poem index

October 3, 1994 The Morgan Library, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, England. His mother was an accomplished pianist and a devout evangelical Christian. His father, who worked as a bank clerk, was also an artist, scholar, antiquarian, and collector of books and pictures. His rare book collection of more than 6,000 volumes included works in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Much of Browning's education came from his well-read father. It is believed that he was already proficient at reading and writing by the age of five. A bright and anxious student, Browning learned Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was fourteen. From fourteen to sixteen he was educated at home, attended to by various tutors in music, drawing, dancing, and horsemanship. At the age of twelve he wrote a volume of Byronic verse entitled Incondita, which his parents attempted, unsuccessfully, to have published. In 1825, a cousin gave Browning a collection of Percy Bysshe Shelleys poetry; Browning was so taken with the book that he asked for the rest of Shelley's works for his thirteenth birthday, and declared himself a vegetarian and an atheist in emulation of the poet. Despite this early passion, he apparently wrote no poems between the ages of thirteen and twenty. In 1828, Browning enrolled at the University of London, but he soon left, anxious to read and learn at his own pace. The random nature of his education later surfaced in his writing, leading to criticism of his poems' obscurities.

In 1833, Browning anonymously published his first major published work, Pauline, and in 1840 he published Sordello, which was widely regarded as a failure. He also tried his hand at drama, but his plays, including Strafford, which ran for five nights in 1837, and the Bells and Pomegranates series, were for the most part unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the techniques he developed through his dramatic monologues—especially his use of diction, rhythm, and symbol—are regarded as his most important contribution to poetry, influencing such major poets of the twentieth century as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Frost.

After reading Elizabeth Barrett’Poems (1844) and corresponding with her for a few months, Browning met her in 1845. They were married in 1846, against the wishes of Barrett's father. The couple moved to Pisa and then Florence, where they continued to write. They had a son, Robert "Pen" Browning, in 1849, the same year his Collected Poems was published. Elizabeth inspired Robert's collection of poems Men and Women (1855), which he dedicated to her. Now regarded as one of Browning's best works, the book was received with little notice at the time; its author was then primarily known as Elizabeth Barrett's husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in 1861, and Robert and Pen Browning soon moved to London. Browning went on to publish Dramatis Personae (1863), and The Ring and the Book (1868). The latter, based on a seventeenth-century Italian murder trial, received wide critical acclaim, finally earning a twilight of reknown and respect in Browning's career. The Browning Society was founded while he still lived, in 1881, and he was awarded honorary degrees by Oxford University in 1882 and the University of Edinburgh in 1884. Robert Browning died on the same day that his final volume of verse, Asolando, was published, in 1889.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Asolando: Fancies and Facts (1889)
Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850)
Complete Poetic and Dramatic Works of Robert Browning (1895)
Dramatic Idyls (1879)
Dramatic Idyls: Second Series (1880)
Ferishtah's Fancies (1884)
Jocoseria (1883)
La Saisiaz, and The Two Poets of Croisicv (1878)
Men and Women (1855)
New Poems by Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1914)
Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper, with Other Poems (1876)
Paracelsus (1835)
Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887)
Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833)
Red Cotton Night-Cap Country; or, Turf and Towers (1873)
Robert Browning: The Poems (1981)
Robert Browning: The Ring and the Book (1971)
Sordell (1840)
The Brownings to the Tennysons (1971)
The Complete Works of Robert Browning (1898)
The Inn Album (1875)
The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868)
The Ring and the Book (1868)
The Works of Robert Browning (1912)
Two Poems (1854)

Prose

Browning to His American Friends (1965)
Dearest Isa: Browning's Letters to Isa Blagden (1951)
Learned Lady: Letters from Robert Browning to Mrs. Thomas FitzGerald 1876-1889 (1966)
Letters of Robert Browning Collected by Thomas J. Wise (1933)
New Letters of Robert Browning (1950)
Robert Browning and Julia Wedgwood: A Broken Friendship as Revealed in Their Letters (1937)
The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, 1845-1846 (1969)
Thomas Jones, The Divine Order: Sermons (1884)

Anthology

The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (1877)

Drama

Aristophanes' Apology (1875)
Balaustion's Adventure, Including a Transcript from Euripides (1871)
Bells and Pomegranates, No. IV - The Return of the Druses: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1943)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. I - Pippa Passes (1841)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. II - King Victor and King Charles (1842)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. III - Dramatic Lyrics (1842)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. V - A Blot in the 'Scutcheon: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1843)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. V - Colombe's Birthday: A Play in Five Acts (1844)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. VII - Dramatic Romances & Lyrics (1845)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. VIII - and Last, Luria; and A Soul's Tragedy (1846)
Dramatis Personae (1864)
Fifine at the Fair (1872)
Poems: A New Edition (1849)
Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (1871)
Strafford: An Historical Tragedy (1837)

My Last Duchess

Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889
That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will 't please you sit and look at her? I said
'Frà Pandolf' by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 't was not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, 'Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,' or 'Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:' such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart -- how shall I say? -- too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, 't was all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace -- all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,  
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, -- good! but thanked
Somehow -- I know not how -- as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody's gift. Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech -- (which I have not) -- to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, 'Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark' -- and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
-- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene'er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will 't please you rise? We'll meet
The company below then. I repeat,
The Count your master's known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter's self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we'll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Browning

Robert Browning

Although playwright and poet Robert Browning was slow to receive acclaim for his work, his later work earned him renown and respect in his career, and the techniques he developed through his dramatic monologues—especially his use of diction, rhythm, and symbol—are regarded as his most important contribution to poetry, influencing such major poets of the twentieth century as Ezra Pound...

by this poet

poem
   Grow old along with me!
   The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
   Our times are in His hand
   Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be 
       afraid!'

   Not that, amassing flowers,
   Youth sighed, 'Which rose make ours, 
Which lily
poem
The gray sea and the long black land;  
And the yellow half-moon large and low:  
And the startled little waves that leap  
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,  
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.  
  
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;  
Three fields to cross till
poem
I

I wonder do you feel to-day
        As I have felt since, hand in hand,
We sat down on the grass, to stray
        In spirit better through the land,
This morn of Rome and May? 


II

For me, I touched a thought, I know,
        Has tantalized me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw