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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII. 1876–79.


The Statue and the Bust

By Robert Browning (1812–1889)

THERE ’s a palace in Florence, the world knows well,

And a statue watches it from the square,

And this story of both do the townsmen tell.

Ages ago, a lady there,

At the furthest window facing the east,

Asked, “Who rides by with the royal air?”

The bridesmaids’ prattle around her ceased:

She leaned forth, one on either hand;

They saw how the blush of the bride increased.

They felt by its beats her heart expand,

As one at each ear, and both in a breath,

Whispered, “The Great-Duke Ferdinand.”

That selfsame instant, underneath,

The Duke rode past in his idle way,

Empty and fine like a swordless sheath.

Gay he rode, with a friend as gay,

Till he threw his head back,—“Who is she?”

“A bride the Riccardi brings home to-day.”

Hair in heaps laid heavily

Over a pale brow spirit-pure,—

Carved like the heart of the coal-black tree,

Crisped like a war-steed’s encolure,—

Which vainly sought to dissemble her eyes

Of the blackest black our eyes endure.

And lo, a blade for a knight’s emprise

Filled the fine empty sheath of a man,—

The Duke grew straightway brave and wise.

He looked at her, as a lover can;

She looked at him, as one who awakes,—

The past was a sleep, and her life began.

As love so ordered for both their sakes,

A feast was held that selfsame night

In the pile which the mighty shadow makes.

(For Via Larga is three-parts light,

But the palace overshadows one,

Because of a crime which may God requite!

To Florence and God the wrong was done,

Through the first republic’s murder there

By Cosimo and his cursed son.)

The Duke (with the statue’s face in the square)

Turned in the midst of his multitude

At the bright approach of the bridal pair.

Face to face the lovers stood

A single minute and no more,

While the bridegroom bent as a man subdued,—

Bowed till his bonnet brushed the floor,—

For the Duke on the lady a kiss conferred,

As the courtly custom was of yore.

In a minute can lovers exchange a word?

If a word did pass, which I do not think,

Only one out of the thousand heard.

That was the bridegroom. At day’s brink

He and his bride were alone at last

In a bedchamber by a taper’s blink.

Calmly he said that her lot was cast,

That the door she had passed was shut on her

Till the final catafalk repassed.

The world, meanwhile, its noise and stir,

Through a certain window facing the east

She might watch like a convent’s chronicler.

Since passing the door might lead to a feast,

And a feast might lead to so much beside,

He, of many evils, chose the least.


Meanwhile, worse fates than a lover’s fate

Who daily may ride and lean and look

Where his lady watches behind the grate!

And she—she watched the square like a book

Holding one picture, and only one,

Which daily to find she undertook.

When the picture was reached the book was done,

And she turned from it all night to scheme

Of tearing it out for herself next sun.

Weeks grew months, years,—gleam by gleam

The glory dropped from youth and love,

And both perceived they had dreamed a dream,

Which hovered as dreams do, still above,

But who can take a dream for truth?

O, hide our eyes from the next remove!

One day, as the lady saw her youth

Depart, and the silver thread that streaked

Her hair, and, worn by the serpent’s tooth,

The brow so puckered, the chin so peaked,—

And wondered who the woman was,

So hollow-eyed and haggard-cheeked,

Fronting her silent in the glass,—

“Summon here,” she suddenly said,

“Before the rest of my old self pass,

“Him, the carver, a hand to aid,

Who moulds the clay no love will change,

And fixes a beauty never to fade.

“Let Robbia’s craft so apt and strange

Arrest the remains of young and fair,

And rivet them while the seasons range.

“Make me a face on the window there

Waiting as ever, mute the while,

My love to pass below in the square!”


But long ere Robbia’s cornice, fine

With flowers and fruits which leaves enlace,

Was set where now is the empty shrine,

(With, leaning out of a bright blue space,

As a ghost might from a chink of sky,

The passionate pale lady’s face,

Eying ever with earnest eye

And quick-turned neck at its breathless stretch,

Some one who ever passes by,)

The Duke sighed like the simplest wretch

In Florence, “So my dream escapes!

Will its record stay?” And he bade them fetch

Some subtle fashioner of shapes,—

“Can the soul, the will, die out of a man

Ere his body find the grave that gapes?

“John of Douay shall work my plan,

Mould me on horseback here aloft,

Alive, (the subtle artisan!)

“In the very square I cross so oft!

That men may admire, when future suns

Shall touch the eyes to a purpose soft,

“While the mouth and the brow are brave in bronze,—

Admire and say, ‘When he was alive,

How he would take his pleasure once!’

“And it shall go hard but I contrive

To listen meanwhile and laugh in my tomb

At indolence which aspires to strive.”