Dec 9, 2008

My Last Duchess - a poem by Robert Browning

(Figure 1: Picture of Robert Browning, embed from

This is the poem that come out in English 3U final exam. We never learned this poem before, and in 30 minutes allocated for the poem (15 minutes left for me), we have to understand all the contents. Most of us leaves blanks as the answers. How about you if given this questions? Try to understand.

My Last Duchess - a poem 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: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà 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
Frà 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 favor 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 an 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 make 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 pretense
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!

Some questions: Explain the characters of the Duke and the Duchess and gives evidence from the text. Identify three literary devices used in the poem and defines.

If you don't understand even a single piece of the poem, don't worry. I think the same. If you feel bored looking at the stuff, the same goes to me.

Tips: One of the central techniques of modern literature is the “unreliable narrator.” We saw this technique earlier in the semester in the short story “The Tell Tale Heart,” where the narrator was in fact an insane killer. The first writer to use this technique was Robert Browning in his pivotal poem “The Last Duchess.” The Duke, who is the narrator of the ‘story’ seems at first to be such a nice man. But as the story unfolds we begin to see that he is in fact a control freak that will not allow his wife out of his sight, is jealous of the simplest act of kindness offered her, and eventually has her killed in cold blood. It was a challenging poem, to be sure, and required an understanding not only of English, but of human motivation.

-Mr Wise


  1. here is some addition to the real exam question

    what is the present that the Duke give to the Duchess

  2. huhu..yg soklan ni aku merapu jerk...bagi tu la ni la...mengarut...

  3. To all kisasian, this is a very interesting post (also news):


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