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Full Online Book HomePlaysPippa Passes - Scene 1. Morning
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Pippa Passes - Scene 1. Morning Post by :scorpion Category :Plays Author :Robert Browning Date :May 2012 Read :2947

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Pippa Passes - Scene 1. Morning

SCENE I. MORNING

(SCENE.--Up the Hillside, inside the Shrub-house. LUCA'S wife, OTTIMA, and her paramour, the German SEBALD.)


Sebald (_sings_).

_Let the watching lids wink!
Day's ablaze with eyes, think!
Deep into the night, drink!_

Ottima.
Night? Such may be your Rhineland nights, perhaps;
But this blood-red beam through the shutter's chink 5
--We call such light the morning: let us see!
Mind how you grope your way, though! How these tall
Naked geraniums straggle! Push the lattice
Behind that frame!--Nay, do I bid you?--Sebald,
It shakes the dust down on me! Why, of course 10
The slide-bolt catches. Well, are you content,
Or must I find you something else to spoil?
Kiss and be friends, my Sebald! Is 't full morning?
Oh, don't speak then!

Sebald.
Aye, thus it used to be.
Ever your house was, I remember, shut 15
Till midday; I observed that, as I strolled
On mornings through the vale here; country girls
Were noisy, washing garments in the brook,
Hinds drove the slow white oxen up the hills;
But no, your house was mute, would ope no eye. 20
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 25
And said, "The old man sleeps with the young wife."
This house was his, this chair, this window--his!

Ottima.
Ah, the clear morning! I can see St. Mark's;
That black streak is the belfry. Stop: Vicenza
Should lie--there's Padua, plain enough, that blue! 30
Look o'er my shoulder, follow my finger!

Sebald.
Morning?
It seems to me a night with a sun added.
Where's dew, where's freshness? That bruised plant, I bruised
In getting through the lattice yestereve,
Droops as it did. See, here's my elbow's mark 35
I' the dust o' the sill.

Ottima.
Oh, shut the lattice, pray!

Sebald.
Let me lean out. I cannot scent blood here,
Foul as the morn may be.
There, shut the world out!
How do you feel now, Ottima? There, curse
The world and all outside! Let us throw off 40
This mask: how do you bear yourself? Let's out
With all of it.

Ottima.
Best never speak of it.

Sebald.
Best speak again and yet again of it.
Till words cease to be more than words. "His blood,"
For instance--let those two words mean "His blood" 45
And nothing more. Notice, I'll say them now,
"His blood."

Ottima.
Assuredly if I repented
The deed--

Sebald.
Repent? Who should repent, or why?
What puts that in your head? Did I once say
That I repented?

Ottima.
No; I said the deed-- 50

Sebald. "The deed" and "the event"--just now it was
"Our passion's fruit"--the devil take such cant!
Say, once and always, Luca was a wittol,
I am his cutthroat, you are--

Ottima.
Here's the wine;
I brought it when we left the house above, 55
And glasses too--wine of both sorts. Black? White then?

Sebald.
But am not I his cutthroat? What are you?

Ottima.
There trudges on his business from the Duomo
Benet the Capuchin, with his brown hood
And bare feet; always in one place at church, 60
Close under the stone wall by the south entry.
I used to take him for a brown cold piece
Of the wall's self, as out of it he rose
To let me pass--at first, I say, I used--
Now, so has that dumb figure fastened on me, 65
I rather should account the plastered wall
A piece of him, so chilly does it strike.
This, Sebald?

Sebald.
No, the white wine--the white wine!
Well, Ottima, I promised no new year
Should rise on us the ancient shameful way; 70
Nor does it rise. Pour on! To your black eyes!
Do you remember last damned New Year's day?

Ottima.
You brought those foreign prints. We looked at them
Over the wine and fruit. I had to scheme
To get him from the fire. Nothing but saying 75
His own set wants the proof-mark, roused him up
To hunt them out.

Sebald.
'Faith, he is not alive
To fondle you before my face.

Ottima.
Do you
Fondle me then! Who means to take your life
For that, my Sebald? 80

Sebald.
Hark you, Ottima!
One thing to guard against. We'll not make much
One of the other--that is, not make more
Parade of warmth, childish officious coil,
Than yesterday--as if, sweet, I supposed
Proof upon proof were needed now, now first, 85
To show I love you--yes, still love you--love you
In spite of Luca and what's come to him--
Sure sign we had him ever in our thoughts,
White sneering old reproachful face and all!
We'll even quarrel, love, at times, as if 90
We still could lose each other, were not tied
By this--conceive you?

Ottima.
Love!

Sebald.
Not tied so sure!
Because though I was wrought upon, have struck
His insolence back into him--am I
So surely yours?--therefore forever yours? 95

Ottima. Love, to be wise (one counsel pays another),
Should we have--months ago, when first we loved,
For instance that May morning we two stole
Under the green ascent of sycamores--If
we had come upon a thing like that 100
Suddenly--

Sebald.
"A thing"--there again--"a thing!"

Ottima.
Then, Venus' body, had we come upon
My husband Luca Gaddi's murdered corpse
Within there, at his couch-foot, covered close--
Would you have pored upon it? Why persist 105
In poring now upon it? For 'tis here
As much as there in the deserted house;
You cannot rid your eyes of it. For me,
Now he is dead I hate him worse; I hate--
Dare you stay here? I would go back and hold 110
His two dead hands, and say, "I hate you worse,
Luca, than"--

Sebald.
Off, off--take your hands off mine,
'Tis the hot evening--off! oh, morning, is it?

Ottima.
There's one thing must be done--you know what thing.
Come in and help to carry. We may sleep 115
Anywhere in the whole wide house tonight.

Sebald.
What would come, think you, if we let him lie
Just as he is? Let him lie there until
The angels take him! He is turned by this
Off from his face beside, as you will see. 120

Ottima.
This dusty pane might serve for looking-glass.
Three, four--four gray hairs! Is it so you said
A plait of hair should wave across my neck?
No--this way.

Sebald. Ottima, I would give your neck,
Each splendid shoulder, both those breasts of yours, 125
That this were undone! Killing! Kill the world,
So Luca lives again!--aye, lives to sputter
His fulsome dotage on you--yes, and feign
Surprise that I return at eve to sup,
When all the morning I was loitering here-- 130
Bid me dispatch my business and begone.
I would--

Ottima.
See!

Sebald.
No, I'll finish. Do you think
I fear to speak the bare truth once for all?
All we have talked of, is at bottom, fine
To suffer; there's a recompense in guilt; 135
One must be venturous and fortunate--
What is one young for, else? In age we'll sigh
O'er the wild, reckless, wicked days flown over;
Still, we have lived; the vice was in its place.
But to have eaten Luca's bread, have worn 140
His clothes, have felt his money swell my purse--
Do lovers in romances sin that way?
Why, I was starving when I used to call
And teach you music, starving while you plucked me
These flowers to smell! 145

Ottima.
My poor lost friend!

Sebald.
He gave me
Life, nothing else; what if he did reproach
My perfidy, and threaten, and do more--
Had he no right? What was to wonder at?
He sat by us at table quietly--
Why must you lean across till our cheeks touched? 150
Could he do less than make pretense to strike?
'Tis not the crime's sake--I'd commit ten crimes
Greater, to have this crime wiped out, undone!
And you--oh, how feel you? Feel you for me?

Ottima.
Well then, I love you better now than ever, 155
And best (look at me while I speak to you)--
Best for the crime; nor do I grieve, in truth,
This mask, this simulated ignorance,
This affectation of simplicity,
Falls off our crime; this naked crime of ours 160
May not now be looked over--look it down!
Great? Let it be great; but the joys it brought,
Pay they or no its price? Come: they or it
Speak not! The past, would you give up the past
Such as it is, pleasure and crime together? 165
Give up that noon I owned my love for you?
The garden's silence! even the single bee
Persisting in his toil, suddenly stopped,
And where he hid you only could surmise
By some campanula chalice set a-swing. 170
Who stammered--"Yes, I love you?"

Sebald.
And I drew
Back; put far back your face with both my hands
Lest you should grow too full of me--your face
So seemed athirst for my whole soul and body!

Ottima.
And when I ventured to receive you here, 175
Made you steal hither in the mornings--

Sebald.
When
I used to look up 'neath the shrub-house here,
Till the red fire on its glazed windows spread
To a yellow haze?

Ottima.
Ah--my sign was, the sun
Inflamed the sear side of yon chestnut-tree 180
Nipped by the first frost.

Sebald.
You would always laugh
At my wet boots: I had to stride through grass
Over my ankles.

Ottima.
Then our crowning night!

Sebald.
The July night?

Ottima.
The day of it too, Sebald!
When heaven's pillars seemed o'erbowed with heat, 185
Its black-blue canopy suffered descend
Close on us both, to weigh down each to each,
And smother up all life except our life.
So lay we till the storm came.

Sebald.
How it came!

Ottima.
Buried in woods we lay, you recollect; 190
Swift ran the searching tempest overhead;
And ever and anon some bright white shaft
Burned through the pine-tree roof, here burned and there,
As if God's messenger through the close wood screen
Plunged and replunged his weapon at a venture, 195
Feeling for guilty thee and me; then broke
The thunder like a whole sea overhead--

* * * * *

Sebald.
Slower, Ottima!
Do not lean on me!

Ottima.
Sebald, as we lay,
Who said, "Let death come now! 'Tis right to die!
Right to be punished! Naught completes such bliss 200
But woe!" Who said that?

Sebald.
How did we ever rise?
Was't that we slept? Why did it end?

Ottima.
I felt you
Taper into a point the ruffled ends
Of my loose locks 'twixt both your humid lips.
My hair is fallen now: knot it again! 205

Sebald.
I kiss you now, dear Ottima, now and now!
This way? Will you forgive me--be once more
My great queen?

Ottima.
Bind it thrice about my brow;
Crown me your queen, your spirit's arbitress,
Magnificent in sin. Say that!

Sebald.
I crown you 210
My great white queen, my spirit's arbitress,
Magnificent--

(_From without is heard the voice of PIPPA _singing_--)

_The year's at the spring_
_And day's at the morn;_
_Morning's at seven; 215
_The hillside'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! 220

(PIPPA _passes_.)


Sebald.
God's in his heaven! Do you hear that?
Who spoke?
You, you spoke!

Ottima.
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? 225
There are ten silk-mills now belong to you.
She stoops to pick my double heartsease--Sh!
She does not hear: call you out louder!

Sebald.
Leave me!
Go, get your clothes on--dress, those shoulders!

Ottima.
Sebald?

Sebald.
Wipe off that paint! I hate you. 230

Ottima.
Miserable!

Sebald. 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, 235
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!

Ottima.
Speak to me--not of me.

Sebald.
That round great full-orbed face, where not an angle 240

Broke the delicious indolence--all broken!

Ottima.
To me--not of me! Ungrateful, perjured cheat!
A coward, too: but ingrate's worse than all!
Beggar--my slave--a fawning, cringing lie!
Leave me! Betray me! I can see your drift! 245
A lie that walks and eats and drinks!

Sebald.
My God!
Those morbid, olive, faultless shoulder-blades--
I should have known there was no blood beneath!

Ottima. You hate me then? You hate me then?

Sebald.
To think
She would succeed in her absurd attempt, 250
And fascinate by sinning, show herself
Superior--guilt from its excess superior
To innocence! That little peasant's voice
Has righted all again. Though I be lost,
I know which is the better, never fear, 255
Of vice or virtue, purity or lust,
Nature or trick! I see what I have done,
Entirely now! Oh, I am proud to feel
Such torments--let the world take credit thence--
I, having done my deed, pay too its price! 260
I hate, hate--curse you! God's in his heaven!

Ottima.
--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! 265
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!

Sebald.
My brain is drowned now--quite drowned: all I feel
Is ... is, at swift-recurring intervals, 270
A hurry-down within me, as of waters
Loosened to smother up some ghastly pit:
There they go--whirls from a black, fiery sea!

Ottima.
Not me--to him, O God, be merciful!

FOOTNOTES:
LINES:

28. _St. Mark's. There is an extensive view from Asolo. Venice, with its cupolas and steeples, is seen to the east. Ottima detects the belfry of the Church of St. Mark. The towns of Vicenza and Padua are also discernible.

59. _The Capuchin. A branch of the Franciscan order of monks. Their habit is brown.

170. _Campanula chalice. The flower of any one of a large genus of flowers with bell-shaped corollas.

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