Home  »  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895  »  In a Gondola

Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908). A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. 1895.

Robert Browning 1812–89

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

Came from you of your own accord,

Are mine as much as this gold chain

“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!

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

Curtain’d in dusk and splendid folds!

What ’s left but—all of me to take?

I am the Three’s: prevent them, slake

Your thirst! ’T is 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

Past we glide, and past, and past!

What ’s that poor Agnese doing

Where they make the shutters fast?

Gray Zanobi’s just a-wooing

To his couch the purchas’d bride:

Past we glide!

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

The moth’s kiss, first!

Kiss me as if you made believe

You were not sure, this eve,

How my face, your flower, had purs’d

Its petals up; so, here and there

You brush it, till I grow aware

Who wants me, and wide ope I burst.

The bee’s kiss, now!

Kiss me as if you enter’d gay

My heart at some noonday,—

A bud that dares not disallow

The claim, so, all is render’d up,

And passively its shatter’d cup

Over your head to sleep I bow.

He sings

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,

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

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 for ever! And now,

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

He muses

Oh, which were best, to roam or rest?

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;

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 hurl’d

Defiance from you to the world!

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

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 through my back; I reel;

And … is it thou I feel?

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!

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 prais’d my hair,

’T is 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 Guidecca pil’d;

Window just with window mating,

Door on door exactly waiting,

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,

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 clib’d too high

Above you in the Smyrna peach,

That quick the round smooth cord of gold,

This coil’d hair on your head, unroll’d,

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 mark’d their thief to know again.

Stay longer yet, for others’ sake

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

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 shell

As the dry limpet for the lymph

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,

Bold Castelfranco’s Magdalen

You ’d find retreated from the ken

Of that rob’d 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 sign’d a document

That got him murder’d! Each enjoys

Its night so well, you cannot break

The sport up: so, indeed must make

More stay with me, for others’ sake.

She speaks

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!

Your gondola—let Zorzi wreathe

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.

Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand

More than I touch yours when I step to land.

Just say, “All thanks, Siora!”—

Heart to heart

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

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

He is surprised, and stabbed

It was ordain’d 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

To death, because they never liv’d: but I

Have liv’d indeed, and so—(yet one more kiss)—can die!