South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best."
Robert Browning (7 May 1812 – 12 December 1889) is one of the best-known and best-regarded poets from Victorian Britain. He is known for his dramatic monologues and incorporating irony and social commentary.
Browning was born in Camberswell, England, the child of a family of well-to-do abolitionists. His father had a library of some 6,000 books that influenced Robert's literary development. At the age of 12, he wrote his first collection of poetry, which he later destroyed. His parents were technically gentlefolk, who had inherited much land in slave plantations in the West Indies, but his father worked as a clerk rather than profit from slavery. Browning followed his parents' noble example by living at home and staying completely dependent on them until he was thirty-four. "Pauline, a fragment of a confession" was self-published (paid for by his aunt) in 1833. Paracelsus, about the 16th-century scientist, was published in 1835, and was his first work to gain notice in the London literary scene.
In 1844 Robert Browning wrote a fan letter to Elizabeth Barrett, who at the time was a much better-known poet than he was. A mutual friend introduced them in 1845, and a romantic courtship followed, complete with forbidding father and clandestine elopement. Barrett's most famous work, Sonnets from the Portuguese, and its very famous Sonnet 43 ("How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.") is about Robert Browning. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were married in 1846 and were together until her death in 1861. In the years after Elizabeth's death, Robert's reputation as a poet, once a distant second to hers, took off. Browning continued to be active as a writer right up until his death in 1889.
Robert Browning works with their own pages:
Other selected works:
- "Porphyria's Lover" (1836)
- "How they Brought the Good News From Ghent To Aix" (1838)
- "My Last Duchess" (1842)
- "The Laboratory"
- "The Lost Leader" (1845)
- "Love among the Ruins" (1855)
- "Caliban upon Setebos" (1864)
- "Rabbi ben Ezra" (1864)
- "Prospice" (1864)
- "The Ring and the Book" (1868-69)
- "Fra Lippo Lippi"
- The Bard on Board: "Caliban upon Setebos" is written from the perspective of Caliban from The Tempest.
- Based on a True Story: The Ring and the Book, inspired by a famous Italian murder trial from the seventeenth century.
- Blithe Spirit: Pippa, whose sweet, innocent singing influences the decidedly less sweet and innocent people she passes.
- Bring News Back: "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix", in which we never learn "the news which alone could save Aix from her fate".
- Broken Pedestal: "The Lost Leader" is about Browning's disappointment in William Wordsworth in turning away from English liberalism, becoming a conservative, and taking a government job.
- Buxom Beauty Standard: "A Tocatta of Galuppi's"Was a lady, such a lady, cheeks so round and lips so red—
On her neck the small face buoyant, like a bell-flower on its bed,
O'er the breast's superb abundance where a man might base his head?
- Corrupt Church: The sixteenth-century Catholic Church in "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at St. Praxed's Church," what with the greed, arson, sex, etc.
- Cradling Your Kill / Mummies at the Dinner Table: After the narrator of "Porphyria's Lover" strangles Porphyria, he sits up all night, snuggled up next to her corpse.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: The Duke in "My Last Duchess" had his wife murdered for smiling at people other than him.
- Darker and Edgier: Many of Browning's poems were about subjects that the Victorians didn't typically write poems about—sex, obsession, murder. "Porphyria's Lover" is about a deranged murderer, the speaker in "My Last Duchess" appears to have ordered the death of his wife, the speaker of "The Laboratory" is trying to obtain poison to kill her romantic rival, and his magnum opus, The Ring and the Book, is about a nobleman who had his pregnant wife and her parents stabbed to death. This kind of thing was written about in Victorian novels by people like Charles Dickens, but you know, you expected novels to be sensational. You expected poetry to be literary and elevated.
- Death Glare: "The Laboratory"For only last night, as they whispered, I broughtMy own eyes to bear on her so, that I thoughtCould I keep them one half minute fixed, she would fallShrivelled
- Friends with Benefits: The paired poems "Meeting at Night" and "Parting at Morning" seem to be this. The speaker rows through a cove to a beach, walks to a farmhouse, has sex with the woman that lives there, and leaves the next morning. And he seems perfectly OK with leaving, speaking of "the need of a world of men for me."
- Greek Chorus: "Half-Rome," "Other Half-Rome," and "Tertium Quid" in The Ring and the Book, each representing a different shade of public opinion about the murder case.
- Grief Song: "Prospice", written three years after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is all about how Browning welcomes death because it will reunite him with his lost love.
- Grow Old with Me: Trope Namer, from the opening lines of "Rabbi Ben Ezra". The lines are more melancholy when one remembers they were written after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning."Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be"
- Happily Married: To Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. As mentioned above, he even inspired her famous "How do I love thee" poem.
- I Coulda Been a Contender!: "Andrea del Sarto," inspired by the Renaissance painter. Andrea, who sees himself on the "technician" side of Technician vs. Performer, nevertheless blames both his wife and his own greed for his inability to be as great as Raphael.
- I Love the Dead: Implied more than once.
- The narrator of "Porphyria's Lover" raptuously describes the beauty of Porphyria's dead body and mentions how "her cheek once more/Blush'd bright beneath my burning kiss".
- "Evelyn Hope" is more subtly creepy. In this one, a middle-aged man sits next to the freshly dead body of 16-year-old Evelyn (he is "thrice her age"). He reveals that he was fixated on her, even though she didn't know who he was. Then he inserts a leaf between her dead hands and imagines it will be their secret.
- It's All About Me:
- The narrator of "My Last Duchess", an arrogant duke, is irritated that his wife, who is sweet and affectionate towards him, is just as sweet and friendly to everyone else. So he has her murdered.
- Then there's the narrator of "Porphyria's Lover", who judges Porphyria too be "Too weak,/ for all her heart's endeavour,/To set its struggling passion free/From pride...And give herself to me for ever." So he kills her.
- Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Discussed Trope in "Love Among the Ruins". The speaker describes a Ghibli Hills pastureland, with only one crumbling turret left to indicate that there was a huge castle of a mighty capital there, long ago. But now it's only a meadow for sheep, and the speaker's girl ("with eager eyes and yellow hair") is waiting there for him to meet her. The speaker dismisses all the grand pageantry of ancient times as "folly, noise and sin", and concludes that "Love is best."
- MacGuffin: See Bring News Back above.
- Makeup Is Evil: In "The Flight of the Duchess", the Duchess used damaging make-up that ruined her looks.
- Mortal Wound Reveal: In "Incident at the French Camp" a young messenger rides back to Napoleon with word of victory, hiding the fact that "his breast/Was all but shot in two." When Napoleon notices and asks if the boy is wounded, the boy says "I'm killed, Sire!" and keels over dead.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: This is what the speaker of "The Laboratory" is planning to do, as she tells the man who is fixing up a batch of poison.
- Narrative Poem: Many of Browning's works, including all of the examples listed above, were this.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Bishop Blougram in "Bishop Bloughram's Apology" was based on Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman.
- The Noun and the Noun: The Ring and the Book.
- Painful Rhyme: Browning's poems abound in unusual rhymes, many of which require Accent On The Wrong Syllable and mispronunciation to make them work, like "from mice/promise" or "Italy/spit ally."
- Perspective Flip: Richard Howard's "Nikolaus Mardruz to his Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565" rewrites "My Last Duchess" from the perspective of the emissary silently listening to the Duke.
- "Rashomon"-Style: The Ring and the Book, commonly regarded as one of Browning's most important works, is a novel-length (21,000 lines) story, consisting of 12 chapters with different narrators, giving different viewpoints on a famous Italian murder trial from 1698.
- Rhyming with Itself: In "Give a Rouse", a short poem meant to be a marching song sung by Cavalier soldiers in the English Civil War, every rhyme is this. The first verse has three straight lines ending in "now".
- Scare Quotes: Apparently they date at least as far back as 1864 and Browning's "Mr. Sludge, 'The Medium'", about a con man fake medium that gets caught.
- Serenade Your Lover: Subverted in "A Serenade at the Villa". The speaker is actually describing his serenading to his target the next morning. She either didn't notice him or ignored him, as the windows were shut and the house was dark.
- Sinister Minister: "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister" is about a monk who has an unreasoning hatred of one of his fellow monks, apparently because he's too enthusiastic about gardening and doesn't follow rituals the first monk invented at meals to display his peity. He sabotages the man's garden, plots to trick him into heresy just before he dies so he goes to Hell, and by the end is considering making a Deal with the Devil in exchange for revenge. He's also a Hypocrite; in one verse he thinks that if he can get Brother Lawrence to accidentally read his "scrofulous French novel" the man will be damned. Why he has such a novel is not explained.
- The skeptical Bishop in "Bishop Blougram's Apology" is a subtler example.
- Sole Survivor: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" lures all the rats of Hamelin into the river to drown, save one rat who goes back to "Rat-land" to tell the other rats what happened. Then when he lures the children away, one children who had a lame leg and thus was too slow to keep up is left behind.
- Stalker with a Crush: The speaker in "Evelyn Hope" is a middle-aged man unnaturally fixated on a teenaged girl who didn't know his name. And he's speaking as he sits next to her dead body.
- Television Geography: You'd have to go well out of your way to pass all the towns the riders pass on their way from Ghent to Aix.
- Through the Eyes of Madness: A single Wham Line (see below) reveals that the narrator of "Porphyria's Lover" is completely crazy. He probably isn't very trustworthy when he says "No pain felt she;/I am quite sure she felt no pain."
- Unreliable Narrator: The vast majority of Browning's poems are dramatic monologues, written in the voice of a fictional character or historical figure. The reader is left to figure out how much of what they're saying is true and how much is Self-Serving Memory.
- Wham Line: "Porphyria's Lover" starts off as a standard Victorian romantic poem about a man waiting in a cold, "cheerless" cottage for his lover Porphyria to arrive. She comes in out of the driving rain, kindles a fire, and pledges her love for the narrator. Then we get this:"...That moment she was mine, mine, fair,/Perfectly pure and good: I found/A thing to do,and all her hair/In one long yellow string I wound/Three times her little throat around,/And strangled her..."
Depictions of Robert Browning in fiction:
- His courtship of and marriage to Elizabeth Barrett is depicted in 1934 film The Barretts of Wimpole Street.