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Pippa Passes - Scene 2. Noon Post by :scorpion Category :Plays Author :Robert Browning Date :May 2012 Read :2129

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Pippa Passes - Scene 2. Noon

SCENE II. NOON

(SCENE--_Over Orcana. The house of JULES, who crosses its threshold with PHENE: she is silent, on which JULES begins--)


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! Sit here--
My workroom's single seat. I over-lean
This length of hair and lustrous front; they turn 5
Like an entire flower upward: eyes, lips, last
Your chin--no, last your throat turns: 'tis their scent
Pulls down my face upon you. Nay, look ever
This one way till I change, grow you--I could
Change into you, beloved!
You by me, 10
And I by you; this is your hand in mine,
And side by side we sit: all's true. Thank God!
I have spoken: speak you!
O my life to come!
My Tydeus must be carved that's there in clay;
Yet how be carved, with you about the room? 15
Where must I place you? When I think that once
This roomfull of rough block-work seemed my heaven
Without you! Shall I ever work again,
Get fairly into my old ways again,
Bid each conception stand while, trait by trait, 20
My hand transfers its lineaments to stone?
Will my mere fancies live near you, their truth--
The live truth, passing and repassing me,
Sitting beside me?
Now speak!
Only first,
See, all your letters! Was't not well contrived? 25
Their hiding-place is Psyche's robe; she keeps
Your letters next her skin: which drops out foremost?
Ah--this that swam down like a first moonbeam
Into my world!
Again those eyes complete
Their melancholy survey, sweet and slow, 30
Of beauty--to the human archetype.
On me, with pity, yet some wonder too:
As if God bade some spirit plague a world,
And this were the one moment of surprise
And sorrow while she took her station, pausing 35
O'er what she sees, finds good, and must destroy!
What gaze you at? Those? Books, I told you of;
Let your first word to me rejoice them, too:
This minion, a Coluthus, writ in red
Bister and azure by Bessarion's scribe-- 40
Read this line--no, shame--Homer's be the Greek
First breathed me from the lips of my Greek girl!
This Odyssey in coarse black vivid type
With faded yellow blossoms 'twixt page and page,
To mark great places with due gratitude; 45
_"He said, and on Antinous directed_
_A bitter shaft"_--a flower blots out the rest!
Again upon your search? My statues, then!
--Ah, do not mind that--better that will look
When cast in bronze--an Almaign Kaiser, that, 50
Swart-green and gold, with truncheon based on hip.
This, rather, turn to! What, unrecognized?
I thought you would have seen that here you sit
As I imagined you--Hippolyta,
Naked upon her bright Numidian horse. 55
Recall you this, then? "Carve in bold relief"--
So you commanded--"carve, against I come,
A Greek, in Athens, as our fashion was,
Feasting, bay-filleted and thunder-free,
Who rises 'neath the lifted myrtle-branch. 60
'Praise Those who slew Hipparchus!' cry the guests,
'While o'er thy head the singer's myrtle waves
As erst above our champion: stand up all!'"
See, I have labored to express your thought.
Quite round, a cluster of mere hands and arms, 65
(Thrust in all senses, all ways, from all sides,
Only consenting at the branch's end
They strain toward) serves for frame to a sole face,
The Praiser's, in the center: who with eyes
Sightless, so bend they back to light inside 70
His brain where visionary forms throng up,
Sings, minding not that palpitating arch
Of hands and arms, nor the quick drip of wine
From the drenched leaves o'erhead, nor crowns cast off,
Violet and parsley crowns to trample on-- 75
Sings, pausing as the patron-ghosts approve,
Devoutly their unconquerable hymn.
But you must say a "well" to that--say "well!"
Because you gaze--am I fantastic, sweet?
Gaze like my very life's-stuff, marble--marbly 80
Even to the silence! Why, before I found
The real flesh Phene, I inured myself
To see, throughout all nature, varied stuff
For better nature's birth by means of art:
With me, each substance tended to one form 85
Of beauty--to the human archetype.
On every side occurred suggestive germs
Of that--the tree, the flower--or take the fruit--
Some rosy shape, continuing the peach,
Curved beewise o'er its bough; as rosy limbs, 90
Depending, nestled in the leaves; and just
From a cleft rose-peach the whole Dryad sprang.
But of the stuffs one can be master of,
How I divined their capabilities!
From the soft-rinded smoothening facile chalk 95
That yields your outline to the air's embrace,
Half-softened by a halo's pearly gloom;
Down to the crisp imperious steel, so sure
To cut its one confided thought clean out
Of all the world. But marble!--'neath my tools 100
More pliable than jelly--as it were
Some clear primordial creature dug from depths
In the earth's heart, where itself breeds itself,
And whence all baser substance may be worked;
Refine it off to air, you may--condense it 105
Down to the diamond--is not metal there,
When o'er the sudden speck my chisel trips?
--Not flesh, as flake off flake I scale, approach,
Lay bare those bluish veins of blood asleep?
Lurks flame in no strange windings where, surprised 110
By the swift implement sent home at once,
Flushes and glowings radiate and hover
About its track?
Phene? what--why is this?
That whitening cheek, those still dilating eyes!
Ah, you will die--I knew that you would die! 115

PHENE
(begins, on his having long remained silent.)

Now the end's coming; to be sure, it must
Have ended sometime! Tush, why need I speak
Their foolish speech? I cannot bring to mind
One half of it, beside; and do not care
For old Natalia now, nor any of them. 120
Oh, you--what are you?--if I do not try
To say the words Natalia made me learn;
To please your friends--it is to keep myself
Where your voice lifted me, by letting that
Proceed; but can it? Even you, perhaps, 125
Cannot take up, now you have once let fall,
The music's life, and me along with that--
No, or you would! We'll stay, then, as we are--
Above the world.
You creature with the eyes!
If I could look forever up to them, 130
As now you let me--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, 135
All that, unspotted, reaches up to you,
Drawn by those eyes! What rises is myself,
Not me the shame and suffering; but they sink,
Are left, I rise above them. Keep me so,
Above the world! 140
But you sink, for your eyes
Are altering--altered! Stay--"I love you, love"--
I could prevent it if I understood:
More of your words to me; was 't in the tone
Or the words, your power?
Or stay--I will repeat
Their speech, if that contents you! Only change 145
No more, and I shall find it presently
Far back here, in the brain yourself filled up.
Natalia threatened me that harm should follow
Unless I spoke their lesson to the end,
But harm to me, I thought she meant, not you. 150
Your friends--Natalia said they were your friends
And meant you well--because, I doubted it,
Observing (what was very strange to see)
On every face, so different in all else,
The same smile girls like me are used to bear, 155
But never men, men cannot stoop so low;
Yet your friends, speaking of you, used that smile,
That hateful smirk of boundless self-conceit
Which seems to take possession of the world
And make of God a tame confederate, 160
Purveyor to their appetites--you know!
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; 165
He held a paper--"What we want," said he,
Ending some explanation to his friends,
"Is something slow, involved, and mystical,
To hold Jules long in doubt, yet take his taste
And lure him on until, at innermost 170
Where he seeks sweetness' soul, he may find--this!
--As in the apple's core, the noisome fly;
For insects on the rind are seen at once,
And brushed aside as soon, but this is found
Only when on the lips or loathing tongue." 175
And so he read what I have got by heart:
I'll speak it--"Do not die, love! I am yours"--
No--is not that, or like that, part of words
Yourself began by speaking? Strange to lose
What cost such pains to learn! Is this more right? 180

_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-- 185
_Love a man or hate a man_
_Supremely: thus my lore began._
_Through the Valley of Love I went,_
_In the lovingest spot to abide,_
_And just on the verge where I pitched my tent, 190
_I found Hate dwelling beside._
_(Let the Bridegroom ask what the painter meant,_
_Of his Bride, of the peerless Bride!)_
_And further, I traversed Hate's grove,_
_In the hatefullest nook to dwell; 195
_But lo, where I flung myself prone, couched Love_
_Where the shadow threefold fell._
_(The meaning--those black bride's-eyes above,_
_Not a painter's lip should tell!)_

"And here," said he, "Jules probably will ask, 200
'You have black eyes, Love--you are, sure enough,
My peerless bride--then do you tell indeed
What needs some explanation! What means this?'"
--And I am to go on, without a word--

_So I grew wise in Love and Hate, 205
_From simple that I was of late._
_Once when I loved, I would enlace_
_Breast, eyelids, hands, feet, form, and face_
_Of her I loved, in one embrace--_
_As if by mere love I could love immensely! 210
_Once, when I hated, I would plunge_
_My sword, and wipe with the first lunge_
_My foe's whole life out like a sponge--_
_As if by mere hate I could hate intensely!_
_But now I am wiser, know better the fashion 215
_How passion seeks aid from its opposite passion;_
_And if I see cause to love more, hate more_
_Than ever man loved, ever hated before--_
_And seek in the Valley of Love,_
_The nest, or the nook in Hate's Grove, 220
_Where my soul may surely reach_
_The essence, naught less, of each,_
_The Hate of all Hates, the Love_
_Of all Loves, in the Valley or Grove--_
_I find them the very warders 225
_Each of the other's borders._
_When I love most, Love is disguised_
_In Hate; and when Hate is surprised_
_In Love, then I hate most: ask_
_How Love smiles through Hate's iron casque, 230
_Hate grins through Love's rose-braided mask--_
_And how, having hated thee,_
_I sought long and painfully_
_To reach thy heart, nor prick_
_The skin but pierce to the quick-- 235
_Ask this, my Jules, and be answered straight_
_By thy bride--how the painter Lutwyche can hate!_

(JULES interposes)

Lutwyche! Who else? But all of them, no doubt,
Hated me: they at Venice--presently
Their turn, however! You I shall not meet: 240
If I dreamed, saying this would wake me.
Keep
What's here, the gold--we cannot meet again,
Consider! and the money was but meant
For two years' travel, which is over now,
All chance or hope or care or need of it. 245
This--and what comes from selling these, my casts
And books and medals, except--let them go
Together, so the produce keeps you safe
Out of Natalia's clutches! If by chance
(For all's chance here) I should survive the gang 250
At Venice, root out all fifteen of them,
We might meet somewhere, since the world is wide.

(From without is heard the voice of PIPPA, singing--)

_Give her but a least excuse to love me!_
_When--where--_
_How--can this arm establish her above me, 255
_If fortune fixed her as my lady there,_
_There already, to eternally reprove me?_
_("Hist!"--said Kate the Queen;_
_But "Oh!" cried the maiden, binding her tresses,_
_"'Tis only a page that carols unseen, 260
_Crumbling your hounds their messes!")_

_Is she wronged?--To the rescue of her honor,_
_My heart!_
_Is she poor?--What costs it to be styled a donor?_
_Merely an earth to cleave, a sea to part_. 265
_But that fortune should have thrust all this upon her!_
_("Nay, list!"--bade Kate the Queen;_
_And still cried the maiden, binding her tresses,_
_"'Tis only a page that carols unseen_
_Fitting your hawks their jesses!") 270

(PIPPA passes.)

(JULES resumes)

What name was that the little girl sang forth?
Kate? The Cornaro, doubtless, who renounced
The crown of Cyprus to be lady here
At Asolo, where still her memory stays,
And peasants sing how once a certain page 275
Pined for the grace of her so far above
His power of doing good to, "Kate the Queen--
She never could be wronged, be poor," he sighed,
"Need him to help her!"
Yes, a bitter thing
To see our lady above all need of us; 280
Yet so we look ere we will love; not I,
But the world looks so. If whoever loves
Must be, in some sort, god or worshiper,
The blessing or the blest-one, queen or page,
Why should we always choose the page's part? 285
Here is a woman with utter need of me--
I find myself queen here, it seems!
How strange!
Look at the woman here with the new soul,
Like my own Psyche--fresh upon her lips
Alit the visionary butterfly, 290
Waiting my word to enter and make bright,
Or flutter off and leave all blank as first.
This body had no soul before, but slept
Or stirred, was beauteous or ungainly, free
From taint or foul with stain, as outward things 295
Fastened their image on its passiveness;
Now, it will wake, feel, live--or die again!
Shall to produce form out of unshaped stuff
Be Art--and further, to evoke a soul
From form be nothing? This new soul is mine! 300

Now, to kill Lutwyche, what would that do?--save
A wretched dauber, men will hoot to death
Without me, from their hooting. Oh, to hear
God's voice plain as I heard it first, before
They broke in with their laughter! I heard them 305
Henceforth, not God.
To Ancona--Greece--some isle!
I wanted silence only; there is clay
Everywhere. One may do whate'er one likes
In Art; the only thing is, to make sure
That one does like it--which takes pains to know. 310
Scatter all this, my Phene--this mad dream!
Who, what is Lutwyche, what Natalia's friends,
What the whole world except our love--my own,
Own Phene? But I told you, did I not,
Ere night we travel for your land--some isle 315
With the sea's silence on it? Stand aside--
I do but break these paltry models up
To begin Art afresh. Meet Lutwyche, I--
And save him from my statue meeting him?
Some unsuspected isle in the far seas! 320
Like a god going through his world, there stands
One mountain for a moment in the dusk,
Whole brotherhoods of cedars on its brow;
And you are ever by me while I gaze
--Are in my arms as now--as now--as now! 325
Some unsuspected isle in the far seas!
Some unsuspected isle in far-off seas!

FOOTNOTES:
LINES:

39. _This minion. This favorite. Bessarion (1395-1472), a learned Greek cardinal, discovered a poem, "The Rape of Helen," written by a Greek epic poet, Coluthus, in the sixth century, and Bessarion's scribe copied it out on parchment with blue, red, and dark-brown lettering.

43. _Odyssey. Homer's account of the adventures of Ulysses. The quoted passage is in the _Odyssey_, Bk. XXII, 10. When Ulysses reached home he wreaked vengeance on the suitors of his wife. Antinous was the first to fall. The story of the "bitter shaft" blotted out by a flower is symbolic of the story of the hatred of Lutwyche, which was robbed of its bitterness by Phene's love.

50. _Almaign Kaiser. The German Emperor. _Swart-green is really "black-green"; here it means the "dark-green" of bronze. The Emperor's truncheon is a short staff, the emblem of his office.

54. _Hippolyta. The Queen of the Amazons on a fine horse from Numidia.

59. _Bay-filleted. The bay or laurel with which victors were crowned was supposed to be an antidote against thunder because it was the tree of Apollo. Pliny says that Tiberius and some other Roman emperors wore a wreath of bay leaves as an amulet, especially in thunder-storms. (See Brewer, _Dictionary of Phrase and Fable_; also Byron, _Childe Harold_, IV, 41.)

61. _Hipparchus. In B. C. 514 Harmodius and Aristogeiton conspired against the tyrants Hippias and Hipparchus, and carrying swords hid in myrtle, they slew Hipparchus. Cf. Byron, _Childe Harold_, III, 20.


"All that most endears Glory,
is when the myrtle wreathes a sword
Such as Harmodius drew on Athens' tyrant lord."


75. _Parsley. An aromatic herb used in ancient time in crowns worn at feasts.

86. _Archetype. The original pattern or model. Beautiful colors and shapes in flowers, in flames, trees, and fruit suggested to the poet the beauty of perfect human forms. The rosy bloom of the peach bending close over the bough and nestled among the leaves is sufficient to suggest rosy limbs, and from that suggestion comes the whole imaginative picture of the dryad, the nymph of the woods.

95. _Facile chalk. Jules exults in the facility with which the artist, in any realm of art, manipulates his implements and his materials. His especial enthusiasm is for marble, which he has come to regard as an original, primitive substance, containing in itself all other substances. It may be made to seem as light and clear as air, as brilliant as diamonds. Sometimes as his chisel strikes, it seems to be metal. Again it seems to be actual flesh and blood. At moments when the sculptor works with swift intensity it seems to flush and glow like flame.

181. _I am a painter_, etc. The poem by Lutwyche is professedly "slow, involved, and mystical." But Jules gradually perceives the purport of the words. Lutwyche's hate is to have its most hideous possible aspect because it is to appear suddenly through Love's rose-braided mask.

272. _The Cornaro. Catharine Cornaro was the wife of James, King of Cyprus. After his death she was induced to abdicate in favor of the Republic of Venice, which took possession of Cyprus in 1487. She was assigned a palace and court at Asolo. She was generous, kind, just, and deeply beloved. Her life seemed to hold all possible external conditions of happiness. The song is further explained in lines 275-279.

306. _Ancona. A lovely city in eastern Italy.

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