Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
Posted on February 18, 2013 by Bryan Scalici
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
I would like to comment on how Browning characterizes Roland’s past in “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. As he travels the ridiculously bleak landscape leading to the Dark Tower, the only living thing he encounters is an emaciated demon horse. Roland, already downtrodden by the setting, sees this horse and feels simultaneous pity and hatred, and comes to point where he needs to take a step back and regain some perspective. Stanza 15 reads, “As a man calls for wine before he fights,/ I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,/ Ere fitly I could hope to play my part” In the face of overwhelming darkness, Roland recalls his past as a distraction and a motivation. He remembers two friends, Cuthbert and Giles. He remembers Cuthbert first, almost until he becomes real, but then, “Alas, one night’s disgrace!/ Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.” He tries again to stir up the memory of his friend Giles, saying he was “the soul of honour” and “what honest man should dare (he said) he durst.” But again his reverie is destroyed, as, “the scene shifts-faugh!…/…/ Poor traitor, spit upon and cursed.” Both memories start off fondly, but we then learn that they ended tragically. This is, however, the strength Roland needs to carry on. He says, “Better this present than a past like that;/ Back therefore to my darkening path again!” At the end of the poem we learn that Roland is the last knight of several that have quested for the Dark Tower. He alone is succeeding, but his lack of failure is the only thing that distinguishes him from the others. He seems to be guided by luck or fate; he isn’t characterized as particularly skillful or driven, he has merely stayed the course and not yet been derailed. At the end of the poem, with the Dark Tower in sight, all of his fallen comrades surround him. Here, Browning creates a combination of past and present. It ends, “I saw them and I knew them all. And yet/ Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,/ And blew, ‘The Child Roland to the Dark Tower Came”. He is the “Childe” Roland, yet at that moment he is old and alone. His present announcement is a statement of the past, as if his younger self had already arrived at the Dark Tower. I’m not sure what to make of this temporal relationship, except to comment that Browning’s Roland seems aware that he is bound by his quest, and his active bravery comes from passively going through the motions of a choice he made long ago, and reflecting on it in the midst of it occurring. The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
Edited by Charlotte Mason.
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" - A Study of Browning's Poetic method by W. Blake Odgers, M.A., LL.D., Q.C.
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 661-672
". . . so many people, instead of honestly trying to find out for themselves what a poet means, will read books and essays in which other people no more capable than themselves state what they conceive to be the meaning of the poem. Men and women in this nineteenth century are far too fond of reading about a poem instead of studying the poem itself."
Some poets have an epic talent; they can tell a story well. They usually begin at the beginning, come gradually on to the middle, and then progress steadily to the end. They state all the facts as they occurred, in strict chronological order; and so give us an orderly narrative, clear and simple, such as any child can understand. And yet there is plenty of room for any amount of beautiful description, of sparkling conversation, and every kind of poetic embellishment. In most cases these "epic" poets, if I may call them so, tell us their story ab extra, from the outside. They describe everything as it would appear to a bystander who saw the occurrences really...
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