Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. II. Love
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume II. Love.  1904.
VII. Love’s Power
In a Gondola
Robert Browning (1812–1889)
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
In your own voice, in your own way:
“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
Curtained 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 Agnesè doing
    Where they make the shutters fast?
    Gray Zanobi ’s just a-wooing        40
  To his couch the purchased 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 pursed
    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 entered gay
    My heart at some noonday,—
    A bud that dares not disallow
    The claim, so, all is rendered up,        60
    And passively its shattered 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?
To sleep on yellow millet-sheaves,
Or swim in lucid shallows, just
Eluding water-lily leaves,
An inch from Death’s black fingers, thrust        85
To lock you, whom release he must;
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;        90
Wings, not legs and feet, shall move you!
Snow-white must they spring, to blend
With your flesh, but I intend
They shall deepen to the end,
Broader, into burning gold,        95
Till both wings crescent-wise enfold
Your perfect self, from ’neath your feet
To o’er your head, where, lo, they meet
As if a million sword-blades hurled
Defiance from you to the world!        100
Rescue me thou, the only real!
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,
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?        110
They trail me, these three godless knaves,
Past every church that saints and saves,
Nor stop till, where the cold sea raves
By Lido’s wet accursèd graves,
They scoop mine, roll me to its brink,        115
And … on thy breast I sink!
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!        120
Go find the bottom! Would you stay me? There!
Now pluck a great blade of that ribbon-grass
To plait in where the foolish jewel was,
I flung away: since you have praised my hair,
’T is proper to be choice in what I wear.        125
He speaks.
Row home? must we row home? too surely
Know I where its front ’s demurely
Over the Guidecca piled;
Window just with window mating,
Door on door exactly waiting,        130
All ’s the set face of a child:
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?        135
No two windows look one way
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,        140
Then a sweet cry, and last came you—
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.        145
I scarce could breathe to see you reach
So far back o’er the balcony,
To catch him ere he climbed too high
Above you in the Smyrna peach,
That quick the round smooth cord of gold,        150
This coiled hair on your head, unrolled,
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.        155
Dear lory, may his beak retain
Ever its delicate rose stain,
As if the wounded lotus-blossoms
Had marked their thief to know again.
Stay longer yet, for others’ sake        160
Than mine! What should your chamber do?
—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        165
Who brought against their will together
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        170
Which dare not speak, now to itself
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        175
Of midnight palace-pillars, on
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        180
As the dry limpet for the lymph
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!        185
Oh, could you take them by surprise,
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,        190
Bold Castelfranco’s Magdalen
You ’d find retreated from the ken
Of that robed counsel-keeping Ser—
As if the Tizian thinks of her,
And is not, rather, gravely bent        195
On seeing for himself what toys
Are these his progeny invent,
What litter now the board employs
Whereon he signed a document
That got him murdered! Each enjoys        200
Its night so well, you cannot break
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        205
That overfloods my room with sweets,
Contrive your Zorzi somehow meets
My Zanze! If the ribbon ’s black,
The Three are watching: keep away!
Your gondola—let Zorzi wreathe        210
A mesh of water-weeds about
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.        215
There ’s Zanze’s vigilant taper; safe are we.
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.        220
Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand
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, ere we part,
Clasp me and make me thine, as mine thou art!        225
He is surprised, and stabbed.
It was ordained 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 lived: but I
Have lived indeed, and so—(yet one more kiss)—can die!

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