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Robert Browning
1812 -1889

NOTE:  The poem suggest the speaker is most likely Alfonso II, fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533–1598) who, at the age of 25, married the 14-year-old Lucrezia de' Medici.   He then abandoned her for two years before she died at age 17.  There was a strong suspicion of poisoning.   The speaker is giving the emissary of his prospective "second" wife a tour of the artworks in his home.  He draws a curtain to reveal a painting of a woman, explaining that it is a portrait of his late wife; he invites his guest to sit and look at the painting before continuing the tour.

Audio of the Last Duchess


That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now: Fra’ Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra’ 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

Fra’ 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 favor 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 pretense

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,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Clause of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!



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