A Soul’s Tragedy


Part I

Robert Browning

In-vide LUITOLFO’S house at Faenza. CHIAPPINO, EULALIA.

        Eu. What is it keeps Luitolfo? Night’s fast falling,
And ’twas scarce sunset . . . had the Ave-bell
Sounded before he sought the Provost’s House?
I think not: all he had to say would take
Few minutes, such a very few, to say!
How do you think, Chiappino? If our lord
The Provost were less friendly to your friend
Than everybody here professes him,
I should begin to tremble—should not you?
Why are you silent when so many times
I turn and speak to you?

    Ch.                                That’s good!

    Eu.                                                    You laugh

    Ch. Yes. I had fancied nothing that bears price
In the whole world was left to call my own,
And, may be, felt a little pride thereat:
Up to a single man’s or woman’s love,
Down to the right in my own flesh and blood,
There’s nothing mine, I fancied,—till you spoke!
—Counting, you see, as “nothing” the permission
To study this peculiar lot of mine
In silence: well, go silence with the rest
Of the world’s good! What can I say, shall serve?

    Eu. This,—lest you, even more than needs, embitter
Our parting: say your wrongs have cast, for once,
A cloud across your spirit!

    Ch.                                How a cloud?

    Eu. No man nor woman loves you, did you say?

    Ch. My God, were’t not for thee!

    Eu.                                            Ay, God remains,
Even did Men forsake you.

    Ch. Oh, not so!
Were’t not for God, I mean, what hope of truth—
Speaking truth, hearing truth, would stay with Man?
I, now—the homeless, friendless, penniless,
Proscribed and exiled wretch who speak to you,
Ought to speak truth, yet could not, for my death,
(The thing that tempts me most) help speaking lies
About your friendship, and Luitolfo’s courage,
And all our townsfolk’s equanimity,—
Through sheer incompetence to rid myself
Of the old miserable lying trick
Caught from the liars I have lived with,—God,
Did I not turn to thee! it is thy prompting
I dare to be ashamed of, and thy counsel
Would die along my coward lip, I know—
But I do turn to thee! This craven tongue,
These features which refuse the soul its way,
Reclaim Thou! Give me truth—truth, power to speak
—And after be sole present to approve
The spoken truth!—or, stay, that spoken truth,
Who knows but you, too, might approve?

    Eu.                                                    Ah, well—
Keep silence, then, Chiappino!

    Ch.                                    You would hear,
And shall now,—why the thing we’re pleased to style
My gratitude to you and all your friends
For service done me, is just gratitude
So much as yours was service—and no more.
I was born here, so was Luitolfo,—both
At one time, much with the same circumstance
Of rank and wealth; and both, up to this night
Of parting company. have side by side
Still fared, he in the sunshine—I, the shadow:
“Why?” asks the world: “Because,” replies the world
To its complacent self, “these playfellows,
Who took at church the holy-water drop
One from the other’s finger, and so forth,—
Were of two moods: Luitolfo was the proper
Friend-making, everywhere friend-finding soul,
Fit for the sunshine, so it followed him;
A happy-tempered bringer of the best
Out of the worst; who bears with what’s past cure,
And puts so good a face on’t—wisely passive
Where action’s fruitless, while he remedies
In silence what the foolish rail against;
A man to smooth such natures as parade
Of opposition must exasperate—
No general gauntlet-gatherer for the weak
Against the strong, yet over-scrupulous
At lucky junctures; one who won’t forego
The after-battle work of binding wounds,
Because, forsooth, he’d have to bring himself
To side with their inflictors for their leave!”
—Why do you gaze, nor help me to repeat
What comes so glibly from the common mouth,
About Luitolfo and his so-styled friend?

    Eu. Because, that friend’s sense is obscured . . . 

    Ch.                                                            I thought
You would he readier with the other half
Of the world’s story,—my half I—Yet, ’tis true,
For all the world does say it! Say your worst!
True, I thank God, I ever said “you sin,”
When a man did sin: if I could not say it,
I glared it at him,—if I could not glare it,
I prayed against him,—then my part seemed over;
God’s may begin yet—so it will, I trust!

    Eu. If the world outraged you, did we?

    Ch.                                            What’s “me”
That you use well or ill? It’s Man, in me,
All your successes are an outrage to,
You all, whom sunshine follows, as you say!
Here’s our Faenza birthplace—they send here
A Provost from Ravenna—how he rules,
You can at times be eloquent about—
“Then, end his rule!” ah yes, one stroke does that!
But patience under wrong works slow and sure:
Must violence still bring peace forth? He, beside,
Returns so blandly one’s obeisance—ah—
Some latent virtue may be lingering yet,
Some human sympathy which, once excite,
And all the lump were leavened quietly—
So, no more talk of striking, for this time!
But I, as one of those he rules, won’t bear
These pretty takings-up and layings down
Our cause, just as you think occasion suits I
Enough of earnest, is there? You’ll play, will you?
Diversify your tactics,—give submission,
Obsequiousness and flattery a turn,
While we die in our misery patient deaths?
We all are outraged then, and I the first!
I, for Mankind, resent each shrug and smirk,
Each beck and bend, each . . . all you do and are,
I hate!

    Eu. We share a common censure, then!
’Tis well you have not poor Luitolfo’s part
Or mine to point out in the wide offence.

    Ch. Oh, shall I let you so escape me, Lady?
Come, on your own ground, Lady,—from yourself,
(Leaving the people’s wrong, which most is mine,)
What have I got to be so grateful for?
These three last fines, no doubt, one on the other
Paid by Luitolfo?

    Eu.                Shame, Chiappino!

    Ch.                                            Shame
Fall presently on who deserves it most!
Which is to see. He paid my fines—my friend,
Your prosperous smooth husband presently,
Then, scarce your wooer,—now, your lover: well—
I loved you!

    Eu.            Hold!

    Ch.                        You knew it, years ago;
When my voice faltered and my eyes grew dim
Because you gave me your silk mask to hold—
My voice that greatens when there’s need to curse
The people’s Provost to their heart’s content,
—My eyes, the Provost, who bears all men’s eyes,
Banishes now because he cannot bear!
You knew . . . but you do your parts—my part, I!
So be it! you flourish—I decay! All’s well!

    Eu.    I hear this for the first time!

    Ch.                                        The fault’s there?
Then, my days spoke not, and my nights of fire
Were voiceless? Then, the very heart may burst
Yet all prove nought, because no mincing speech
Tells leisurely that thus it is and thus?
Eulalia—truce with toying for this once—
A banished fool, who troubles you to-night
For the last time—Oh, what’s to fear from me?
You knew I loved you!

    Eu.                            Not so, on my faith!
You were my now-affianced lover’s friend—
Came in, went out with him, could speak as he;
All praise your ready parts and pregnant wit;
See how your words come from you in a crowd!
Luitolfo’s first to place you o’er himself
In all that challenges respect and love—
Yet you were silent then, who blame me now!
I say all this by fascination, sure—
I am all but wed to one I love, yet listen—
It must be, you are wronged, and that the wrongs
Luitolfo pities . . . 

    Ch.                        —You too pity? Do!
But hear first what my wrongs are; so began
This talk and so shall end this talk. I say,
Was’t not enough that I must strive, I saw,
To grow so far familiar with your charms
As to contrive some way to win them—which
To do, an age seemed far too little—for, see!
We all aspire to Heaven—and there is Heaven
Above us—go there! Dare we go? no, surely!
How dare we go without a reverent pause,
A growing less unfit for heaven?—Even so,
I dared not speak—the greater fool, it seems!
Was’t not enough to struggle with such folly,
But I must have, beside, the very man
Whose slight, free, loose and incapacious soul
Gave his tongue scope to say whate’er he would
—Must have him load me with his benefits
For fortune’s fiercest stroke!

    Eu.                                Justice to him
That’s now entreating, at his risk perhaps,
Justice for you! Did he once call those acts
Of simple friendship—bounties, benefits?

    Ch. No—the straight course had been to call them so—
Then, I had flung them back, and kept myself
Unhampered, free as he to win the prize
We both sought—but “the gold was dross,” he said,
“He loved me, and I loved him not—to spurn
“A trifle out of superfluity:
“He had forgotten he had done as much!”
So had not I!—Henceforth, try as I could
To take him at his word, there stood by you
My benefactor—who might speak and laugh
And urge his nothings—even banter me
Before you—but my tongue was tied. A dream!
Let’s wake: your husband . . . how you shake at that!
Good—my revenge!

    Eu.                    Why should I shake? What forced,
Or forces me to be Luitolfo’s bride?

    Ch. There’s my revenge, that nothing forces you!
No gratitude, no liking of the eye,
Nor longing of the heart, but the poor bond
Of habit—here so many times he came,
So much he spoke,—all these compose the tie
That pulls you from me! Well, he paid my fines,
Nor missed a cloak from wardrobe, dish from table—
—He spoke a good word to the Provost here—
Held me up when my fortunes fell away
—It had not looked so well to let me drop—
Men take pains to preserve a tree-stump, even,
Whose boughs they played beneath—much more a friend!
But one grows tired of seeing, after the first,
Pains spent upon impracticable stuff
Like me: I could not change—you know the rest.
I’ve spoke my mind too fully out, for once,
This morning to our Provost; so ere night
I leave the city on pain of death—and now
On my account there’s gallant intercession
Goes forward—that’s so gracefull!—and anon
He’ll noisily come back: the intercession
Was made and fails—all’s over for us both—
’Tis vain contending—I had better go:
And I do go—and so to you he turns
Light of a load, and case of that permits
His visage to repair its natural bland
Œconomy, sore broken late to suit
My discontent: so, all are pleased—you, with him,
He with himself, and all of you with me
—Who, say the citizens, had done far better
In letting people sleep upon their woes,
If not possessed with talent to relieve them
When once they woke;—but then I had, they’ll say,
Doubtless some unknown compensating pride
In what I did—and as I seem content
With ruining myself, why so should they be,
And so they are, and so be with his prize
The devil, when he gets them speedily!
Why does not your Luitolfo come? I long
To don this cloak and take the Lugo path.
It seems you never loved me, then?

    Eu.                                            Chiappino!

    Ch. Never?

    Eu.                Never.

    Ch.                            That’s sad—say what I might,
There was no helping being sure this while
You loved me—love like mine must have return,
I thought—no river starts but to some sea!
And had you loved me, I could soon devise
Some specious reason why you stifled love,
Some fancied self-denial on your part,
Which made you choose Luitolfo; so, excepting
From the wide condemnation of all here,
One woman! Well, the other dream may break!
If I knew any heart, as mine loved you,
Loved me, the’ in the vilest breast ’twere lodged,
I should, I think, be forced to love again—
Else there’s no right nor reason in the world!

    Eu. “If you knew,” say you,—but I did not know—
That’s where you’re blind, Chiappino!—a disease
Which if I may remove, I’ll not repent
The listening to: you cannot, will not, see
How, place you but in every circumstance
Of us, you are just now indignant at,
You’d be as we.

    Ch.                I should be? . . . that, again!
I, to my Friend, my Country and my Love,
Be as Luitolfo and these Faentines?

    Eu.    As we.

    Ch.        Now, I’ll say something to remember!
I trust in Nature for the stable laws
Of Beauty and Utility—Spring shall plant,
And Autumn garner to the end of time:
I trust in God—the Right shall be the Right
And other than the Wrong, while He endures—
I trust in my own soul, that can perceive
The outward and the inward, nature’s good
And God’s—So—seeing these men and myself,
Having a right to speak, thus do I speak:
I’ll not curse . . . God bears with them—well may I—
But I—protest against their claiming me!
I simply say, if that’s allowable,
I would not . . . broadly . . . do as they have done—
—God curse this townful of born slaves, bred slaves,
Branded into the blood and bone, slaves! Curse
Whoever loved, above his liberty,
House, land or life! and . . .     [A knocking without.
                                         . . . Bless my hero-friend,

    Eu.            How he knocks!

    Ch.                                    The peril, Lady!
“Chiappino, I have run a risk! My God!
“How when I prayed the Provost—(he’s my friend)—
“To grant you a week’s respite of his sentence
“That confiscates your goods, and exiles you,
“He shrugged his shoulder . . . I say, shrugged it!
“And fright of that drove all else from my head.
“Here’s a good purse of scudi—off with you!
“Lest of that shrug come—what God only knows!
“The scudi—friend, they’re trash—no thanks, I beg—
“Take the North gate,—for San Vitale’s suburb
“Whose double taxes you appealed against,
“In discomposure at your ill-success
“Is apt to stone you: there, there—only go
“Beside, Eulalia here looks sleepily—
“Shake . . . oh, you hurt me, so you squeeze my wrist!”
—Is it not thus you’ll speak, adventurous friend?
        [As he opens the door, LUITOLFO rushes in, his
            garments disordered.

    Eu.    Luitolfo!    Blood?

    Luit.                        There’s more—and more of it!
Eulalia—take the garment . . . no . . . you, friend!
You take it and the blood from me—you dare!

    Eu. Oh, who has hurt you? where’s the wound?

    Ch.                                        “Who,” say you?
The man with many a touch of virtue yet!
The Provost’s friend has proved too frank of speech
And this comes of it. Miserable hound!
This comes of temporising, as I said!
Here’s fruit of your smooth speeches and fair looks!
Now see my way! As God lives, I go straight
To the palace and do justice, once for all

    Luit. What says he?

    Ch.                            I’ll do justice on him!

    Luit.                                                            Him?

    Ch. The Provost.

    Luit.                    I’ve just killed him!

    Eu.                                                    Oh, my God!

    Luit. My friend, they’re on my trace—they’ll have me—now!
They’re round him, busy with him: soon they’ll find
He’s past their help, and then they’ll be on me!
Chiappino! save Eulalia . . . I forget . . . 
Were you not bound . . . for . . . 

    Ch.                                        Lugo!

    Luit.                                                Ah—yes—yes—
That was the point I prayed of him to change.
Well—go—be happy . . . is Eulalia safe?
They’re on me

    Ch.                ’Tis through me they reach you, then!
Friend, seem the man you are! Lock arms—that’s right.
Now tell me what you’ve done; explain how you
That still professed forbearance, still preached peace,
Could bring yourself . . . 

    Luit.                        What was peace for, Chiappino?
I tried peace—did that say that when peace failed
Strife should not follow? All my peaceful days
Were just the prelude to a day like this,
I cried “You call me ‘friend’—save my true friend!
“Save him, or lose me!”

    Ch.                                But you never said
You meant to tell the Provost thus and thus!

    Luit.        Why should I say it? What else did I mean?

    Ch. Well? He persisted?

    Luit.                                 . . . Would so order it
You should not trouble him too soon again—
I saw a meaning in his eye and lip—
I poured my heart’s store of indignant words
Out on him—then—I know not.—He retorted—
And I . . . some staff lay there to hand—I think
He bade his servants thrust me out—I struck—
 . . . Ah, they come! Fly you, save yourselves, you two!
The dead back-weight of the beheading axe!
The glowing trip-hook, thumbscrews and the gadge!

    Eu. They do come! Torches in the Place! Farewell—
Chiappino! You can work no good to us—
Much to yourself; believe not, all the world
Must needs be cursed henceforth!

    Ch.                                            And you?

    Eu.                                                            I stay.

    Ch. Ha, ha! Now, listen! I am master here!
This was my coarse disguise—this paper shows
My path of flight and place of refuge—see—
Lugo—Argenta—past San Nicolo—Ferrara, then to Venice and all’s safe!
Put on the cloak! His people have to fetch
A compass round about.—There’s time enough
Ere they can reach us—so you straightway make
For Lugo . . . Nay, he hears not! On with it—
The cloak, Luitolfo, do you hear me? See—
He obeys he knows not how.—Then, if I must . . . 
Answer me! Do you know the Lugo gate?

    Eu. The north-west gate, over the bridge

    Luit.                                                            I know!

    Ch. Well, there—you are not frightened? All my route
Is traced in that—at Venice you’ll escape
Their power! Eulalia—I am master here!
        [Shouts from without. He pushes out LUITOLFO,
            who complies mechanically.
In time! nay, help me with him—So!—he’s gone.

    Eu. What have you done? On you, perchance, all know
The Provost’s hater, will men’s vengeance fall
As our accomplice . . . 

    Ch.                            Mere accomplice? See!
                                      [Putting on LUITOLFO’s vest.
Now, Lady, am I true to my profession,
Or one of these?

    Eu.                You take Luitolfo’s place?

    Ch. Die for him!

    Eu.                Well done!            [Shouts increase.

    Ch.                                How the people tarry!
I can’t be silent . . . I must speak . . . or sing—
How natural to sing now!

    Eu.                        Hush and pray!
We are to die—but even I perceive
’Tis not a very hard thing so to die—
My cousin of the pale-blue tearful eyes,
Poor Cesca, suffers more from one day’s life
With the stern husband; Tisbe’s heart goes forth
Each evening after that wild son of hers,
To track his thoughtless footstep thro’ the streets—
How easy for them both to die like this!
I am not sure that I could live as they.

    Ch. Here they come, crowds! They pass the gate?
One torch is in the court-yard. Here flock all!

    Eu. At least Luitolfo has escaped!—What cries!

    Ch. If they would drag one to the market-place,
One might speak there!

    Eu.                            List, list!

    Ch.                                    They mount the steps!

Enter the Populace.

    Ch. I killed the Provost!

    [The Populace speaking together.]    ’Twas Chiappino, friends!
Our saviour.—The best man at last as first!
He who first made us see what chains we wore,
He also strikes the blow that shatters them,
He at last saves us—our best citizen!
—Oh, have you only courage to speak now?
My eldest son was christened a year since
“Cino” to keep Chiappino’s name in mind—
Cino, for shortness merely, you observe!
The City’s in our hands.—The guards are fled—
Do you, the cause of all, come down—come down—
Come forth to counsel us, our chief, our king,
Whate’er rewards you! Choose your own reward!
The peril over, its reward begins!
Come and harangue us in the market-place

    Eu.    Chiappino!

    Ch.                    Yes . . . I understand your eyes!
You think I should have promptlier disowned
This deed with its strange unforeseen success
In favour of Luitolfo—but the peril,
So far from ended, hardly seems begun!
To-morrow, rather, when a calm succeeds,
We easily shall make him full amends:
And meantime . . . if we save them as they pray,
And justify the deed by its effects?

    Eu. You would, for worlds, you had denied at once!

    Ch. I know my own intention, be assured!
All’s well! Precede us, fellow-citizens!

A Soul’s Tragedy - Contents    |     Part II

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