Robert Browning, 1812-1883
by Robert Browning
from Dramatic Lyrics (1842)
AIX IN PROVENCE
Christ God who savest man, save most
Of men Count Gismond who saved me!
Count Gauthier, when he chose his post,
Chose time and place and company
To suit it; when he struck at length
My honour, ’twas with all his strength.
And doubtlessly ere he could draw
All points to one, he must have schemed!
That miserable morning saw
Few half so happy as I seemed,
While being dressed in queen’s array
To give our tourney prize away.
I thought they loved me, did me grace
To please themselves; ’twas all their deed;
God makes, or fair or foul, our face;
If showing mine so caused to bleed
My cousins’ hearts, they should have dropped
A word, and straight the play had stopped.
They, too, so beauteous! Each a queen
By virtue of her brow and breast;
Not needing to be crowned, I mean,
As I do. E’en when I was dressed,
Had either of them spoke, instead
Of glancing sideways with still head!
But no: they let me laugh, and sing
My birthday song quite through, adjust
The last rose in my garland, fling
A last look on the mirror, trust
My arms to each an arm of theirs,
And so descend the castle-stairs—
And come out on the morning-troop
Of merry friends who kissed my cheek,
And called me queen, and made me stoop
Under the canopy—a streak
That pierced it, of the outside sun,
Powdered with gold its gloom’s soft dun—
And they could let me take my state
And foolish throne amid applause
Of all come there to celebrate
My queen’s-day—Oh I think the cause
Of much was, they forgot no crowd
Makes up for parents in their shroud!
However that be, all eyes were bent
Upon me, when my cousins cast
Theirs down; ’twas time I should present
The victor’s crown, but . . . there, ’twill last
No long time . . . the old mist again
Blinds me as then it did. How vain!
See! Gismond’s at the gate, in talk
With his two boys: I can proceed.
Well, at that moment, who should stalk
Forth boldly—to my face, indeed—
But Gauthier, and he thundered “Stay!”
And all stayed. “Bring no crowns, I say!”
“Bring torches! Wind the penance-sheet
About her! Let her shun the chaste,
Or lay herself before their feet!
Shall she whose body I embraced
A night long, queen it in the day?
For honour’s sake no crowns, I say!”
I? What I answered? As I live,
I never fancied such a thing
As answer possible to give.
What says the body when they spring
Some monstrous torture-engine’s whole
Strength on it? No more says the soul.
Till out strode Gismond; then I knew
That I was saved. I never met
His face before, but, at first view,
I felt quite sure that God had set
Himself to Satan; who would spend
A minute’s mistrust on the end?
He strode to Gauthier, in his throat
Gave him the lie, then struck his mouth
With one back-handed blow that wrote
In blood men’s verdict there. North, South,
East, West, I looked. The lie was dead,
And damned, and truth stood up instead.
This glads me most, that I enjoyed
The heart of the joy, with my content
In watching Gismond unalloyed
By any doubt of the event:
God took that on him—I was bid
Watch Gismond for my part: I did.
Did I not watch him while he let
His armourer just brace his greaves,
Rivet his hauberk, on the fret
The while! His foot. . . my memory leaves
No least stamp out, nor how anon
He pulled his ringing gauntlets on.
And e’en before the trumpet’s sound
Was finished, prone lay the false knight,
Prone as his lie, upon the ground:
Gismond flew at him, used no sleight
O’ the sword, but open-breasted drove,
Cleaving till out the truth he clove.
Which done, he dragged him to my feet
And said “Here die, but end thy breath
In full confession, lest thou fleet
From my first, to God’s second death!
Say, hast thou lied?” And, “I have lied
To God and her,” he said, and died.
Then Gismond, kneeling to me, asked
What safe my heart holds, though no word
Could I repeat now, if I tasked
My powers for ever, to a third
Dear even as you are. Pass the rest
Until I sank upon his breast.
Over my head his arm he flung
Against the world; and scarce I felt
His sword (that dripped by me and swung)
A little shifted in its belt:
For he began to say the while
How South our home lay many a mile.
So ‘mid the shouting multitude
We two walked forth to never more
Return. My cousins have pursued
Their life, untroubled as before
I vexed them. Gauthier’s dwelling-place
God lighten! May his soul find grace!
Our elder boy has got the clear
Great brow; tho’ when his brother’s black
Full eye shows scorn, it . . . Gismond here?
And have you brought my tercel back?
I just was telling Adela
How many birds it struck since May.
* * * * *