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The Italian In England

Written by: Robert Browning | Biography
 | Quotes (91) |
 That second time they hunted me
From hill to plain, from shore to sea,
And Austria, hounding far and wide
Her blood-hounds through the countryside,
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 throuoh 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 come 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 Tenebrae 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 daughter of our land!" Three mornings more, she took her stand In the same place, with the same eyes: I was no surer of sunrise Than 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 seashore; 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, nothing could convince My inmost heart I had 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 distil In blood through these two hands; and next, —Nor much for that am I perplexed— Charles, perjured traitor, for his part, Should die slow of a broken heart Under his new employers; last —Ah, there, what should I wish? For fast Do I grow old and out of strength.
— If I resolved to seek at length My father's house again, how scared They all would look, and unprepared! My brothers live in Austria's pay —Disowned me long ago, men say; And all my early mates who used To praise me so—perhaps induced More than one early step of mine— Are turning wise; while some opine "Freedom grows License," some suspect "Haste breeds Delay," and recollect They always said, such premature Beginnings never could endure! So, with a sullen "All's for best," The land seems settling to its rest.
I think, then, I should wish to stand This evening in that dear, lost land, Over the sea the thousand miles, And know if yet that woman smiles With the calm smile; some little farm She lives in there, no doubt; what harm If I sate on the door-side bench, And, while her spindle made a trench Fantastically in the dust, Inquired of all her fortunes—just Her children's ages and their names, And what may be the husband's aims For each of them—I'd talk this out, And sit there, for and hour about, Then kiss her hand once more, and lay Mine on her head, and go my way.
So much for idle wishing—how It steals the time! To business now.



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