Rudel To The Lady Of Tripoli by Robert Browning

1842

I

I know a Mount, the gracious Sun perceives
First, when he visits, last, too, when he leaves
The world; and, vainly favored, it repays
The day-long glory of his steadfast gaze
By no change of its large calm front of snow.
And underneath the Mount, a Flower I know,
He cannot have perceived, that changes ever
At his approach; and, in the lost endeavor
To live his life, has parted, one by one,
With all a flower’s true graces, for the grace
Of being but a foolish mimic sun,
With ray-like florets round a disk-like face.
Men nobly call by many a name the Mount
As over many a land of theirs its large
Calm front of snow like a triumphal targe
Is reared, and still with old names, fresh names vie,
Each to its proper praise and own account:
Men call the Flower, the Sunflower, sportively.

II

Oh, Angel of the East, one, one gold look
Across the waters to this twilight nook,
–The far sad waters. Angel, to this nook!

III

Dear Pilgrim, art thou for the East indeed?
Go!–saying ever as thou dost proceed,
That I, French Rudel, choose for my device
A sunflower outspread like a sacrifice
Before its idol. See! These inexpert
And hurried fingers could not fail to hurt
The woven picture; ‘t is a woman’s skill
Indeed; but nothing baffled me, so, ill
Or well, the work is finished. Say, men feed
On songs I sing, and therefore bask the bees
On my flower’s breast as on a platform broad:
But, as the flower’s concern is not for these
But solely for the sun, so men applaud
In vain this Rudel, he not looking here
But to the East–the East! Go, say this, Pilgrim dear!

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NOTES

“Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli”: Rudel symbolizes his love as the aspiration of the sunflower that longs only to become like the sun, so losing a flower’s true grace, while the sun does not even perceive the flower. He imagines himself as a pilgrim revealing to the Lady of Tripoli by means of this symbol the entire sinking of self in his love for her. Even men’s praise of his songs is no more to him than the bees which bask on a sunflower are to it.

Rudel was a Provencal troubadour, and lived in the twelfth century. The Crusaders, returning from the East, spread abroad wonderful reports of the beauty, learning, and wit of the Countess of Tripoli, a small duchy on the Mediterranean, north of Palestine. Rudel, although never having seen her, fell in love with her and composed songs in honor of her beauty, and finally set out to the East in pilgrim’s garb. On his way he was taken ill, but lived to reach the port of Tripoli. The countess, being told of his arrival, went on board the vessel. When Rudel heard she was coming, he revived, said she had restored him to life by her coming, and that he was willing to die, having seen her. He died in her arms; she gave him a rich and honorable burial in a sepulchre of porphyry on which were engraved verses in Arabic.

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