"Fra Lippo Lippi"
By Robert Browning

Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup by Students and Staff at the University of Virginia, Tonya Howe
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London : Chapman and Hall, 1855Both volumes of the first edition of Men and Women are available at Internet Archive. Page breaks for this edition follow those in the 1855 text.

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Browning, Robert. "Fra Lippo Lippi". Men and Women, Chapman and Hall, 1855 , pp 25-38 . Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. http://anthology.lib.virginia.edu/work/Browning/browning-fra-lippo-lippi. Accessed: 2024-04-18T00:59:01.678Z

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25 Fra Lippo Lippi 1I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave! 2You need not clap your torches to my face. 3Zooks, what's to blame? you think you see a monk! 4What, 'tis past midnight, and you go the rounds, 5And here you catch me at an alley's end 6Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar? 7The Carmine's my cloister: hunt it up, 8Do,--harry out, if you must show your zeal, 9Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole, 10And nip each softling of a wee white mouse, 11Weke, weke, that's crept to keep him company! 12Aha, you know your betters! Then, you'll take 36 13Your hand away that's fiddling on my throat, 14And please to know me likewise. Who am I? 15Why, one, sir, who is lodging with a friend 16Three streets off--he's a certain . . . how d'ye call? 17Master--a ...Cosimo of the Medici, 18I' the house that caps the corner. Boh! you were best! 19Remember and tell me, the day you're hanged, 20How you affected such a gullet's-gripe! 21But you, sir, it concerns you that your knaves 22Pick up a manner nor discredit you: 23Zooks, are we pilchards, that they sweep the streets 24And count fair price what comes into their net? 25He's Judas to a tittle, that man is! 26Just such a face! Why, sir, you make amends. 27Lord, I'm not angry! Bid your hang-dogs go 28Drink out this quarter-florin to the health 29Of the munificent House that harbours me 30(And many more beside, lads! more beside!) 31And all's come square again. I'd like his face-- 32His, elbowing on his comrade in the door 37 33With the pike and lantern,--for the slave that holds 34John Baptist's head a-dangle by the hair 35With one hand ("Look you, now," as who should say) 36And his weapon in the other, yet unwiped! 37It's not your chance to have a bit of chalk, 38A wood-coal or the like? or you should see! 39Yes, I'm the painter, since you style me so. 40What, brother Lippo's doings, up and down, 41You know them and they take you? like enough! 42I saw the proper twinkle in your eye-- 43'Tell you, I liked your looks at very first. 44Let's sit and set things straight now, hip to haunch. 45Here's spring come, and the nights one makes up bands 46To roam the town and sing out carnival, 47And I've been three weeks shut within my mew, 48A-painting for the great man, saints and saints 49And saints again. I could not paint all night-- 50Ouf! I leaned out of window for fresh air. 51There came a hurry of feet and little feet, 52A sweep of lute strings, laughs, and whifts of song, -- 38 53Flower o' the broom, 54Take away love, and our earth is a tomb! 55Flower o' the quince, 56I let Lisa go, and what good in life since? 57Flower o' the thyme--and so on. Round they went. 58Scarce had they turned the corner when a titter 59Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight,--three slim shapes, 60And a face that looked up . . . zooks, sir, flesh and blood, 61That's all I'm made of! Into shreds it went, 62Curtain and counterpane and coverlet, 63All the bed-furniture--a dozen knots, 64There was a ladder! Down I let myself, 65Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped, 66And after them. I came up with the fun 67Hard by Saint Laurence, hail fellow, well met,-- 68Flower o' the rose, 69If I've been merry, what matter who knows? 70And so as I was stealing back again 71To get to bed and have a bit of sleep 39 72Ere I rise up to-morrow and go work 73On Jerome knocking at his poor old breast 74With his great round stone to subdue the flesh, 75You snap me of the sudden. Ah, I see! 76Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head-- 77Mine's shaved--a monk, you say--the sting 's in that! 78If Master Cosimo announced himself, 79Mum's the word naturally; but a monk! 80Come, what am I a beast for? tell us, now! 81I was a baby when my mother died 82And father died and left me in the street. 83I starved there, God knows how, a year or two 84On fig-skins, melon-parings, rinds and shucks, 85Refuse and rubbish. One fine frosty day, 86My stomach being empty as your hat, 87The wind doubled me up and down I went. 88Old Aunt Lapaccia trussed me with one hand, 89(Its fellow was a stinger as I knew) 90And so along the wall, over the bridge, 91By the straight cut to the convent. Six words there, 40 92While I stood munching my first bread that month: 93"So, boy, you're minded," quoth the good fat father 94Wiping his own mouth, 'twas refection-time,-- 95"To quit this very miserable world? 96Will you renounce" . . . "the mouthful of bread?" thought I; 97By no means! Brief, they made a monk of me; 98I did renounce the world, its pride and greed, 99Palace, farm, villa, shop, and banking-house, 100Trash, such as these poor devils of Medici 101Have given their hearts to--all at eight years old. 102Well, sir, I found in time, you may be sure, 103'Twas not for nothing--the good bellyful, 104The warm serge and the rope that goes all round, 105And day-long blessed idleness beside! 106"Let's see what the urchin's fit for"--that came next. 107Not overmuch their way, I must confess. 108Such a to-do! They tried me with their books: 109Lord, they'd have taught me Latin in pure waste! 110Flower o' the clove. 41 111All the Latin I construe is, "amo" I love! 112But, mind you, when a boy starves in the streets 113Eight years together, as my fortune was, 114Watching folk's faces to know who will fling 115The bit of half-stripped grape-bunch he desires, 116And who will curse or kick him for his pains,-- 117Which gentleman processional and fine, 118Holding a candle to the Sacrament, 119Will wink and let him lift a plate and catch 120The droppings of the wax to sell again, 121Or holla for the Eight and have him whipped,-- 122How say I?--nay, which dog bites, which lets drop 123His bone from the heap of offal in the street,-- 124Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike, 125He learns the look of things, and none the less 126For admonition from the hunger-pinch. 127I had a store of such remarks, be sure, 128Which, after I found leisure, turned to use. 129I drew men's faces on my copy-books, 130Scrawled them within the antiphonary's marge, 42 131Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes, 132Found eyes and nose and chin for A's and B's, 133And made a string of pictures of the world 134Betwixt the ins and outs of verb and noun, 135On the wall, the bench, the door. The monks looked black. 136"Nay," quoth the Prior, "turn him out, d'ye say? 137In no wise. Lose a crow and catch a lark. 138What if at last we get our man of parts, 139We Carmelites, like those Camaldolese 140And Preaching Friars, to do our church up fine 141And put the front on it that ought to be!" 142And hereupon he bade me daub away. 143Thank you! my head being crammed, the walls a blank, 144Never was such prompt disemburdening. 145First, every sort of monk, the black and white, 146I drew them, fat and lean: then, folk at church, 147From good old gossips waiting to confess 43 148Their cribs of barrel-droppings, candle-ends,-- 149To the breathless fellow at the altar-foot, 150Fresh from his murder, safe and sitting there 151With the little children round him in a row 152Of admiration, half for his beard and half 153For that white anger of his victim's son 154Shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm, 155Signing himself with the other because of Christ 156(Whose sad face on the cross sees only this 157After the passion of a thousand years) 158Till some poor girl, her apron o'er her head, 159(Which the intense eyes looked through) came at eve 160On tiptoe, said a word, dropped in a loaf, 161Her pair of earrings and a bunch of flowers 162(The brute took growling), prayed, and so was gone. 163I painted all, then cried " `T#is ask and have; 164Choose, for more's ready!"--laid the ladder flat, 165And showed my covered bit of cloister-wall. 166The monks closed in a circle and praised loud 167Till checked, taught what to see and not to see, 168Being simple bodies,--"That's the very man! 44 169Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog! 170That woman's like the Prior's niece who comes 171To care about his asthma: it's the life!'' 172But there my triumph's straw-fire flared and funked; 173Their betters took their turn to see and say: 174The Prior and the learned pulled a face 175And stopped all that in no time. "How? what's here? 176Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all! 177Faces, arms, legs, and bodies like the true 178As much as pea and pea! it's devil's-game! 179Your business is not to catch men with show, 180With homage to the perishable clay, 181But lift them over it, ignore it all, 182Make them forget there's such a thing as flesh. 183Your business is to paint the souls of men-- 184Man's soul, and it's a fire, smoke . . . no, it's not . . . 185It's vapour done up like a new-born babe-- 186(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth) 187It's . . . well, what matters talking, it's the soul! 188Give us no more of body than shows soul! 189Here's Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God, 190That sets us praising--why not stop with him? 191Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head 192With wonder at lines, colours, and what not? 193Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms! 194Rub all out, try at it a second time. 195Oh, that white smallish female with the breasts, 196She's just my niece . . . Herodias, I would say,-- 46 197The Prior's niece . . . patron-saint--is it so pretty 198You can't discover if it means hope, fear, 199Sorrow or joy? won't beauty go with these? 200Suppose I've made her eyes all right and blue, 201Can't I take breath and try to add life's flash, 202And then add soul and heighten them three-fold? 203Or say there's beauty with no soul at all-- 204(I never saw it--put the case the same--) 205If you get simple beauty and nought else, 206You get about the best thing God invents: 207That's somewhat: and you'll find the soul you have missed, 208Within yourself, when you return him thanks. 209"Rub all out!" Well, well, there's my life, in short, 210And so the thing has gone on ever since. 211I'm grown a man no doubt, I've broken bounds: 212You should not take a fellow eight years old 213And make him swear to never kiss the girls. 214I'm my own master, paint now as I please-- 215Having a friend, you see, in the Corner-house! 216Lord, it's fast holding by the rings in front-- 217Those great rings serve more purposes than just 218To plant a flag in, or tie up a horse! 219And yet the old schooling sticks, the old grave eyes 220Are peeping o'er my shoulder as I work, 221The heads shake still--"It's art's decline, my son! 222You're not of the true painters, great and old; 223Brother Angelico's the man, you'll find; 224Brother Lorenzo stands his single peer: 225Fag on at flesh, you'll never make the third!" 226Flower o' the pine, 227You keep your mistr ... manners, and I'll stick to mine! 228I'm not the third, then: bless us, they must know! 229Don't you think they're the likeliest to know, 230They with their Latin? So, I swallow my rage, 231Clench my teeth, suck my lips in tight, and paint 232To please them--sometimes do and sometimes don't; 233For, doing most, there's pretty sure to come 234A turn, some warm eve finds me at my saints-- 235A laugh, a cry, the business of the world-- 236(Flower o' the peach 237Death for us all, and his own life for each!) 238And my whole soul revolves, the cup runs over, 239The world and life's too big to pass for a dream, 240And I do these wild things in sheer despite, 241And play the fooleries you catch me at, 242In pure rage! The old mill-horse, out at grass 243After hard years, throws up his stiff heels so, 244Although the miller does not preach to him 245The only good of grass is to make chaff. 246What would men have? Do they like grass or no-- 247May they or mayn't they? all I want's the thing 248Settled for ever one way. As it is, 249You tell too many lies and hurt yourself: 250You don't like what you only like too much, 251You do like what, if given you at your word, 252You find abundantly detestable. 253For me, I think I speak as I was taught; 254I always see the garden and God there 255A-making man's wife: and, my lesson learned, 256The value and significance of flesh, 257I can't unlearn ten minutes afterwards. 258You understand me: I'm a beast, I know. 259But see, now--why, I see as certainly 260As that the morning-star's about to shine, 261What will hap some day. We've a youngster here 262Comes to our convent, studies what I do, 263Slouches and stares and lets no atom drop: 264His name is Guidi--he'll not mind the monks-- 265They call him Hulking Tom, he lets them talk-- 266He picks my practice up--he'll paint apace. 267I hope so--though I never live so long, 268I know what's sure to follow. You be judge! 269You speak no Latin more than I, belike; 270However, you're my man, you've seen the world 271--The beauty and the wonder and the power, 272The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades, 273Changes, surprises,--and God made it all! 274--For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no, 275For this fair town's face, yonder river's line, 276The mountain round it and the sky above, 277Much more the figures of man, woman, child, 278These are the frame to? What's it all about? 279To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon, 280Wondered at? oh, this last of course!--you say. 281But why not do as well as say,--paint these 282Just as they are, careless what comes of it? 283God's works--paint any one, and count it crime 284To let a truth slip. Don't object, "His works 285Are here already; nature is complete: 286Suppose you reproduce her--(which you can't) 287There's no advantage! you must beat her, then." 288For, don't you mark? we're made so that we love 289First when we see them painted, things we have passed 290Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see; 291And so they are better, painted--better to us, 292Which is the same thing. Art was given for that; 293God uses us to help each other so, 294Lending our minds out. Have you noticed, now, 295Your cullion's hanging face? A bit of chalk, 296And trust me but you should, though! How much more, 297If I drew higher things with the same truth! 298That were to take the Prior's pulpit-place, 299Interpret God to all of you! Oh, oh, 300It makes me mad to see what men shall do 301And we in our graves! This world's no blot for us, 302Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good: 303To find its meaning is my meat and drink. 304"Ay, but you don't so instigate to prayer!" 305Strikes in the Prior: "when your meaning's plain 306It does not say to folk--remember matins, 307Or, mind you fast next Friday!" Why, for this 308What need of art at all? A skull and bones, 309Two bits of stick nailed crosswise, or, what's best, 310A bell to chime the hour with, does as well. 311I painted a Saint Laurence six months since 312At Prato, splashed the fresco in fine style: 313"How looks my painting, now the scaffold's down?" 314I ask a brother: "Hugely," he returns-- 315"Already not one phiz of your three slaves 316Who turn the Deacon off his toasted side, 317But's scratched and prodded to our heart's content, 318The pious people have so eased their own 319With coming to say prayers there in a rage: 320We get on fast to see the bricks beneath. 321Expect another job this time next year, 322For pity and religion grow i' the crowd-- 323Your painting serves its purpose!" Hang the fools! 324--That is--you'll not mistake an idle word 325Spoke in a huff by a poor monk, God wot, 326Tasting the air this spicy night which turns 327The unaccustomed head like Chianti wine! 328Oh, the church knows! don't misreport me, now! 329It's natural a poor monk out of bounds 330Should have his apt word to excuse himself: 331And hearken how I plot to make amends. 332I have bethought me: I shall paint a piece 333... There's for you! Give me six months, then go, see 334Something in Sant' Ambrogio's! Bless the nuns! 335They want a cast o' my office. I shall paint 336God in the midst, Madonna and her babe, 337Ringed by a bowery, flowery angel-brood, 338Lilies and vestments and white faces, sweet 339As puff on puff of grated orris-root 340When ladies crowd to Church at midsummer. 341And then i' the front, of course a saint or two-- 342Saint John' because he saves the Florentines, 343Saint Ambrose, who puts down in black and white 344The convent's friends and gives them a long day, 345And Job, I must have him there past mistake, 346The man of Uz (and Us without the z, 347Painters who need his patience). Well, all these 348Secured at their devotion, up shall come 349Out of a corner when you least expect, 350As one by a dark stair into a great light, 351Music and talking, who but Lippo! I!-- 352Mazed, motionless, and moonstruck--I'm the man! 353Back I shrink--what is this I see and hear? 354I, caught up with my monk's-things by mistake, 355My old serge gown and rope that goes all round, 356I, in this presence, this pure company! 357Where's a hole, where's a corner for escape? 358Then steps a sweet angelic slip of a thing 359Forward, puts out a soft palm--"Not so fast!" 360--Addresses the celestial presence, "nay-- 361He made you and devised you, after all, 362Though he's none of you! Could Saint John there draw-- 363His camel-hair make up a painting brush? 364We come to brother Lippo for all that, 365Iste perfecit opus! So, all smile-- 366I shuffle sideways with my blushing face 367Under the cover of a hundred wings 368Thrown like a spread of kirtles when you're gay 369And play hot cockles, all the doors being shut, 370Till, wholly unexpected, in there pops 371The hothead husband! Thus I scuttle off 372To some safe bench behind, not letting go 373The palm of her, the little lily thing 374That spoke the good word for me in the nick, 375Like the Prior's niece . . . Saint Lucy, I would say. 376And so all's saved for me, and for the church 377A pretty picture gained. Go, six months hence! 378Your hand, sir, and good-bye: no lights, no lights! 379The street's hushed, and I know my own way back, 380Don't fear me! There's the grey beginning. Zooks!