ROBERT BROWNING AS A POET OF LOVE
The dissertation entitled ROBERT BROWNING AS A POET OF LOVE: A DIFFERENT STANDPOINT is an examination of different aspects of love represented in the poems of Robert Browning. Browning has presented love with all its natural fire and earnest truth. His love poems are the perfect equilibrium of faith that happens to be the nectar of ecstasy in human life. His art and artifice of creating love lyrics is unlimited, infinite and ever revolving. Browning considered love to be the basic principle of the universe as he declared, “love is the best”. The inertia of love was fully bloomed into a lovely rose of optimism with two sub-ordinate leaves, his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning and his child Robert Weidman Barrett Browning. He is a love poet with a speciailty of his own. Browning’s love poetry has a range and realism which are different from his great predecessors. In his love poems Browning describes the passion and treats it from intellectual point of view. In Browning the intellectual element is too powerful to allow the predominance of sensuousness even in his love poems. This present paper is an attempt to critically access and estimate the variety of situations of love on the most celebrated poems where the maturity of his love thought is magnificently sung. Love was to him the critical point and test of a man’s life. In his poems we see the indictment of possessive love, destructive love or optimistic love. The purpose of this paper is to sort out those significant works talking about different types of love so that the readers can muse on these interpretations. Furthermore, it may explore Browning’s dominant theme ‘love’ as a bright lantern to walk through the vulnerable ways of life.
1.1 Life and Works of Robert Browning
Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell (a suburb of London), the first child of Robert and Sarah Anna Browning. His mother was a fervent evangelical and an accomplished pianist. And his father was a clerk in the Bank of England. He was an extremely bright child and a voracious reader and learned Latin, Greek, French and Italian by the time he was fourteen. Between 1820-26 he attended the school of the Rev. Thomas Ready at Peckham, and for a short while in 1828, he attended University College London, but most of Browning's education was informal. He often had private tutors, and his father's unusually large library was at his disposal.
Like Tennyson, this boy found his work very early, and for fifty years hardly a week passed that he did not write poetry. He began at six to produce verses, in imitation of Byron; but his first known work Pauline (1833), must be considered as a tribute to Shelley and his poetry. It was soon followed by Paracelsus (1835) and Sordello(1840). A year later, Pippa Passes, the first in a series entitled Bells and Pomegranates was published; the remaining seven parts appeared between 1841-46. On 12 September 1846, Robert Browning married Elizabeth Barrett at St. Marylebone Parish Church, London. They left a week later for Florence, Italy, where they spent the remainder of their married life. Their Florentine home, called Casa Guidi, has been preserved as a memorial to the poets.
In 1849, the birth of his son was overshadowed by the death of Browning's mother. Also in 1849, a two-volume selection of Browning's poetry was published. The following year, Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day was published, and it was five years later before Men and Women appeared. After the death of his wife in 1861, Browning left Florence, never to return. In 1860, however, he had bought the "Old Yellow Book" in a secondhand stall in Florence. This was the source for his epic poem, The Ring and the Book, published in 1868-69. In 1867, Browning received an Honorary M.A. from Oxford and was made and Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. Later in 1882, he received an Honorary D.C.L. from Oxford.
Browning died on 12 December 1889 at Ca'Rezzonico, Venice, but not before he heard the news of the success of his latest volume of poetry, Asolando, published that same day. These lines from the "Epilogue" to that volume offer a fitting tribute to one of the great poets of the Victorian age: One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.
On 31 December 1889, Browning was buried in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Works of Robert Browning
A glance at even the titles which Browning gave his best known volumes-Dramatic Lyrics (1845), Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845), Men and Women (1855), Dramatic Persona (1864)- will suggest how strong the dramatic elements is in all his works. Indeed, all his poems may be divided into three classes- pure dramas, like Strafford and A Blot in the ‘Scutcheon; dramatic narratives, like Pippa Passes, which are dramatic in form. but were not meant to be acted; and dramatic lyrics, like The Last Ride Ride Together, which are short poems expressing some strong personal emotions, or describing some dramatic episodes in human life, and in which the hero himself generally tells the story.
If we separate all these dramatic poems into three main periods- the early, from 1833 to 1841; the middle, from 1841 to 1868; and the late, from 1868 to 1889. The poems written on the first period were less attractive and obscure. In the middle period he wrote Pippa Passes, which on the whole the most perfect of his longer poems. Nearly all his best lyrics, dramas, and dramatic poems belong to this middle period. And when The Ring and the Book appeared, in 1868, he had given to the world the noblest expression of his poetic genius. The third period shows Browning’s power of revealing the hidden springs of human actions, but he often rambles most tiresomely, and in general his work loses in sustained interest.
1.2 Origin of love in the poems of Robert Browning Browning was an ardent lover. The nucleus of his poetry, the enthusiastic love, has been reflected into almost all his poetic creations. The inertia of love was fully bloomed into a lovely rose of optimism, with its two sub-ordinate leaves, his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning and his child Robert Weidman Barrett Browning. Perhaps, it was Browning’s passionate and forceful love for Elizabeth Barrett that has endowed him great success almost in all the fields, he attempted; “There is nothing sickly or dreamy in him: he has a clear eye, a vigorous grasp, and courage to utter what he sees and handles.” (George Eliot 1974).
This attitude gave him the confidence to establish an optimistic attitude to life, to the world, and to almost all existing things, which was the extract of his uncircumscribed love. All these contribute a lot in making him the chief exponent of what has been called
‘Victorian Optimism.’ This gave Browning recognition in poetic sphere and ranked him as a great poet and esteemed highly as Tennyson, thus he became the voice and spirit of his age, the Victorian era.
Elizabeth Barrett came from a prominent and wealthy family and she was already a well established poet before she met fellow poet Robert Browning. Their relationship began in his admiring her poetry. His audacious first letter moves from loving her books to loving her . Robert had been an admirer of Elizabeth’s work for some time, and with the help of a friend, John Kenyon, met Elizabeth in 1845. The two quickly fell in love and thus, began one of the most famous courtships in literature. Her father disapproved of Robert, who believed he was an unreliable fortune hunter, so the couple kept their relationship a secret. Together, they exchanged hundreds of love letters, and by 1846, the couple eloped. Her father disowned her and she faced disgust from her brothers, who believed she had married a low-class gold digger. However, Elizabeth stood by her husband, and shortly after their wedding, they fled to Italy. These Victorian writers had some aspects in common in their lifestyles as, for instance, the extraordinary education they received at home, their early devotion to learning and writing or a life mostly developed at home due to different reasons as we will see (in Elisabeth’s case, due to her father’s tyranny as well as her sickly health; in Robert’s case, due to his indoor education and his dislike to public life becoming his house his shelter) but we will also point out the differences which exist between them: they belonged to different social classes, they were educated in different values and they didn’t succeed in the same way. However, after getting to know each other through correspondence, they decided to make a new start together in a foreign country in spite of some problems. They represent the triumph of love; a love which started with Robert’s admiration to Elizabeth’s verses and a love which made her leave her paternal prison forever. Such sweet and melodious outpouring of over brimming love was the result of that unprecedented and unrivalled, history-making relationship that Browning shared with Elizabeth Barrett. Actually, she was the permanent shower of inspiration for Browning’s spiritual and intellectual strength. She was the real and only thundering force behind the full-ripe and mature genius of Browning, Cohen writes- “Browning did not write great poetry until he had attained emotional maturity, and this he lacked till the years of his marriage”. (Cohen 1964)
This meeting and marital-unions of Browning with Elizabeth Barrett was the peak of pleasure for Browning in comparison of other ecstasies of his life.
This was the supreme experience of Browning’s whole life feelings supreme experience did not make him a poet rather; Elizabeth Barrett made him a love poet. Through the love that she endowed to him, the man of supreme love experience became the supreme love poet. Her reward was-“ By the Fireside”, which could be treated as a poem which treasures Browning’s almost all romantic feelings, which are kept with the final lock of memory in the heart. This poem could be called the greatest love poem in the English language, or the other language that has dealt with the topic love. In this poem we may name the glimpse of almost all the real feelings of love, of Browning’s heart that can be regarded as the real and supreme feelings of Browning’s love. Thus, Browning’s whole life achievement rests on his love which served him as a stepping stone to success and which ultimately became a mile-stone of his success in the both the fields-personal or literacy. Love is not only a success bringer for Browning rather everyone, who loves truly and passionately, becomes successful in almost all the corners of life. Some one has rightly said that behind every successful man, there is a woman, and this is the lady, Elizabeth, who works as an abrupt force behind the potentially of this love poetry, and thus, with the help of her loving inspiration, this man succeed in life.
2. Concept of love in literature
Love is the most cherished thing in the life of every human being. We all think about it, dream about it, sing about it, and even lose sleep worrying about it. Love is such a small word paired with a vital meaning. It’s universal, easy to spell, difficult to define, but impossible to live without. When we don’t have it, we search for it, when we find it, we don’t know what to do with it, when we have it, we fear losing it. Love is the constant source of happiness and sorrow. Love is a feeling for another person so pure, so deep that no one can define it to its true extent. Since the initial period of literature love has been the most dominant theme of writing. This theme has been exercised and celebrated in almost all the fields of literature such as poetry, novel, drama and so on. And in all periods of all literature love is the most influential theme. Even in Victorian Age, which is a period of doubt and unrest then also love remains as a prominent theme. Special aspects of love, approaches to love, reactions to the torments and delights of romantic love, have been sung with greater power by Shakespeare, Sidney, Donne, Andrew Marvell, Burns, Hardy, Yeats and some twentieth century poets . After John Donne, Browning is the greatest exponent of the theme of love in English poetry. Unlike other poets who always combine love with sorrow and death, Browning sings of the joy of love. His love for his wife also can be considered as his inspiration behind his love poems.
The subject of ‘Love Poetry’ has given rise to some of the most beautiful and fascinating poetry. The poets illustrate their feelings, or the feelings of the people concerned with them through the use of figurative language. A love poem is not necessarily a poem about romantic love, about romance, marriage and commitment; it could be something else entirely. It seems to be universal timeless. Yet, it's also very individual, filtered by poets own lives and expectations. Love can be a different thing for each one of the poets. Not all love poems deal with happy positive sides of love but there are also the negative sides such as pain, sadness and loss. There are endless ways in which love can be portrayed and occur. There are numerous types of love, whether it's physical, emotional or romantic love. And in the poems of Robert Browning we get the indictment of various kinds of passions and emotions related to love.
3. Robert Browning’s philosophy of love Robert Browning has a three- fold appeal. He is, first, a passionate singer of love and the world of sense-the lyrical Browning. Secondly, he is a psychological poet, the subtle delineator of the devious mental processes of human beings. Thirdly, he is a firm believer in the philosophy of optimism. But in the treatment of love he is second to none. Special aspects of love, approaches to love, reactions to the torments, and delights of romantic love, have been sung with greater power by many poets. But, so far matter, depth and touchy-feelings are concerned about the love between a man and a woman, the everlasting knot of love with timeless union, Browning has no competitor and stands alone rather, becomes the beacon-light for his successors. The profound love with intense feeling of severe passion, a life that includes lives of love in it, and all its indefinable, link with the infinite reality that is God, one’s complete and intimate understanding for other, the quality of self-abnegation and ennobleling, an unspeakable faith and a concrete philosophy, and the perfect way of life that takes two persons to the level of their unlimited and impossible best. In such kind and quality of love, Browning stands as a perfect lyricist.
After John Donne, Browning is the greatest exponent of the theme of love in English poetry. Browning considers love to be the basic principle of the universe. Love is the governing force of the universe. For Browning, love is the name of God. He talked of love as the only force that could unify mind with God. Though many phases of love between man and woman are depicted by Browning, he is a matter of particular kind of love poetry. Unlike other love poets who always combine love with sorrow and death, Browning sings of the joy of love. Browning has written two kinds of love poems- personal and dramatic. His personal poems are very few, because his bent of mind was fundamentally dramatic. Browning’s love poetry is both complex and comprehensive. His love poems deal with case of successful as well as unsuccessful love. Of the poems which treat of physical love, about two third, represent feelings of man and one third express the feelings of women. In love poems where a woman’s passion dominates there is less intellectual elements. When a poem deals with love of a man it shows greater intellectual depth. Moreover, the tragedies of woman in love appear more interesting to the poet than the tragedies of men.
Love, for Browning was the peak of activities, of which human beings are capable, thus, he devoted his most intense and perfect consideration to it. Unlike the romantic poets, he created his world of love- lyrics like a practiced lover and he did not stick to a specific subjects rather he touched and treated almost all the colors of love emotion. Browning’s subject was neither happy nor unhappy love but love as an experience, a love that includes both the ends of ideal, spiritual and physical love and seers a line of horizon, whose reality was bound up with its permanence; his greatest love poetry is quite reflective of idealism in love as well as the physical charm of love. His treatment of love is bold, realistic and unconventional. Whereas other Victorian considered the body as an obstacle in the path of spiritual emancipation, Browning frankly allows importance of body. He believes that physical pleasures are as important for a successful married in this world, as for heavenly bliss in the next. Browning feels the way to develop the human soul lays in love and the love has to be complete. It is to involve physical as well spiritual. Through human love it is possible to achieve divine love. Love is a complete experience in which the body, the mind, and the soul have their equal share. The sphere of Browning’s love poems have left no stone unturned. As Wordsworth has recorded each flittering of flower’s petal, doing the same, Browning thinks finds-out, and gives an unmatched analysis of psychology of love, recording the each pulse of love emotion. Browning is not only the poet of normal psychology, rather, at some places, he expands his limit and goes beyond, discovers some specific but still hidden aspects of abnormality in lover’s love-emotion unapproachable by the poetic-eyes of other writers. Apart from Browning’s bulk of love-poems, his analysis of abnormal psychology of love, he is first and foremost. He places his lovers in various situations and examines their psychological implications. His strong feeling in the ennobling power of love entitle him a place of distinction among the love poems.
4. Reflection of different types of love in Browning’s selected poems
4.1 “My Last Duchess”: A study of illusive love
Synopsis of the poem:
"My Last Duchess" is narrated by the duke of Ferrara to an envoy (representative) of another nobleman, whose daughter the duke is soon to marry. At the poem's opening, the duke has just pulled back a curtain to reveal to the envoy a portrait of his previous duchess. The portrait was painted by Fra Pandolf, a monk and painter whom the duke believes captured the singularity of the duchess's glance. However, the duke insists to the envoy that his former wife’s deep, passionate glance was not reserved solely for her husband. As he puts it, she was "too easily impressed" into sharing her affable nature.
His tone grows harsh as he recollects how both human and nature could impress her, which insulted him since she did not give special favor to the "gift" of his "nine-hundred-years-old" family name and lineage. Refusing to deign to "lesson" her on her unacceptable love of everything, he instead "gave commands" to have her killed. The duke then ends his story and asks the envoy to rise and accompany him back to the count, the father of the duke's impending bride and the envoy's employer. He mentions that he expects a high dowry, though he is happy enough with the daughter herself. He insists that the envoy walk with him "together" – a lapse of the usual social expectation, where the higher ranked person would walk separately – and on their descent he points out a bronze bust of the god Neptune in his collection.
Historical background of the poem:
The poem is preceded by "Ferrara:", indicating that the speaker is most likely Alfonso II d'Este, the fifth Duke of Ferrara (1533–1598), who, at the age of 25, married Lucrezia di Cosimo de' Medici, the 14-year-old daughter of Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and Eleonora di Toledo.
Lucrezia was not well educated, and the Medicis could be considered "nouveau riche" in comparison to the venerable and distinguished Este family (the Duke's remark regarding his gift of a "nine-hundred-years-old name" clearly indicates that he considered his bride beneath him socially). She came with a sizeable dowry, and the couple married in 1558. He then abandoned her for two years before she died on 21 April 1561, at age 17. There was a strong suspicion of poisoning. The Duke then sought the hand of Barbara, eighth daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary and the sister of the Count of Tyrol, Ferdinand II. The count was in charge of arranging the marriage; the chief of his entourage, Nikolaus Madruz, a native of Innsbruck, was his courier. Madruz is presumably the silent listener in the poem.
The other characters named in the poem, painter Frà Pandolf and sculptor Claus of Innsbruck, are fictional.
Love as an illusion My Last Duchess," published in 1842, is arguably Browning's most famous dramatic monologue, with good reason. It engages the reader on a number of levels – historical, psychological, ironic, theatrical, and more. Browning has presented love in an exceptional way in this poem. This poem shows Browning’s knowledge of the different aspects of human nature and his analysis of human character and human motives. The poet makes the Duke talk about his ‘last duchess’ in a dramatic manner, and the Duke thus throws light not only on the character of the Duchess but reveals his own mind also. In attempting to describe her, he has succeeded only in revealing his own narrow and hideous heart. He was proud, haughty, snobbish, cruel and tyrant. But the Duchess was a kind-hearted, amiable and loveable lady. She had no pride or vanity or haughtiness which women of high rank usually have. She liked whatever she looked on, and smiled at everybody who passed her. As the Duke says-
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. (line: 21-24)
But her amiable and gay disposition was intolerable to him. He was a jealous and possessive person. He used to give costly gifts to the Duchess and took it as a symbol of his love towards him. He was proud of belonging to a family of nine-hundred-years-old name and therefore took a patronizing attitude towards his wife. He thinks that he has conferred a title of a nine-hundred-years old name upon the Duchess and she should be grateful towards him. The Duke thinks that he loves his wife a lot but fails to understand the lacking of mental attachment which is the core of a happy conjugal relationship. He says-
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. (line: 31-34)
It also indicates the jealous and suspicious mind of the Duke. His jealousy and suspicion have ruined his love and turned it into an illusion. She was not at all a flirt and therefore the Duke’s jealousy on account of her amiable nature is totally unjustified. We feel sympathy for the lady who, has fallen into the clutches of a tyrant who could not understand or appreciate her and who froze her smile with his commands. His cruel and tyrannical nature reflects through these lines when he says- I gave commands;
Then all smile stopped together. (line: 45-46)
Actually, the Duke suffers from superiority complex. Name, fame, vanity and status were prior to him than his wife. He considers himself far superior to what she was. But we can understand that the Duchess must have been very gentle and innocent while the Duke was a conceited, self-opinionated high-brow. The Duke tries to represent her having beneath dignity to marry but we can guess that he did not deserve her. He has strange notion of dignity. What we would call gentleness in the Duchess, he considers stupidity. What we think arrogance and snobbery in him, he considers dignity or high breeding. Thus it depicts the pathetic consequence of an unmatched relationship. Browning considers love to be a condition of moral enlistment of the human soul. And the Duke is hollow and mean because he has never known how to love and never realized the innocence and purity of his wife. Duke’s love for the Duchess is fake, showy and an illusion. It is not love at all as he fails to accept her with all her natural qualities both good and bad. Rather he wanted her to behave in the way he wishes. Undoubtedly, it is a proper indictment of illusion disguised in the veil of love. Love for art One can also understand this poem as a commentary on art. The duke remains enamored with the woman he has had killed, though his affection now rests on a representation of her. In other words, he has chosen to love the ideal image of her rather than the reality, similar to how the narrator of "Porphyria's Lover" chose a static, dead love than one destined to change in the throes of life. In many ways, this is the artist's dilemma, which Browning explores in all of his work. As poet, he attempts to capture contradiction and movement, psychological complexity that cannot be pinned down into one object, and yet in the end all he can create is a collection of static lines. The duke attempts to be an artist in his life, turning a walk down the hallway into a performance, but he is always hampered by the fact that the ideal that inspires his performance cannot change.
Picture of male dominating society
In order to critique the oppressive male dominating society of his age, Browning gave voice to villainous characters each representing the antithesis of his world view. Yet Browning does not eliminate all his personal virtues from all his poems. After marrying Elizabeth Barreet Browning’s poems become more open, more tender, unveiling the truth and the benevolent nature of the poet. Perhaps, it is Mrs. Browning’s willingness to present the subject of love in a less controlling, more transcending, and nurturing way that lead to her husband’s evolution as a writer. Here, we find the Duke as a dominating character. And the fatal ending of the Duchess is nothing but a sacrifice to the free will of male dominating society. There male people always think themselves superior to the female. They give commands and female are bound to obey those commands. A woman is just like a puppet in the hands of a man and is forced to behave in the way a man demands. The Duke even thinks that it is below his dignity to rectify the behavior of the Duchess. It happens because he doesn’t take his wife as his soul mate. If he would take her as her better half in the truest sense, he would be able to understand the purity of her soul. It is a matter of great pity that only because of vain superiority complex they fail to enjoy the ecstasy of true mutual bond of love and relationship.
Physical charms, not chief attractions
To Browning’s lovers, the lady’s physical charms are not main attractions. The lady needs not to be an embodiment of loveliness with pearly teeth and rosy lips etc. Browning did not believe in the idealization of women’s physical charm. The details of physical appearance are rare in his poetry. He concentrates on the power which a woman can exert in the relationship of a man. That man may be her husband or her lover. In this poem “ My Last Duchess” when the Duke refers to the smiling face of his dead wife, he shows the annoyance and jealousy of the Duke:
Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
When I passed her, but who passed without
Much the same smile? (line: 43-45)
4.2 “The Last Ride Together”: A study of optimistic love
Synopsis of the poem
The poem “The Last Ride Together” appeared in Browning’s Men And Women (1855). It is one of his better-known love-poems. This poem is the soliloquy of a lover who has been courting a woman but who has in the long run been rejected by her. All his love for her has proved futile and his whole life seems to have failed. The rejection might have broken his heart but , instead of scolding and reproaching her, he blesses her in pride and thankfulness, and says that he would be satisfied if he can have her company for a last ride with him. The lady considers his proposal doubtfully while the lover awaits her decision with almost suspended breath. She experiences a brief conflict between her pride and her pity, but her pity wins and she agrees to the lover’s last request. The lover is delighted by the prospect of riding in her company once more in his life. His last thought has not at least been vain. Besides, who knows that the world might end the same night! He might have won her love if he had tackled her differently; but he might have earned her hatred too. Now at least she doesn’t hate him and has been agreed to go on a last ride with him. He consoles himself for his failure as all men strive in the world and few succeed. The lover is therefore , not the only one to have failed in his ambition. There is always a wide difference between a man’s aspiration and his achievement. The lover then compares his achievement with that of certain other categories of individuals, and finds that his lot is better than theirs. The lover has compared himself with a statesman, a poet, a soldier, a sculptor, and a musician. He finds out that the achievement of these different individuals is nothing as compared to that of the lover who is at least enjoying the pleasure of his mistress‘s company on a last ride. He also argues that the rejection of his love by his mistress is a blessing in disguise. Having failed on earth, the lover can now die with an anticipation of love’s fulfillment in heaven. Finally, he thinks that there is a possibility that this last ride may continue forever and ever, and that this moment may become eternal.
Emotional intensity of the lover
“The Last Ride Together” sings the glory of failure in love. Although the poem is dominated by intellectual analysis, it yet shows Browning as the singer of passionate love. The intensity of emotion characterizes many of the lines in the poem. As the lover’s heart overflow with joy, some of his statements become highly charged with feeling and emotion. For instance when his beloved is considering his final request for a ride he feels that there is life and death in the balance for him and as if the circulation of his blood has stopped. When she agrees to his proposal, he feels that the circulation of his blood has started again and he experiences a feeling of elation:
The blood replenished me again :
My last thought was at least not vain :
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,(L:17-20)
When she leans against him, he feels as if he is in contact with heaven. There is a passionate quality in the whole of the third stanza in which he describes how a lover’s passion might draw cloud, sunset, moonrise, and star shine down on himself, near and yet more near, till flesh must fade for heaven was here! The lover experiences intense joy, and intense fear when the beloved leans against him and lingers. It is a moment of ecstasy for him. This poem is a proper example of romantic love. Though the lover is in an emotional and romantic mood, he is not totally devoid of reality. The lover in this poem is a splendid man, a noble and elevated individual. He does not curse his beloved when she rejects him. On the contrary, he thinks that he is yet unworthy of her. He actually blesses her for rejecting him:
My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness! (L: 6-7)
Emotional feelings of a lover are very realistically depicted by Browning in this poem. Everlasting quality of love Love is undoubtedly the spirit of human life the finer breaths of pious souls, the throbbing of passionate hearts and the exuberant force of inspiration to a creative action. Edward Berdoe remarks-
“The passion of love, through Mr. Browning’s works, is treated as the most sacred thing in the human soul. We are here for the chance of loving and of being loved; nothing on the earth is dearer than this; to trifle with love is, in Browning’s eyes, the sin against that Divine Emanation which sanctifies the heart of man. The man or woman who dissipates the capacity for love is the destroyer of this or her own soul; the flirt and the coquette are the losers. - The forsaken one has saved his own soul and gained the other’s as well. (Berdoe 1989)
Browning preaches immortality of soul. In “The Last Ride Together” the speaker perceives that through their death his and his beloved's souls will enter into eternity and their ride will continue eternally. They will achieve in the next world what they have failed to achieve. According to Browning, if love is not fulfilled on earth it means that the lover has much to learn and unlearn before he is fit to receive the beloved’s love. He believes that love must ultimately be rewarded – if not in this life, then in the next. The lover argues that, perhaps, the rejection of his love by his beloved is a blessing in disguise. The ideal that one has in one’s life must never achieve its fulfillment on earth because, in the event of its fulfillment one will have nothing to look forward in one’s next life. Having failed on earth, the lover can now die with an anticipation of love’s fulfillment in heaven. The lover is here convinced that that his love will be rewarded in the next life:
Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.( L: 99)
He has not succeeded in love. But he has got a chance to have a last ride with his beloved. At this moment he has no complain. He wishes that the moment of his pleasure with his beloved will be a moment of eternity. It will become everlasting. Thus Browning’s firm belief in the everlasting quality of love is prominent. Love is the only permanent thing in this transitory world, at the same time; it is permanent in heaven as well. Love as the source of optimism
Browning’s unshakeable belief in optimism and faith in heaven and in the immortality of the soul are very much clear from this poem which, in the accordance of it, may easily be regarded as a song to the glory of failure, thus, this poem becomes the most representative poem which comes out with the thought of optimistic love. In many of Browning’s poems the element of hope finds its full play. In many cases, the lovers are rejected by their beloved but as a result they do not loose their heart, rather they act much forcefully. In dejection, they do not surrender themselves completely to frustration on the contrary by such failure they store food for their future success. Browning’s all the lovers act on the principal “all men strive and who succeed” if they go in the shelter of such sorrowful emotion, that remains for a short while and the lovers are soon replenished with fresh aspirations and hopes. The truly tragic love-story for Browning was not the story of love rejected in the real sense, but of love flagging, fading or crusted-out. The lover in the Last Ride Together, the final rejection by the beloved, at last refuses to accept his failure in love and remains still full of new hopes and for the fulfillment of these hopes: What is we still ride on, we two
With life forever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity,-
And heaven just prove that I and she
Ride, ride together, forever ride? (L 105-110)
Superiority of love over other arts and professionals Browning believes that, for happiness in life, love is superior to all the arts. In the poem “The Last Ride Together” Browning has placed love over all other arts of the world. This theme is worked out through an analysis of the function and effects of various arts, like music, sculpture and poetry. The lover finds out that a statesman serves his country all his life but the only reward that he gets is a brief obituary notice after his death. A soldier dies in the service of his country but his only reward is a memorial in Westminster Abbey. A poet worships beauty and writes verses to describe and idealise it, but his dream of beauty remains unrealized. He is poor, sick, and old before his time, and he is not one whit near his ideal than those who have never written a single line of poetry. A sculptor makes a superb statue of Venus, the goddess of beauty, but his statue is no substitute for a real woman. We may be gazing at the statue in admiration but our eyes will turn irresistibly if a real woman comes in view at that time. A musician dovecotes his whole life to his art and receives wide acclaim for his musical composition, but his fame his short-lived. Because tastes and fashions in music changes rapidly. Thus the achievement of these different individuals is nothing as compared to that lover who is at least enjoying the pleasure of his beloved’s company on a last ride. That is, love is the only means of pleasure in this problematic world.
Love plays an important role in Browning. It is love which harmonizes all living beings. Only love can give little solace and comfort to the restless and miserable people. It is a bright lantern to walk through the vulnerable ways of life.
4.3 “Porphyria’s lover”: A Study of eccentric love
Synopsis of the poem
Porphyria’s lover was first appeared in 1836 in a monthly magazine. It is in the form of a monologue in which the speaker is a lover who has an abnormal if not insane mind. He tells the story of how he murdered his own mistress. The murder was committed during the night when the mistress, porphyria, had just begun to enjoy the luxury of love in his company. Nature was in a tumult mood at that time. The lover was inside his cottage, then Porphyria entered into the cottage and made the cottage warm with her presence. She called out her lover’s name but, getting no reply, caught his arm and twined it round her waist. She told him how much he she loved him. She was a married woman. A gay feast was going on at her house but she had not been able to control her passion for her lover, and therefore, had come through rain and wind to meet him. The lover looked up at Porphyria’s eyes, feeling ‘happy and proud’, because at last she has admitted her passion for him. This was the moment when she belonged to him completely, in all her beauty, goodness, and purity. Suddenly he wound all her hair in one yellow string, three times round her throat and strangled her to death. And the lover thought that she died a painless death. The lover was sure that she felt no pain. He carefully open her eyelids, and had a feelings that her bluest eyes were still laughing. He kissed her cheek and it seemed to him that her cheek was once more blushing. Then he raised her head and rested it on his shoulder. Throughout the night the lover sat with the head of Porphyria’s dropping over his shoulder, but throughout the night God did not speak a single word.
Eccentric and selfish appearance of love
Browning is not only the poet of normal psychology, rather, at some places, he expands his limit and goes beyond, discovers some specific but still hidden aspects of abnormality in lover’s love-emotion unapproachable by the poetic-eyes of other writers. Apart from Browning’s bulk of love-poems, his analysis of abnormal psychology of love, he is first and foremost. His poetical philosophy of eccentricity in love is not a sudden and improper theory rather it has some profound basis and steps which provide the significance of treatment of eccentricity in love. The poem” Porphyria’s Lover” is the most representative in Browning’s group of poems based on eccentric or abnormal love ” Porphyria’s Lover”, can be considered as a study in abnormal psychology. Love is depicted in a thoroughly different way in the poem “Porphyria’s Lover”. Browning does not take only the noble or kind-hearted faces to be the characters of his love poems. Similarly, in this poem we find a peculiar kind of lover-murderer. Porphyria, the beautiful young girl, as her name, fell in love with a young man, but despite all efforts, could not reciprocate the well wishing greetings and advances of love an account of the hollow-ties of artificial worlds. Though on a stormy night she enters the room where her lover is sitting alone by a burnt-out fire. She closes the door, makes a cheerful blaze, takes off her wet clock, lets down her moist hair, sits beside her lover, and murmurs her love for him. At last he knows that, she returns his love. She surrenders herself to her lover and the he says,
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: (L: 36-37) But suddenly the lover strangles to death his beloved with her own long hair, not to revenge or ill-will but out of love. The lover murdered her in the moment of overwhelming passion so that she would never be able to make love to anybody. The lover is afraid that the blissful moment of love will pass away. So he kills his beloved. Yet, he suffers no sense guilt, as he says
And all night we have not stirred
And yet God has not a word! (L: 59-60)
The lover is selfish and eccentric. After the killing he praises and makes love with her. He wants to make her submissive. He just wants to get her permanently, as if, like the picture of love-making on the urn in Keats “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.
A host of critics and commentators are of the opinion that the lover is almost insane. It is arrested even by Robert Langbaum, the lover, the teller of the whole-story is undoubtedly and unquestionably mad. But we cannot extract the conclusion by these certain convincing explanation, because if we study, the manner in which the lover relates the whole story, does not indicate at all, nay kind of disorder or abnormality in his mind. If we give the another clue to the explanation of the murdering of the beloved by lover himself, that such crime is the ugly result of going strayed for a moment, the intensely excited mental position. But, after pros and cons, this outlook is not acceptable because here we find no marks of regret or repentance after the will of murdering is executed, on the contrary, he seems more happy and contended of proud of securing the wished and perfect moment of her complete surrender to him. Therefore it can be said that the lover is selfish, eccentric and possessive. Porphyria’s Lover, is unique in this discussion and stands alone in the whole range of English literature. The two basic ideas that are to be picked up from the poem by the reader is that Porphyria’s lover shows unexpected eccentricity due to this possessive instinct in more degree that a common man.
Browning’s love poems deal with countless phases and varieties of love in all classes of people. They show how deep his search of the human mind was. We are astonished to realize his power to watch and store up human motives and reproduce them in poetry. His strong faith in the ennobling power of love and the multiplicity of its treatment entitle him a place of distinction among the love poems. Browning is a great psycho-therapist as well as poet. In his love poetry, he tries to probe into the deeper meanings of the love relationship of his characters. He is more interested in the psychology of love than in the passion of love. He is always interested in studying the actions and reactions of human mind and heart. Browning is a poet of human experience. And the aspect with which his imagination finds the greatest affinity is that of love. Variety of situations in love is dealt with Browning-from the spiritual to the sensual. Love is to him the critical point and test of a man’s life.
We can witness more unfathomable depths into the human heart with the delicate matter that stuffs it, upon which Browning’s name and fame and the whole glory as the poet of love and his range of lovers consists of all kinds of lovers, each representing some specific kind of love emotion. However, he has inexhaustible variety of poems consisting a great range of lovers- jilted lovers, fortunate lovers, deserted lovers, quarreling lovers, forgiving lovers, unfortunate lovers, lovers of every dominion, possessive lovers, broad indeed lovers, egoistic lovers, jealous lovers, coward lovers, lovers thirsty of physical pleasure and sex, lovers attached with the strong strain of souls, lovers indulged in sensual slavery, the pious hearted lovers, lovers under different situations, lovers living in the lap of nature, and lovers with their infinite perplexity of love. His all love poems are necessary: eternality as a great poet stands. Writes His all love poems are necessary:
“……….a creed that will take, which wins and holds the miscellaneous world, which stout men will need, which nice women will adore.” (Bagehot 1992)
Love, at its simplest stage is always possessive, but at its purest truth, it stands sacrificial. Browning, the great master of love lyrics has presented in his love poems each sting of emotional love. Browning through his love verses, could open new horizons with multi dimensions of love. Love, the chief and most representatives of all human emotions has been successfully, covering psychological and social factors, are treated in his love lyrics. But the most wonderful facet of analysis, which raises his pulpit upper most of all the love-singers, is that unfathomable depth of love which transcends time, in other words love becomes unlimited and infinite and the ever revolving wheels of time, stands shorter and insignificant before love. His love poems are not merely love poems rather effective lessons. It gives fuel to the meditative minded people. Intellectual analysis of his love poems exposes different layers of human mind. Finally, his representation of love is the only means of solace and inspiration in the age of chaos and doubt.