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Full Online Book HomePlaysPippa Passes - Scene 3. Evening
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Pippa Passes - Scene 3. Evening Post by :scorpion Category :Plays Author :Robert Browning Date :May 2012 Read :2961

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Pippa Passes - Scene 3. Evening

SCENE III. EVENING

(SCENE.--Inside the Turret on the Hill above Asolo. LUIGI and his Mother entering.)


Mother.
If there blew wind, you'd hear a long sigh, easing
The utmost heaviness of music's heart.

Luigi.
Here in the archway?

Mother.
Oh, no, no--in farther,
Where the echo is made, on the ridge.

Luigi.
Here surely, then.
How plain the tap of my heel as I leaped up! 5
Hark--"Lucius Junius!" The very ghost of a voice
Whose body is caught and kept by--what are those?
Mere withered wall flowers, waving overhead?
They seem an elvish group with thin bleached hair
That lean out of their topmost fortress--look 10
And listen, mountain men, to what we say,
Hand under chin of each grave earthy face.
Up and show faces all of you!--"All of you!"
That's the king dwarf with the scarlet comb; old Franz,
Come down and meet your fate? Hark--"Meet your fate!" 15

Mother.
Let him not meet it, my Luigi--do not
Go to his City! Putting crime aside,
Half of these ills of Italy are feigned:
Your Pellicos and writers for effect,
Write for effect. 20

Luigi.
Hush! Say A writes, and B.

Mother.
These A's and B's write for effect, I say.
Then, evil is in its nature loud, while good
Is silent; you hear each petty injury,
None of his virtues; he is old beside,
Quiet and kind, and densely stupid. Why 25
Do A and B not kill him themselves?

Luigi.
They teach
Others to kill him--me--and, if I fail,
Others to succeed; now, if A tried and failed,
I could not teach that: mine's the lesser task.
Mother, they visit night by night--

Mother.
--You, Luigi? 30
Ah, will you let me tell you what you are?

Luigi.
Why not? Oh, the one thing you fear to hint,
You may assure yourself I say and say
Ever to myself! At times--nay, even as now
We sit--I think my mind is touched, suspect 35
All is not sound; but is not knowing that
What constitutes one sane or otherwise?
I know I am thus--so, all is right again.
I laugh at myself as through the town I walk,
And see men merry as if no Italy 40
Were suffering; then I ponder--"I am rich,
Young, healthy; why should this fact trouble me,
More than it troubles these?" But it does trouble.
No, trouble's a bad word; for as I walk
There's springing and melody and giddiness, 45
And old quaint turns and passages of my youth,
Dreams long forgotten, little in themselves,
Return to me--whatever may amuse me,
And earth seems in a truce with me, and heaven
Accords with me, all things suspend their strife, 50
The very cicala laughs, "There goes he, and there!
Feast him, the time is short; he is on his way
For the world's sake: feast him this once, our friend!"
And in return for all this, I can trip
Cheerfully up the scaffold-steps. I go 55
This evening, mother!

Mother.
But mistrust yourself--
Mistrust the judgment you pronounce on him!

Luigi.
Oh, there I feel--am sure that I am right!

Mother.
Mistrust your judgment, then, of the mere means
To this wild enterprise. Say you are right-- 60
How should one in your state e'er bring to pass
What would require a cool head, a cold heart,
And a calm hand? You never will escape.

Luigi.
Escape? To even wish that would spoil all.
The dying is best part of it. Too much 65
Have I enjoyed these fifteen years of mine,
To leave myself excuse for longer life:
Was not life pressed down, running o'er with joy,
That I might finish with it ere my fellows
Who, sparelier feasted, make a longer stay? 70
I was put at the board-head, helped to all
At first; I rise up happy and content.
God must be glad one loves his world so much.
I can give news of earth to all the dead
Who ask me:--last year's sunsets, and great stars 75
Which had a right to come first and see ebb
The crimson wave that drifts the sun away--
Those crescent moons with notched and burning rims
That strengthened into sharp fire, and there stood,
Impatient of the azure--and that day 80
In March, a double rainbow stopped the storm--
May's warm, slow, yellow moonlit summer nights--
Gone are they, but I have them in my soul!

Mother.
(He will not go!)

Luigi.
You smile at me? 'Tis true--
Voluptuousness, grotesqueness, ghastliness, 85
Environ my devotedness as quaintly
As round about some antique altar wreathe
The rose festoons, goats' horns, and oxen's skulls.

Mother.
See now: you reach the city, you must cross
His threshold--how?

Luigi.
Oh, that's if we conspired! 90
Then would come pains in plenty, as you guess--
But guess not how the qualities most fit
For such an office, qualities I have,
Would little stead me, otherwise employed,
Yet prove of rarest merit only here. 95
Everyone knows for what his excellence
Will serve, but no one ever will consider
For what his worst defect might serve; and yet
Have you not seen me range our coppice yonder
In search of a distorted ash?--I find 100
The wry spoilt branch a natural perfect bow.
Fancy the thrice-sage, thrice-precautioned man
Arriving at the palace on my errand!
No, no! I have a handsome dress packed up--
White satin here, to set off my black hair; 105
In I shall march--for you may watch your life out
Behind thick walls, make friends there to betray you;
More than one man spoils everything. March straight--
Only, no clumsy knife to fumble for.
Take the great gate, and walk (not saunter) on 110
Through guards and guards--I have rehearsed it all
Inside the turret here a hundred times
Don't ask the way of whom you meet, observe!
But where they cluster thickliest is the door
Of doors; they'll let you pass--they'll never blab 115
Each to the other, he knows not the favorite,
Whence he is bound and what's his business now.
Walk in--straight up to him; you have no knife:
Be prompt, how should he scream? Then, out with you!
Italy, Italy, my Italy! 120
You're free, you're free! Oh, mother, I could dream
They got about me--Andrea from his exile,
Pier from his dungeon, Gualtier from his grave!

Mother. Well, you shall go. Yet seems this patriotism
The easiest virtue for a selfish man 125
To acquire: he loves himself--and next, the world--
If he must love beyond--but naught between:
As a short-sighted man sees naught midway
His body and the sun above. But you
Are my adored Luigi, ever obedient 130
To my least wish, and running o'er with love;
I could not call you cruel or unkind.
Once more, your ground for killing him!--then go!

Luigi. Now do you try me, or make sport of me?
How first the Austrians got these provinces-- 135
(If that is all, I'll satisfy you soon)
--Never by conquest but by cunning, for
That treaty whereby--

Mother.
Well?

Luigi.
(Sure, he's arrived,
The telltale cuckoo; spring's his confidant,
And he lets out her April purposes!) 140
Or--better go at once to modern time,
He has--they have--in fact, I understand
But can't restate the matter; that's my boast:
Others could reason it out to you, and prove
Things they have made me feel.

Mother.
Why go tonight? 145
Morn's for adventure. Jupiter is now
A morning-star. I cannot hear you, Luigi!

Luigi.
"I am the bright and morning-star," saith God--
And, "to such an one I give the morning-star."
The gift of the morning-star! Have I God's gift 150
Of the morning-star?

Mother.
Chiara will love to see
That Jupiter an evening-star next June.

Luigi.
True, mother. Well for those who live through June!
Great noontides, thunder-storms, all glaring pomps
That triumph at the heels of June the god 155
Leading his revel through our leafy world.
Yes, Chiara will be here.

Mother.
In June: remember,
Yourself appointed that month for her coming.

Luigi. Was that low noise the echo?

Mother.
The night-wind.
She must be grown--with her blue eyes upturned 160
As if life were one long and sweet surprise:
In June she comes.

Luigi.
We were to see together
The Titian at Treviso. There, again!

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

_A king lived long ago,_
_In the morning of the world, 165
_When earth was nigher heaven than now._
_And the king's locks curled,_
_Disparting o'er a forehead full_
_As the milk-white space 'twixt horn and horn_
_Of some sacrificial bull-- 170
_Only calm as a babe new-born:_
_For he was got to a sleepy mood,_
_So safe from all decrepitude,_
_Age with its bane, so sure gone by,_
_(The gods so loved him while he dreamed) 175
_That, having lived thus long, there seemed_
_No need the king should ever die._

Luigi.
No need that sort of king should ever die!

_Among the rocks his city was:_
_Before his palace, in the sun, 180
_He sat to see his people pass,_
_And judge them every one_
_From its threshold of smooth stone._
_They haled him many a valley-thief_
_Caught in the sheep-pens, robber-chief 185
_Swarthy and shameless, beggar-cheat,_
_Spy-prowler, or rough pirate found_
_On the sea-sand left aground;_
_And sometimes clung about his feet,_
_With bleeding lid and burning cheek, 190
_A woman, bitterest wrong to speak_
_Of one with sullen thickset brows:_
_And sometimes from the prison-house_
_The angry priests a pale wretch brought,_
_Who through some chink had pushed and pressed 195
_On knees and elbows, belly and breast,_
_Worm-like into the temple--caught_
_He was by the very god,_
_Whoever in the darkness strode_
_Backward and forward, keeping watch 200
_O'er his brazen bowls, such rogues to catch!_
_These, all and everyone,_
_The king judged, sitting in the sun._

Luigi.
That king should still judge sitting in the sun!

_His councilors, on left and right, 205
_Looked anxious up--but no surprise_
_Disturbed the king's old smiling eyes,_
_Where the very blue had turned to white._
_'Tis said, a Python scared one day_
_The breathless city, till he came, 210
_With forky tongue and eyes on flame,_
_Where the old king sat to judge alway;_
_But when he saw the sweepy hair_
_Girt with a crown of berries rare_
_Which the god will hardly give to wear 215
_To the maiden who singeth, dancing bare_
_In the altar-smoke by the pine-torch lights,_
_At his wondrous forest rites--_
_Seeing this, he did not dare_
_Approach that threshold in the sun, 220
_Assault the old king smiling there._
_Such grace had kings when the world begun!_

(PIPPA _passes_.)

Luigi.
And such grace have they, now that the world ends!
The Python at the city, on the throne,
And brave men, God would crown for slaying him, 225
Lurk in by-corners lest they fall his prey.
Are crowns yet to be won in this late time,
Which weakness makes me hesitate to reach?
Tis God's voice calls; how could I stay? Farewell!

FOOTNOTES:
LINES:

6. _Lucius Junius. This name comes easily to Luigi's lips because Lucius Junius Brutus inspired the Romans against Tarquin.

14. _Old Franz. The Austrian Emperor, Francis, I. Luigi's fancy is caught by the echoes and the flowers, but they play into his dominant idea of the freedom of Italy.

19. _Pellicos. Silvio Pellico was an Italian patriot who had suffered a long imprisonment in Spielberg Castle.

122. _Andrea_, etc. Three former Italian patriots who had conspired against Austria.

135-143. Note in these lines how little Luigi really understands of the point at issue. His emotional temperament has been stirred to the point of desperate action, but the "ground for killing the King" he hardly knows.

152. _Jupiter. The largest of the planets. When a planet rises after midnight it becomes a morning star.

163. _Titian at Treviso. Treviso is seventeen miles from Venice. Its cathedral contains a fine Annunciation by Titian which Luigi and his betrothed Chiara had planned to see together.

164. _A king lived long ago. This song was published in 1835 and later adapted for this poem. The song has a great effect on Luigi because beside his mental picture of the hated Austrian ruler he now places his old folk-king who judged his people wisely, whose dignity and grace awed even a python, and whom the gods loved. The possibility of having good kings stirs his waning determination to rid the earth of evil ones.

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