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Usually, in this spot, I try to grasp all the particularity of some book I like, or I fly aloft into fictional insights and novel theories. This diary will not reach so hard and high. We'll just look at a short, intricately crafted poem: a revealing peek at the splendor of the Italian Renaissance, and the glowing faces and dark hearts that lived there.

I'll keep my commentary brief. The point of this diary is to share one of the greatest poems ever written. Please take the time to read it slowly. Even if you know it well. There is so much story between the lines - Browning put it there, but we must look carefully for all of it. Please amble through this poem, and let the implications tug at your imagination, until the story extends far beyond the 28 rhymed couplets it was delivered in.

We're about to meet  

Alfonso II d'Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533–1598), who, at the age of 25, married Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici, the 14-year-old daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo.

Lucrezia was not well educated, and the Medicis could be considered "nouveau riche" in comparison to the venerable and distinguished Este family (the Duke's remark regarding his gift of a "nine-hundred-years-old name" clearly indicates that he considered his bride beneath him socially). She came with a sizeable dowry, and the couple married in 1558. He then abandoned her for two years before she died on 21 April 1561, at age 17.

We, the readers, are standing in the shoes of Nikolaus Madruz, a majordomo in the court of the Count of Tyrol, Ferdinand II. We are here as a go-between negotiator, since the Duke hopes to make Ferdinand's sister Barbara his next Duchess.

He will show us his beautiful art, and impress us with his grandeur and history. Through the chinks in his tale, we will meet his last Duchess, and gradually discover just how fine a man the Duke is in truth.

My 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 favour 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 pretence
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, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

The poem is vivid, lovely, flowing, in musical yet natural speech. Most of all, it is exceedingly clever. I want to clap. Browning picks his phrases, his words so perfectly - they tell so much. We see the ripening beauty of this 14-year-old bride, and her overflowing joy, her responsiveness to every breeze and current of feeling around her. And the Duke explains this as "A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad". It offends him, that she is so alive, that she cannot lock tight all her natural happiness, and spend it only in adoration of him.

"The bough of cherries some officious fool Broke in the orchard for her". A girl with so much life and joy shining out of her, that she inspires men to break whole branches off trees, and lay them at her feet - married to a man who would never pick a flower for her, or forgive another man for wanting to. The Duke has such psychological sensitivity (and narcissism, and paranoia), and so little self-awareness. Which is the great trick of the poem: he tells us his entire tale, without ever understanding it.

                                                "I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object.
"
Just priceless. From the man who claimed he had not "skill In speech".

I don't know a finer poem for storytelling, for drawing our imaginations into its web. If you want to uncover more in the poem, here is a detailed key.

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 05:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar & (47+ / 0-)

    Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule






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    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 04:24:35 PM PDT

  •  Thank you! (21+ / 0-)

    I, too, like the poem very much.  

    I don't have much to say except that it is so memorable and truly frightening.  

    I have always liked the Browning's love story.  

    The idea of the importance of nature put forth by the poets who wrote in Browning's time has always intrigued me which is why they are my favorites with their lush images.

    Byron's Manfred is an example:

    http://www.bartleby.com/...

    Lord Byron (1788–1824).  

    Manfred.

    The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.

    Act III

    Scene IV

    Interior of the Tower.

     

    MANFRED, alone.

    Manfred:  

    The stars are forth, the moon above the tops   
    Of the snow-shining mountains. Beautiful!   
    I linger yet with Nature, for the night            5
    Hath been to me a more familiar face   
    Than that of man; and in her starry shade   
    Of dim and solitary loveliness,   
    I learn’d the language of another world.   
    I do remember me, that in my youth,            10
    When I was wandering,—upon such a night   
    I stood within the Coliseum’s wall   
    Midst the chief relics of almighty Rome.   
    The trees which grew along the broken arches   
    Waved dark in the blue midnight, and the stars  15
    Shone through the rents of ruin; from afar   
    The watch-dog bay’d beyond the Tiber; and   
    More near from out the Cæsars’ palace came   
    The owl’s long cry, and, interruptedly,   
    Of distant sentinels the fitful song            20
    Begun and died upon the gentle wind.

    Some cypresses beyond the time—worn breach   
    Appear’d to skirt the horizon, yet they stood   
    Within a bowshot. Where the Cæsars dwelt,   
    And dwell the tuneless birds of night, amidst            25
    A grove which springs through levell’d battlements   
    And twines its roots with the imperial hearths,   
    Ivy usurps the laurel’s place of growth;—   
    But the gladiators’ bloody Circus stands,   
    A noble wreck in ruinous perfection!            30
    While Caesar’s chambers and the Augustan halls   
    Grovel on earth in indistinct decay.   
    And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon   
    All this, and cast a wide and tender light,   
    Which soften’d down the hoar austerity            35
    Of rugged desolation, and fill’d up,   
    As ’twere anew, the gaps of centuries;   
    Leaving that beautiful which still was so,   
    And making that which was not, till the place   
    Became religion, and the heart ran o’er            40
    With silent worship of the great of old,—   
    The dead, but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule   
    Our spirits from their urns.—   
                    ’Twas such a night!

    Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

    by cfk on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 05:41:39 PM PDT

  •  I'm shamefully ignorant (14+ / 0-)

    of British literature during this period because of some decisions I made at the ages of eighteen and nineteen. Thank you for this nice serving of Browning and that (unintentionally?) hilarious link. Lit crit has certainly been though a lot in the last century.

    Nevertheless, I'll contribute John Keats discussing something he read, and getting some details wrong:

    On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

    Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
    Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
    Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
    Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
    Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
    Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
    He star'd at the Pacific — and all his men
    Look'd at each other with a wild surmise —
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
    So what if it was stout Balboa? That would NOT have scanned correctly.

    Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

    by Dave in Northridge on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 05:53:38 PM PDT

    •  A favorite, for the gleaming inspiration, (12+ / 0-)

      for how Keats puts us atop a brave new world, and perfectly evokes a heart full of hope and dreams. That's a Book, right in the fluorescent arc of Going Boom!

      At the other end of Keats, in the exquisite sad yearning side, we find his

      Sleep and Poetry

      . . .
      O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
      Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
      That my own soul has to itself decreed.
      Then will I pass the countries that I see
      In long perspective, and continually
      Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I'll pass
      Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass,
      Feed upon apples red, and strawberries,
      And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees . . .
      Keats was 20 when he wrote this. Four years later, he had grown so sick that he had almost stopped writing. Two years later, he died. I prefer On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, but these lines, and the tragedy imminent in them, haunt me.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 06:32:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Enjambment at its best. (18+ / 0-)

    Resting on a bed of rhyming pentameter, the true horror of the Duke's personality is softly, delicately metered in his words.

    I have always loved this poem, although it makes me quite sad to read.

    That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
    looking as if she were alive.
    Thanks Brecht, today has been one long challenge and you have just made it worth the struggle.
  •  This was one of the first works (23+ / 0-)

    that showed me the power of poetry.

    She had
     A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
    gets me every time. You dirty bugger. You little man. You jealous bastard. That's how Browning makes me feel about the duke.
  •  Thanks Brecht. I love this poem, as I do many (15+ / 0-)

    others by Browning. And this part especially gets me:

    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.
    So a 15-16 year old won't let herself be schooled into proper deportment ("proper" as defined by her husband), but even pointing out the "flaws" is stooping. I think there is some slight sense of unease here, the Duke seems vaguely aware that his aversion to his last duchess's joy in life is not something that is admirable.

    I have had students insist that the poem is an indictment of the Duchess--a heart "too soon made glad" meant that she flirted indiscriminately and thus according to the mores prevalent at the time, deserved to be killed. Whatever I would suggest about the other clues and contexts would fall on deaf ears. Maybe I was too stridently feminist then, so evoked this resistance....  

    It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

    by poco on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:04:02 PM PDT

    •  Maybe they just weren't that empathetic. (12+ / 0-)

      Don't blame your feminism!

      "I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards any one." (Edith Cavell)

      by Southcoast Luna on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:24:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Your students' reluctance to see straight is sad & (8+ / 0-)

      strange. But I say this mostly because I've seen it before when, for instance, a poll of teenage girls showed so many of them blaming Rihanna for Chris Brown beating her.

      I agree that the Duke half-suspects his own fault. He's protesting a bit too hard about his own blamelessness.

      "Maybe I was too stridently feminist then, so evoked this resistance...." interesting tangent. I've done this, and seen it, in other contexts. The audience feel that you want them to agree, and don't get why you care so, and recoil. Often, enlightenment comes like eating an elephant - one small bite at a time. Just as often, enlightenment never comes.

      Very happy to see you here. One of these years, you could write a diary of your own. Or Adalah could be resuscitated. In any case, you're most welcome.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:34:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Glad to be here. And lol--never heard (8+ / 0-)

        of the elephant eating analogy--sounds pretty gross though. Though, I am probably subjecting my students to similar experiences, given the sort of stuff I teach.

        And have to quote sections of my favorite Browning poem here, even though it is totally OT:

        I would that you were all to me,
                 You that are just so much, no more.
        Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free!
                 Where does the fault lie? What the core
        O' the wound, since wound must be?

        I would I could adopt your will,
                 See with your eyes, and set my heart
        Beating by yours, and drink my fill
                 At your soul's springs,—your part my part
        In life, for good and ill.

        No. I yearn upward, touch you close,
                 Then stand away. I kiss your cheek,
        Catch your soul's warmth,—I pluck the rose
                 And love it more than tongue can speak—
        Then the good minute goes.

        Already how am I so far
                 Out of that minute? Must I go
        Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
                 Onward, whenever light winds blow,
        Fixed by no friendly star?

        Just when I seemed about to learn!
                 Where is the thread now? Off again!
        The old trick! Only I discern—
                 Infinite passion, and the pain
        Of finite hearts that yearn.

        "Two in the Campagna"

        http://www.poetryfoundation.org/...

        It's *Gandhi*, not Ghandi

        by poco on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 08:06:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  How do you eat an elephant? (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, poco, Emmet

          One bite at a time.

          So, when a problem overwhelms you, break it into subtasks, and do the one in front of your face. Who knows, maybe some parts of the elephant are delicious? The fear of eating the elephant tastes worse than actually eating it.

          How is it under our control
          To love or not to love?
          Thanks for the poem. He paints a scene so well.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 11:54:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you. It's been a while since I'd read that. (18+ / 0-)

    When I was done, though, I wanted an antidote, and thought of this:

    The Song of Wandering Aengus
      by W. B. Yeats   

    I went out to the hazel wood,  
    Because a fire was in my head,  
    And cut and peeled a hazel wand,  
    And hooked a berry to a thread;  
    And when white moths were on the wing,
    And moth-like stars were flickering out,  
    I dropped the berry in a stream  
    And caught a little silver trout.  

    When I had laid it on the floor  
    I went to blow the fire a-flame,
    But something rustled on the floor,  
    And someone called me by my name:  
    It had become a glimmering girl  
    With apple blossom in her hair  
    Who called me by my name and ran
    And faded through the brightening air.  

    Though I am old with wandering  
    Through hollow lands and hilly lands,  
    I will find out where she has gone,  
    And kiss her lips and take her hands;
    And walk among long dappled grass,  
    And pluck till time and times are done,  
    The silver apples of the moon,  
    The golden apples of the sun.

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:07:09 PM PDT

    •  Another favorite of mine...thanks! (8+ / 0-)

      I almost went looking for it, too.

      I am glad you put it here.

      Join us at Bookflurries-Bookchat on Wednesday nights 8:00 PM EST

      by cfk on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:32:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  serendipity would be perfect as a bitch. I can see (9+ / 0-)

      her now, in a Neil Gaiman graphic novel.

      The most intriguing of the many colorful Hindu gods and goddesses is Parvati/Kali: who is beautiful, garlanded with flowers, when she is nature like spring shower; yet she is horrible, garlanded with skulls, when she is nature like a raging monsoon.

      Yeats is a favorite, too. The way he weaves ancient music with such original dreams. What a magnificent poem that is. I read it once, so long ago. Now I'll have to get out my book of Yeats, and look for more.

      Alas, that poem spears the hungriest hole in my heart. But that's my own fool fault, for ever letting her leave. If I'd put some of my demons away, we could have made it work. If I knew then all I know now . . .

      Still, a bright and shimmering spell. What a poet. Thank you, serendipityisabitch.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 07:50:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well... that's not precisely what I was thinking (6+ / 0-)

        about when I picked the name....

        More like the lines from Kipling:

        Good Luck she is never a lady
        But the cursedest queen alive!
        Tricksy,  wincing  and  jady,
        Kittle to lead or drive.
        Greet her--she's hailing a stranger!
        Meet her--she's busking to leave.
        Let her alone for a shrew  to the bone,
        And the hussy comes plucking your sleeve!

        But it's an entrancing picture anyway, and I thank you for it. I'm thinking of trying it as an image, but we'll see....

        At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

        by serendipityisabitch on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 08:28:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  What I love about (13+ / 0-)

    "My Last Duchess" is that I can always hear the voice of the narrator in my head.  I taught it for years and heard William F. Buckley or some other lock-jawed Greenwich, CT rich vacuous guy.

    Thanks for the diary.  The poem is truly immortal -- in the sense of lasting to we kill the earth immortal.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 08:08:17 PM PDT

    •  William F. Buckley has the arrogance & uptightness (8+ / 0-)

      but, in his youth, had more humor and self-awareness than the Duke. I like Yankee/British for it: Cultured, with very sharp teeth.

      "The poem is truly immortal -- in the sense of lasting to we kill the earth immortal." Your own tales are none too shabby. Speaking of Chaucer . . .

      I went to boarding school at The King's School, Canterbury. One hot afternoon we were playing frisbee, barefoot, around a grass square. Where tarmac had recently been laid down. So my feet soon had blackened soles.

      The bell went, for afternoon lessons. Soon, the place was deserted. I set off, in full school uniform, but barefoot, for the carpentry shop (for turpentine). Walking around the huge central green court, the headmaster appeared, coming my way. I knew enough to continue forward, calmly.

      As our paths crossed, the headmaster looked down at my bare and blackened feet. Then he said, "Going on a pilgrimage, are we?"

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 08:27:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Do you know who I hear? (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, RiveroftheWest, gchaucer2, poco, Emmet

      Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the Tudors. I'm not sure this is much better than someone fusty. But he sure has the right crazy-eyes for the narrative voice.

      Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

      by mahakali overdrive on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 10:03:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Someone told me recently ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, poco, RiveroftheWest

      ... that James Mason did a recording.  Now there's a  perfect voice for this poem!

      I memorized "My Last Duchess" years ago to do as a dramatic monologue and it has remained in my mind, and I can still do the whole thing.  That's a sign of good poetry.  

      The tone of it reminds me of certain Edgar Allan Poe stories -- the ones in which the narrators are so self-absorbed and insistent that they're NOT insane ... that they are oblivious to the fact that they're proving the opposite right in front of you.

      •  Poe is a shrewd comparison: writing at exactly the (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        niemann, poco, RiveroftheWest

        same time; similar dark characters (though darker, with more gibbering, in Poe). Most of all, they both found a penetrating precision in their psychology, way ahead of their time; and they both revealed it perfectly, in oblique strokes, woven into their storytelling.

        I don't know much about Browning, but my sense is he peered into the abyss, while Poe lived there.

        "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

        by Brecht on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 09:44:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  "You're So Vain. . ." (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, shari, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Emmet, lunacat

    The Carly Simon lyric runs through my head when I read this poem.  Naturally, it's a monologue.

    Callous, undeserving duke whose soul is as musty as his name to despise the innocent naivete of youth.

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 08:23:13 PM PDT

    •  Yes, but maybe not "despise". Well, we can't all (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, poco, shari, Emmet, lunacat

      be as exact as Browning in our word choice, nor as psychologically penetrating.

      I may be assuming, but I think I know something of this Duke, as there was much of him in my father (and of his Last Duchess in my mother). Except my father really did love my mother (but drove her away), while the Duke may have just hungered to possess his wife's beauty and dowry.

      The Duke can't appreciate his young Duchess, nor begin to comprehend her. He lacks the tender parts in his heart, which would respond to her in her own language. But he doesn't hate her, at first - he just wants to own and shape her. The hating was born of his frustration. By the time he got her to behave, the spark he'd wanted to wear on his arm had been worn down by his bullying. He felt cheated. She wasn't the gem he'd bargained for. So he crushed her.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 10:00:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  He Despises her Qualities (7+ / 0-)

        which I doubt can be separated from her person.

        However, outside the poem, in light of the historical background you provided, he was contemptuous of her person, which did not perform sufficient obeisance to his family name; valued little or nothing of her personality, which was open and equally friendly to everyone; and sneered at her spirit, which was light and open to all experiences and people.

        This is a man who will "have no gods before me."  In his case, he is so in love with himself that he has no capacity to love any other.

        Considering he left her two years before she died, I am not sure that he "crushed her."  I think he cared nothing for how she felt and easily forgot she existed.  I think his words in the poem are testimony to that.  Do you believe he ever opens the curtains that cover her portrait unless an audience is present to whom he can belittle her, thinking doing so aggrandizes him?  I doubt it.

        Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

        by Limelite on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 05:27:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I've loved this since I first read it (8+ / 0-)

          in my teens. I shudder for the next Duchess, and with this background which is new to me, was relieved in this diary to find that at least this one Barbara escaped his clutches.

          But this is intended. The art (and I never read it without marveling that I'm not aware of the rhymes on any conscious level) is the total believeability of the Duke. I can no longer bear to read Othello; Iago is seen as villainous, but it's Othello who is the abuser whose loving "not wisely but too well" is no love at all but a needing to possess absolutely. Had Othello loved Desdemona, he would have known her truth.

          Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

          by ramara on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 09:57:25 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  So Right (7+ / 0-)

            Othello-- so true to himself he could have no faith in his wife.

            Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

            by Limelite on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 10:58:28 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Replying to ramara, Limelite, the whole thread: (4+ / 0-)

            My initial point was just that the Duke did not always despise Lucrezia. At first he was enchanted. But he never wanted a real bird, he wanted that jeweled clockwork bird from the Chinese fairy tale.

            Othello-- so true to himself he could have no faith in his wife.
            There's the rub. Some men are so full of love for themselves, they have no room to love the difference in anyone. If you speak one word outside the peculiar dialect of their heart, you are a traitor. Except that, love just seems alien to the Duke (as it does to Gilbert Osmond): all-consuming pride is closer to it.

            The Duke loved the ornament he thought he'd got - the Lucrezia who turned out to be human, changeable, free, was an affront to him. This is why I think he crushed her:

            In an interview, Browning said, "I meant that the commands were that she should be put to death . . . Or he might have had her shut up in a convent."
            It's awhile since I read Othello. Your points make sense; but he still, in memory, seems warmer and more generous in his passion than the two monsters I mentioned above. But the touchy pride is similar.

            "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

            by Brecht on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 11:04:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Othello's touchy pride (4+ / 0-)

              is increased by the racial aspect - part of him cannot accept that Desdemona really loves him, which I think is what Iago recognizes and plays to.

              He has more dimension that the Duke; after all, Shakespeare believed he was the tragic hero of the play, and for that we need to identify with him to a degree.

              I shudder at Browning's "commands;" I always imagined that meant orders to kill her, but if there was a two year separation before her death, a convent would make sense; and who knows, even there he might have ordered her death. Totally chilling.

              The comparison to the nightengale is apt; I never thought of that.

              Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be ... almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die. - Jonathan Safran Foer

              by ramara on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 12:24:39 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Othello & Shylock: Two scapegoats in Venice. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ramara, poco, RiveroftheWest

                Okay, Shylock is mean, and suspicious - with good reason. Here we have two hard-working, proud men, the best at what they do. Every week of their lives, enduring the mocking looks and insults of far smaller men, needling away at their egos. What a cross to bear.

                Iago is the distilled envy and spite of a racist society. It's a very strange and ugly thing, this general Schadenfreude, the hunger to tear down great men, as if in our hearts we felt slighted, that we deserved to be above them. Thinking of Obama, of course. And great women get it too - Hillary, certainly.

                "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                by Brecht on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 10:08:19 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  Such a pleasure (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, poco, shari, RiveroftheWest, Emmet

    I had forgotten I had learned this poem many moons ago ... so as I read it, the words came back and made a sort of echo, outlining and coloring it.

    The poem itself reminds me of the portrait of a friend that done by a man in the Zocalo ... with a few deft  lines you get a complete picture, but more than that, at first the picture looked a little like her but as she has gotten older over the years, the portrait looks more and more like her, almost as if the artist saw her real self that is slowly being revealed.

    The duke is revealed not only as selfish and heartless but also as deceiving himself and trying to justify his actions and thoughts ... and then as empty and forever moving on to the next object that will fill the holes in his ego and self worth. He is the black hole that sucks all the life and beauty out of those around him because he has no life other than what comes from outside.

    I sometimes wonder how the duke would feel about being the subject of such a wonderful, almost perfect poem.  Would he preen because it is such a wonderful piece of art and belongs in his collection? Would he feel misunderstand and become dismissive as with his last duchess?

    Thanks for this.

    "I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night." Greg Martin, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida

    by CorinaR on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 08:51:23 PM PDT

    •  I'm glad I brought the song of history back to you (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      CorinaR, poco, shari, RiveroftheWest, Emmet

      It dazzles me, how sharp and deeply Browning saw here, and how truly and simply he painted this man. With a personality like this, the odds are great that the Duke would only become harder and darker as he aged. Until perhaps he grows too brittle, and some enemy, or karma, snaps him.

      He is the black hole that sucks all the life and beauty out of those around him because he has no life other than what comes from outside.
      Yes, there is a deep and fearsome hunger where his heart should be.

      Your two final questions point to the biggest thing I can't see here: just how self-aware is the Duke? He reads others, he obsesses in examining them - but only through the lenses of his pride, greed, jealousy and vindictiveness.

      But the man has built strong armor against seeing his own ugliness. If he read the poem, he might twist it into a paean - but if others enjoyed it to an unseemly extent, he'd be furious.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 12:25:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  So weird (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shari, poco, Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Emmet

    I was just telling a friend about this poem two days ago. It's one of my favorites.

    •  Well, Corinna. . . (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brecht, RiveroftheWest, shari, Emmet

      If you know a little bit about Browning's bio.,
      it might be amusing if you asked yourself just who
      was this Duke (quite aside from the historical one)
      and why would Browning want to write about him?
      The poem is very gestalty  -- one's reaction to it may
      tell us more about the reader than the poet, as is
      often the case. But here is my question: Could
      Browning have been writing about himself? I think
      that a question worth asking and thinking about.

  •  thank you (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, RiveroftheWest, poco, Emmet, lunacat

    wonderful diary and enjoyed every word.

    always eager to learn more since i have never taken a formal english lit course, whoa, take that back, my goodness, i did take a class and the professor liked to hear the sound of his own voice, it was sonorous and deep. he performed for us for the bulk of the lecture time, but there was very little analysis as there was no time for that.

    i had two strong reactions, one emotional and one more, i guess, psychological:

    the first: it was clear there was no sense of empathy for the 14 year old from the narrator but, interestingly enough, the empathy for her is somehow conveyed by the writer of the poem, which speaks greatly to the skill of browning's ability to communicate.

    second reaction: so the mystery to me is why did browning write this?  it seems his relationship with barrett had yet to start so this poem was not a reaction to her father which was my first thought.

    •  I like your clear, frank comment. Very good place (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, shari, poco, Emmet, lunacat

      to start conversation from, when we can look inside ourselves, and discern our loudest personal responses to the work. Thanks.

      "which speaks greatly to the skill of browning's ability to communicate." Yes, this man is so sharp and subtle he's dangerous. Like Anthony in Julius Caesar.

      "so the mystery to me is why did browning write this?"
       

      Now I've got two responses. But they're both meta, not specific to Browning's emotional history.

      1) We humans always look for one reason. Anything really important has at least three.

      I dated a bulimic once, so I went and read a book about eating disorders. It said that eating disorders could become huge emotional bottlenecks in the personality, because eating is meaningful in so many ways (fat/thin/comfortable/desirable; meals = social/inclusion/reward; dieting = self-control/pride/safety; etc.). Which means you can pour all your issues into the eating disorder, until it becomes most of what you're about.

      So, Browning wrote this poem for several reasons. One, I think, is:

      2) It is brilliant. Browning, like every ambitious artist, wanted to create something new, beautiful and true. This story is where he found it.

      If writing this poem was a means to several ends, the highest end was to flex all his imagination and craft, to make a startling gem of a poem. It sparkles on so many levels.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 10:37:18 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Whole body shudder (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, RiveroftheWest, poco, shari, micsimov, Emmet

    Oh yes... I love this poem very, very, very much. Robert Browning is so good. His work is totally out there. He's way, way ahead of his time. Shiver. Quiver. Creep.

    Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

    by mahakali overdrive on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 09:56:04 PM PDT

    •  Perfect language; Poetry so well-groomed it sounds (4+ / 0-)

      effortless. But, as you say, what knocks it out of the park is how modern the sensibility is. Published in 1842, but the psychology is sharper and more grounded than most of what Freud was doing, 70 years later.

      This is beyond Freud, it's Hitchcock. "Shiver. Quiver. Creep." indeed.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Fri Sep 13, 2013 at 10:19:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Brecht, as the FSM is my witness, (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, RiveroftheWest, poco, shari, micsimov

    I told Mr Emmet this morning that I was going to write a diary on Browning.  This poem, "Porphyria's Lover," "Andrea del Sarto," "Childe Roland to to The Dark Tower Came" -- he had an insight into other human beings that was extraordinary.

    And your comparison of the Duke to Gilbert Osmond!  On the money!  Great insight!

    Thank you for this diary.

  •  Harold Bloom makes the point that Chaucer (6+ / 0-)

    was the first to create a character who inadvertently exposes her flaws in her own self-serving speech: the Wife Of Bath.

    She and My Last Duchess are probably the greatest examples of this.

    I think Browning may have been the most intelligent poet to write in English (Shakepeare being the exception to just about everything, of course).

    I've had his The Ring and the Book on my shelf for 35 years or so, and I'm still kind of afraid to crack it.

    Dick Cheney 2/14/10: "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . UID: 8519

    by Bob Love on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 04:59:24 AM PDT

    •  Bloom's good: he isn't always right, but he always (4+ / 0-)

      makes you think. He's full of energy and originality, and love of books.

      Yup, Chaucer was rather canny, too.

      "the most intelligent poet to write in English"?

      Certainly possible (I don't know his work well enough to have an inkling), but how to measure it? Coleridge was up there, but the opium sure didn't help. Not sure of Keats' IQ, but marvelous clear perception. Milton and Blake, building their epic systems.

      There are so very many facets to the gem that I deem intelligence. I like Shakespeare for his balance, and for mastery in half a dozen directions.

      Good question.

      "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

      by Brecht on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 07:58:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have always liked that poem. (6+ / 0-)

    It is the "I gave commands. Then all smiles stopped..." that I remember. So chilling.

    48forEastAfrica - Donate to Oxfam> "It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness." Edna St.V. Millay

    by slouching on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 05:10:44 AM PDT

  •  And I choose...never to stoop (7+ / 0-)

    The arrogance of character underlying that line is defining in  the poem.

    Slow thinkers - keep right

    by Dave the Wave on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 05:14:13 AM PDT

  •  A lovely post Brecht. (7+ / 0-)

    There is much to appreciate in this timeless piece.  

    Including the companion analysis was a very nice touch...

    Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. - Gandalf the Grey

    by No Exit on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 07:46:21 AM PDT

  •  I love the poem and teach it each year. (4+ / 0-)

    It is the contrast of artistic sensitivity and moral insensitivity that animates the Duke. He is a monster indeed. I could see him running a Nazi death camp. He would make sure the flower beds were neat as he gassed thousands.

    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

    by Dragon5616 on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 04:07:17 PM PDT

  •  Haven't read the poem since (4+ / 0-)

    JH. I remember my teacher discussing the arrogance of the speaker and he mentioned that the Duchess was dead...I forget whether he mentioned that she was 14 when he married her and 17 when she died...a Borgia and probably poisoned!!!!

    Thanks for reintroducing the poem to me.

    Character is what you are in the dark. Emilio Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzai

    by Temmoku on Sat Sep 14, 2013 at 06:36:55 PM PDT

  •  Sorry now I slept on this diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Brecht

    and ensuing commentary. A great read.

  •  September 12, 1846 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Brecht, RiveroftheWest

    Did you know you posted your diary one day after the anniversary of Robert Browning's elopement with Elizabeth Barrett Browning? Er, make that their 167th plus 1 day anniversary?

    ;)

    How do I love thee? Let me count the decades...

    "Now is not the time to build fences around our freedom. Now is the time to emancipate our culture from the fear of losing it." -- Keith Olbermann

    by WriterRoss on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 04:57:50 AM PDT

  •  Hope the party isn't over and there is still (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Brecht, poco, RiveroftheWest

    time to toast you for this diary!

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