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!

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“My last duchess” modestly mirrors a clear-cut depiction of aristocracy, pride & solicitation of absolute power, ostensibly portraying the scene of the Victorian age. The poem seems to contrive an imperial plot, more of historical scene set in a palace, a duke with a stout belly and a valour ducked in power and pride. The poem is based on incidents in the life of Alfonso II. Duke of Ferrara in Italy, whose first wife, Lucrezia, a young woman, died in 1561 after three years of marriage. Following her death, the duke negotiated through an emissary who has come to negotiate the Duke’s marriage (he has recently been widowed) to marry a niece of the Count of Tyrol. Browning represents the duke as addressing this emissary.

Following the 8th Line, (The depth and passion of its earnest glance), the duke praises and admits the loveliness of his duchess, or one may perhaps, assume that he might be praising the painting, for instance. However, his pride and self-worth made him so much drenched in his own standing, that he killed her, wounded pride, not because of wounded love.

“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.”

“as if she ranked / My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name / With anybody’s gift” (32-34)

These lines somewhat decipher the cryptic sense Browning creates in the reader’s mind at the beginning. Skimming the starting set, it may seem to the reader, in the first pass, as if the speaker is addressing a crowd. Also, it seemed quite obscure to me, even after searching about the poem over the web, to whom exactly “you” does Browning refer to, in lines 6-7. Almost all the other writers on the web, and sometimes even me, anticipate that, here Duke is conversing with the emissary and “you” refers to him, as he asks him to sit by the curtain.

The lines 27-31 spectacle Duke as a pervert, who is feeling invidious as he sees her partner being admired by the laymen.

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.

Apparently the Duchess was easily pleased: she smiled at everything, and seemed just as happy when someone brought her a branch of cherries as she did when the Duke decided to marry her. She also blushed easily. The Duchess’s genial nature was enough to throw the Duke into a jealous, psychopathic rage, and he “gave commands” (45) that meant “all smiles stopped together” (46).

I would not say that the poem doesn’t have a literary sense or rhyme scheme, since Literary sense is largely reflected by the picturesque scene that Browning efficaciously sketches in reader’s mind, as he reads the stanzas. Because we hear only the Duke’s musings, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work. It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal. I am impressed, for the most part by the plot of the poem, and the artistic, but modest way Browning describes the conviction of most of the men, of straying around the women, flirting and their bogus self-image which they, themselves form in mind, presuming that they’re supreme.

Abhinandan is a part-time media and journalism professional and a passionate victim of wanderlust. Despite all his attempts to conquer the eclectic tastes of diverse cuisines, scenic views of deep valleys and panoramic mountains, he is still uncertain about his interests. He is a food lover, compulsive traveler, an enthusiastic writer, aspiring entrepreneur, ingenious web developer, and a mathematics-savvy guy. To make up for the credence of eternal optimism, he is skilfully blessed with boundless energy and an inborn penchant for new experiences.

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