Cristina and Monaldeschi

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Cristina and Monaldeschi  (1883) 
by Robert Browning



Ah, but how each loved each, Marquis!
     Here's the gallery they trod
     Both together, he her god,
     She his idol, — lend your rod,
Chamberlain! — ay, there they are — "Quis
     Separabit?"
— plain those two
     Touching words come into view,
     Apposite for me and you!

Since they witness to incessant
     Love like ours: King Francis, he —
     Diane the adored one, she —
     Prototypes of you and me.
Everywhere is carved her Crescent
     With his Salamander-sign —
     Flame-fed creature: flame benign
     To itself or, if malign,

Only to the meddling curious,
     — So, be warned, Sir! Where's my head?
     How it wanders! What I said
     Merely meant — the creature, fed
Thus on flame, was scarce injurious
     Save to fools who woke its ire,
     Thinking fit to play with fire.
     'Tis the Crescent you admire?

Then, be Diane! I'll be Francis.
     Crescents change, — true! — wax and wane.
     Woman-like: male hearts retain
     Heat nor, once warm, cool again.
So, we figure — such our chance is —
     I as man and you as . . . What?
     Take offence? My Love forgot
     He plays woman, I do not?

I — the woman? See my habit.
     Ask my people! Anyhow,
     Be we what we may, one vow
     Binds us, male or female. Now, —
Stand, Sir! Read! "Quis separabit?"
     Half a mile of pictured way
     Past these palace-walls to-day
     Traversed, this I came to say.

You must needs begin to love me;
     First I hated, then, at best,
     — Have it so! — I acquiesced;
     Pure compassion did the rest.
From below thus raised above me,
     Would you, step by step, descend,
     Pity me, become my friend,
     Like me, like less, loathe at end?

That's the ladder's round you rose by!
     That — my own foot kicked away,
     Having raised you: let it stay,
     Serve you for retreating? Nay.
Close to me you climbed: as close by,
     Keep your station, though the peak
     Reached proves somewhat bare and bleak!
     Woman's strong if man is weak.

Keep here, loving me forever!
     Love's look, gesture, speech, I claim;
     Act love, lie love, all the same —
     Play as earnest were our game!
Lonely I stood long: 'twas clever
     When you climbed, before men's eyes,
     Spurned the earth and scaled the skies,
     Gained my peak and grasped your prize.

Here you stood, then, to men's wonder;
     Here you tire of standing? Kneel!
     Cure what giddiness you feel,
     This way! Do your senses reel?
Not unlikely! What rolls under?
     Yawning death in yon abyss
     Where the waters whirl and hiss
     Round more frightful peaks than this.

Should my buffet dash you thither. . . .
     But be sage! No watery grave
     Needs await you: seeming brave
     Kneel on safe, dear timid slave!
You surmised, when you climbed hither,
     Just as easy were retreat
     Should you tire, conceive unmeet
     Longer patience at my feet?

Me as standing, you as stooping, —
     Who arranged for each the pose?
     Lest men think us friends turned foes,
     Keep the attitude you chose!
Men are used to this same grouping —
     I and you like statues seen.
     You and I, no third between,
     Kneel and stand! That makes the scene.

Mar it — and one buffet . . . Pardon!
     Needless warmth — wise words in waste!
     'Twas prostration that replaced
     Kneeling, then? A proof of taste.
Crouch, not kneel, while I mount guard on
     Prostrate love — become no waif,
     No estray to waves that chafe
     Disappointed — love's so safe!

Waves that chafe? The idlest fancy!
     Peaks that scare? I think we know
     Walls enclose our sculpture: so
     Grouped, we pose in Fontainebleau.
Up now! Wherefore hesitancy?
     Arm in arm and cheek by cheek,
     Laugh with me at waves and peak!
     Silent still? Why, pictures speak.

See, where Juno strikes Ixion,
     Primatice speaks plainly! Pooh —
     Rather, Florentine Le Roux!
     I've lost head for who is who —
So it swims and wanders! Fie on
     What still proves me female! Here,
     By the staircase! — for we near
     That dark "Gallery of the Deer."

Look me in the eyes once! Steady!
     Are you faithful now as erst
     On that eve when we two first
     Vowed at Avon, blessed and cursed
Faith and falsehood? Pale already?
     Forward! Must my hand compel
     Entrance — this way? Exit — well.
     Somehow, somewhere. Who can tell?

What if to the self-same place in
     Rustic Avon, at the door
     Of the village church once more,
     Where a tombstone paves the floor
By that holy-water basin
     You appealed to — "As, below,
     This stone hides its corpse, e'en so
     I your secrets hide"? What ho!

Friends, my four! You, Priest, confess him!
     I have judged the culprit there:
     Execute my sentence! Care
     For no mail such cowards wear!
Done, Priest? Then, absolve and bless him!
     Now — you three, stab thick and fast,
     Deep and deeper! Dead at last?
     Thanks, friends — Father, thanks! Aghast?

What one word of his confession
     Would you tell me, though 1 lured
     With that royal crown abjured
     Just because its bars immured
Love too much? Love burst compression,
     Fled free, finally confessed
     All its secrets to that breast
     Whence . . . let Avon tell the rest!