Special Contributor


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 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 lessened 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 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!



The poem under analysis is titled ‘To My Last Duchess’ and written by Robert Browning. The setting of the poem is 16th Century Ferrara, Italy. It is actually based on real events surrounding Alfonso, who was then Duke of Ferrara. At the opening of the poem we are introduced to the Duke of Ferrara, who invited his friends to a Banquet in his Mansion of a house. He was downstairs with the party but then he takes some of his important friends who had come from afar, and was taking them around his house. He takes them to his inner chamber upstairs and as they enter a particular room they behold a portrait on the wall. It is the portrait of a very beautiful woman. And the Duke says to his friends ‘That’s my last duchess painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive.’ ‘My last duchess’ here means the duchess in question is now late. In lines 2-3 he acknowledges the artist that did the painting. You know back then there were no cameras, one would sit down and an artist would take his time to draw and paint. The Duke called the portrait of his late wife a wonder. Fra Pandolf the painter was very popular in his days. The duke went on to encourage his friends to sit down and look at the painting of his last duchess. The duke commended the Artist for being able to capture the woman’s smile in the painting, as she was really smiling that day as she was being painted. But he quickly added that it was difficult to tell if it was his (duke) presence in the room that kept her blushing or it was the compliments the painter was giving her while painting. And that also reminded the Duke of his trouble with her as he painted it to his friends in lines 21-24. ‘She had a heart – how shall I say? – too soon made glad, Too easily impressed; she liked whatever she looked on’ The duke here is saying his late wife was very easy to impress and she liked anything she saw, that’s why he suspected she was actually blushing to Fra Pandolf’s compliments and not his (duke) presence in the room. Duke agreed that whenever he complimented her she blushed, however he also lamented the fact that she also blushed to every other person’s compliments, hence it appeared she rated him equal with every other person. At this point we can already smell a feeling of strong jealousy in the Duke. The duke would rather prefer that she only blushes at his compliments. She even appreciates nature like ‘the dropping of the daylight in the test’ (line 26), ‘the bough of cherries some officious fool, broke in the orchard for her, the white mule she rode with round the terrace… (27-29), all and each would draw from her the approving speech, or blush at least (29-31), ‘. And even when she appreciates nature it hurts the duke. The duke is jealous of his wife perhaps out of love or whatever and wish to have her all to himself. He hates the fact that she easily gets pleased by others. He is also angry that she rates his own compliments like those of everyone else. In lines 34-35 he admitted that what he complains about is just a small matter (trifling) that it will be surprising when he says it out to her. He goes on to agree that if he were good at speech he would just tell her plainly and explains himself to her, those things he doesn’t like and those he likes, perhaps she would understand and change. But then he also told his friends that he was not good at speech and secondly he cannot stoop so low, for that would be degrading of the Duke of Ferrara. So he refused to tell her his feelings and displeasure because he doesn’t want to stoop so low. Hence he continued to die in his silence and jealousy. In lines 43-45 he admitted that when he pass by her she would smile and say ‘oh Sir’ yet he was quick to mention that every other man who pass by her also gets as much the same smile from her. This grew (line 45) I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together (45-47). What these lines represent is that when he could bear it no longer, he commanded his soldiers to murder his wife, they did (at his command) and all smiles ended; i.e. she can’t smile anymore, whether to him or anyone. He couldn’t bear the rage of jealousy within him and didn’t want to stoop low to tell his wife not to smile at other people, hence he murdered her and let everything end once and for all. Once again he pointed to the wall and said to his friends, ‘There she stands as if she were alive’ He went on to tell his friends to arise (remember he earlier told them to sit to admire her). He now tells them to rise so they can go downstairs and join the rest of the party. Just on their way downstairs he acknowledges his late wife’s powerful family from where he married her but also mentions that all marriage rites were fulfilled before he took her away.

The poem poses the following themes:

  1. Theme of Jealousy and Possessiveness
  2. Theme of Power Drunkenness
  3. Theme of Appreciation: this is seen in the character of the duchess who appreciates every little compliments and also the beauty and harmony of nature.
  4. Theme of placing less value on human life: The duke talked about his murder of his late wife without any remorse.

On Structure the poem is a dramatic Monologue because there’s just one lone speaker, although there are other characters present who makes no contribution. One lengthy stanza of 56 lines with end rhyme of aa bb cc dd … Tone is authoritative and non-chalance, Mood is disgust (at the duke’s attitude) and pity (for the deceased). Diction is simple and deductive. There is use of enjambment, where a sentence continues from a line into the next. Also caesura where a sentence ends in the middle of an line and another sentence begins from there, e.g. (line 12). Simile occurs in lines 2 and 47. Synecdoche is employed in lines 3-4 where Fra Pandolf’s hands were used to refer to Fra Pandolf himself.



OgheneroEzaza was born in Warri, Nigeria. He has written and published a collection of poems titled: Reflections. His poems has also featured in numerous anthologies e.g. Who Shall I Make My Wife?, Black Communion, Wushapa: Beating The Drums of Peace.

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