poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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)

Two in the Campagna

Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889
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
        Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go. 


III

Help me to hold it! First it left
        The yellowing fennel, run to seed
There, branching from the brickwork’s cleft,
        Some old tomb’s ruin: yonder weed
Took up the floating weft, 


IV

Where one small orange cup amassed
        Five beetles,—blind and green they grope
Among the honey-meal: and last,
        Everywhere on the grassy slope
I traced it. Hold it fast! 


V

The champaign with its endless fleece
        Of feathery grasses everywhere!
Silence and passion, joy and peace,
        An everlasting wash of air—
Rome’s ghost since her decease. 


VI

Such life here, through such lengths of hours,
        Such miracles performed in play,
Such primal naked forms of flowers,
        Such letting nature have her way
While heaven looks from its towers! 


VII

How say you? Let us, O my dove,
        Let us be unashamed of soul,
As earth lies bare to heaven above!
        How is it under our control
To love or not to love? 


VIII

I would that you were all to me,
        You that are just so much, no more.
Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free!
        Where does the fault lie? What the core
O’ the wound, since wound must be? 


IX

I would I could adopt your will,
        See with your eyes, and set my heart
Beating by yours, and drink my fill
        At your soul’s springs,—your part my part
In life, for good and ill. 


X

No. I yearn upward, touch you close,
        Then stand away. I kiss your cheek,
Catch your soul’s warmth,—I pluck the rose
        And love it more than tongue can speak—
Then the good minute goes. 


XI

Already how am I so far
        Out of that minute? Must I go
Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
        Onward, whenever light winds blow,
Fixed by no friendly star? 


XII

Just when I seemed about to learn!
        Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern—
        Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.

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
   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
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

I

Hamelin Town's in Brunswick, 
By famous Hanover city; 
The river Weser, deep and wide, 
Washes its wall on the southern side; 
A pleasanter spot you never spied; 
But, when begins my ditty, 
Almost five hundred years ago, 
To see the townsfolk suffer so 
From vermin, was