Here's spring come, and the nights one makes up bands To roam the town and sing out carnival, And I've been three weeks shut within my mew, A-painting for the great man, saints and saints And saints again. I could not paint all night— Ouf! I leaned out of window for fresh air. There came a hurry of feet and little feet, A sweep of lute strings, laughs, and whifts of song, —Flower o' the broom, Take away love, and our earth is a tomb! Flower o' the quince, I let Lisa go, and what good in life since? Flower o' the thyme—and so on. Round they went. Scarce had they turned the corner when a titter Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight,—three slim shapes, And a face that looked up . . . zooks, sir, flesh and blood, That's all I'm made of! Into shreds it went, Curtain and counterpane and coverlet, All the bed-furniture—a dozen knots, There was a ladder! Down I let myself, Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped, And after them. I came up with the fun Hard by Saint Laurence, hail fellow, well met,—Flower o' the rose, If I've been merry, what matter who knows? And so as I was stealing back again To get to bed and have a bit of sleep Ere I rise up to-morrow and go work On Jerome knocking at his poor old breastWith his great round stone to subdue the flesh, You snap me of the sudden. Ah, I see! Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head— Mine's shaved—a monk, you say—the sting's in that! If Master Cosimo announced himself, Mum's the word naturally; but a monk! Come, what am I a beast for? tell us, now!
It's springtime, the good monk points out. And what's usually associated with springtime? Try birds chirping, bees buzzing, and animals pairing up for mating. And don't forget about carnival, the raucous party season preceding Lent. During this time, Lippo points out, merry bands of people group together and roam the streets Bourbon Street style.
One evening, when Lippo had been cloistered up in his room for three weeks painting boring old saints (and saints… and saints—check out the repetition in lines 48-49 that Browning uses to replicate a feeling of serious tedium), he sticks his head out the window to get some fresh air, and hears the revelers down below playing lutes and belting out the medieval Italian equivalent of pop music.
One particular face that looks up at him... and, well, zooks! What in the world does "zooks" mean, you ask? Lippo has been using it an awful lot. This is short for "gadzooks," a mild exclamation of the time—kind of like a mild curse word. It comes from "God's hooks," meaning the nails that held Jesus to the cross. So, this is sort of like saying "Gosh darn it!" It's one example of Browning's colloquial style, his attempt to recreate the everyday speech patterns that would have been the norm of the time.
Anyway: zooks! It must be some hottie down there that attracts the good monk. He's just flesh and blood, after all—not made of steel. So, naturally, he shreds all available cloth in the room and makes a ladder to climb down out of his window to join in the fun. Browning uses some consonance here, repeating the S sound: "Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped" (65). Read it aloud and you'll see how the whispering sound of the S lends a sort of secretive sound to the line, emphasizing how Lippo attempts to make a clean getaway. Check out "Sound Check" for more on this poem's sounds.
Lippo follows the merry band of party people and joins in the festivities near the Saint Laurence, the church where the Medicis are buried. It would seem the monk is welcomed with open arms, since he's greeted with "Hail fellow, well met!"
It's just too bad that Lippo is caught by this guardsman and his sidekicks on his way back to the cloister. He's not looking forward to painting boring old St. Jerome (the "Shout Outs" section is your friend here).
Even though the head honcho guard seems to be in a good mood (his eyes are "twinkling"), he's kind of shaking his head that a monk could get up to such goings on. That's something they're definitely not supposed to do, since they've taken vows of chastity and obedience (both of which the good Fra seems to have broken on this night).
"Don't get all Judgy McJudgerson on me," Lippo appears to say to the guard. Plus, if Cosimo Medici happens to come on the scene right now, he'll thank the kindly guardsman to keep his gob shut.
Besides: why is Lippo a beast if he can't be allowed to let his inner animal come out and play sometimes?