The Italian In England

Robert Browning 1812 (Camberwell) – 1889 (Venice)



That second time they hunted me
From hill to plain, from shore to sea,
And Austria, hounding far and wide
Her blood-hounds thro' the country-side,
Breathed hot and instant on my trace,---
I made six days a hiding-place
Of that dry green old aqueduct
Where I and Charles, when boys, have plucked
The fire-flies from the roof above,
Bright creeping thro' the moss they love:
---How long it seems since Charles was lost!
Six days the soldiers crossed and crossed
The country in my very sight;
And when that peril ceased at night,
The sky broke out in red dismay
With signal fires; well, there I lay
Close covered o'er in my recess,
Up to the neck in ferns and cress,
Thinking on Metternich our friend,
And Charles's miserable end,
And much beside, two days; the third,
Hunger o'ercame me when I heard
The peasants from the village go
To work among the maize; you know,
With us in Lombardy, they bring
Provisions packed on mules, a string
With little bells that cheer their task,
And casks, and boughs on every cask
To keep the sun's heat from the wine;
These I let pass in jingling line,
And, close on them, dear noisy crew,
The peasants from the village, too;
For at the very rear would troop
Their wives and sisters in a group
To help, I knew. When these had passed,
I threw my glove to strike the last,
Taking the chance: she did not start,
Much less cry out, but stooped apart,
One instant rapidly glanced round,
And saw me beckon from the ground.
A wild bush grows and hides my crypt;
She picked my glove up while she stripped
A branch off, then rejoined the rest
With that; my glove lay in her breast.
Then I drew breath; they disappeared:
It was for Italy I feared.

  An hour, and she returned alone
Exactly where my glove was thrown.
Meanwhile came many thoughts: on me
Rested the hopes of Italy.
I had devised a certain tale
Which, when 'twas told her, could not fail
Persuade a peasant of its truth;
I meant to call a freak of youth
This hiding, and give hopes of pay,
And no temptation to betray.
But when I saw that woman's face,
Its calm simplicity of grace,
Our Italy's own attitude
In which she walked thus far, and stood,
Planting each naked foot so firm,
To crush the snake and spare the worm---
At first sight of her eyes, I said,
``I am that man upon whose head
``They fix the price, because I hate
``The Austrians over us: the State
``Will give you gold---oh, gold so much!---
``If you betray me to their clutch,
``And be your death, for aught I know,
``If once they find you saved their foe.
``Now, you must bring me food and drink,
``And also paper, pen and ink,
``And carry safe what I shall write
``To Padua, which you'll reach at night
``Before the duomo shuts; go in,
``And wait till Tenebr begin;
``Walk to the third confessional,
``Between the pillar and the wall,
``And kneeling whisper, _Whence comes peace?_
``Say it a second time, then cease;
``And if the voice inside returns,
``_From Christ and Freedom; what concerns
``The cause of Peace?_---for answer, slip
``My letter where you placed your lip;
``Then come back happy we have done
``Our mother service---I, the son,
``As you the daughter of our land!''

  Three mornings more, she took her stand
In the same place, with the same eyes:
I was no surer of sun-rise
That of her coming. We conferred
Of her own prospects, and I heard
She had a lover---stout and tall,
She said---then let her eyelids fall,
``He could do much''---as if some doubt
Entered her heart,---then, passing out,
``She could not speak for others, who
``Had other thoughts; herself she knew:''
And so she brought me drink and food.
After four days, the scouts pursued
Another path; at last arrived
The help my Paduan friends contrived
To furnish me: she brought the news.
For the first time I could not choose
But kiss her hand, and lay my own
Upon her head---``This faith was shown
``To Italy, our mother; she
``Uses my hand and blesses thee.''
She followed down to the sea-shore;
I left and never saw her more.

  How very long since I have thought
Concerning---much less wished for---aught
Beside the good of Italy,
For which I live and mean to die!
I never was in love; and since
Charles proved false, what shall now convince.
My inmost heart I have a friend?
However, if I pleased to spend
Real wishes on myself---say, three---
I know at least what one should be.
I would grasp Metternich until
I felt his red wet throat d
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on May 03, 2023

4:04 min read
124

Quick analysis:

Scheme Text too long
Closest metre Iambic tetrameter
Characters 4,256
Words 808
Stanzas 4
Stanza Lengths 46, 41, 23, 12

Robert Browning

Robert Browning was the father of poet Robert Browning. more…

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