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

Robert Browning 1812–89

My Last Duchess


THAT ’S my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands

Work’d busily a day, and there she stands.

Will ’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Frà Pandolf” by design: for never read

Strangers like you that pictur’d countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turn’d (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seem’d as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’t was not

Her husband’s presence only, call’d that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps

Frà Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat:” such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,

Too easily impress’d; she lik’d whate’er

She look’d on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’t was all one! My favor at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. She thank’d men,—good! but thank’d

Somehow—I know not how—as if she rank’d

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift. Who ’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lesson’d so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,

—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smil’d, no doubt,

Whene’er I pass’d her; but who pass’d without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopp’d together. There she stands

As if alive. Will ’t please you rise? We ’ll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretence

Of mine for dowry will be disallow’d;

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avow’d

At starting, is my object. Nay, we ’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me?