A Soul’s Tragedy
Category: Verse
Level 10 1:04 h
Robert Browning (7 May 1812 – 12 December 1889) was an English poet and playwright whose dramatic monologues put him high among the Victorian poets. He was noted for irony, characterization, dark humour, social commentary, historical settings and challenging vocabulary and syntax.

A Soul’s Tragedy

Robert Browning



This drama was first printed with Luria as the concluding number of Bells and Pomegranates in April, 1846.

Luitolfo and Eulalia, betrothed lovers.
Chiappino, their friend.
Ogniben, the Pope’s Legate.
Citizens of Faenza.

Time, 15—. Place, Faenza.

Act I

Inside Luitolfo’s house. Chiappino, Eulalia.

Eulalia. What is it keeps Luitolfo? Night’s fast falling,
And ‘t was scarce sunset … had the ave-bell
Sounded before he sought the Provost’s house?
I think not: all he had to say would take
Few minutes, such a very few, to say!
How do you think, Chiappino? If our lord
The Provost were less friendly to your friend
Than everybody here professes him,
I should begin to tremble — should not you?
Why are you silent when so many times
I turn and speak to you?

Chiappino. That’s good!

Eu. You laugh!

Ch. Yes. I had fancied nothing that bears price
In the whole world was left to call my own;
And, maybe, felt a little pride thereat.
Up to a single man’s or woman’s love,
Down to the right in my own flesh and blood,
There’s nothing mine, I fancied, — till you spoke:
— Counting, you see, as “nothing” the permission
To study this peculiar lot of mine
In silence: well, go silence with the rest
Of the world’s good! What can I say, shall serve?

Eu. This, — lest you, even more than needs, embitter
Our parting: say your wrongs have cast, for once,
A cloud across your spirit!

Ch. How a cloud?

Eu. No man nor woman loves you, did you say?

Ch. My God, were ‘t not for thee!

Eu. Ay, God remains,
Even did men forsake you.

Ch. Oh, not so!
Were ‘t not for God, I mean, what hope of truth —
Speaking truth, hearing truth, would stay with man?
I, now — the homeless friendless penniless
Proscribed and exiled wretch who speak to you, —
Ought to speak truth, yet could not, for my death,
(The thing that tempts me most) help speaking lies
About your friendship and Luitolfo’s courage
And all our townsfolk’s equanimity —
Through sheer incompetence to rid myself
Of the old miserable lying trick
Caught from the liars I have lived with, — God,
Did I not turn to thee! It is thy prompting
I dare to be ashamed of, and thy counsel
Would die along my coward lip, I know.
But I do turn to thee. This craven tongue,
These features which refuse the soul its way,
Reclaim thou! Give me truth — truth, power to speak
— And after be sole present to approve
The spoken truth! Or, stay, that spoken truth,
Who knows but you, too, may approve?

Eu. Ah, well —
Keep silence then, Chiappino!

Ch. You would hear, —
You shall now, — why the thing we please to style
My gratitude to you and all your friends
For service done me, is just gratitude
So much as yours was service: no whit more.
I was born here, so was Luitolfo; both
At one time, much with the same circumstance
Of rank and wealth; and both, up to this night
Of parting company, have side by side
Still fared, he in the sunshine — I, the shadow.
“Why?” asks the world. “Because,” replies the world
To its complacent self, “these playfellows,
Who took at church the holy-water drop
Each from the other’s finger, and so forth, —
Were of two moods: Luitolfo was the proper
Friend-making, everywhere friend-finding soul,
Fit for the sunshine, so, it followed him.
A happy-tempered bringer of the best
Out of the worst; who bears with what’s past cure,
And puts so good a face on ‘t — wisely passive
Where action’s fruitless, while he remedies
In silence what the foolish rail against;
A man to smooth such natures as parade
Of opposition must exasperate;
No general gauntlet-gatherer for the weak
Against the strong, yet over-scrupulous
At lucky junctures; one who won’t forego
The after-battle work of binding wounds,
Because, forsooth he’d have to bring himself
To side with wound-inflictors for their leave!”
— Why do you gaze, nor help me to repeat
What comes so glibly from the common mouth,
About Luitolfo and his so-styled friend?

Eu. Because, that friend’s sense is obscured ...

Ch. I thought
You would be readier with the other half
Of the world’s story, my half! Yet, ‘t is true.
For all the world does say it. Say your worst!
True, I thank God, I ever said ‘‘you sin,’’
When a man did sin: if I could not say it,
I glared it at him; if I could not glare it,
I prayed against him; then my part seemed over.
God’s may begin yet: so it will, I trust.

Eu. If the world outraged you, did we?

Ch. What’s “me”
That you use well or ill? It’s man, in me,
All your successes are an outrage to,
You all, whom sunshine follows, as you say!
Here’s our Faenza birthplace; they send here
A provost from Ravenna: how he rules,
You can at times be eloquent about.
“Then, end his rule!’’ — “Ah yes, one stroke does that!
But patience under wrong works slow and sure.
Must violence still bring peace forth? He, beside,
Returns so blandly one’s obeisance! ah —
Some latent virtue may be lingering yet,
Some human sympathy which, once excite,
And all the lump were leavened quietly:
So, no more talk of striking, for this time!’’
But I, as one of those he rules, won’t bear
These pretty takings-up and layings-down
Our cause, just as you think occasion suits.
Enough of earnest, is there? You’ll play, will you?
Diversify your tactics, give submission,
Obsequiousness and flattery a turn,
While we die in our misery patient deaths?
We all are outraged then, and I the first:
I, for mankind, resent each shrug and smirk,
Each beck and bend, each ... all you do and are,
I hate!

Eu. We share a common censure, then.
‘T is well you have not poor Luitolfo’s part
Nor mine to point out in the wide offence.

Ch. Oh, shall I let you so escape me, lady?
Come, on your own ground, lady, — from yourself,
(Leaving the people’s wrong, which most is mine)
What have I got to be so grateful for?
These three last fines, no doubt, one on the other
Paid by Luitolfo?

Eu. Shame, Chiappino!

Ch. Shame
Fall presently on who deserves it most!
— Which is to see. He paid my fines — my friend,
Your prosperous smooth lover presently,
Then, scarce your wooer, — soon, your husband: well —
I loved you.

Eu. Hold!

Ch. You knew it, years ago.
When my voice faltered and my eye grew dim
Because you gave me your silk mask to hold —
My voice that greatens when there’s need to curse
The people’s Provost to their heart’s content,—
My eye, the Provost, who bears all men’s eyes,
Banishes now because he cannot bear, —
You knew ... but you do your parts — my part, I:
So be it! You flourish, I decay: all’s well.

Eu. I hear this for the first time.

Ch. The fault’s there?
Then my days spoke not, and my nights of fire
Were voiceless? Then the very heart may burst.
Yet all prove naught, because no mincing speech
Tells leisurely that thus it is and thus?
Eulalia, truce with toying for this once!
A banished fool, who troubles you to-night
For the last time — why, what’s to fear from me?
You knew I loved you!

Eu. Not so, on my faith!
You were my now-affianced lover’s friend —
Came in, went out with him, could speak as he.
All praise your ready parts and pregnant wit;
See how your words come from you in a crowd!
Luitolfo’s first to place you o’er himself
In all that challenges respect and love:
Yet you were silent then, who blame me now.
I say all this by fascination, sure:
I, all but wed to oneI love, yet listen!
It must be, you are wronged, and that the wrongs
Luitolfo pities …

Ch. — You too pity? Do!
But hear first what my wrongs are; so began
This talk and so shall end this talk. I say,
Was ‘t not enough that I must strive (I saw)
To grow so far familiar with your charms
As next contrive some way to win them — which
To do, an age seemed far too brief — for, see!
We all aspire to heaven; and there lies heaven
Above us: go there! Dare we go? no, surely!
How dare we go without a reverent pause,
A growing less unfit for heaven? Just so,
I dared not speak: the greater fool, it seems!
Was ‘t not enough to struggle with such folly,
But I must have, beside, the very man
Whose slight free loose and incapacious soul
Gave his tongue scope to say whate’er he would
— Must have him load me with his benefits
— For fortune’s fiercest stroke?

Eu. Justice to him
That’s now entreating, at his risk perhaps,
Justice for you! Did he once call those acts
Of simple friendship — bounties, benefits?

Ch. No: the straight course had been to call them thus.
Then, I had flung them back, and kept myself
Unhampered, free as he to win the prize
We both sought. But “the gold was dross,” he said:
“He loved me, and I loved him not: why spurn
A trifle out of superfluity?
He had forgotten he had done as much.”
So had not I! Henceforth, try as I could
To take him at his word, there stood by you
My benefactor; who might speak and laugh
And urge his nothings, even banter me
Before you — but my tongue was tied. A dream!
Let’s wake: your husband … how you shake at that!
Good — my revenge!

Eu. Why should I shake? What forced
Or forces me to be Luitolfo’s bride?

Ch. There’s my revenge, that nothing forces you.
No gratitude, no liking of the eye
Nor longing of the heart, but the poor bond
Of habit — here so many times he came,
So much he spoke, — all these compose the tie
That pulls you from me. Well, he paid my fines,
Nor missed, a cloak from wardrobe, dish from table;
He spoke a good word to the Provost here,
Held me up when my fortunes fell away,
— It had not looked so well to let me drop, —
Men take pains to preserve a tree-stump, even,
Whose boughs they played beneath — much more a friend.
But one grows tired of seeing, after the first,
Pains spent upon impracticable stuff
Like me. I could not change: you know the rest:
I’ve spoke my mind too fully out, by chance,
This morning to our Provost; so, ere night
I leave the city on pain of death. And now
On my account there’s gallant intercession
Goes forward — that’s so graceful! — and anon
He’ll noisily come back: “the intercession
Was made and fails; all’s over for us both;
‘T is vain contending; I would better go.’’
And I do go — and straight to you he turns
Light of a load; and ease of that permits
His visage to repair the natural bland
Œconomy, sore broken late to suit
My discontent. Thus, all are pleased — you, with him,
He with himself, and all of you with me
— “Who,” say the citizens, ‘‘had done far better
In letting people sleep upon their woes,
If not possessed with talent to relieve them
When once awake; — but then I had,” they’ll say,
‘‘Doubtless some unknown compensating pride
In what I did; and as I seem content
With ruining myself, why, so should they be.”
And so they are, and so be with his prize
The devil, when he gets them speedily!
Why does not your Luitolfo come? I long
To don this cloak and take the Lugo path.
It seems you never loved me, then?

Eu. Chiappino!

Ch. Never?

Eu. Never.

Ch. That’s sad. Say what I might,
There was no help from being sure this while
You loved me. Love like mine must have return,
I thought: no river starts but to some sea.
And had you loved me, I could soon devise
Some specious reason why you stifled love,
Some fancied self-denial on your part,
Which made you choose Luitolfo; so, excepting
From the wide condemnation of all here,
One woman. Well, the other dream may break!
If I knew any heart, as mine loved you,
Loved me, though in the vilest breast ‘t were lodged,
I should, I think, be forced to love again:
Else there’s no right nor reason in the world.

Eu. “If you knew,” say you, — but I did not know.
That’s where you’re blind, Chiappino! — a disease
Which if I may remove, I’ll not repent
The listening to. You cannot, will not, see
How, place you but in every circumstance
Of us, you are just now indignant at,
You’d be as we.

Ch. I should be?... that; again!
I, to my friend, my country and my love,
Be as Luitolfo and these Faentines?

Eu. As we.

Ch. Now, I’ll say something to remember.
I trust in nature for the stable laws
Of beauty and utility. — Spring shall plant,
And Autumn garner to the end of time:
I trust in God — the right shall be the right
And other than the wrong, while he endures:
I trust in my own soul, that can perceive
The outward and the inward, nature’s good
And God’s: so, seeing these men and myself,
Having a right to speak, thus do I speak.
I’ll not curse — God bears with them, well may I —
But I — protest against their claiming me.
I simply say, if that’s allowable,
I would not (broadly) do as they have done.
— God curse this townful of born slaves, bred slaves,
Branded into the blood and bone, slaves! Curse
Whoever loves, above his liberty,
House, land or life! and ...

[A knocking without.]
— bless my hero-friend,

Eu. How he knocks!

Ch. The peril, lady!
“Chiappino, I have run a risk — a risk!
For when I prayed the Provost (he’s my friend)
To grant you a week’s respite of the sentence
That confiscates your goods, exiles yourself,
He shrugged his shoulder — I say, shrugged it! Yes,
And fright of that drove all else from my head.
Here’s a good purse of scudi: off with you,
Lest of that shrug come what God only knows!
The scudi — friend, they’re trash — no thanks, I beg!
Take the north gate, — for San Vitale’s suburb,
Whose double taxes you appealed against,
In discomposure at your ill-success
Is apt to stone you: there, there — only go!
Beside, Eulalia here looks sleepily.
Shake ... oh, you hurt me, so you squeeze my wrist!”
— Is it not thus you’ll speak, adventurous friend?

[As he opens the door, Luitolfo rushes in, his garments disordered.]

Eu. Luitolfo! Blood?

Luitolfo. There’s more — and more of it!
Eulalia — take the garment! No — you, friend!
You take it and the blood from me — you dare!

Eu. Oh, who has hurt you? where’s the wound?

Ch. “Who,” say you?
The man with many a touch of virtue yet!
The Provost’s friend has proved too frank of speech,
And this comes of it. Miserable hound!
This comes of temporizing, as I said!
Here’s fruit of your smooth speeches and soft looks!
Now see my way! As God lives, I go straight
To the palace and do justice, once for all!

Luit. What says he?

Ch. I’ll do justice on him.

Luit. Him?

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