Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favor 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.
- The Duke elaborates further on the Duchess's tendency to see every pleasant thing as pretty much the same.
- If he gives her a "favor" or mark of his esteem that she can wear, such as a corsage or piece of jewelry, she thanks him for it in the same way that she approves of a pretty sunset, a branch of cherries, or her white mule.
- At first the Duke suggests that she speaks of all these things equally, but then he changes his claim and admits that sometimes she doesn’t say anything and just blushes in that special way.
- And maybe she’s a little promiscuous – either in reality, or (more likely) in the Duke’s imagination.
- Part of the problem is not just that she likes boughs of cherries – it’s that some "officious fool" (27) brings them to her.
- (An "officious" person is someone who pokes their nose in and starts doing things when they’re not wanted – somebody self-important who thinks they’re the best person to do something, even when everyone else wishes they would just butt out.)
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.
- The Duke claims that, although it’s all well and good to thank people for doing things for you, the way the Duchess thanked people seemed to imply that she thought the little favors they did her were just as important as what the Duke himself did for her.
- After all, the Duke gave her his "nine-hundred-years-old name" (33) – a connection to a longstanding aristocratic family with power and prestige.
- The Duke’s family has been around for nearly a thousand years running things in Ferrara, and he thinks this makes him superior to the Duchess, who doesn’t have the same heritage.
- He thinks the Duchess ought to value the social elevation of her marriage over the simple pleasures of life.
Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling?
- The Duke asks his listener a rhetorical question: who would actually lower himself and bother to have an argument with the Duchess about her indiscriminate behavior?
- He thinks the answer is "nobody."
- We don’t think that there is much open and honest communication in this relationship!