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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)

Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister

Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889
Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
   Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
   God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming? 
   Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
   Hell dry you up with its flames!

At the meal we sit together;
   Salve tibi! I must hear
Wise talk of the kind of weather, 
   Sort of season, time of year:
Not a plenteous cork crop: scarcely
   Dare we hope oak-galls, I doubt;
What's the Latin name for "parsley"?
   What's the Greek name for "swine's snout"?

Whew! We'll have our platter burnished, 
   Laid with care on our own shelf!
With a fire-new spoon we're furnished,
   And a goblet for ourself,
Rinsed like something sacrificial
   Ere 'tis fit to touch our chaps--
Marked with L. for our initial!
   (He-he! There his lily snaps!)

Saint, forsooth! While Brown Dolores 
   Squats outside the Convent bank
With Sanchicha, telling stories,
   Steeping tresses in the tank,
Blue-black, lustrous, thick like horsehairs,
   --Can't I see his dead eye glow, 
Bright as 'twere a Barbary corsair's?
   (That is, if he'd let it show!)

When he finishes refection,
   Knife and fork he never lays
Cross-wise, to my recollection,
   As do I, in Jesu's praise.
I the Trinity illustrate,
   Drinking watered orange pulp--
In three sips the Arian frustrate;
   While he drains his at one gulp!

Oh, those melons! if he's able
   We're to have a feast; so nice!
One goes to the Abbot's table,
   All of us get each a slice.
How go on your flowers? None double?
   Not one fruit-sort can you spy?
Strange!--And I, too, at such trouble,
   Keep them close-nipped on the sly!

There's a great text in Galatians,
   Once you trip on it, entails
Twenty-nine district damnations,
   One sure, if another fails;
If I trip him just a-dying,
   Sure of heaven as sure can be,
Spin him round and send him flying
   Off to hell, a Manichee?

Or, my scrofulous French novel
   On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
   Hand and foot in Belial's gripe;
If I double down its pages
   At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
   Ope a sieve and slip it in't?

Or, there's Satan!--one might venture
   Pledge one's soul to him, yet leave
Such a flaw in the indenture
   As he'd miss till, past retrieve,
Blasted lay that rose-acacia
   We're so proud of! Hy, Zy, Hine...
'St, there's Vespers! Plena gratia
  Ave, Virgo! Gr-r-r--you swine!

This poem is in the public domain.

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
Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her,
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch's perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew,— 
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her
poem

                Wanting is — what?
                Summer redundant,
                Blueness abundant,
                — Where is the blot?
Beamy the world, yet a blank all the same,
— Framework which waits for a picture to frame:
What of the leafage, what of the flower?
Roses

poem
All, that I know
   Of a certain star
Is, it can throw
   (Like the angled spar)
Now a dart of red,
   Now a dart of blue;
Till my friends have said
   They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
   They must solace themselves with