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A poem by Robert Browning

Up At A Villa--Down In The City

Title:     Up At A Villa--Down In The City
Author: Robert Browning [More Titles by Browning]

(As distinguished by an Italian person of quality.)

Had I but plenty of money, money enough and to spare,
The house for me, no doubt, were a house in the city square;
Ah, such a life, such a life, as one leads at the window there!
Something to see, by Bacchus deg., something to hear, at least! 4
There, the whole day long, one's life is a perfect feast;
While up at a villa one lives, I maintain it, no more than a beast.

Well now, look at our villa! stuck like the horn of a bull
Just on a mountain edge as bare as the creature's skull,
Save a mere shag of a bush with hardly a leaf to pull!
--I scratch my own, sometimes, to see if the hair's turned wool. 10

But the city, oh the city--the square with the houses! Why?
They are stone-faced, white as a curd, there's something to take
the eye!
Houses in four straight lines, not a single front awry;
You watch who crosses and gossips, who saunters, who hurries by;
Green blinds, as a matter of course, to draw when the sun gets high;
And the shops with fanciful signs which are painted properly.

What of a villa? Tho' winter be over in March, by rights,
'Tis May perhaps ere the snow shall have withered well off the heights:
You've the brown ploughed land before, where the oxen steam and wheeze,
And the hills over-smoked behind by the faint gray olive trees. 20

Is it better in May, I ask you? You've summer all at once;
In a day he leaps complete with a few strong April suns,
'Mid the sharp short emerald wheat, scarce risen three fingers well,
The wild tulip, at end of its tube, blows out its great red bell
Like a thin clear bubble of blood, for the children to pick and sell.

Is it ever hot in the square? There's a fountain to spout and splash!
In the shade it sings and springs; in the shine such foam-bows flash
On the horses with curling fish-tails, that prance and paddle and pash
Round the lady atop in her conch--fifty gazers do not abash,
Tho' all that she wears is some weeds round her waist in
a sort of sash. 30

All the year long at the villa, nothing to see though you linger,
Except yon cypress that points like death's lean lifted forefinger.
Some think fireflies pretty, when they mix i' the corn and mingle,
Or thrid the stinking hemp till the stalks of it seem a-tingle.
Late August or early September, the stunning cicala is shrill,
And the bees keep their tiresome whine round the resinous firs on
the hill.
Enough of the seasons,--I spare you the months of the fever and chill.

Ere you open your eyes in the city, the blessed church-bells begin:
No sooner the bells leave off than the diligence rattles in:
You get the pick of the news, and it costs you never a pin. 40
By and by there's the travelling doctor gives pills, lets blood,
draws teeth;
Or the Pulcinello deg.-trumpet breaks up the market beneath. 42
At the post-office such a scene-picture--the new play, piping hot!
And a notice how, only this morning, three liberal thieves were shot.
Above it, behold the Archbishop's most fatherly of rebukes,
And beneath, with his crown and his lion, some little new law of
the Duke's!
Or a sonnet with flowery marge, to the Reverend Don So-and-so,
Who is Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca, St. Jerome and Cicero, 48
"And moreover" (the sonnet goes rhyming), "the skirts of St. Paul has
reached, 49
Having preached us those six Lent-lectures more unctuous than ever he
preached." 50
Noon strikes,--here sweeps the procession! our Lady deg. borne
smiling and smart. 51
With a pink gauze gown all spangles, and seven swords deg. stuck
in her heart! 52
_Bang-whang-whang_ goes the drum, _tootle-te-tootle_ the fife;
No keeping one's haunches still: it's the greatest pleasure in life.

But bless you, it's dear--it's dear! fowls, wine, at double the rate.
They have clapped a new tax upon salt, and what oil pays passing
the gate
It's a horror to think of. And so, the villa for me, not the city!
Beggars can scarcely be choosers: but still--ah, the pity, the pity!
Look, two and two go the priests, then the monks with cowls
and sandals,
And the penitents dressed in white shirts, a-holding the
yellow candles; 60
One, he carries a flag up straight, and another a cross with handles,
And the Duke's guard brings up the rear, for the better prevention
of scandals:
_Bang-whang-whang_ goes the drum, _tootle-te-tootle_ the fife.
Oh, a day in the city square, there is no such pleasure in life!


4. =Bacchus=. The Roman god of wine, frequently invoked in the garnishment of Latin and Italian speech.

42. =Pulcinello= is the Italian for clown or puppet, and the prototype of the English Punch.

48, =Dante=, =Boccaccio=, and =Petrarch=. Italy's first three great authors. See a biographical dictionary or encyclopaedia for their dates and their works.

=St. Jerome= (340-420.) One of the fathers of the Roman, church. He prepared the Latin translation of the Bible known as the _Vulgate_.

48. =the skirts of St. Paul has reached=. Has done almost as well as St. Paul.

51. =Our Lady=. The image of the Virgin Mary. Observe our hero's taste and his religions solemnity.

52. =seven swords=, etc. Representing the seven "legendary sorrows" of the Virgin. See Berdoe's _Browning Cyclopaedia_, or Brewer's _Reader's Handbook_, or _Dictionary of Phrase and Fable_ for the list.

UP AT A VILLA is one of the best humorous poems in the language. The hero's desires and sorrows are so _naive_, his tastes so gravely held, that he provokes our sympathy as well as our laughter. One of the charms of the poem is the way in which he is made to testify, in spite of himself, to the beauties of the country (as in lines 7-9, 19-20, 22-25, 32-33, 36) and to the monotony or clanging emptiness of the city (as in lines 12-14, 38-54). Compare lines 8 and 82 with the picture in _De Gustibus_.

[The end]
Robert Browning's poem: Up At A Villa--Down In The City