Kenia, over at Real Toads, challenged us earlier this week to re-examine a poem we don’t like to find a line or verse we could at least respect. I do love poetry, and yet when I was browsing my books this one came back to haunt me. “My Last Duchess” is a poem I love the feel of, how it is written, but I loathe the story and the character of the Duke. The full poem is at the end of this post for those who wish to read it entirely. Below, however, is my favorite lines and the poem I wrote around them, as the ghost of the Duchess.
Hating The Duke
The fool, he boasted to that little man.
“That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder”
Did he think that it kill me, to shed my blood?
That my body entombed would trap my spirit?
Little fool of a man, thought he should own joy.
Thought he should own laughter not his own.
He was quite right, though you know, about me.
I loved live so dearly, held it as a treasure,
I never missed pleasure, a chance to steal a kiss.
When the painter came, and for him I too smiled,
I feared that it was for funeral he painted me.
So my spirit I did send, to haunt the brush strokes,
My spirit to infuse each splash of color and hue.
Knowing I could, in the end, live on behind the veil.
Trapping that fool in his vanity and lust.
Having me sent on that fatal carriage ride,
He thought he was rid of me at last.
I win, in the end I win, because even behind it.
That curtain of dark velvet, I still call him body.
Behind that soft crush of velvet I own him mind.
In every stroke of painted hue, his soul is mine.
Come my lover, your own my smile now forever.
Come my lover, I am yours and yours alone.
Come my lover, madness waits behind the curtain.
Come my Duke, I am your last Duchess true.
Come my lover, and die here with me to live on.
My Last Duchess
by Robert Browning
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fr Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fr Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fr Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
“Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
“Must never hope to reproduce the faint
“Half-flush that dies along her throat:” such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
“Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
“Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!