BY ETHEL COLBURN MAYNE WITH FRONTISPIECE & DECORATIONS BY MAXWELL ARMFIELD
LONDON CHATTO & WINDUS 1913
When this book was projected, some one asked, "What is there to say about Browning's heroines beyond what he said himself?"—and the question, though it could not stay me, did chill momentarily my primal ardour. Soon, however, the restorative answer presented itself. "If there were nothing to say about Browning's heroines beyond what he said himself, it would be a bad mark against him." For to suggest—to open magic casements—surely is the office of our artists in every sort: thus, for them to say all that there is to say about anything is to show the casement stuck fast, as it were, and themselves battering somewhat desperately to open it. Saying the things "about" is the other people's function. It is as if we suddenly saw a princess come out upon her castle-walls, and hymned that fair emergence, which to herself is nothing.
+ + + + +
Browning, I think, is "coming back," as stars come back. There has been the period of obscuration. Seventeen years ago, when the Yellow Book and the National Observer were contending for les jeunes, Browning was, in the more "precious" coterie, king of modern poets. I can remember the editor of that golden Quarterly reading, declaiming, quoting, almost breathing, Browning! It was from Henry Harland that this reader learnt to read The Ring and the Book: "Leave out the lawyers and the Tertium Quid, and all after Guido until the Envoi." It was Henry Harland who would answer, if one asked him what he was thinking of:
"And thinking too—oh, thinking, if you like, How utterly dissociated was I. . . ."
—regardless of all aptitude in the allusion, making it simply because it "burned up in his brain," just as days "struck fierce 'mid many a day struck calm" were always his days of excitement. . . . A hundred Browning verses sing themselves around my memories of the flat in Cromwell Road.
Misconceptions was swung forth with gesture that figured swaying branches:
"This is a spray the bird clung to. . . ."
You were to notice how the rhythms bent and tossed like boughs in that first stanza—and to notice, also, how regrettable the second stanza was. Nor shall I easily let slip the memory of Apparent Failure, thus recited. He would begin at the second verse, the "Doric little Morgue" verse. You were not to miss the great "phrase" in
"The three men who did most abhor Their lives in Paris yesterday. . . ."
—but you were to feel, scarce less keenly, the dire descent to bathos in "So killed themselves." It was almost the show-example, he would tell you, of Browning's chief defect—over-statement.
"How did it happen, my poor boy? You wanted to be Bonaparte, And have the Tuileries for toy, And could not, so it broke your heart. . . ."
How compassionately he would give that forth! "A screen of glass, you're thankful for"; "Be quiet, and unclench your fist"; "Poor men God made, and all for this!"—the phrases (how alert we were for the "phrase" in those days) would fall grave and vibrant from the voice with its subtle foreign colouring: you could always infuriate "H. H." by telling him he had a foreign accent.
Those were Browning days; and now these are, or soon shall be. Two or three years since, to quote him was, in the opinion of a Standard reviewer, to write yourself down a back-number, as they say. I preserve the cutting which damns with faint praise some thus antiquated short stories of 1910. Browning and Wagner were so obsolete! . . . How young that critic must have been—so young that he had never seen a star return. Quite differently they come back—or is it quite the same? Soon we shall be able to judge, for this star is returning, and—oh wonder!—is trailing clouds of glory of the very newest cut. The stars always do that, this watcher fancies, and certainly Browning, like the Jub-jub, was ages ahead of the fashion. His passport for to-day is dated up to the very hour—for though he could be so many other things besides, one of his achievements, for us, will prove to have been that he could be so "ugly." That would not have been reckoned among his glories in the Yellow Book-room; but the wheel shall come full circle—we shall be saying all this, one day, the other way round. For, as Browning consoles, encourages, and warns us by showing in Fifine,[x:1] each age believes—and should believe—that to it alone the secret of true art has been whispered.
ETHEL COLBURN MAYNE.
[x:1] I write far from my books, but the passage will be easily found or recalled.
11 HOLLAND ROAD, KENSINGTON, W.
PAGE INTRODUCTORY 3
I. THE GIRL IN "COUNT GISMOND" 15
II. PIPPA PASSES I. Dawn: Pippa 23 II. Morning: Ottima 36 III. Noon: Phene 51 IV. Evening; Night: The Ending of the Day 67
III. MILDRED TRESHAM 81
IV. BALAUSTION 93
V. POMPILIA 122
THE GREAT LADY
"MY LAST DUCHESS," AND "THE FLIGHT OF THE DUCHESS" 165
I. LOVERS MEETING 199
II. TROUBLE OF LOVE: THE WOMAN'S I. The Lady in "The Glove" 215 II. Dis Aliter Visum; or, Le Byron De Nos Jours 224 III. The Laboratory 233 IV. In a Year 237
I. A WOMAN'S LAST WORD 245
II. JAMES LEE'S WIFE 250 I. She Speaks at the Window 254 II. By the Fireside 256 III. In the Doorway 257 IV. Along the Beach 258 V. On the Cliff 261 VI. Reading a Book, under the Cliff 262 VII. Among the Rocks 265 VIII. Beside the Drawing-board 268 IX. On Deck 271
TROUBLE OF LOVE: THE MAN'S
I. THE WOMAN UNWON 277
II. THE WOMAN WON 304
Browning's power of embodying in rhythm the full beauty of girlhood is unequalled by any other English poet. Heine alone is his peer in this; but even Heine's imagination dwelt more fondly on the abstract pathos and purity of a maiden than on her individual gaiety and courage. In older women, also, these latter qualities were the spells for Browning; and, with him, a girl sets forth early on her brave career. That is the just adjective. His girls are as brave as the young knights of other poets; and in this appreciation of a dauntless gesture in women we see one of the reasons why he may be called the first "feminist" poet since Shakespeare. To me, indeed, even Shakespeare's maidens have less of the peculiar iridescence of their state than Browning's have, and I think this is because, already in the modern poet's day, girlhood was beginning to be seen as it had never been seen before—that is, as a "thing-by-itself." People had perceived—dimly enough, but with eyes which have since grown clearer-sighted—that there is a stage in woman's development which ought to be her very own to enjoy, as a man enjoys his adolescence. This dawning sense is explicit in the earlier verses of one of Browning's most original utterances, Evelyn Hope, which is the call of a man, many years older, to the mysterious soul of a dead young girl—
"Sixteen years old when she died! Perhaps she had hardly heard my name; It was not her time to love; beside, Her life had many a hope and aim, Duties enough and little cares, And now was quiet, now astir . . ."
Here recognition of the girl's individuality is complete. Not a word in the stanza hints at Evelyn's possible love for another man. "It was not her time"; there were quite different joys in life for her. . . . Such a view is even still something of a novelty, and Browning was the first to express it thus whole-heartedly. There had been, of course, from all time the hymning of maiden purity and innocence, but beneath such celebrations had lurked that predatory instinct which a still more modern poet has epitomised in a haunting and ambiguous phrase—
"For each man kills the thing he loves."
Thus, even in Shakespeare, the Girl is not so much that transient, exquisite thing as she is the Woman-in-love; thus, even for Rosalind, there waits the Emersonian precis—
"Whither went the lovely hoyden? Disappeared in blessed wife; Servant to a wooden cradle, Living in a baby's life."
I confess that this tabloid "story of a woman" has, ever since my first discovery of it, been a source of anger to me; and I do not think that such resentment should be reckoned as a manifestation of modern decadence. The hustling out of sight of that "lovely hoyden" is unworthy of a poet; poet's eyes should rest longer upon beauty so irrecoverable—for though the wife and mother be the happiest that ever was, she can never be a girl again.
In the same way, to me the earliest verses of Evelyn Hope are the loveliest. As I read on, doubts and questions gather fast—
"But the time will come—at last it will, When, Evelyn Hope, what meant (I shall say) In the lower earth, in the years long still, That body and soul so pure and gay? Why your hair was amber, I shall divine, And your mouth of your own geranium's red— And what you would do with me, in fine, In the new life come in the old one's stead.
I have lived (I shall say) so much since then, Given up myself so many times, Gained me the gains of various men, Ransacked the ages, spoiled the climes; Yet one thing, one, in my soul's full scope, Either I missed, or itself missed me: And I want and find you, Evelyn Hope! What is the issue? let us see!
I loved you, Evelyn, all the while. My heart seemed full as it could hold? There was place and to spare for the frank young smile, And the red young mouth, and the hair's young gold. So, hush—I will give you this leaf to keep: See, I shut it inside the sweet cold hand! There, that is our secret: go to sleep! You will wake, and remember, and understand."
* * * * *
Here the average man is revived, the man who can imagine no meaning for the loveliness of a girl's body and soul but that it shall "do something" with him. When they meet in the "new life come in the old one's stead," this is the question he looks forward to asking; and instinctively, I think, we ask ourselves a different one. Will Evelyn, on waking, "remember and understand"? Will she not have passed by very far, in the spirit-world, this unconscious egotist? . . . True, he can to some extent realise that probability—
"Delayed it may be for more lives yet, Through worlds I shall traverse, not a few: Much is to learn, much to forget, Ere the time be come for taking you."
But Browning has used the wrong word here. She whom the "good stars that met in her horoscope" had made of "spirit, fire, and dew," must, whether it be her desire to do so or not, eternally keep part of herself from the taking of any man. . . . This is a curious lapse in Browning, to whom women are, in the highest sense of the word, individuals—not individualists, a less lovable and far more capturable thing. His heroines are indeed instinct with devotion, but it is devotion that chooses, not devotion that submits. A world of "gaiety and courage" lies between the two conceptions—a world, no less, of widened responsibility and heavier burdens for the devotee. If we compare a Browning heroine with a Byron one, we shall almost have traversed that new country, wherein the air grows ever more bracing as we travel onward.
With shrinking and timidity the Browning girl is unacquainted. As experience grows, these sensations may sadly touch her, but she will not have been prepared for them; no reason for feeling either had entered her dream of life. She trusts—
"Trust, that's purer than pearl"—
and how much purer than shrinking! Free from the athletics and the slang, she is antetype, indeed, of, say, the St. Andrews girl, that admirable creation of our age; but she soars beyond her sister on the wings of her more exquisite sensibility, and her deeper restfulness. Not for her the perpetual pursuit of the india-rubber or the other kinds of ball; she can conceive of the open air as something better than a place to play games in. Like Wordsworth's Lucy—
"Hers shall be the breathing balm, And hers the silence and the calm, Of mute insensate things;"
and from such "being" she draws joys more instant and more glancingly fair than Lucy drew. Among them is the joy of laughter. Of all gifts that the fulness of time has brought to women, may we not reckon that almost the best? A woman laughs nowadays, where, before, as an ideal she smiled, or as a caricature giggled; and I think that the great symphony of sex has been deepened, heightened wellnigh beyond recognition, by that confident and delicate wood-note.
* * * * *
"All the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one bee: All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one gem: In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea: Breath and bloom, shade and shine—wonder, wealth, and—how far above them!— Truth, that's brighter than gem, Trust, that's purer than pearl— Brightest truth, purest trust, in the universe, all were for me In the kiss of one girl."
Nothing there of "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever"! Do the fortunate girls of to-day get Summum Bonum in their albums (if they have albums), as we of the past got Kingsley's ineffable pat on the head? But since even for us to be a girl was bliss, these maidens of a later day must surely be in paradise. They keep, in the words of our poet, "much that we resigned"—much, too, that we prized. No girl, in our day, but dreamed of the lordly lover, and I hazard a guess that the fantasy persists. It is slower to be realised than even in our own dream-period, for now it must come through the horn-gate of the maiden's own judgment. Man has fallen from the self-erected pedestal of "superiority." He had placed himself badly on it, such as it was—the pose was ignoble, the balance insecure. One day, he will himself look back, rejoicing that he is down; and when—or if—he goes up again, it will be more worthily to stay, since other hands than his own will have built the pillar, and placed him thereupon. His chief hope of reinstatement lies in this one, certain fact: No girl will ever thrill to a lover who cannot answer for her to A Pearl, A Girl—
"A simple ring with a single stone, To the vulgar eye no stone of price: Whisper the right word, that alone— Forth starts a sprite, like fire from ice, And lo! you are lord (says an Eastern scroll) Of heaven and earth, lord whole and sole, Through the power in a pearl.
A woman ('tis I this time that say) With little the world counts worthy praise, Utter the true word—out and away Escapes her soul: I am wrapt in blaze, Creation's lord, of heaven and earth Lord whole and sole—by a minute's birth— Through the love in a girl!"
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be! But observe that he has to utter the true word.
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This brave and joyous note is the essential Browning, and to me it supplies an easy explanation for his much-discussed rejection of the very early poem Pauline, for which, despite its manifold beauties, he never in later life cared at all—more, he wished to suppress it. In Pauline, his deepest sense of woman's spiritual function is falsified. This might be accounted for by the fact that it was written at twenty-one, if it were not that at twenty-one most young men are most "original." Browning, in this as in other things, broke down tradition, for Pauline is by far the least original of his works in outlook—it is, indeed, in outlook, of the purest common-place. "It exhibits," says Mr. Chesterton, "the characteristic mark of a juvenile poem, the general suggestion that the author is a thousand years old"; and it exhibits too the entirely un-characteristic mark of a Browning poem, the general suggestion that the poet has not thought for himself on a subject which he was, in the issue, almost to make his own—that of the inspiring, as opposed (for in Browning the antithesis is as marked as that) to the consoling, power of a beloved woman. From the very first line this emotional flaccidity is evident—
"Pauline, mine own, bend o'er me—thy soft breast Shall pant to mine—bend o'er me—thy sweet eyes And loosened hair and breathing lips, and arms Drawing me to thee—these build up a screen To shut me in with thee, and from all fear . . ."
And again in the picture of her, lovely to the sense, but, in some strange fashion, hardly less than nauseating to the mind—
". . . Love looks through— Whispers—E'en at the last I have her still, With her delicious eyes as clear as heaven When rain in a quick shower has beat down mist . . . How the blood lies upon her cheek, outspread As thinned by kisses! only in her lips It wells and pulses like a living thing, And her neck looks like marble misted o'er With love-breath—a Pauline from heights above, Stooping beneath me, looking up—one look As I might kill her and be loved the more. So love me—me, Pauline, and nought but me, Never leave loving! . . ."
Something is there to which not again, not once again, did Browning stoop; and that something removes, for me, all difficulty in understanding his rejection, despite its exquisite verbal beauties, of this work. Moreover, it is interesting to observe the queer sub-conscious sense of the lover's inferiority betrayed in the prose note at the end. This is in French, and feigns to be written by Pauline herself. She is there made to speak of "mon pauvre ami." Let any woman ask herself what that phrase implies, when used by her in speaking of a lover—"my poor dear friend"! We cannot of course be sure that Browning, as a man, was versed in this scrap of feminine psychology; but we do gather with certainty from Pauline's fabled comment that her view of the confession—for the poem is merely, as Mr. Chesterton says, "the typical confession of a boy"—was very much less lachrymose than that of mon pauvre ami. Unconsciously, then, here—but in another poem soon to be discussed, not unconsciously—there sounds the humorous note in regard to men which dominates so many of women's relations with them. "The big child"—to some women, as we all know, man presents himself in that aspect chiefly. Pauline, remarking of her lover's "idea" that it was perhaps as unintelligible to him as to her, is a tender exponent of this view; the girl in Youth and Art is gayer and more ironic. Here we have a woman, successful though (as I read the poem)[12:1] not famous, recalling to a successful and famous sculptor the days when they lived opposite one another—she as a young student of singing, he as a budding statuary—
"We studied hard in our styles, Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos, For air looked out on the tiles, For fun watched each other's windows.
* * * * *
And I—soon managed to find Weak points in the flower-fence facing, Was forced to put up a blind And be safe in my corset-lacing.
* * * * *
No harm! It was not my fault If you never turned your eyes' tail up As I shook upon E in alt, Or ran the chromatic scale up.
* * * * *
Why did you not pinch a flower In a pellet of clay and fling it? Why did I not put a power Of thanks in a look, or sing it?"
* * * * *
I confess that this lyric, except for its penultimate verse, soon to be quoted, does not seem to me what Mr. Chesterton calls it—"delightful." Nothing, plainly, did bring these two together; she may have looked jealously at his models, and he at her piano-tuner (though even this, so far as "he" is concerned, I question), but they remained uninterested in one another—and why should they not? When at the end she cries—
"This could but have happened once, And we missed it, lost it for ever"—
one's impulse surely is (mine is) to ask with some vexation what "this" was?
"Each life's unfulfilled, you see; It hangs still, patchy and scrappy; We have not sighed deep, laughed free, Starved, feasted, despaired—been happy."
Away from its irritating context, that stanza is delightful; with the context it is to me wholly meaningless. The boy and girl had not fallen in love—there is no more to say; and I heartily wish that Browning had not tried to say it. The whole lyric is based on nothingness, or else on a self-consciousness peculiarly unappealing. Kate Brown was evidently quite "safe in her corset-lacing" before she put up a blind. I fear that this confession of my dislike for Youth and Art is a betrayal of lacking humour; I can but face it out, and say that unhumorous is precisely what, despite its levity of manner, rhythm, and rhyme, Youth and Art seems to my sense. . . . I rejoice that we need not reckon this Kate among Browning's girls; she is introduced to us as married to her rich old lord, and queen of bals-pares. Thus we may console ourselves with the hope that life has vulgarised her, and that as a girl she was far less objectionable than she now represents herself to have been. We have only to imagine Evelyn Hope putting up a superfluous blind that she might be safe in her corset-lacing, to sweep the gamut of Kate Brown's commonness. . . . Let us remove her from a list which now offers us a figure more definitely and dramatically posed than any of those whom we have yet considered.
[12:1] Mr. Chesterton and Mrs. Orr both speak of Kate Brown as having succeeded in her art. I cannot find any words in the poem which justify this view. She is "queen at bals-pares," and she has married "a rich old lord," but nothing in either condition predicates the successful cantatrice.
THE GIRL IN "COUNT GISMOND"
It is like a fairy tale, for there are three beautiful princesses, and the youngest is the heroine. The setting is French—a castle in Aix-en-Provence; it is the fourteenth century, for tourneys and hawking-parties are the amusements, and a birthday is celebrated by an award of crowns to the victors in the lists, when there are ladies in brave attire, thrones, canopies, false knight and true knight. . . . Here is the story.
Once upon a time there were three beautiful princesses, and they lived in a splendid castle. The youngest had neither father nor mother, so she had come to dwell with her cousins, and they had all been quite happy together until one day in summer, when there was a great tourney and prize-giving to celebrate the birthday of the youngest princess. She was to award the crowns, and her cousins dressed her like a queen for the ceremony. She was very happy; she laughed and "sang her birthday-song quite through," while she looked at herself, garlanded with roses, in the glass before they all three went arm-in-arm down the castle stairs. The throne and canopy were ready; troops of merry friends had assembled. These kissed the cheek of the youngest princess, laughing and calling her queen, and then they helped her to stoop under the canopy, which was pierced by a long streak of golden sunshine. There, in the gleam and gloom, she took her seat on the throne. But for all her joy and pride, there came to her, as she sat there, a great ache of longing for her dead father and mother; and afterwards she remembered this, and thought that perhaps if her cousins had guessed that such sorrow was in her heart, even at her glad moment, they might not have allowed the thing to happen which did happen.
All eyes were on her, except those of her cousins, which were lowered, when the moment came for her to stand up and present the victor's crown.
Shy and proud and glad, she stood up, and as she did so, there stalked forth Count Gauthier—
". . . And he thundered 'Stay!' And all stayed. 'Bring no crowns, I say!'
'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? For Honour's sake no crowns, I say!'"
* * * * *
Some years afterwards she told the story of that birthday to a dear friend, and when she came to Count Gauthier's accusation, she had to stop speaking for an instant, because her voice was choked with tears.
Her friend asked her what she had answered, and she replied—
"I? What I answered? As I live I never fancied such a thing As answer possible to give;"
—for just as the body is struck dumb, as it were, when some monstrous engine of torture is directed upon it, so was her soul for one moment.
But only for one moment. For instantly another knight strode out—Count Gismond. She had never seen him face to face before, but now, so beholding him, she knew that she was saved. He walked up to Gauthier and gave him the lie in his throat, then struck him on the mouth with the back of a hand, so that the blood flowed from it—
". . . North, South, East, West, I looked. The lie was dead And damned, and truth stood up instead."
Recalling it now, with her friend Adela, she mused a moment; then said how her gladdest memory of that hour was that never for an instant had she felt any doubt of the event.
"God took that on him—I was bid Watch Gismond for my part: I did.
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 He pulled his ringing gauntlets on."
Before the trumpet's peal had died, the false knight lay, "prone as his lie," upon the ground; and Gismond flew at him, and drove his sword into the breast—
"Cleaving till out the truth he clove.
Which done, he dragged him to my feet And said 'Here die, but end thy breath In full confession, lest thou fleet From my first, to God's second death! Say, hast thou lied?' And, 'I have lied To God and her,' he said, and died."
Then Gismond knelt and said to her words which even to this dear friend she could not repeat. She sank on his breast—
"Over my head his arm he flung Against the world . . ."
—and then and there the two walked forth, amid the shouting multitude, never more to return. "And so they were married, and lived happy ever after."
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Gaiety, courage, trust: in this nameless Browning heroine we find the characteristic marks. On that birthday morning, almost her greatest joy was in the sense of her cousins' love—
"I thought they loved me, did me grace To please themselves; 'twas all their deed"
—and never a thought of their jealousy had entered her mind. Both were beautiful—
". . . Each a queen 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!
But no: they let me laugh and sing My birthday-song quite through . . ."
and so, all trust and gaiety, she had gone down arm-in-arm with them, and taken her state on the "foolish throne," while everybody applauded her. Then had come the moment when Gauthier stalked forth; and from the older mind, now pondering on that infamy, a flash of bitter scorn darts forth—
"Count Gauthier, when he chose his post, Chose time and place and company To suit it . . ."
for with sad experience—"knowledge of the world"—to aid her, she can see that the whole must have been pre-concerted—
"And doubtlessly ere he could draw All points to one, he must have schemed!"
* * * * *
Her trust in the swiftly emerging champion and lover is comprehensible to us of a later day—that, and the joy she feels in watching him impatiently submit to be armed. Even so might one of us watch and listen to and keep for ever in memory the stamp of the foot, the sound of the "ringing gauntlets"—reproduced as that must be for modern maids in some less heartening music! But, as the tale proceeds, we lose our sense of sisterhood; we realise that this girl belongs to a different age. When Gauthier's breast is torn open, when he is dragged to her feet to die, she knows not any shrinking nor compassion—can apprehend each word in the dialogue between slayer and slain—can, over the bleeding body, receive the avowal of his love who but now has killed his fellow-man like a dog—and, gathered to Gismond's breast, can, unmoved by all repulsion, feel herself smeared by the dripping sword that hangs beside him. . . . All this we women of a later day have "resigned"—and I know not if that word be the right one or the wrong; so many lessons have we conned since Gismond fought for a slandered maiden. We have learned that lies refute themselves, that "things come right in the end," that human life is sacred, that a woman's chastity may be sacred too, but is not her most inestimable possession—and, if it were, should be "able to take care of itself." Further doctrines, though not yet fully accepted, are being passionately taught: such, for example, as that Man—male Man—is the least protective of animals.
"Over my head his arm he flung Against the world . . ."
I think we can see the princess, as she spoke those words, aglow and tremulous like the throbbing fingers in the Northern skies. Well, the "Northern Lights" recur, in our latitudes, at unexpected moments, at long intervals; but they do recur.
One thing vexes, yet solaces, me in this tale of Count Gismond. The Countess, telling Adela the story, has reached the crucial moment of Gauthier's insult when, choked by tears as we saw, she stops speaking. While still she struggles with her sob, she sees, at the gate, her husband with his two boys, and at once is able to go on. She finishes the tale, prays a perfunctory prayer for Gauthier; then speaks of her sons, in both of whom, adoring wife that she is, she must declare a likeness to the father—
"Our elder boy has got the clear Great brow; tho' when his brother's black Full eye shows scorn, it . . ."
With that "it" she breaks off; for Gismond has come up to talk with her and Adela. The first words we hear her speak to that loved husband are—fibbing words! The broken line is finished thus—
". . . Gismond here? And have you brought my tercel back? I just was telling Adela How many birds it struck since May."
We, who have temporarily lost so many things, have at least gained this one—that we should not think it necessary to tell that fib. We should say nothing of what we had been "telling Adela." And some of us, perhaps, would reject the false rhyme as well as the false words.
I. DAWN: PIPPA
The whole of Pippa is emotion. She "passes" alone through the drama, except for one moment—only indirectly shown us—in which she speaks with some girls by the way. She does nothing, is nothing, but exquisite emotion uttering itself in song—quick lyrical outbursts from her joyous child's heart. The happiness-in-herself which this poor silk-winder possesses is something deeper than the gaiety of which I earlier spoke. Gay she can be, and is, but the spell that all unwittingly she exercises, derives from the profounder depth of which the Eastern poet thought when he said that "We ourselves are Heaven and Hell." . . . Innocent but not ignorant, patient, yet capable of a hearty little grumble at her lot, Pippa is "human to the red-ripe of the heart." She can threaten fictively her holiday, if it should ill-use her by bringing rain to spoil her enjoyment; but even this intimidation is of the very spirit of confiding love, for her threat is that if rain does fall, she will be sorrowful and depressed, instead of joyous and exhilarated, for the rest of the year during which she will be bound to her "wearisome silk-winding, coil on coil." Such a possibility, thinks Pippa's trustful heart, must surely be enough to cajole the weather into beauty and serenity.
It is New Year's Day, and sole holiday in all the twelve-month for silk-winders in the mills of Asolo. An oddly chosen time, one thinks—the short, cold festival! And it is notable that Browning, though he acquiesces in the fictive date, yet conveys to us, so definitely that it must be with intention, the effect of summer weather. We find ourselves all through imagining mellow warmth and sunshine; nay, he puts into Pippa's mouth, as she anticipates the treasured outing, this lovely and assuredly not Janiverian forecast—
"Thy long blue solemn hours serenely flowing. . . ."
Is it not plain from this that his artist's soul rejected the paltry fact? For "blue" the hours of New Year's Day may be in Italy, but as "long blue hours" they cannot, even there, be figured. I maintain that, whatever it may be called, it is really Midsummer's Day on which Pippa passes from Asolo through Orcana and Possagno, and back to Asolo again.
+ + + + +
We see her first as she springs out of bed with the dawn's earliest touch on her "large mean airy chamber" at Asolo[24:1]—the lovely little town of Northern Italy which Browning loved so well. In that chamber, made vivid to our imagination by virtue of three consummately placed adjectives (note the position of "mean"), Pippa prepares for her one external happiness in the year.
"Oh Day, if I squander a wavelet of thee, A mite of my twelve hours' treasure, The least of thy gazes or glances,
* * * * *
One of thy choices or one of thy chances,
* * * * *
—My Day, if I squander such labour or leisure, Then shame fall on Asolo, mischief on me!"
I have omitted two lines from this eight-lined stanza, and omitted them because they illustrate all too forcibly Browning's chief fault as a lyric—and, in this case, as a dramatic—poet. Both of them are frankly parenthetic; both parentheses are superfluous; neither has any incidental beauty to redeem it; and, above all, we may be sure that Pippa did not think in parentheses. The agility and (it were to follow an indulgent fashion to add) the "subtlety" of Browning's mind too often led him into like excesses: I deny the subtlety here, for these clauses are so wholly uninteresting in thought that even as examples I shall not cite them. But their crowning distastefulness is in the certitude we feel that, whatever they had been, they never would have occurred to this lyrical child. The stanza without them is the stanza as Pippa felt it. . . . In the same way, the opening rhapsody on dawn which precedes her invocation to the holiday is out of character—impossible to regard its lavish and gorgeous images as those (however sub-conscious) of an unlettered girl.
But all carping is forgotten when we reach
"Thy long blue solemn hours serenely flowing"—
a poet's phrase, it is true, yet in no way incongruous with what we can imagine Pippa to have thought, if not, certainly, in such lovely diction to have been able to express. Thenceforward, until the episodical lines on the Martagon lily, the child and her creator are one. There comes the darling menace to the holiday—
". . . But thou must treat me not As prosperous ones are treated . . . For, Day, my holiday, if thou ill-usest Me, who am only Pippa—old year's sorrow, Cast off last night, will come again to-morrow: Whereas, if thou prove gentle, I shall borrow Sufficient strength of thee for new-year's sorrow. All other men and women that this earth Belongs to, who all days alike possess, Make general plenty cure particular dearth,[26:1] Get more joy one way, if another less: Thou art my single day, God lends to leaven What were all earth else, with a feel of heaven— Sole light that helps me through the year, thy sun's!"
Having made her threat and her invocation, she falls to thinking of those "other men and women," and tells her Day about them, like the child she is. They, she declares, are "Asolo's Four Happiest Ones." Each is, in the event, to be vitally influenced by her song, as she "passes" at Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night; but this she knows not at the time, nor ever knows.
The first Happy One is "that superb great haughty Ottima," wife of the old magnate, Luca, who owns the silk-mills. The New Year's morning may be wet—
". . . Can rain disturb Her Sebald's homage? all the while thy rain Beats fiercest on her shrub-house window-pane, He will but press the closer, breathe more warm Against her cheek: how should she mind the storm?"
Here we learn what later we are very fully to be shown—that Ottima's "happiness" is not in her husband.
The second Happy One is Phene, the bride that very day of Jules, the young French sculptor. They are to come home at noon, and though noon, like morning, should be wet—
". . . what care bride and groom Save for their dear selves? 'Tis their marriage day;
* * * * *
Hand clasping hand, within each breast would be Sunbeams and pleasant weather, spite of thee."
The third Happy One—or Happy Ones, for these two Pippa cannot separate—are Luigi, the young aristocrat-patriot, and his mother. Evening is their time, for it is in the dusk that they "commune inside our turret"—
"The lady and her child, unmatched, forsooth, She in her age, as Luigi in his youth, For true content . . ."
Aye—though the evening should be obscured with mist, they will not grieve—
". . . The cheerful town, warm, close, And safe, the sooner that thou art morose Receives them . . ."
That is all the difference bad weather can make to such a pair.
The Fourth Happy One is Monsignor, "that holy and beloved priest," who is expected this night from Rome,
"To visit Asolo, his brother's home, And say here masses proper to release A soul from pain—what storm dares hurt his peace? Calm would he pray, with his own thoughts to ward Thy thunder off, nor want the angels' guard."
And now the great Day knows all that the Four Happy Ones possess, besides its own "blue solemn hours serenely flowing"—for not rain at morning can hurt Ottima with her Sebald, nor at noon the bridal pair, nor in the evening Luigi and his mother, nor at night "that holy and beloved" Bishop . . .
"But Pippa—just one such mischance would spoil Her day that lightens the next twelvemonth's toil At wearisome silk-winding, coil on coil."
+ + + + +
All at once she realises that in thus lingering over her toilet, she is letting some of her precious time slip by for naught, and betakes herself to washing her face and hands—
"Aha, you foolhardy sunbeam caught With a single splash from my ewer! You that would mock the best pursuer, Was my basin over-deep?
One splash of water ruins you asleep, And up, up, fleet your brilliant bits.
* * * * *
Now grow together on the ceiling! That will task your wits."
Here we light on a trait in Browning of which Mr. Chesterton most happily speaks—his use of "homely and practical images . . . allusions, bordering on what many would call the commonplace," in which he "is indeed true to the actual and abiding spirit of love," and by which he "awakens in every man the memories of that immortal instant when common and dead things had a meaning beyond the power of any dictionary to utter." Mr. Chesterton, it is true, speaks of this "astonishing realism" in relation to Browning's love-poetry, and Pippa Passes is not a love-poem; but the insight of the comment is no less admirable when we use it to enhance a passage such as this. Who has not caught the sunbeam asleep in the mere washhand basin as water was poured out for the mere daily toilet—and felt that heartening gratitude for the symbol of captured joy, which made the instant typic and immortal? For these are the things that all may have, as Pippa had. The ambushing of that beam and the ordering it, in her sweet wayward imperiousness, to
". . . grow together on the ceiling. That will task your wits!"
—is one of the most enchanting moments in this lovely poem. The sunbeam settles by degrees (I wish that she had not been made to term it, with all too Browningesque agility, "the radiant cripple"), and finally lights on her Martagon lily, which is a lily with purple flowers. . . . Here again, for a moment, she ceases to be the lyrical child, and turns into the Browning (to cite Mr. Chesterton again) to whom Nature really meant such things as the basket of jelly-fish in The Englishman in Italy, or the stomach-cyst in Mr. Sludge the Medium—"the monstrosities and living mysteries of the sea." To me, these lines on the purple lily are not only ugly and grotesque—in that kind of ugliness which "was to Browning not in the least a necessary evil, but a quite unnecessary luxury, to be enjoyed for its own sake"—but are monstrously (more than any other instance I can recall) unsuited to the mind from which they are supposed to come.
"New-blown and ruddy as St. Agnes' nipple, Plump as the flesh-bunch on some Turk-bird's poll!"
One such example is enough. We have once more been deprived of Pippa, and got nothing really worth the possession in exchange.
But Pippa is quickly retrieved, with her gleeful claim that she is the queen of this glowing blossom, for is it not she who has guarded it from harm? So it may laugh through her window at the tantalised bee (are there travelling bees in Italy on New-Year's Day? But this is Midsummer Day!), may tease him as much as it likes, but must
". . . in midst of thy glee, Love thy Queen, worship me!"
There will be warrant for the worship—
". . . For am I not, this day, Whate'er I please? What shall I please to-day?
* * * * *
I may fancy all day—and it shall be so— That I taste of the pleasures, am called by the names, Of the Happiest Four in our Asolo!"
So, as she winds up her hair (we may fancy), Pippa plays the not yet relinquished baby-game of Let's-pretend; but is grown-up in this—that she begins and ends with love, which children give and take unconsciously.
"Some one shall love me, as the world calls love: I am no less than Ottima, take warning! The gardens and the great stone house above, And other house for shrubs, all glass in front, Are mine; where Sebald steals, as he is wont, To court me, while old Luca yet reposes . . ."
But this earliest pretending breaks down quickly. What, after all, is the sum of those doings in the shrub-house? What would Pippa gain, were she in truth great haughty Ottima? She would but "give abundant cause for prate." Ottima, bold, confident, and not fully aware, can face that out, but Pippa knows, more closely than the woman rich and proud can know,
"How we talk in the little town below."
So the first dream is over.
"Love, love, love—there's better love, I know!"
—and the next pretending shall "defy the scoffer"; it shall be the love of Jules and Phene—
"Why should I not be the bride as soon As Ottima?"
Moreover, last night she had seen the stranger-girl arrive—"if you call it seeing her," for it had been the merest momentary glimpse—
". . . one flash Of the pale snow-pure cheek and black bright tresses, Blacker than all except the black eyelash; I wonder she contrives those lids no dresses, So strict was she the veil Should cover close her pale Pure cheeks—a bride to look at and scarce touch, Scarce touch, remember, Jules! For are not such Used to be tended, flower-like, every feature, As if one's breath would fray the lily of a creature?
* * * * *
How will she ever grant her Jules a bliss So startling as her real first infant kiss? Oh, no—not envy, this!"
For, recalling the virgin dimness of that apparition, the slender gamut of that exquisite reserve, the little work-girl has a moment's pang of pity for herself, who has to trip along the streets "all but naked to the knee."
"Whiteness in us were wonderful indeed,"
she cries, who is pure gold if not pure whiteness, and in an instant shows herself to be at any rate pure innocence. It could not be envy, she argues, which pierced her as she thought of that immaculate girlhood—
". . . for if you gave me Leave to take or to refuse, In earnest, do you think I'd choose That sort of new love to enslave me? Mine should have lapped me round from the beginning; As little fear of losing it as winning: Lovers grow cold, men learn to hate their wives, And only parents' love can last our lives."
And she turns, thus rejecting the new love, to the "Son and Mother, gentle pair," who commune at evening in the turret: what prevents her being Luigi?
"Let me be Luigi! If I only knew What was my mother's face—my father, too!"
For Pippa has never seen either, knows not who either was, nor whence each came. And just because, thus ignorant, she cannot truly figure to herself such love, she now rejects in turn this third pretending—
"Nay, if you come to that, best love of all Is God's;"
—and she will be Monsignor! To-night he will bless the home of his dead brother, and God will bless in turn
"That heart which beats, those eyes which mildly burn With love for all men! I, to-night at least, Would be that holy and beloved priest."
Now all the weighing of love with love is over; she has chosen, and already has the proof of having chosen rightly, already seems to share in God's love, for there comes back to memory an ancient New-Year's hymn—
"All service ranks the same with God."
No one can work on this earth except as God wills—
". . . God's puppets, best and worst, Are we; there is no last or first."
And we must not talk of "small events": none exceeds another in greatness. . . .
The revelation has come to her. Not Ottima nor Phene, not Luigi and his mother, not even the holy and beloved priest, ranks higher in God's eyes than she, the little work-girl—
"I will pass each, and see their happiness, And envy none—being just as great, no doubt, Useful to men, and dear to God, as they!"
* * * * *
And so, laughing at herself once more because she cares "so mightily" for her one day, but still insistent that the sun shall shine, she sketches her outing—
"Down the grass path grey with dew, Under the pine-wood, blind with boughs, Where the swallow never flew, Nor yet cicala dared carouse, No, dared carouse—"
But breaks off, breathless, in the singing for which through the whole region she is famed, leaves the "large mean airy chamber," enters the little street of Asolo—and begins her Day.
II. MORNING: OTTIMA
In the shrub-house on the hill-side are Ottima, the wife of Luca, and her German lover, Sebald. He is wildly singing and drinking; to him it still seems night. But Ottima sees a "blood-red beam through the shutter's chink," which proves that morning is come. Let him open the lattice and see! He goes to open it, and no movement can he make but vexes her, as he gropes his way where the "tall, naked geraniums straggle"; pushes the lattice, which is behind a frame, so awkwardly that a shower of dust falls on her; fumbles at the slide-bolt, till she exclaims that "of course it catches!" At last he succeeds in getting the window opened, and her only direct acknowledgment is to ask him if she "shall find him something else to spoil." But this imperious petulance, curiously as it contrasts with the patience which, a little later, she will display, is native to Ottima; she is not the victim of her nerves this morning, though now she passes without transition to a mood of sensuous cajolement—
"Kiss and be friends, my Sebald! Is't full morning? Oh, don't speak, then!"
—but Sebald does speak, for in this aversion from the light of day he recognises a trait of hers which long has troubled him.
With his first words we perceive that "nerves" are uppermost, that the song and drink of the opening moment were bravado—that Sebald, in short, is close on a breakdown. He turns upon her with a gibe against her ever-shuttered windows. Though it is she who now has ordered the unwelcome light to be admitted, he overlooks this in his enervation, and says how, before ever they met, he had observed that her windows were always blind till noon. The rest of the little world of Asolo would be active in the day's employment; but her house "would ope no eye." "And wisely," he adds bitterly—
"And wisely; you were plotting one thing there, Nature, another outside. I looked up— Rough white wood shutters, rusty iron bars, Silent as death, blind in a flood of light; Oh, I remember!—and the peasants laughed And said, 'The old man sleeps with the young wife.' This house was his, this chair, this window—his."
The last line gives us the earliest hint of what has been done: "This house was his. . . ." But Ottima, whether from scorn of Sebald's mental disarray, or from genuine callousness, answers this first moan of anguish not at all. She gazes from the open lattice: "How clear the morning is—she can see St. Mark's! Padua, blue Padua, is plain enough, but where lies Vicenza? They shall find it, by following her finger that points at Padua. . . ."
Sebald cannot emulate this detachment. Morning seems to him "a night with a sun added"; neither dew nor freshness can he feel; nothing is altered with this dawn—the plant he bruised in getting through the lattice last night droops as it did then, and still there shows his elbow's mark on the dusty sill.
She flashes out one instant. "Oh, shut the lattice, pray!"
No: he will lean forth—
". . . I cannot scent blood here, Foul as the morn may be."
But his mood shifts quickly as her own—
". . . There, shut the world out! How do you feel now, Ottima? There, curse The world and all outside!"
and at last he faces her, literally and figuratively, with a wild appeal to let the truth stand forth between them—
". . . Let us throw off This mask: how do you bear yourself? Let's out With all of it."
But no. Her instinct is never to speak of it, while his drives him to "speak again and yet again," for only so, he feels, will words "cease to be more than words." His blood, for instance—
". . . let those two words mean 'His blood'; And nothing more. Notice, I'll say them now: 'His blood.' . . ."
She answers with phrases, the things that madden him—she speaks of "the deed," and at once he breaks out again. The deed, and the event, and their passion's fruit—
". . . the devil take such cant! Say, once and always, Luca was a wittol, I am his cut-throat, you are . . ."
With extraordinary patience, though she there, wearily as it were, interrupts him, Ottima again puts the question by, and offers him wine. In doing this, she says something which sends a shiver down the reader's back—
". . . Here's wine! I brought it when we left the house above, And glasses too—wine of both sorts . . ."
He takes no notice; he reiterates—
"But am I not his cut-throat? What are you?"
Still with that amazing, that almost beautiful, patience—the quality of her defect of callousness—Ottima leaves this also without comment. She gazes now from the closed window, sees a Capuchin monk go by, and makes some trivial remarks on his immobility at church; then once more offers Sebald the flask—the "black" (or, as we should say, the "red") wine.
Melodramatic and obvious in all he does and says, Sebald refuses the red wine: "No, the white—the white!"—then drinks ironically to Ottima's black eyes. He reminds her how he had sworn that the new year should not rise on them "the ancient shameful way," nor does it.
"Do you remember last damned New Year's Day?"
* * * * *
The characters now are poised for us—in their national, as well as their individual, traits. Ottima, an Italian, has the racial matter-of-factness, callousness, and patience; Sebald, a German, the no less characteristic sentimentality and emotionalism. Her attitude remains unchanged until the critical moment; his shifts and sways with every word and action. No sooner has he drunk the white wine than he can brutally, for an instant, exult in the thought that Luca is not alive to fondle Ottima before his face; but with her instant answer (rejoicing as she does to retrieve the atmosphere which alone is native to her sense)—
". . . Do you Fondle me, then! Who means to take your life?"
—a new mood seizes on him. They have "one thing to guard against." They must not make much of one another; there must be no more parade of love than there was yesterday; for then it would seem as if he supposed she needed proofs that he loves her—
". . . yes, still love you, love you, In spite of Luca and what's come to him."
That would be a sure sign that Luca's "white sneering old reproachful face" was ever in their thoughts. Yes; they must even quarrel at times, as if they
". . . still could lose each other, were not tied By this . . ."
but on her responding cry of "Love!" he shudders back again: Is he so surely for ever hers?
She, in her stubborn patience, answers by a reminiscence of their early days of love—
". . . That May morning we two stole Under the green ascent of sycamores"
—and, thinking to reason with him, asks if, that morning, they had
". . . come upon a thing like that, Suddenly—"
but he interrupts with his old demand for the true word: she shall not say "a thing" . . . and at last that marvellous patience gives way, and in a superb flash of ironic rage she answers him—
"Then, Venus' body! had we come upon My husband Luca Gaddi's murdered corpse Within there, at his couch-foot, covered close"
—flinging him the "words" he has whimpered for in full measure, that so at last she may attain to asking if, that morning, he would have "pored upon it?" She knows he would not; then why pore upon it now? For him, it is here, as much as in the deserted house; it is everywhere.
". . . For me
(she goes on),
Now he is dead, I hate him worse: I hate . . . Dare you stay here? I would go back and hold His two dead hands, and say, 'I hate you worse, Luca, than——'"
And in her frenzy of reminiscent hatred and loathing for the murdered man, she goes to Sebald and takes his hands, as if to feign that other taking.
With the hysteria that has all along been growing in him, Sebald flings her back—
". . . Take your hands off mine; 'Tis the hot evening—off! oh, morning, is it?"
—and she, restored to her cooler state by this repulse, and with a perhaps unconscious moving to some revenge for it, points out, with a profounder depth of callousness than she has yet displayed, that the body at the house will have to be taken away and buried—
"Come in and help to carry"—
and with ghastly glee she adds—
". . . We may sleep Anywhere in the whole wide house to-night."
* * * * *
Now the dialogue sways between her deliberate sensuous allurement of the man and his deepening horror at what they have done. She winds and unwinds her hair—was it so that he once liked it? But he cannot look; he would give her neck and her splendid shoulders, "both those breasts of yours," if this thing could be undone. It is not the mere killing—though he would "kill the world so Luca lives again," even to fondle her as before—but the thought that he has eaten the dead man's bread, worn his clothes, "felt his money swell my purse." . . . This is the intolerable; "there's a recompense in guilt"—
"One must be venturous and fortunate:— What is one young for else?"
and thus their passion is justified; but to have killed the man who rescued him from starvation by letting him teach music to his wife . . . why—
". . . He gave me Life, nothing less"—
and if he did reproach the perfidy, "and threaten and do more," had he no right after all—what was there to wonder at?
"He sat by us at table quietly: Why must you lean across till our cheeks touched?"
In that base blaming of her alone we get the measure of Sebald as at this hour he is. He turns upon her with a demand to know how she now "feels for him." Her answer, wherein the whole of her nature (as, again, at this hour it is) reveals itself—callous but courageous, proud and passionate, cruel in its utter sensuality, yet with the force and honesty which attend on all simplicity, good or evil—her answer strikes a truer note than does anything which Sebald yet has said, or is to say. She replies that she loves him better now than ever—
"And best (look at me while I speak to you) Best for the crime."
She is glad that the "affectation of simplicity" has fallen off—
". . . this naked crime of ours May not now be looked over: look it down."
And were not the joys worth it, great as it is? Would he give up the past?
"Give up that noon I owned my love for you?"
—and as, in her impassioned revocation of the sultry summer's day, she brings back to him the very sense of the sun-drenched garden, the man at last is conquered back to memory. The antiphon of sensual love begins, goes on—the places, aspects, things, sounds, scents, that waited on their ecstasy, the fire and consuming force of hers, the passive, no less lustful, receptivity of his—and culminates in a chant to that "crowning night" in July (and "the day of it too, Sebald!") when all life seemed smothered up except their life, and, "buried in woods," while "heaven's pillars seemed o'erbowed with heat," they lay quiescent, till the storm came—
"Swift ran the searching tempest overhead; And ever and anon some bright white shaft Burned thro' the pine-tree roof, here burned and there, As if God's messenger thro' the close wood screen Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture, Feeling for guilty thee and me; then broke The thunder like a whole sea overhead . . ."
—while she, in a frenzy of passion—
". . . stretched myself upon you, hands To hands, my mouth to your hot mouth, and shook All my locks loose, and covered you with them— You, Sebald, the same you!"
But the flame of her is scorching the feeble lover; feebly he pleads, resists, begs pardon for the harsh words he has given her, yields, struggles . . . yields again at last, for hers is all the force of body and of soul: it is his part to be consumed in her—
"I kiss you now, dear Ottima, now and now! This way? Will you forgive me—be once more My great queen?"
Glorious in her victory, she demands that the hair which she had loosed in the moment of recalling their wild joys he now shall bind thrice about her brow—
"Crown me your queen, your spirit's arbitress, Magnificent in sin. Say that!"
So she bids him; so he crowns her—
"My great white queen, my spirit's arbitress, Magnificent . . ."
—but ere the exacted phrase is said, there sounds without the voice of a girl singing.
"The year's at the spring, And day's at the morn; Morning's at seven; The hill-side's dew-pearled; The lark's on the wing; The snail's on the thorn: God's in his heaven— All's right with the world!"
* * * * *
Like her own lark on the wing, she has dropped this song to earth, unknowing and unheeding where its beauty shall alight; it is the impulse of her glad sweet heart to carol out its joy—no more. She is passing the great house of the First Happy One, so soon rejected in her game of make-believe! If now she could know what part the dream-Pippa might have taken on herself. . . . But she does not know, and, lingering for a moment by the step, she bends to pick a pansy-blossom.
The pair in the shrub-house have been arrested in full tide of passion by her song. It strikes on Sebald with the force of a warning from above—
"God's in his heaven! Do you hear that? Who spoke? You, you spoke!"—
but she, contemptuously—
". . . Oh, that little ragged girl! She must have rested on the step: we give them But this one holiday the whole year round. Did you ever see our silk-mills—their inside? There are ten silk-mills now belong to you!"
Enervated by the interruption, she calls sharply to the singer to be quiet—but Pippa does not hear, and Ottima then orders Sebald to call, for his voice will be sure to carry.
No: her hour is past. He is ruled now by that voice from heaven. Terribly he turns upon her—
"Go, get your clothes on—dress those shoulders! . . . Wipe off that paint! I hate you"—
and as she flashes back her "Miserable!" his hideous repulse sinks to a yet more hideous contemplation of her—
"My God, and she is emptied of it now! Outright now!—how miraculously gone All of the grace—had she not strange grace once? Why, the blank cheek hangs listless as it likes, No purpose holds the features up together, Only the cloven brow and puckered chin Stay in their places: and the very hair That seemed to have a sort of life in it, Drops, a dead web!"
Poignant in its authenticity is her sole, piteous answer—
". . . Speak to me—not of me!"
But he relentlessly pursues the dread analysis of baffled passion's aspect—
"That round great full-orbed face, where not an angle Broke the delicious indolence—all broken!"
Once more that cry breaks from her—
"To me—not of me!"
but soon the natural anger against his insolence possesses her; she whelms him with a torrent of recrimination. Coward and ingrate he is, beggar, her slave—
". . . a fawning, cringing lie, A lie that walks and eats and drinks!"
—while he, as in some horrible trance, continues his cold dissection—
". . . My God! Those morbid olive faultless shoulder-blades— I should have known there was no blood beneath!"
For though the heaven-song have pierced him, not yet is Sebald reborn, not yet can aught of generosity involve him. Still he speaks "of her, not to her," deaf in the old selfishness and baseness. He can cry, amid his vivid recognition of another's guilt, that "the little peasant's voice has righted all again"—can be sure that he knows "which is better, vice or virtue, purity or lust, nature or trick," and in the high nobility of such repentance as flings the worst of blame upon the other one, will grant himself lost, it is true, but "proud to feel such torments," to "pay the price of his deed" (ready with phrases now, he also!), as, poor weakling, he stabs himself, leaving his final word to her who had been for him all that she as yet knew how to be, in—
"I hate, hate—curse you! God's in his heaven!"
* * * * *
Now, at this crisis, we are fully shown what, in despite of other commentators,[49:1] I am convinced that Browning meant us to perceive from the first—that Ottima's is the nobler spirit of the two. Her lover has stabbed himself, but she, not yet realising it, flings herself upon him, wrests the dagger—
". . . Me! Me! no, no, Sebald, not yourself—kill me! Mine is the whole crime. Do but kill me—then Yourself—then—presently—first hear me speak! I always meant to kill myself—wait, you! Lean on my breast—not as a breast; don't love me The more because you lean on me, my own Heart's Sebald! There, there, both deaths presently!"
* * * * *
Here at last is the whole woman. "Lean on my breast—not as a breast"; "Mine is the whole crime"; "I always meant to kill myself—wait, you!" She will relinquish even her sense of womanhood; no word of blame for him; she would die, that he might live forgetting her, but it is too late for that, so "There, there, both deaths presently." . . . And now let us read again the lamentable dying words of Sebald. It is even more than I have said: not only are we meant to understand that Ottima's is the nobler spirit, but (I think) that not alone the passing of Pippa with her song has drawn this wealth of beauty from the broken woman's soul. Always it was there; it needed but the loved one's need to pour itself before him. "There, there, both deaths presently"—and in the dying, each is again revealed. He, all self—
"My brain is drowned now—quite drowned: all I feel"
—and so on; while her sole utterance is—
"Not me—to him, O God, be merciful!"
Pippa's song has, doubtlessly, saved them both, but Sebald as by direct intervention, Ottima as by the revelation of her truest self. Again, and yet again and again, we shall find in Browning this passion for "the courage of the deed"; and we shall find that courage oftenest assigned to women. For him, it was wellnigh the cardinal virtue to be brave—not always, as in Ottima, by the help of a native callousness, but assuredly always, as in her and in the far dearer women, by the help of an instinctive love for truth—
"Truth is the strong thing—let man's life be true!"
Ottima's and Sebald's lives have not been "true"; but she, who can accept the retribution and feel no faintest impulse to blame and wound her lover—she can rise, must rise, to heights forbidden the lame wings of him who, in his anguish, can turn and strike the fellow-creature who has but partnered him in sin. Only Pippa, passing, could in that hour save Sebald; but by the tenderness which underlay her fierce and lustful passion, and which, in any later relation, some other need of the man must infallibly have called forth, Ottima would, I believe, without Pippa have saved herself. Direct intervention: not every soul needs that. And—whether it be intentional or not, I feel unable to decide, nor does it lose, but rather gain, in interest, if it be unintentional—one of the most remarkable things in this remarkable artistic experiment, this drama in which the scenes "have in common only the appearance of one figure," is that by each of the Four Passings of Pippa, a man's is the soul rescued.
III. NOON: PHENE
A group of art-students is assembled at Orcana, opposite the house of Jules, a young French sculptor, who to-day at noon brings home his bride—that second Happiest One, the pale and shrouded beauty whom Pippa had seen alight at Asolo, and had envied for her immaculate girlhood. Very eagerly the youths are awaiting this arrival; there are seven, including Schramm, the pipe-smoking mystic, and Gottlieb, a new-comer to the group, who hears the reason for their excitement, and tender-hearted and imaginative as he is, provides the human element amid the theorising of Schramm, the flippancy of most of the rest, and the fiendish malice of the painter, Lutwyche, who has a grudge against Jules, because Jules (he has been told) had described him and his intimates as "dissolute, brutalised, heartless bunglers." Very soon after the bridal pair shall have alighted and gone in (so Lutwyche tells Gottlieb), something remarkable will happen; it is this which they are awaiting—Lutwyche, as the moving spirit, close under the window of the studio, that he may lose no word of the anticipated drama. But they must all keep well within call; everybody may be needed.
At noon the married pair arrive—the bridegroom radiant, his hair "half in storm and half in calm—patted down over the left temple—like a frothy cup one blows on to cool it; and the same old blouse that he murders the marble in."[52:1] The bride is—"how magnificently pale!" Most of these young men have seen her before, and always it has been her pallor which has struck them, as it struck Pippa on seeing her alight at Asolo. She is a Greek girl from Malamocco,[52:2] fourteen years old at most, "white and quiet as an apparition," with "hair like sea-moss"; her name is Phene, which, as Lutwyche explains, means sea-eagle. . . . "How magnificently pale"—and how Jules gazes on her! To Gottlieb that gaze of the young, rapturous husband is torture. "Pity—pity!" he exclaims—but he alone of them all is moved to this: Schramm, ever ready with his theories of mysticism and beauty and the immortal idealism of the soul, is unconcerned with practice—theories and his pipe bound all for Schramm; while Lutwyche is close-set as any predatory beast upon his prey; and the rank and file are but the foolish, heartless boys of all time, all place, the "students," mere and transient, who may turn into decent men as they grow older.
Well, they pass in, the bridegroom and his snowflake bride, and we pass in with them—but not, like them, forget the group that lurked and loitered about the house as they arrived.
+ + + + +
The girl is silent as she is pale, and she is so pale that the first words her husband speaks are as the utterance of a fear awakened by her aspect—
"Do not die, Phene! I am yours now, you Are mine now; let fate reach me how she likes, If you'll not die: so, never die!"
He leads her to the one seat in his workroom, then bends over her in worshipping love, while she, still speechless, lifts her white face slowly to him. He lays his own upon it for an instant, then draws back to gaze again, while she still looks into his eyes, until he feels that her soul is drawing his to such communion that—
". . . I could Change into you, beloved! You by me, And I by you; this is your hand in mine, And side by side we sit: all's true. Thank God!"
But her silence is unbroken, and now he needs her voice—
"I have spoken: speak you!"
—yet though he thus claims her utterance, his own bliss drives him onward in eager speech. "O my life to come"—the life with her . . . and yet, how shall he work!
"Will my mere fancies live near you, their truth— The live truth, passing and re-passing me, Sitting beside me?"
Still she is silent; he cries again "Now speak!"—but in a new access of joy accepts again that silence, for she must see the hiding-place he had contrived for her letters—in the fold of his Psyche's robe, "next her skin"; and now, which of them all will drop out first?
"Ah—this that swam down like a first moonbeam Into my world!"
In his gladness he turns to her with that first treasure in his hand. She is not looking. . . . But there is nothing strange in that—all the rest is new to her; naturally she is more interested in the new things, and adoringly he watches her as—
". . . Again those eyes complete Their melancholy survey, sweet and slow, Of all my room holds; to return and rest On me, with pity, yet some wonder too . . ."
But pity and wonder are natural in her—is she not an angel from heaven? Yet he would bring her a little closer to the earth she now inhabits; so—
"What gaze you at? Those? Books I told you of; Let your first word to me rejoice them too."
Eagerly he displays them, but soon reproves himself: he has shown first a tiny Greek volume, and of course Homer's should be the Greek—
"First breathed me from the lips of my Greek girl!"
So out comes the Odyssey, and a flower finds the place; he begins to read . . . but she responds not, again the dark deep eyes are off "upon their search." Well, if the books were not its goal, the statues must be—and they will surely bring the word he increasingly longs for. That of the "Almaign Kaiser," one day to be cast in bronze, is not worth lingering at in its present stage, but this—this? She will recognise this of Hippolyta—
"Naked upon her bright Numidian horse,"
for this is an imagined likeness, before he saw her, of herself. But no, it is unrecognised; so they move to the next, which she cannot mistake, for was it not done by her command? She had said he was to carve, against she came, this Greek, "feasting in Athens, as our fashion was," and she had given him many details, and he had laboured ardently to express her thought. . . . But still no word from her—no least, least word; and, tenderly, at last he reproaches her—
"But you must say a 'well' to that—say 'well'!"
—for alarm is growing in him, though he strives to think it only fantasy; she gazes too like his marble, she is too like marble in her silence—marble is indeed to him his "very life's-stuff," but now he has found "the real flesh Phene . . ." and as he rhapsodises a while, hardly able to sever this breathing vision from the wonders of his glowing stone, he turns to her afresh and beholds her whiter than before, her eyes more wide and dark, and the first fear seizes him again—
"Ah, you will die—I knew that you would die!"—
and after that, there falls a long silence.
Then she speaks. "Now the end's coming"—that is what she says for her first bridal words.
"Now the end's coming: to be sure it must Have ended some time!"
—and while he listens in the silence dreadfully transferred from her to him, the tale of Lutwyche's revenge is told at last.
We know it before Phene speaks, for Lutwyche, telling Gottlieb, has told us; but Jules must glean it from her puzzled, broken utterance, filled with allusions that mean nothing until semi-comprehension comes through the sighs of tortured soul and heart from her who still is, as it were, in a trance. And this dream-like state causes her, now and then, to say the wrong words—the words he spoke—instead of those which had "cost such pains to learn . . ."
This is the story she tries to tell. Lutwyche had hated Jules for long. There were many reasons, but the chief was that reported judgment of the "crowd of us," as "dissolute, brutalised, heartless bunglers." Greatly, and above all else, had Jules despised their dissoluteness: how could they be other than the poor devils they were, with those debasing habits which they cherished? "He could never," had said Lutwyche to Gottlieb, "be supercilious enough on that matter. . . . He was not to wallow in the mire: he would wait, and love only at the proper time, and meanwhile put up with statuary." So Lutwyche had resolved that precisely "on that matter" should his malice concentrate. He happened to hear of a young Greek girl at Malamocco, "white and quiet as an apparition, and fourteen years old at farthest." She was said to be a daughter of the "hag Natalia"—said, that is, by the hag herself to be so, but Natalia was, in plain words, a procuress. "We selected," said Lutwyche, "this girl as the heroine of our jest"; and he and his gang set to work at once. Jules received, first, a mysterious perfumed letter from somebody who had seen his work at the Academy and profoundly admired it: she would make herself known to him ere long. . . . "Paolina, my little friend of the Fenice," who could transcribe divinely, had copied this letter—"the first moonbeam!"—for Lutwyche; and she copied many more for him, the letters which Psyche, at the studio, was to keep in the fold of her robe.
In his very earliest answer, Jules had proposed marriage to the unknown writer. . . . How they had laughed! But Gottlieb, hearing, could not laugh. "I say," cried he, "you wipe off the very dew of his youth." Schramm, however, had had his pipe forcibly taken from his mouth, and then had pronounced that "nothing worth keeping is ever lost in this world"; so, Gottlieb silenced, Lutwyche went on with the story. The letters had gone to Jules, and the answers had come from him, two, three times a day; Lutwyche himself had concocted nearly all the mysterious lady's, which had said she was in thrall to relatives, that secrecy must be observed—in short, that Jules must wed her on trust, and only speak to her when they were indissolubly united.
But that, when accomplished, was not the whole of Lutwyche's revenge, nor of his activity. To get the full savour of his malice, the victim must be undeceived in such a way that there could be no mistaking the hand which had struck; and this could best be achieved by writing a copy of verses which should reveal their author at the end. Nor should these be given Phene to hand Jules, for so Lutwyche would lose the delicious actual instant of the revelation. No; they should be taught her, line by line and word by word (since she could not read), and taught her by the hag Natalia, that not a subtle pang be spared the "strutting stone-squarer." Thus, listening beneath the window, Lutwyche could enjoy each word, each moan, and when Jules should burst out on them in a fury (but he must not be suffered to hurt his bride: she was too valuable a model), they would all declare, with one voice, that this was their revenge for his insults, they would shout their great shout of laughter; and, next day, Jules would depart alone—"oh, alone indubitably!"—for Rome and Florence, and they would be quits with him and his "coxcombry."
* * * * *
That is the plan, but Phene does not know it. All she knows is that Natalia said that harm would come unless she spoke their lesson to the end. Yet, despite this threat, when Jules has fallen silent in his terror at her "whitening cheek and still dilating eyes," she feels at first that that foolish speech need not be spoken. She has forgotten half of it; she does not care now for Natalia or any of them; above all, she wants to stay where Jules' voice has lifted her, by just letting it go on. "But can it?" she asks piteously—for with that transferring of silence a change had come; the music once let fall, even Jules does not seem able to take up its life again—"no, or you would!" . . . So trust, we see, is born in her: if Jules could do what she desires, Phene knows he would. But since he cannot, they'll stay as they are—"above the world."
"Oh, you—what are you?" cries the child, who never till to-day has heard such words or seen such looks as his. But she has heard other words, seen other looks—
"The same smile girls like me are used to bear, But never men, men cannot stoop so low . . ."
Yet, watching those friends of Jules who came with the lesson she was to learn, the strangest thing of all had been to see how, speaking of him, they had used that smile—
"But still Natalia said they were your friends, And they assented though they smiled the more, And all came round me—that thin Englishman With light lank hair, seemed leader of the rest; He held a paper"
—and from that paper he read what Phene had got by heart.
But oh, if she need not say it! if she could look up for ever to those eyes, as now Jules lets her!
". . . I believe all sin, All memory of wrong done, suffering borne, Would drop down, low and lower, to the earth Whence all that's low comes, and there touch and stay —Never to overtake the rest of me, All that, unspotted, reaches up to you, Drawn by those eyes!"
But even as she gazes, she sees that the eyes "are altering—altered!" She knows not why, she never has understood this sudden, wondrous happening of her marriage, but the eyes to which she trusts are altering—altered—and what can she do? . . . With heartrending pathos, what she does is to clutch at his words to her, the music which had lifted her, and now perhaps will lift him too by its mere sound. "I love you, love" . . . but what does love mean? She knows not, and her "music" is but ignorant echo; if she did know, she could prevent this change, but the change is not prevented, so it cannot have been just the words—it must have been in the tone that his power lay to lift her, and that she cannot find, not understanding. So in the desperate need to see and hear him as he was at first, she turns to her last device—
". . . Or stay! I will repeat Their speech, if that contents you. Only change No more"—
and thus to him, but half aware as yet, sure only that she is not the dream-lady from afar, Phene speaks the words that Lutwyche wrote, and now waits outside to hear.
"I am a painter who cannot paint; In my life, a devil rather than saint; In my brain, as poor a creature too; No end to all I cannot do! Yet do one thing at least I can— Love a man or hate a man Supremely: thus my lore began . . ."
The timid voice goes on, saying the lines by rote as Phene had learned them—and hard indeed they must have been to learn! For, as Lutwyche had told his friends, it must be "something slow, involved, and mystical," it must hold Jules long in doubt, and lure him on until at innermost—
"Where he seeks sweetness' soul, he may find—this!"
And truly it is so "involved," that, in the lessons at Natalia's, it had been thought well to tutor Phene in the probable interruptions from her audience of one. There was an allusion to "the peerless bride with her black eyes," and here Jules was almost certain to break in, saying that assuredly the bride was Phene herself, and so, could she not tell him what it all meant?
"And I am to go on without a word."
She goes on—on to the analysis, utterly incomprehensible to her, of Lutwyche's plan for intertwining love and hate; and with every word the malice deepens, becomes directer in its address. If any one should ask this painter who can hate supremely, how his hate can "grin through Love's rose-braided mask," and how, hating another and having sought, long and painfully, to reach his victim's heart and pierce to the quick of it, he might chance to have succeeded in that aim—
"Ask this, my Jules, and be answered straight, By thy bride—how the painter Lutwyche can hate!"
* * * * *
Phene has said her lesson, but it too has failed. He still is changed. He is not even thinking of her as she ceases. The name upon his lips is Lutwyche, not her own. He mutters of "Lutwyche" and "all of them," and "Venice"; yes, them he will meet at Venice, and it will be their turn. But with that word—"meet"—he remembers her; he speaks to her—
". . . You I shall not meet: If I dreamed, saying this would wake me."
Now Phene is again the silent one. We figure to ourselves the dark bent head, the eyes that dare no more look up, the dreadful acquiescence as he gives her money. So many others had done that; she had not thought he would, but she has never understood, and if to give her money is his pleasure—why, she must take it, as she had taken that of the others. But he goes on. He speaks of selling all his casts and books and medals, that the produce may keep her "out of Natalia's clutches"; and if he survives the meeting with the gang in Venice, there is just one hope, for dimly she hears him say—
"We might meet somewhere, since the world is wide . . ."
Just that one vague, far hope, and for her how wide the world is, how very hard to compass! But she stands silent, in her well-learnt patience; and he is about to speak again, when suddenly from outside a girl's voice is heard, singing.
"Give her but a least excuse to love me! When—where— How—can this arm establish her above me, If fortune fixed her as my lady there, There already, to eternally reprove me?"
It is the song the peasants sing of "Kate the Queen"[64:1] and the page who loved her, and pined "for the grace of her so far above his power of doing good to"—
"'She never could be wronged, be poor,' he sighed, 'Need him to help her!' . . ."
Pippa, going back towards Asolo, carols it out as she passes; and Jules listens to the end. It was bitter for the page to know that his lady was above all need of him; yet men are wont to love so. But why should they always choose the page's part? He had not, in his dreams of love. . . . And all at once, as he vaguely ponders the song, the deep mysterious import of its sounding in this hour dawns on him.
"Here is a woman with utter need of me— I find myself queen here, it seems! How strange!"
He turns and looks again at the white, quiet child who stands awaiting her dismissal. Her soul is on her silent lips—
"Look at the woman here with the new soul . . . This new soul is mine!"
And then, musing aloud, he comes upon the truth of it—
"Scatter all this, my Phene—this mad dream! What's the whole world except our love, my own!"
To-night (he told her so, did he not?), aye, even before to-night, they will travel for her land, "some isle with the sea's silence on it"; but first he must break up these paltry attempts of his, that he may begin art, as well as life, afresh. . . .
"Some unsuspected isle in the far seas!
* * * * *
And you are ever by me while I gaze, —Are in my arms as now—as now—as now! Some unsuspected isle in the far seas! Some unsuspected isle in far-off seas!"
That is what Lutwyche, under the window, hears for his revenge.
In this Passing of Pippa, silence and song have met and mingled into one another, for Phene is silence, as Pippa is song. Phene will speak more when Jules and she are in their isle together—but never will she speak much: she is silence. Her need of him indeed was utter—she had no soul until he touched her into life: it is the very Pygmalion and Galatea. But Jules' soul, no less, had needed Pippa's song to waken to its truest self: once more the man is the one moved by the direct intervention. Not that Phene, like Ottima, could have saved herself; there was no self to save—she had that awful, piercing selflessness of the used flesh and ignored soul. If Pippa had not passed, if Jules had gone, leaving money in her hand . . . I think that Phene would have killed herself—like Ottima, yet how unlike! For Phene (but one step upon the way) would have died for her own self's sake only, because till now she had never known it, but in that strangest, dreadfullest, that least, most, sacred of offerings-up, had "lived for others"—the others of the smile which girls like her are used to bear,
"But never men, men cannot stoop so low."
Were ever scorn and irony more blasting, was ever pity more profound, than in that line which Browning sets in the mouth of silence?
IV. EVENING; NIGHT: THE ENDING OF THE DAY
Our interest now centres again upon Pippa—partly because the Evening and Night episodes are little touched by other feminine influence, but also (and far more significantly) because the dramatic aspect of the work here loses nearly all of its peculiar beauty. The story, till now so slight yet so consummately sufficient, henceforth is involved with "plot"—that natural enemy of spontaneity and unity, and here most eminently successful in blighting both. Indeed, the lovely simplicity of the earlier plan seems actually to aid the foe in the work of destruction, by cutting, as it were, the poem into two or even three divisions: first, the purely lyric portions—those at the beginning and the end—where Pippa is alone in her room; second, the Morning and Noon episodes, where the dramas are absolutely unconnected with the passing girl; third, these Evening and Night scenes, where, on the contrary, all is forced into more or less direct relation with the little figure whose most exquisite magic has hitherto resided in the fusion of her complete personal loneliness with her potent influence upon the lives and characters of those who hear her sing.
Mr. Chesterton claims to have been the first to point out "this gross falsification of the whole beauty of Pippa Passes"—a glaring instance, as he says, of the definite literary blunders which Browning could make. But though that searching criticism were earliest in declaring this, I think that few of us can have read the poem without being vaguely and discomfortably aware of it. From the moment of the direct introduction of Bluphocks[68:1] (whose very name, with its dull and pointless punning, is an offence), that sense of over-ingenuity, of "tiresomeness," which is the prime stumbling-block to whole-hearted Browning worship, becomes perceptible, and acts increasingly upon our nerves until the Day is over, and Pippa re-enters her "large, mean, airy chamber."
+ + + + +
On her return to Asolo from Orcana, she passes the ruined turret wherein Luigi and his mother—those Third Happiest Ones whom in her thoughts she had not been able to separate—are wont to talk at evening. Some of the Austrian police are loitering near, and with them is an Englishman, "lusty, blue-eyed, florid-complexioned"—one Bluphocks, who is on the watch in a double capacity. He is to point out Luigi to the police, in whose pay he is, and to make acquaintance with Pippa in return for money already given by a private employer—for Bluphocks is the creature of anyone's purse.
As Pippa reaches the turret, a thought of days long, long before it fell to ruin makes her choose from her store of songs that which tells how—
"A king lived long ago, In the morning of the world When earth was nigher heaven than now;"
and coming to be very old, was so serene in his sleepy mood, "so safe from all decrepitude," and so beloved of the gods—
"That, having lived thus long, there seemed No need the king should ever die."
Her clear note penetrates to the spot where Luigi and his mother are talking, as so often before. He is bound this night for Vienna, there to kill the hated Emperor of Austria, who holds his Italy in thrall; for Luigi is a Carbonarist, and has been chosen for this "lesser task" by his leaders. His mother is urging him not to go. First she had tried the direct appeal, but this had failed; then argument, but this failed too; and as she stood at end of her own resources, the one hope that remained was her son's delight in living—that sense of the beauty and glory of the world which was so strong in him that he felt
"God must be glad one loves his world so much."
This joy breaks out at each turn of the mother's discourse. While Luigi is striving to make plain to her the "grounds for killing," he thinks to hear the cuckoo, and forgets all his array of facts; for April and June are coming! The mother seizes at once on this, and joins to it a still more powerful persuasion. In June, not only summer's loveliness, but Chiara, the girl he is to marry, is coming: she who gazes at the stars as he does—and how her blue eyes lift to them
"As if life were one long and sweet surprise!"
In June she comes—and with the reiteration, Luigi falters, for he recollects that in this June they were to see together "the Titian at Treviso." . . . His mother has almost won, when a "low noise" outside, which Luigi has first mistaken for the cuckoo, next for the renowned echo in the turret . . . that low noise is heard again—"the voice of Pippa, singing."
And, listening to the song which tells what kings were in the morning of the world, Luigi cries—
"No need that sort of king should ever die!"
And she begins again—
"Among the rocks his city was: Before his palace, in the sun, He sat to see his people pass, And judge them every one"
—and as she tells the manner of his judging, Luigi again exclaims:
"That king should still judge, sitting in the sun!"
But the song goes on—
"His councillors, to left and right, Looked anxious up—but no surprise Disturbed the king's old smiling eyes, Where the very blue had turned to white";
and those eyes kept their tranquillity even when, as legend tells, a Python one day "scared the breathless city," but coming, "with forked tongue and eyes on flame," to where the king sat, and seeing the sweet venerable goodness of him, did not dare
"Approach that threshold in the sun, Assault the old king smiling there . . . Such grace had kings when the world begun!"
"And such grace have they, now that the world ends!"
cries Luigi bitterly, for at Vienna the Python is the king, and brave men lurk in corners "lest they fall his prey." . . . He hesitates no more—
"'Tis God's voice calls: how could I stay? Farewell!"
and rushes from the turret, resolute for Vienna.
By going he escapes the police, for it had been decided that if he stayed at Asolo that night he should be arrested at once. He still may lose his life, for he will try to kill the Emperor; but he will then have been true to his deepest convictions—and thus Pippa's passing, Pippa's song, have for the third time helped a soul to know itself.
+ + + + +
Unwitting as before, she goes on to the house near the Duomo Santa Maria, where the Fourth Happiest One, the Monsignor of her final choice, "that holy and beloved priest," is to stay to-night. And now, for the first time, we are to see her, though only for the barest instant, come into actual contact with some fellow-creatures.
Four "poor girls" are sitting on the steps of the Santa Maria. We hear them talk with one another before Pippa reaches them: they are playing a "wishing game," originated by one who, watching the swallows fly towards Venice, yearns for their wings. She is not long from the country; her dreams are still of new milk and apples, and
". . . the farm among The cherry-orchards, and how April snowed White blossom on her as she ran."
So says one of her comrades scornfully, and tells her how of course the home-folk have been careful to blot out all memories of one who has come to the town to lead the life she leads. She may be sure the old people have rubbed out the mark showing how tall she was on the door, and have
"Twisted her starling's neck, broken his cage, Made a dung-hill of her garden!"
She acquiesces mournfully, but loses herself again in memories: of her fig-tree that curled out of the cottage wall—