,

But spoke of her health, if her health were worth aught,

Of the weight by day and the watch by night,

And much wrong now that used to be right,

So, thanking him, declined the hunting-290

Was conduct ever more affronting?

With all the ceremony settled-

With the towel ready, and the sewer

Polishing up his oldest ewer,

And the jennet pitched upon, a piebald,295

Black-barred, cream-coated, and pink eye-balled-

No wonder if the Duke was nettled!

And when she persisted nevertheless-

Well, I suppose here's the time to confess

That there ran half round our lady's chamber300

A balcony none of the hardest to clamber;

And that Jacynth, the tire-woman, ready in waiting,

Stayed in call outside, what need of relating?

And since Jacynth was like a June rose, why, a fervent

Adorer of Jacynth of course was your servant;305

And if she had the habit to peep through the casement,

How could I keep at any vast distance?

And so, as I say, on the lady's persistence,

The Duke, dumb-stricken with amazement,

Stood for a while in a sultry smother,310

And then, with a smile that partook of the awful,

Turned her over to his yellow mother

To learn what was held decorous and lawful;

And the mother smelt blood with a cat-like instinct,

As her cheek quick whitened through all its quince-tinct.315

Oh, but the lady heard the whole truth at once!

What meant she?-Who was she?-Her duty and station,

The wisdom of age and the folly of youth, at once,

Its decent regard and its fitting relation-

In brief, my friend, set all the devils in hell free320

And turn them out to carouse in a belfry

And treat the priests to a fifty-part canon,

And then you may guess how that tongue of hers ran on!

Well, somehow or other it ended at last

And, licking her whiskers, out she passed;325

And after her-making (he hoped) a face

Like Emperor Nero or Sultan Saladin,

Stalked the Duke's self with the austere grace

Of ancient hero or modern paladin,

From door to staircase-oh, such a solemn330

Unbending of the vertebral column!

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