"All Service Ranks The Same With God"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Pippa Passes is the first of a series of little pamphlets which Browning called Bells and Pomegranates. It did not achieve immediate recognition; a previous poem, Sordello, had done him considerable harm because of its obscurity, and some time elapsed before Pippa Passes began to receive the attention it deserved. It eventually became one of Browning's most popular poems. This story of an innocent little girl and her love of life reflects one of his basic beliefs–that life and intensity are the same thing and that they are good. His religious conviction was that the right would always triumph in the end, and that the Divine love he found manifested through nature and intellect could have no other effect. To Browning, love is not a passion dedicated to human perfection; it is instead a Divine tolerance of imperfect humanity. Pippa is unaware that she is an instrument of Divine love and justice–she is just a child who loves life and sings because of it. All the same, when she passes by and people hear her song, their lives are affected dramatically. A very poor child, she works the year round at a silk mill in Asolo, Italy. On her one holiday, New Year's day, she goes about the town to see the homes of four people she admires and considers the happiest in the city. In the first house she passes, an adulterer and murderer hears her song, is conscience-stricken, and expiates his crime with poison; in the second, a sculptor enmeshed in the world's complexities receives new inspiration and resolves to go elsewhere rather than kill a man; in the third house, an unstable youth duped by others musters his courage and goes forth to destroy an evil at its source. Pippa passes the fourth house in time to prevent an evil man from selling a child into prostitution–and the child she saves is herself. Pippa returns home unaware that she has influenced anyone; she is content with her lot and not envious, but she has enjoyed imagining herself in the places of these high and happy people. Regretting that her holiday is over, she prepares to sleep:

Now, one thing I should like to really know:
How near I ever might approach all these
I only fancied being, this long day:
–Approach, I mean, so as to touch them, so
As to . . . in some way . . . move them–if you please,
Do good or evil to them some slight way.
For instance, if I wind
Silk tomorrow, my silk may bind
[Sitting on the bedside.]
And border Ottima's cloak's hem.
Ah me, and my important part with them,
This morning's hymn half promised when I rose!
True in some sense or other, I suppose.
[As she lies down.]
God bless me! I can pray no more tonight.
No doubt, some way or other, hymns say right.
All service ranks the same with God–
With God, whose puppets, best and worst,
Are we; there is no last nor first.
[She sleeps.]