Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
In a Gondola
Robert Browning (1812–89)
He sings

I SEND my heart up to thee, all my heart
  In this my singing.
For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
  The very night is clinging
Closer to Venice’ streets to leave one space        5
  Above me, whence thy face
May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.
She speaks

Say after me, and try to say
My very words, as if each word
Came from you of your own accord,        10
Are mine as much as this gold chain
“This woman’s heart and soul and brain
Are mine as much as this gold chain
She bids me wear; which” (say again)
“I choose to make by cherishing        15
A precious thing, or choose to fling
Over the boat-side, ring by ring.”
And yet once more say … no word more!
Since words are only words, Give o’er!
Unless you call me, all the same,        20
Familiarly by my pet name,
Which if the Three should hear you call,
And me reply to, would proclaim
At once our secret to them all.
Ask of me, too, command me, blame—        25
Do, break down the partition-wall
’Twixt us, the daylight world beholds
Curtain’d in dusk and splendid folds!
What ’s left but—all of me to take?
I am the Three’s: prevent them, slake        30
Your thirst! ’T is said, the Arab sage,
In practising with gems, can loose
Their subtle spirit in his cruce
And leave but ashes: so, sweet mage,
Leave them my ashes when thy use        35
Sucks out my soul, thy heritage!
He sings

Past we glide, and past, and past!
  What ’s that poor Agnese doing
Where they make the shutters fast?
  Gray Zanobi’s just a-wooing        40
To his couch the purchas’d bride:
  Past we glide!
Past we glide, and past, and past!
  Why ’s the Pucci Palace flaring
Like a beacon to the blast?        45
  Guests by hundreds, not one caring
If the dear host’s neck were wried:
  Past we glide!
She sings

The moth’s kiss, first!
Kiss me as if you made believe        50
You were not sure, this eve,
How my face, your flower, had purs’d
Its petals up; so, here and there
You brush it, till I grow aware
Who wants me, and wide ope I burst.        55
The bee’s kiss, now!
Kiss me as if you enter’d gay
My heart at some noonday,—
A bud that dares not disallow
The claim, so, all is render’d up,        60
And passively its shatter’d cup
Over your head to sleep I bow.
He sings

What are we two?
I am a Jew,
And carry thee, farther than friends can pursue,        65
To a feast of our tribe;
Where they need thee to bribe
The devil that blasts them unless he imbibe
Thy … Scatter the vision for ever! And now,
As of old, I am I, thou art thou!        70
Say again, what we are?
The sprite of a star,
I lure thee above where the destinies bar
My plumes their full play
Till a ruddier ray        75
Than my pale one announce there is withering away
Some … Scatter the vision for ever! And now,
As of old, I am I, thou art thou!
He muses

Oh, which were best, to roam or rest?
The land’s lap or the water’s breast?        80
To sleep on yellow millet-sheaves,
Or swim in lucid shallows, just
Eluding water-lily leaves,
An inch from Death’s black fingers, thrust
To lock you, whom release he must;        85
Which life were best on Summer eves?
He speaks, musing

Lie back: could thought of mine improve you?
From this shoulder let there spring
A wing; from this, another wing;
Wings, not legs and feet, shall move you!        90
Snow-white must they spring, to blend
With your flesh, but I intend
They shall deepen to the end,
Broader, into burning gold,
Till both wings crescent-wise enfold        95
Your perfect self, from ’neath your feet
To o’er your head, where, lo, they meet
As if a million sword-blades hurl’d
Defiance from you to the world!
Rescue me thou, the only real!        100
And scare away this mad ideal
That came, nor motions to depart!
Thanks! Now, stay ever as thou art!
Still he muses

What if the Three should catch at last
Thy serenader? While there ’s cast        105
Paul’s cloak about my head, and fast
Gian pinions me, Himself has past
His stylet through my back; I reel;
And … is it thou I feel?
They trail me, these three godless knaves,        110
Past every church that saints and saves,
Nor stop till, where the cold sea raves
By Lido’s wet accursed graves,
They scoop mine, roll me to its brink,
And … on thy breast I sink!        115
She replies, musing

Dip your arm o’er the boat side, elbow-deep,
As I do: thus: were death so unlike sleep,
Caught this way? Death ’s to fear from flame or steel,
Or poison doubtless; but from water—feel!
Go find the bottom! Would you stay me? There!        120
Now pluck a great blade of that ribbon grass
To plait in where the foolish jewel was,
I flung away: since you have prais’d my hair,
’T is proper to be choice in what I wear.
He speaks

Row home? must we row home? Too surely
Know I where its front’s demurely
Over the Guidecca pil’d;
Window just with window mating,
Door on door exactly waiting,
All ’s the set face of a child:        130
But behind it, where ’s a trace
Of the staidness and reserve,
And formal lines without a curve,
In the same child’s playing-face?
No two windows look one way        135
O’er the small sea-water thread
Below them. Ah, the autumn day
I, passing, saw you overhead!
First, out a cloud of curtain blew,
Then a sweet cry, and last came you—        140
To catch your lory that must needs
Escape just then, of all times then,
To peck a tall plant’s fleecy seeds
And make me happiest of men.
I scarce could breathe to see you reach        145
So far back o’er the balcony,
To catch him ere he clib’d too high
Above you in the Smyrna peach,
That quick the round smooth cord of gold,
This coil’d hair on your head, unroll’d,        150
Fell down you like a gorgeous snake
The Roman girls were wont, of old,
When Rome there was, for coolness’ sake
To let lie curling o’er their bosoms.
Dear lory, may his beak retain        155
Ever its delicate rose stain,
As if the wounded lotus-blossoms
Had mark’d their thief to know again.
Stay longer yet, for others’ sake
Than mine! What should your chamber do?        160
—With all its rarities that ache
In silence while day lasts, but wake
At night-time and their life renew,
Suspended just to pleasure you
Who brought against their will together        165
These objects, and, while day lasts, weave
Around them such a magic tether
That dumb they look: your harp, believe,
With all the sensitive tight strings
Which dare not speak, now to itself        170
Breathes slumberously, as if some elf
Went in and out the chords,—his wings
Make murmur, wheresoe’er they graze,
As an angel may, between the maze
Of midnight palace-pillars, on        175
And on, to sow God’s plagues, have gone
Through guilty glorious Babylon.
And while such murmurs flow, the nymph
Bends o’er the harp-top from her shell
As the dry limpet for the lymph        180
Come with a tune he knows so well.
And how your statues’ hearts must swell!
And how your pictures must descend
To see each other, friend with friend!
Oh, could you take them by surprise,        185
You ’d find Schidone’s eager Duke
Doing the quaintest courtesies
To that prim saint by Haste-thee-Luke!
And, deeper into her rock den,
Bold Castelfranco’s Magdalen        190
You ’d find retreated from the ken
Of that rob’d counsel-keeping Ser—
As if the Tizian thinks of her,
And is not, rather, gravely bent
On seeing for himself what toys        195
Are these his progeny invent,
What litter now the board employs
Whereon he sign’d a document
That got him murder’d! Each enjoys
Its night so well, you cannot break        200
The sport up: so, indeed must make
More stay with me, for others’ sake.
She speaks

To-morrow, if a harp-string, say,
Is used to tie the jasmine back
That overfloods my room with sweets,        205
Contrive your Zorzi somehow meets
My Zanze! If the ribbon’s black,
The Three are watching: keep away!
Your gondola—let Zorzi wreathe
A mesh of water-weeds about        210
Its prow, as if he unaware
Had struck some quay or bridge-foot stair!
That I may throw a paper out
As you and he go underneath.
There ’s Zanze’s vigilant taper; safe are we.        215
Only one minute more to-night with me?
Resume your past self of a month ago!
Be you the bashful gallant, I will be
The lady with the colder breast than snow.
Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand        220
More than I touch yours when I step to land.
Just say, “All thanks, Siora!”—
        Heart to heart
And lips to lips! Yet once more, eye we part,
Clasp me and make me thine, as mine thou art!        225
He is surprised, and stabbed

It was ordain’d to be so, sweet!—and best
Comes now, beneath thine eyes, upon thy breast.
Still kiss me! Care not for the cowards! Care
Only to put aside thy beauteous hair
My blood will hurt! The Three, I do not scorn        230
To death, because they never liv’d: but I
Have liv’d indeed, and so—(yet one more kiss)—can die!


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