Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE: DANIEL BARTOLI, by ROBERT BROWNING



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PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE OF IMPORTANCE: DANIEL BARTOLI, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Don, the divinest women that have walked
Last Line: "you think we vanish scared by the cock's crow."
Subject(s): Bartoli, Daniello (1608-1685); Clergy; Writing & Writers; Priests; Rabbis; Ministers; Bishops


I

DON, the divinest women that have walked
Our world were scarce those saints of whom we talked.
My saint, for instance -- worship if you will!
'T is pity poets need historians' skill:
What legendary's worth a chronicle?

II

Come, now! A great lord once upon a time
Visited -- oh a king, of kings the prime,
To sign a treaty such as never was:
For the king's minister had brought to pass
That this same duke -- so style him -- must engage
Two of his dukedoms as an heritage
After his death to this exorbitant
Craver of kingship. "Let who lacks go scant,
Who owns much, give the more to!" Why rebuke?
So bids the devil, so obeys the duke.

III

Now, as it happened, at his sister's house
-- Duchess herself -- indeed the very spouse
Of the king's uncle, -- while the deed of gift
Whereby our duke should cut his rights adrift
Was drawing, getting ripe to sign and seal --
What does the frozen heart but uncongeal
And, shaming his transcendent kin and kith,
Whom do the duke's eyes make acquaintance with?
A girl. "What, sister, may this wonder be?"
"Nobody! Good as beautiful is she,
With gifts that match her goodness, no faint flaw
I' the white: she were the pearl you think you saw,
But that she is -- what corresponds to white?
Some other stone, the true pearl's opposite,
As cheap as pearls are costly. She's -- now, guess
Her parentage! Once -- twice -- thrice? Foiled, confess!
Drugs, duke, her father deals in -- faugh, the scents! --
Manna and senna -- such medicaments
For payment he compounds you. Stay -- stay -- stay!
I'll have no rude speech wrong her! Whither away,
The hot-head? Ah, the scapegrace! She deserves
Respect -- compassion, rather! right it serves
My folly, trusting secrets to a fool!
Already at it, is he? She keeps cool --
Helped by her fan's spread. Well, our state atones
For thus much license, and words break no bones!"
(Hearts, though, sometimes.)

IV

Next morn't was "Reason, rate,
Rave, sister, on till doomsday! Sure as fate,
I wed that woman -- what a woman is
Now that I know, who never knew till this!"
So swore the duke. "I wed her: once again --
Rave, rate, and reason -- spend your breath in vain!"

V

At once was made a contract firm and fast,
Published the banns were, onlymarriage, last,
Required completion when the Church's rite
Should bless and bid depart, make happy quite
The coupled man and wife forevermore:
Which rite was soon to follow. Just before --
All things at all but end -- the folk o' the bride
Flocked to a summons. Pomp the duke defied:
"Of ceremony -- so much as empowers,
Naught that exceeds, suits best a tie like ours" --
He smiled -- "all else were mere futility.
We vow, God hears us: God and you and I --
Let the world keep at distance! This is why
We choose the simplest forms that serve to bind
Lover and lover of the human kind,
No care of what degree -- of kings or clowns --
Come blood and breeding. Courtly smiles and frowns
Miss of their mark, would idly soothe or strike
My style and yours -- in one style merged alike --
God's man and woman merely. Long ago
'T was rounded in my ears 'Duke, wherefore slow
To use a privilege? Needs must one who reigns
Pay reigning's due: since statecraft so ordains --
Wed for the commonweal's sake! law prescribes
One wife: but to submission license bribes
Unruly nature: mistresses accept
-- Well, at discretion!' Prove I so inept
A scholar, thus instructed? Dearest, be
Wife and all mistresses in one to me,
Now, henceforth, and forever!" So smiled he.

VI

Good: but the minister, the crafty one,
Got ear of what was doing -- all but done --
Not sooner, though, than the king's very self,
Warned by the sister on how sheer a shelf
Royalty's ship was like to split. "I bar
The abomination! Mix with muck my star?
Shall earth behold prodigiously enorbed
An upstart marsh-born meteor sun-absorbed?
Nuptial me no such nuptials!" "Past dispute,
Majesty speaks with wisdom absolute,"
Admired the minister: "yet, all the same,
I would we may not -- while we play his game,
The ducal meteor's -- also lose our own,
The solar monarch's: we relieve your throne
Of an ungracious presence, like enough:
Balked of his project he departs in huff,
And so cuts short -- dare I remind the king? --
Our not so unsuccessful bargaining.
The contract for eventual heritage
Happens to pari passu reach the stage
Attained by just this other contract, -- each
Unfixed by signature though fast in speech.
Off goes the duke in dudgeon -- off withal
Go with him his two dukedoms past recall.
You save a fool from tasting folly's fruit,
Obtain small thanks thereby, and lose to boot
Sagacity's reward. The jest is grim:
The man will mulct you -- for amercing him?
Nay, for ... permit a poor similitude!
A witless wight in some fantastic mood
Would drown himself; you plunge into the wave,
Pluck forth the undeserving: he, you save,
Pulls you clean under also for your pains.
Sire, little need that I should tax my brains
To help your inspiration!" "Let him sink!
Always contriving" -- hints the royal wink --
"To keep ourselves dry while we claim his clothes."

VII

Next day, the appointed day for plighting troths
At eve, -- so little time to lose, you see,
Before the Church should weld indissolubly
Bond into bond, wed these who, side by side,
Sit each by other, bold groom, blushing bride, --
At the preliminary banquet, graced
By all the lady's kinsfolk come in haste
To share her triumph, -- lo, a thunderclap!
"Who importunes now?" "Such is my mishap --
In the king's name! No need that any stir
Except this lady!" bids the minister:
"With her I claim a word apart, no more:
For who gainsays -- a guard is at the door.
Hold, duke! Submit you, lady, as I bow
To him whose mouthpiece speaks his pleasure now!
It well may happen I no whit arrest
Your marriage: be it so, -- we hope the best!
By your leave, gentles! Lady, pray you, hence!
Duke, with my soul and body's deference!"

VIII

Doors shut, mouth opens and persuasion flows
Copiously forth. "What flesh shall dare oppose
The king's command? The matter in debate
-- How plain it is! Yourself shall arbitrate,
Determine. Since the duke affects to rate
His prize in you beyond all goods of earth,
Accounts as naught old gains of rank and birth,
Ancestral obligation, recent fame,
(We know his feats) -- nay, ventures to disclaim
Our will and pleasure almost -- by report --
Waives in your favor dukeliness, in short, --
We -- ('t is the king speaks) -- who might forthwith stay
Such suicidal purpose, brush away
A bad example shame would else record, --
Lean to indulgence rather. At his word
We take the duke: allow him to complete
The cession of his dukedoms, leave our feet
Their footstool when his own head, safe in vault,
Sleeps sound. Nay, would the duke repair his fault
Handsomely, and our forfeited esteem
Recover, -- what if wisely he redeem
The past, -- in earnest of good faith, at once
Give us such jurisdiction for the nonce
As may suffice -- prevent occasion slip --
And constitute our actual ownership?
Concede this -- straightway be the marriag blessed
By warrant of this paper! Things at rest,
This paper duly signed, down drops the bar,
To-morrow you become -- from what you are,
The druggist's daughter -- not the duke's mere spouse,
But the king's own adopted: heart and house
Open to you -- the idol of a court
'Which heaven might copy' -- sing our poet-sort.
In this emergency, on you depends
The issue: plead what bliss the king intends!
Should the duke frown, should arguments and prayers,
Nay, tears if need be, prove in vain, -- who cares?
We leave the duke to his obduracy,
Companionless, -- you, madam, follow me
Without, where divers of the body-guard
Wait signal to enforce the king's award
Of strict seclusion: over you at least
Vibratingly the sceptre threats increased
Precipitation! How avert its crash?"

IX

"Re-enter, sir! A hand that's calm, not rash,
Averts it!" quietly the lady said.
"Yourself shall witness."
At the table's head
Where, mid the hushed guests, still the duke sat glued
In blank bewilderment, his spouse pursued
Her speech to end -- syllabled quietude.

X

"Duke, I, your duchess of a day, could take
The hand you proffered me for love's sole sake,
Conscious my love matched yours; as you, myself
Would waive, when need were, all but love -- from pelf
To potency. What fortune brings about
Haply in some far future, finds me out,
Faces me on a sudden here and now.
The better! Read -- if beating heart allow --
Read this, and bid me rend to rags the shame!
I and your conscience -- hear and grant our claim!
Never dare alienate God's gift you hold
Simply in trust for him! Choose muck for gold?
Could you so stumble in your choice, cajoled
By what I count my least of worthiness
-- The youth, the beauty, -- you renounce them -- yes,
With all that's most too: love as well you lose.
Slain by what slays in you the honor! Choose!
Dear -- yet my husband -- dare I love you yet?"

XI

How the duke's wrath o'erboiled, -- words, words, and yet
More words, -- I spare you such fool's fever-fret.
They were not of one sort at all, one size,
As souls go -- he and she. 'T is said, the eyes
Of all the lookers-on let tears fall fast.
The minister was mollified at last:
"Take a day, -- two days even, ere through pride
You perish, -- two days' counsel -- then decide!"

XII

"If I shall save his honor and my soul?
Husband, -- this one last time, -- you tear the scroll?
Farewell, duke! Sir, I follow in your train!"

XIII

So she went forth: they never met again,
The duke and she. The world paid compliment
(Is it worth noting?) when, next day, she sent
Certain gifts back -- "jewelry fit to deck
Whom you call wife." I know not round what neck
They took to sparkling, in good time -- weeks thence.

XIV

Of all which was the pleasant consequence,
So much and no more -- that a fervid youth,
Big - hearted boy, -- but ten years old, in truth --
Laid this to heart and loved, as boyhood can,
The unduchessed lady: boy and lad grew man
He loved as man perchance may: did meanwhile
Good soldier-service, managed to beguile
The years, no few, until he found a chance:
Then, as at trumpet-summons to advance,
Outbroke the love that stood at arms so long,
Brooked no withstanding longer. They were wed.
Whereon from camp and court alike he fled,
Renounced the sun-king, dropped off into night,
Evermore lost, a ruined satellite:
And, oh, the exquisite deliciousness
That lapped him in obscurity! You guess
Such joy is fugitive: she died full soon.
He did his best to die -- as sun, so moon
Left him, turned dusk to darkness absolute.
Failing of death -- why, saintship seemed to suit:
Yes, your sort, Don! He trembled on the verge
Of monkhood: trick of cowl and taste of scourge
He tried: then, kicked not at the pricks perverse,
But took again, for better or for worse,
The old way in the world, and, much the same
Man o' the outside, fairly played life's game.

XV

"Now, Saint Scholastica, what time she fared
In Paynimrie, behold, a lion glared
Right in her path! Her waist she promptly strips
Of girdle, binds his teeth within his lips,
And, leashed all lamblike, to the Soldan's court
Leads him." Ay, many a legend of the sort
Do you praiseworthily authenticate:
Spare me the rest. This much of no debate
Admits: my lady flourished in grand days
When to be duchess was to dance the hays
Up, down, across the heaven amid its host:
While to be hailed the sun's own self almost --
So close the kinship -- was -- was --

Saint, for this.
Be yours the feet I stoop to -- kneel and kiss!
So human? Then the mouth too, if you will!
Thanks to no legend but a chronicle.

XVI

One leans to like the duke, too: up we'll patch
Some sort of saintship for him -- not to match
Hers -- but man's best and woman's worst amount
So nearly to the same thing, that we count
In man a miracle of faithfulness
If, while unfaithful somewhat, he lay stress
On the main fact that love, when love indeed,
Is wholly solely love from first to last --
Truth -- all the rest a lie. Too likely, fast
Enough that necklace went to grace the throat
-- Let's say, of such a dancer as makes doat
The senses when the soul is satisfied --
Trogalia, say the Greeks -- a sweetmeat tried
Approvingly by sated tongue and teeth,
Once body's proper meal consigned beneath
Such unconsidered munching.

XVII

Fancy's flight
Makes me a listener when, some sleepless night,
The duke reviewed his memories, and aghast
Found that the Present intercepts the Past
With such effect as when a cloud enwraps
The moon and, moon-suffused, plays moon perhaps
To who walks under, till comes, late or soon,
A stumble: up he looks, and lo, the moon
Calm, clear, convincingly herself once more!
How could he 'scape the cloud that thrust between
Him and effulgence? Speak, fool -- duke, I mean!

XVIII

"Who bade you come, brisk-marching bold she-shape,
A terror with those black-balled worlds of eyes,
That black hair bristling solid-built from nape
To crown its coils about? O dread surmise!
Take, tread on, trample under past escape
Your capture, spoil and trophy! Do -- devise
Insults for one who, fallen once, ne'er shall rise!

"Mock on, triumphant o'er the prostrate shame!
Laugh 'Here lies he among the false to Love --
Love's loyal liegeman once: the very same
Who, scorning his weak fellows, towered above
Inconstancy: yet why his faith defame?
Our eagle's victor was at least no dove,
No dwarfish knight picked up our giant's glove --

"'When, putting prowess to the proof, faith urged
Her champion to the challenge: had it chanced
That merely virtue, wisdom, beauty -- merged
All in one woman -- merely these advanced
Their claim to conquest, -- hardly had he purged
His mind of memories, dearnesses enhanced
Rather than harmed by death, nor, disentranced,

"'Promptly had he abjured the old pretence
To prove his kind's superior -- first to last
Display erect on his heart's eminence
An altar to the never-dying Past.
For such feat faith might boast fit play of fence
And easily disarm the iconoclast
Called virtue, wisdom, beauty: impudence

"'Fought in their stead, and how could faith but fall?
There came a bold she-shape brisk-marching, bent
No inch of her imperious stature, tall
As some war-engine from whose top was sent
One shattering volley out of eye's black ball,
And prone lay faith's defender!' Mockery spent?
Malice discharged in full? In that event,

"My queenly impudence, I cover close,
I wrap me round with love of your black hair,
Black eyes, black every wicked inch of those
Limbs' war-tower tallness: so much truth lives there
'Neath the dead heap of lies. And yet -- who knows?
What if such things are? No less, such things were,
Then was the man your match whom now you dare

"Treat as existent still. A second truth!
They held -- this heap of lies you rightly scorn --
A man who had approved himself in youth
More than a match for -- you? for sea-foam born
Venus herself: you conquer him forsooth?
'T is me his ghost: he died since left and lorn,
As needs must Samson when his hair is shorn.

"Some day, and soon, be sure himself will rise,
Called into life by her who long ago
Left his soul whiling time in flesh-disguise.
Ghosts tired of waiting can play tricks, you know!
Tread, trample me -- such sport we ghosts devise,
Waiting the morn - star's reappearance -- though
You think we vanish scared by the cock's crow."





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