The Flight Of The Duchess "When The Liquor's Out, Why Clink The Cannikin?"

Robert Browning

"When The Liquor's Out, Why Clink The Cannikin?"

Context: Many of Browning's memorable characters live through the vitriolic intensity of their hate–characters to whom he gave life with astonishing passion such as the monk who detests Brother Lawrence in "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" or the Duke of Ferrara in "My Last Duchess." Another such character is the duke in "The Flight of the Duchess," who–weaned on pride and ostentation and controlled by his mother–rules with the hauteur of a lord of the Middle Ages. "'Twas not for the joy's self, but the joy of his showing it,/ Nor for the pride's self, but the pride of our seeing it." For the sake of custom he takes a wife, a frail and beautiful creature destined to be, not loved, but on display. The poetic narrative, related by an aged huntsman thirty years after the event, describes the mysterious manner in which the duchess escapes from her tyrannical husband. While the duke rides with a hunting party which she has refused to join, he sends to her a gipsy witch to terrify her by telling her fortune in ominous guise. The gipsy, instead, takes pity on the disconsolate lady and bewitches her attendants so that the two of them might escape from the castle. The duke and his mother are furious, of course, but, as the old huntsman says, once a deed is done, it cannot be recalled:

When the liquor's out why clink the cannikin?
I did think to describe you the panic in
The redoubtable breast of our master the mannikin,
And what was the pitch of his mother's yellowness,
How she turned as a shark to snap the spare-rib
Clean off, sailors say, from a pearl-diving Carib,
When she heard, what she called the flight of the feloness
–But it seems such child's play,
What they said and did with the lady away!
And to dance on, when we've lost the music,
Always made me–and no doubt makes you–sick.