Study Guide

Fra Lippo Lippi Section 1, Lines 1-44

By Robert Browning

Section 1, Lines 1-44

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what's to blame? you think you see a monk!
What, 'tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,
And here you catch me at an alley's end
Where
sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?
The
Carmine's my cloister: hunt it up,
Do,—
harry out, if you must show your zeal,
Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole,
And nip each
softling of a wee white mouse,
Weke, weke, that's crept to keep him company!
Aha, you know your betters! Then, you'll take
Your hand away that's fiddling on my throat,
And please to know me likewise. Who am I?
Why, one, sir, who is lodging with a friend
Three streets off—he's a certain . . . how d'ye call?
Master—a ...
Cosimo of the Medici,
I' the house that caps the corner. Boh! you were best!
Remember and tell me, the day you're hanged,
How you affected such a gullet's-gripe!
But you, sir, it concerns you that your knaves
Pick up a manner nor discredit you:
Zooks, are we
pilchards, that they sweep the streets
And count fair price what comes into their net?
He's Judas
to a tittle, that man is!
Just such a face! Why, sir, you make amends.
Lord, I'm not angry! Bid your
hang-dogs go
Drink out this quarter-florin to the health
Of the munificent House that harbours me
(And many more beside, lads! more beside!)
And all's come square again. I'd like his face—
His, elbowing on his comrade in the door
With the pike and lantern,—for the slave that holds
John Baptist's head a-dangle by the hairWith one hand ("Look you, now," as who should say)And his weapon in the other, yet unwiped!
It's not your chance to have a bit of chalk,
A wood-coal or the like? or you should see!
Yes, I'm the painter, since you style me so.
What, brother Lippo's doings, up and down,
You know them and they take you? like enough!
I saw the proper twinkle in your eye—
'Tell you, I liked your looks at very first.
Let's sit and set things straight now, hip to haunch.

  • Thanks so much for the context, Browning—not. We drop into this poem like a bungee jumper into a canyon. We do know that our speaker's name is "poor brother Lippo," but that's pretty much all we have. No worries, though—getting readers in medias res is totally Browning's thing.
  • This poem is a dramatic monologue, which means you have to imagine the whole thing in quotation marks. Brother Lippo never drops the mic, though. It's through the stuff he says that we have to figure out what's actually happening in the poem. No one else gets to speak, but their questions are implied by responses like, "Who am I?" And their actions are implied by Lippo's real-time observation. "Take your hand away that's fiddling on my throat" (13-14), for instance, means that these guards are being kinda rough with him.
  • We learn that Lippo is a monk at the local Carmine monastery, but instead of holing up for the night with a bit of scripture and a cup of hot milk, he's been hitting a sketchy area of the town and visiting the "sportive ladies" (yes—probably ladies of the evening, to put it politely) till the wee hours. Unfortunately, he's just been detained by a group of guardsmen and is trying to sweet-talk his way out of a tough situation.
  • He doesn't have an alibi for his night-time fun times, so instead Lippo relies on his monk-ness ("Hey, I'm a good guy, just ask round at my cloister!") and his higher social standing to keep himself out of hot water. "Aha, you know your betters!" (12) he says to the cops once they've lit his face up with the torch. Plus, he's been staying with Cosimo Medici (head on over to the "Shout Outs" section for more info), a seriously high-end dude who ordered a lot of art from the real-life Lippo.
  • Of course, no one likes being nabbed by the police and Lippo is no exception. He calls these cops "knaves," "hang-dogs," and even "Judas" (21, 25, 27). Like those fishermen that trawl around for shrimp but end up catching a whole lotta other stuff like dolphins and sea turtles, these guys have swept the streets for baddies but landed an innocent monk as well. Lippo's no "pilchard" (a type of gross fish) to be caught at their whim.
  • This metaphor means that he's seriously unhappy.
  • And yet he totes claims that he's not angry at all. He even offers to buy the dudes a drink if they ever come by his monastery. But he still sounds pretty ticked off when he describes how he'd like to paint one of them as a murderous slave, dangling John the Baptist's head in one hand and a bloody sword in the other. Yeah—that's pretty harsh.
  • Still, since there's no chalk handy, this vision has to go unpainted. Even without chalk, though, one of the cops seems to recognize Lippo as the famous painter. Lippo immediately turns the full-beam of charm on him, invites him to sit down easy-like, and starts to tell him his life story.
  • "You can't know exactly why I happen to be out past the city curfew in suspicious circumstances until you know about my first birthday party and fifth-grade dance," is kind of the argument.
  • One more point about the form here, before we move on. Notice any rhyming? Nope, neither do we. This is written in a form called blank verse, which really means that it's unrhymed iambic pentameter. For more on what all that means, head on over to "Form and Meter."

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