Variation: “My Last Wife”

That’s my last wife hanging on the wall,

Reminding me of when she was here.  I call

That photo a wonder, now: the paparazzi’s lense

Clicked busily a second, and there she bends.

Will you please stand and look at her? I said

The paparazzi by design, imagined her fed

Strangers like that pictured her askance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (but no one can try

To find this photo of her, but I)

And it seems no one will ask, if they dared

How such a look in her eyes; so, not have cared,

That you turn and ask thus.  Sir, wasn’t

Just her husband’s presence, it doesn’t

Pinken my wife’s cheeks: perhaps

The paparazzi tried to show “Her dress gaps

Over my lady’s hips too much,” or “Paper

Must never hope to recreate the taper

Waist that blooms her full breast”: such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up her pride and joys.  She had

A heart—how should I say?—too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked everything

She looked upon, and her looks were all encompassing.

It was all the same!  My gift around her neck,

The scar-bottomed, gray tape-deck,

The man who bought favors from her behind

Some dirty dance club, the limousine, white and shined

She rode in around the city—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least.  She thanked men,–good! but thanked

In a way—I do not want to imagine—as if she ranked

My gift of an old, royal family-name

With others’ gifts.  Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of pettiness?  Even had you skill

In speech—(which I don’t have)—to make your will

Quite clear to such a woman, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there you are exemplary”—and if she let

Herself be taught so, nor plainly set

In her ways, in truth, and she made excuses

—Even then would be some stooping, and my choices

Were to never stoop.  Oh she moaned, no doubt,

Whenever I touched her; but who else went without

Much the same moan?  This grew; I gave commands;

Then death swallowed her moans.  There she sits

As if alive.  Will you please follow me?  We’ll meet

The company below, then.  I repeat,

The producer, your boss’s known generosity

Is ample guarantee that these prior atrocities

Demands of a no prenuptial contract;

To his fair daughter’s hand, to be exact,

Will be my reward.  Nay, we’ll go

Together downstairs.  Notice Kennedy, though,

With Monroe on his lap, thought one of a kind,

Which Marilyn had framed for me and signed!

Original: “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning

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 a 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!

Advertisements