A Response to Browning’s Ferrara

by Emily Elizabeth Allen

Why does my beloved husband look upon me so? Why does he look upon me with malice in his eyes? Have I not always been good and kind and above all else faithful? We have been together in marriage but three years, yet only together in this house for one. All this time I feel he wishes we were apart again. My beloved Duke follows me through the great house, searching for something. I can see him, watching me from the windows as the stable boy takes me on my rounds. How I love the warm Ferrara sun and fresh air! The soft fur of my horse, though my love should degrade him by saying he is a mule to spite me, feels of the soft grass of my Florence home. I miss it so, for while my beloved husband served against France I was allowed to stay there. What else would have been expected of a newlywed bride of only thirteen? Precious Alfonso has twelve years of wisdom more than I do; therefore, I trust his judgment in the matter.

Now I must be the lady of these great grounds and I must serve my husband well. My mother, that great lady, has taught me always to be kind and gentle, especially to those beneath me. That is not hard, for I recall when Fra Pandolf came from the church to paint my portrait. Such a kind man he was, that it was not at all hard to show him kindness in return. He was ever so sweet to tell me how beautiful I was. My husband thought it necessary, though, to stay with me while I was painted. I was so hoping to surprise him with the painting, but he would not have it. I love how much he adores me and always must be in close proximity. Fra Pandolf was so very agreeable as well. He noted how my neck was flushed from delight at my husband’s presence. He also asked that I roll up my sleeve cuff. Scandalous! But it was to go in my beloved’s chambers, so I saw no harm. It was very natural to be at ease around him. Very much like the young stable boy, Paolo. He always asks to escort me around the grounds when I ride. Such a nice boy! My husband is always there to watch over me too. I feel so safe in his presence and therefore always feel secure.

But, alas! The last few weeks have been torturing for me! My food will not stay in my stomach, nor will the flesh stay on my body. At first, I thought I was with child, but the maids knew otherwise when blood ran from my nose. So much blood! Alfonso would walk past and see my torments and sit with me a while, at least in the beginning. Now he only walks by my door while I lay in bed, or past me in the garden when I venture out for air. I smile the prettiest I can in hopes that he will hold me, but he merely sneers and walks away. What could I have done to displease my lord so? He no longer talks to me or tells me of his pride that I am his wife. My happiness wanes when he is near, and my illness grows. It has become harder to breathe and my handmaidens have started to taste my food and drink before I take it, although I know not why. They are ever so sweet to me! Even in my illness, I try to be happy for my duke. I try to keep my pleasant countenance even if only around my beloved.

But now that these few weeks have passed, I do not feel the need to be happy or pleasant. My dear mother has sent down our family apothecary to see to me and he has told me the most distressing news. It seems my sickness is not caused by my new home, nor by the moist air – he tells me that I have been dealt with most maliciously. That there has been poison in my food! My mind goes to different faces, names, and families – all except one. I refuse to believe what the others tell me. My beloved duke could never have done this to me no matter how much my apothecary, nor my mother, nor even my maids insist that it is. He could never betray me, for I have never been anything but good and dutiful to him. I suppose his displeasure at me before was actually at my helpless state, for he has changed back to his caring self. Indeed, he must still love me as much I do him, for now, he brings my meals himself. How loyal and doting he is! But my body is dying faster than I can show my appreciation. I fear I shall die before I may bring his children into this world for him to love, as he has loved me in both my happiness and in my despair. My hope now is only to live long enough to thank him. Even now I sit in his chambers, even upon his bed, and look at the beautiful portrait that Fra Pandolf made of me. Such an amiable man. But I know now that I shall die, and it shall be in my beloved’s bed. Even his precious love cannot save me.

I say goodbye to this world and to the beauty it holds, but I pray a pox on the hand that has dealt so heinously with me, for I have lived my short sixteen years trying to hold up my family’s name even to that of my husband’s long and illustrious house. I hope that I have done enough to make them proud. I hope I have done enough to make my husband love me, even after my death. For I shall always love him and do now leave this small reminder of it. Fra Pandolf did wonders with the portrait, but he could not capture my truest feelings for my beloved husband, the Duke.

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