Robert Browning: Poems



The poem is based on an old myth found in many forms, all turning upon the attempt to cheat a magician out of his promised reward. See Brewer's Reader's Handbook, Baring-Gould's Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, Grimm's Deutsche Sagen, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. There are Persian and Chinese analogues.

The eldest son of William Macready, the actor, was confined to the house by illness, and Browning wrote this jeu d'esprit to amuse the boy and to give him a subject for illustrative drawings.

LINE 1. =Hamelin=. A town in Hanover, Prussia.

89. =Cham=, or Khan. The title of the rulers of Tartary.

91. =Nizam=. The title of the sovereign of Hyderabad, the principal state of India.

158. =Claret, Moselle=, etc. Names of wines.

179. =Caliph=. The title given to the successor of Mohammed, as head of the Moslem state, and defender of the faith. Century Dictionary.

TRAY. (PAGE 15.)

The poem tells in detail an actual incident, and was written as a protest against vivisection.

3. =Sir Olaf=. A conventional name in romances of mediaeval chivalry.

6. A satire upon Byronism. Manfred and Childe Harold are heroes of this type.

Note the abruptness and vigor of the style. Where does it seem effective? Where unduly harsh? Why does the poet welcome the third bard? What things does the poem satirize?


The incident is real, except that the actual hero was a man, not a boy.

1. =Ratisbon= (German Regensburg). A city in Austria, stormed by Napoleon in 1809.

11. =Lannes=. Duke of Montebello, a general in Napoleon's army.

20. This sentence is incomplete. The idea is begun anew in line 23.

What two ideals are contrasted in Napoleon and the boy? By what means is sympathy turned from one to the other? Show how rapidity and vividness are given to the story.


Browning thus explains the origin of the poem: "There is no sort of historical foundation about Good News from Ghent. I wrote it under the bulwark of a vessel off the African coast, after I had been at sea long enough to appreciate even the fancy of a gallop on the back of a certain good horse 'York,' then in my stable, at home." It would require a skilful imagination to create a set of circumstances which could give any other plausible reason for the ride to "save Aix from her fate."

14. =Lokeren=. Twelve miles from Ghent.

15. =Boom=. Sixteen miles from Lokeren.

16. =Dueffeld=. Twelve miles from Boom.

17. 19, 31, etc. =Mecheln= (Fr. Malines), =Aershot=, =Hasselt=, etc. The reader may trace the direction and length of the ride in any large atlas. Minute examinations of the route are, however, of no special value.

Note the rapidity of narration and the galloping movement of the verse; the time of starting, and the anxious attention to the time as the journey proceeds. How are we given a sense of the effort and distress of the horses? How do we see Roland gradually emerging as the hero? Where is the climax of the story? Note, especially, the power or beauty of lines 2, 5, 7, 15, 23, 25, 39, 40, 47, 51-53, 54-56.


(Published in the Cornhill Magazine, 1871. Browning gave the L100 received for the poem to the fund for the relief of the people of Paris, who were starving after the siege of 1870.)

The cause of James II., who had been removed from the English throne in 1688, and succeeded by William and Mary, was taken up by the French. The story is strictly historical, except that Herve Riel asked a holiday for the rest of his life.

5. =St. Malo on the Rance=. On the northern coast of France, in Brittany. See any large atlas.

43. =pressed=. Forced to enter service in the navy.

44. =Croisickese=. A native of Croisic, in Brittany. Browning has used the legends of Croisic for poetic material in his Gold Hair of Pornic and in The Two Poets of Croisic.

46. =Malouins=. Inhabitants of St. Malo.

135. =The Louvre=. The great palace and art gallery of Paris.

Note the suggestion of the sea, and of eager hurry, in the movement of the verse. Compare the directness of the opening with that of the preceding poem: What is the advantage of such a beginning? How much is told of the hero? By what means is his heroism emphasized? How is Browning's departure from the legend a gain? Observe the abrupt energy of lines 39-40; the repetition, in 79-80; the picture of Herve Riel in stanzas viii and x.


The story is from Herodotus, told there in the third person. See Herodotus, VI., 105-106. The final incident and the reward asked by the runner are Browning's addition.

[Greek: =Chairete, nikomen=]. Rejoice, we conquer.

=Zeus=. The chief of the Greek gods (Roman Jupiter). =Her of the aegis and spear=. These were the emblems of Athena (Roman Minerva), the goddess of wisdom and of warfare.

5. =Ye of the bow and the buskin=. Apollo and Diana.

8. =Pan=. The god of nature, of the fields and their fruits.

9. =Archons=. Rulers. =tettix=, the grasshopper, whose image symbolized old age, and was worn by the senators of Athens. See the myth of Tithonus and Tennyson's poem of that name.

13. =Persia= attempted a conquest of Athens in 490 B.C. and was defeated by the Athenians in the famous battle of Marathon, under Miltiades.

18. To bring earth and water to an invading enemy was a symbol of submission.

19. =Eretria=. A city on the island of Eub[oe]a, twenty-nine miles north of Athens.

20. =Hellas=. The Greek name for Greece.

21. The Greeks of the various provinces long regarded themselves as of one blood and quality, superior to the outer barbarians.

32. =Phoibos=, or Ph[oe]bus. Apollo, god of the sun and the arts. =Artemis= (Roman Diana), goddess of the moon and patroness of hunting.

33. =Olumpos=. Olympus. A mountain of Greece which was the abode of Zeus and the other gods.

52. =Parnes=. A mountain on the ridge between Attica and oeotia, now called Ozia.

62. =Erebos=. The lower world; the place of night and the dead.

80. =Miltiades= (?-489 B.C.). The Greek general who won the victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 B.C.

106. =Akropolis=. The citadel of Athens, where stood the court of justice and the temple of the goddess Athene.

109. =Fennel-field=. The Greek name for fennel was [Greek: ho] Marathon (Marathon). Hence the prophetic significance of Pan's gift to the runner.

Compare the story in Herodotus (VI., 105-106) with Browning's more spirited and poetic version. Observe how the strong patriotism, the Greek love of nature, and the Greek reverence for the gods are brought to the fore. What imagery in the poem is especially effective? What is the claim of Pheidippides--as Browning presents him--to memory as a hero? What ideals are most prominent in the poem?


4. =angled spar=. The Iceland spar has the power of polarizing light and producing great richness and variety of color.

11. =Saturn=. The planet next beyond Jupiter; here chosen, perhaps, for its changing aspects. See an encyclopaedia or dictionary.

This dainty love lyric is said to have been written with Mrs. Browning in mind. It needs, however, no such narrow application for its interpretation. It is the simple declaration of the lover that the loved one reveals to him qualities of soul not revealed to others. Observe the "order of lyric progress" in speaking first of nature, then of the feelings.


The lover denies the evanescence of human love. He implies that in some future time the love will reappear and be rewarded. Browning's optimism lays hold sometimes of the present, sometimes of the future, for the fulfilment of its hope. Especially strong is his "sense of the continuity of life." "There shall never be one lost good," he makes Abt Vogler say. The charm of this poem is more, perhaps, in its tenderness of tone and purity of atmosphere than in its doctrine of optimism.


This poem was written in Rome in the winter of 1853-1854. The scene is the Roman Campagna. The verse has a softness and a melody unusual in Browning. Compare its structure with that of Holmes's The Last Leaf. Note the elements of pastoral peace and gentleness in the opening, and in the coloring of the scene. What two scenes are brought into contrast? Note how the scenes alternate throughout the poem, and how each scene is gradually developed according to the ordinary laws of description. What ideals are thus compared? What does the poem mean?


11. =Dalmatic=. A robe worn by mediaeval kings on solemn occasions, and still worn by deacons at the mass in the Roman Catholic church.

The lyric order appears sharply developed here in the parallelism of the two stanzas. Point out this parallelism of idea. Does it fail at any point? Note the chivalrous absence of reproach by the lover. Observe the climax up to which each stanza leads, and the climax within the last line of each stanza.


5. =Nautch=. An Indian dancing-girl, to whom Browning ascribes the skill of a magician.

The poem celebrates the transforming and life-giving power of affection. Note the abrupt and excited manner of utterance, and how the speaker begins in the midst of things. He has already told his story once, when the poem opens. Note also the parallelism of structure, as in Misconceptions, the climax in each stanza, and the echo in the last line of each. Tell the story in the common order of prose narrative.


Study the development of the idea in the same manner as in Misconceptions and Natural Magic. Note the felicity of imagery and diction.

A WALL. (PAGE 50.)

The clew to the meaning is to be sought in the last two stanzas. This is one of the best examples of Browning's "assertion of the soul in song."


First construct the scene of the poem. What has the priest said? What is the sick man's answer? What evidence is there that his imagination is struggling to recall the old memory? What view of life does the priest offer, and he reject? Does Browning indicate his preference for either view, or tell the story impartially?


What key to the situation in the first line? Who are the speaker and the one addressed? What mood and feeling are in control? Comment upon the condensation of the thought and the movement of the verse.


25-27. Compare Emerson's lines in The Rhodora:--

"If eyes were made for seeing, Then beauty is its own excuse for being."

To what things is the "Pretty Woman" compared? Of what use is she? How is she to be judged?


8. =Gibson, John= (1790-1866). A famous sculptor.

12. =Grisi, Giulia=. A celebrated singer (1811-1869).

18. In allusion to the asceticism of the Hindoo religious devotees.

58. =bals-pares=. Fancy-dress balls.

The poem is half-humorous, half-serious. The speaker, in her imaginary conversation, gives her own history and that of the man she thinks she might have loved. The story is on the "Maud Muller" motive, but with less of sentimentality. The setting suggests the life of art students in Paris, or in some Italian city. The poem is a plea for the freedom of the individuality of a soul against the restrictions imposed by conventional standards of value. Its touches of humor, of human nature, and its summary of two lives in brief, are admirably done. Its rhymes sometimes need the indulgence accorded to humorous writing.

A TALE. (PAGE 61.)

The source of the story is an epigram given in Mackail's Select Epigrams from Greek Anthology. It is one of the happiest pieces of Browning's lighter work.

65. =Lotte=, or Charlotte. A character in Goethe's Sorrows of Werther, said to be drawn from the heroine of one of Goethe's earlier love-affairs.

Who are the speaker and the one addressed? Whom does the cicada of the tale symbolize? Whom the singer helped by the cicada? What application is made of the story? What serious meanings and feelings underlie the tone of raillery? What things mark the light and humorous tone of the speaker? Point out the harmony between style and theme.


Note the swinging, martial movement, and the energetic spirit in these lyrics. For an account of the history of the period, see Green's Short History of the English People, Chapter VIII, and Macaulay's History of England, Chapter I. For an account of the qualities of the Cavaliers, see Macaulay's Essay on Milton.


1. =Kentish Sir Byng=. The first of the family known to fame was George Byng, Viscount Torrington (1663-1733), who could not be the man meant here by Browning.

2. =crop-headed=. In allusion to the close-cropped hair of the Puritans. Long wigs were the fashion among the Cavaliers; hence the Puritans were nicknamed "Roundheads."

7. =King Charles= the First. =Pym=, John (1584-1643). Leader of the Parliament in its actions against King Charles and the Royalist party.

13. =Hampden=, John (1594-1643). One of the leaders of Parliament, known principally for his resistance to the illegal taxations of Charles I.

14. =Hazelrig=, Sir Arthur. One of the members of Parliament whom Charles tried to impeach. =Fiennes=, Nathaniel. One of the leading members of Parliament. =young Harry=. Son of Sir Henry Vane, and a member of the Puritan party.

15. =Rupert=. Prince of the Palatinate (1619-1682), and nephew of Charles I. He served in the King's army during the civil war.

23. =Nottingham=. "Charles I raised his standard here, in 1642, as the beginning of the civil war."--Century Dictionary.


16. =Noll= was a contemptuous nickname for Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the Puritans.


This poem is a companion piece to Home Thoughts, from Abroad. It is, however, distinctly inferior to it in clearness, vividness of feeling, and lyric sweetness.

3. =Trafalgar=, The scene of the famous victory of the English admiral, Nelson, over the French fleet in 1805.

4. =Gibraltar=. The famous rocky promontory at the entrance of the Mediterranean. It has been held as an English fort since 1704.


This little poem, published in 1890, is one of the good examples of a love lyric written by an old man whose spirit is still youthful. There are some similar things by Tennyson, in Gareth and Lynette, and elsewhere in his later publications.

Note here the somewhat exaggerated art of the poem in the alliterations and in the multiple comparisons.


The drama of Pippa Passes is a succession of scenes, each representing some crisis of human life, into which breaks, with beneficent influence, a song of the girl Felippa, or "Pippa," on her holiday from the silk-mills. She is unconscious of the influence she exerts. William Sharp says these songs "are as pathetically fresh and free as a thrush's song in a beleaguered city, and with the same unconsidered magic."


The desertion of the liberal cause by Wordsworth, Southey, and others, is the germinal idea of this poem. But Browning always strenuously insisted that the resemblance went no further; that The Lost Leader is no true portrait of Wordsworth, though he became poet-laureate. The Lost Leader is a purely ideal conception, developed by the process of idealization from an individual who serves as a "lay figure."

13. =Shakespeare= was more of an aristocrat, surely, than a democrat. Milton had championed the cause of liberty in prose and poetry, and had worked for it as Cromwell's Latin secretary.

14. =Burns, Shelley=. What poems can you cite of either poet to place him in this list?

Who is the speaker? What is the cause? Why does he not wish the "lost leader" to return? How does he judge him? What does he expect for his cause? What does he mean by lines 29-30? lines 31-32? Point out the climax in the second stanza.


3. =your Prince=. Son of Napoleon III., born in March, 1856.

7. =The Congress= assembled to discuss Italy's unity and freedom. =Gortschakoff= represented Russia; =Count Cavour=, Italy; =Buol=, Austria. Austria had conquered Italy. See Browning's The Italian in England.

12. =Petrarch's Vaucluse=. The fountain from which the Sorgue rises. The town of Vaucluse (Valclusa) was the home of the poet Petrarch (1304-1374).

14. =debt=. The obligation to visit a famous place.

39. =Tuileries=. The imperial palace in Paris.

43-44. What is meant? Death? Freedom?

46-47. In allusion to the game of rouge-et-noir. Criticise the taste shown here.

In what sense does the poet intend to "save" the building? Describe the scene that he recalls. What three types are the suicides? How does the poet know? Why does he deny the failure of their lives? Does he base his optimistic hope on reason or feeling? Note the climax in line's 55-57. State in your own words the meaning of the last six lines.


The problem of the religions doubter is here set forth by an analogy.

5. =letters=. The reference is of course to the Scriptures.

17 ff. In reference to sceptical criticism.

What are the "fears and scruples" held by the speaker? What proof does he desire to allay his doubts? Does he settle the doubt or put it aside? Where is his spirit of reverence best shown?


="Instans Tyrannus"=, the threatening tyrant. The phrase is from Horace's Odes, Book III., iii., as is probably the idea of the poem. Gladstone translates the passage:--

"The just man in his purpose strong, No madding crowd can turn to wrong. The forceful tyrant's brow and word . . . . . . . His firm-set spirit cannot move."

There is novelty of conception in giving the situation from the tyrant's point of view. Compare also the seventh Ode of Horace in Book II.

44. =gravamen=. Latin for burden, difficulty, annoyance.

69. =Just= (as) =my vengeance= (was) =complete=.

What conception do you get of the tyrant? What is his motive? What things aggravate his hatred? How does he seek to "extinguish the man"? What baffles him at first? What defeats him finally? Is he deterred by physical or moral fear? By what means is the poem given vigor and clearness? Note the dramatic effect in the last stanza.


At what point in his career does the speaker give his story? What have been his motives? How was he at first treated? What indicates that the change is not in him, but in the fickle mob? How does he view his downfall? In what thought lies his sense of triumph? How does his greatness of soul appear?


24. ="the voice of my delight"=. That is, the boy's simple praises.

What quality did the praise of the Pope and of the angel lack? What is the meaning of the legend?


In Browning's early youth, while he was under the influence of Byron and Pope, he found, at a bookstall, a stray copy of Shelley's Daemon of the World. From this time on, Shelley's poetry was his ideal. The term "moulted feather" has peculiar significance from the fact that this was a poem which Shelley afterwards rejected.

How is childlike wonder expressed in the first two stanzas? How is the difference between the speaker and his friend indicated? Why does the name of Shelley mean so much more to one than to the other? In the figure that follows, what do the moor and the eagle's feather stand for?


Note the essential elements of sonnet structure in metre, rhyme, and number of lines. See the Introduction to Sharp's Sonnets of this Century. Compare the idea of the poem with that of The Lost Leader.


Written shortly after the death of Mrs. Browning.

Note the vividness of the imagery, the swiftness of the movement, the rise to the climax, the change in spirit after the climax, and the note of courage and hope that informs this poem. Compare it with Tennyson's Crossing the Bar. What difference in spirit between the two?


Sharp's Life of Browning has the following passage: "Shortly before the great bell of San Marco struck ten, he turned and asked if any news had come concerning Asolando, published that day. His son read him a telegram from the publishers, telling how great the demand was, and how favorable were the advance articles in the leading papers. The dying poet turned and muttered, 'How gratifying!' When the last toll of St. Mark's had left a deeper stillness than before, those by the bedside saw a yet profounder silence on the face of him whom they loved."

What claim does Browning make for himself? Do you find this spirit in any of his poetry which you have read?


Image the scene in the first stanza. Why are the poppies known by their flutter, rather than their color? Note the rhyme effect and climax in lines 11-13. What qualities predominate in the first scene? How does the second scene differ from it? What are the characteristic objects in the second? Has it more or less of the romantic, or of grandeur? Compare the human element introduced in each scene. Note the effectiveness of the epithets a-flutter, wind-grieved, baked, red-rusted, iron-spiked. Show how the poem explains its title.


The setting of the story is Italy's struggle against Austria for her liberty, known as the Revolution of 1848.

8. =Charles=. Carlo Alberto, Prince of Carignano, of the house of Savoy.

19. =Metternich= (1773-1859). The Austrian diplomatist, and the enemy of Italian liberty.

25. =Lombardy=. See the Atlas.

76. =Tenebrae= = darkness. A religious service in the Roman Catholic church, commemorating the crucifixion.


Ferrara still preserves the mediaeval traditions and appearance in a marked degree. The Dukes of Ferrara were noted art patrons. Both Ariosto and Tasso were members of their household; but neither poet was fully appreciated by his master.

8. =Fra Pandolf=. An imaginary artist.

45-46. Professor Corson, in his Introduction to Browning, quotes an answer from the poet himself: "'Yes, I meant that the commands were that she should be put to death.' And then, after a pause, he added, with a characteristic dash of expression, as if the thought had just started in his mind, 'Or he might have had her shut up in a convent.'"

56. =Claus of Innsbruck=. An imaginary artist.

This poem is a fine example of Browning's skill in the use of dramatic monologue. (See Introduction.) The Duke is skilfully made to reveal his own character and motives, and those of the Duchess, and at the same time to indicate the actions of himself and his listener.

Construct in imagination the scene and the action of the poem. What has brought the Duke and the envoy together? What things indicate the Duke's pride? Was his jealousy due to pride or to affection? Does he prize the picture as a work of art or as a memory of the Duchess? What faults did he find in her? What character do these criticisms show her to have had? What did he wish her to he? Note the anti-climax in lines 25-28: what is the effect? What shows the Duke's difficulty in breaking his reserve on this matter? What motive has he for so doing? Where does the poet show skill in condensation, in character drawing, in vividness, in enlisting the reader's sympathy?

The Flight of the Duchess should be read as a development and variation of this theme.


Ruskin gives this poem high praise: "Robert Browning is unerring in every sentence he writes of the Middle Ages.... I know no other piece of modern English prose or poetry in which there is so much told, as in these lines, of the Renaissance spirit--its worldliness, inconsistency, pride, hypocrisy, ignorance of itself, love of art, of luxury, and of good Latin. It is nearly all that I have said of the central Renaissance, in thirty pages of The Stones of Venice, put into as many lines; Browning's also being the antecedent work."

It is not, however, for its historical accuracy that a poem is mainly to be judged. The full and imaginative portrayal of a type, belonging not to one age only, but to human nature, is a greater achievement. And this achievement Browning has undoubtedly performed.

5. =Old Gandolf=. Evidently one of the Bishop's colleagues in holy orders, and like him in holiness.

31. =onion-stone=. See the dictionary for descriptions of this and other stones named in the poem.

41. =olive-frail=. A crate, made of rushes, for packing olives.

42. =lapis lazuli=. A very beautiful and valuable blue stone.

46. =Frascati=. A town near Rome, celebrated for its villas.

56-62. Such mixture of Christian and Pagan elements was a common feature in Renaissance art and literature.

58. =tripod=. The triple-footed seat from which the priestesses of Apollo at Delphi delivered the oracles. =thyrsus=. A staff entwined with ivy and vines, and borne in the Bacchic processions.

77. =Tully=. Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman orator, statesman, and philosopher.

79. =Ulpian=. A celebrated Roman jurist of the third century.

99. =Elucescebat=. Late Latin, from =elucesco=. The classical or Ciceronian form would be =elucebat=, from =eluceo=. Here appears the Bishop's love of good Latin.

108. =Term=. A pillar, widening toward the top, upon which is placed a figure or a bust.

Who are grouped about the Bishop's bed? What does he desire? Why? What tastes does he show? Point out evidences of his crimes, his suspicion, his sensual ideals, his artistic tastes, his canting hypocrisy, his confusion of the material and the immaterial, and the persistency of his passions and feelings. Note the subtlety with which these things are suggested, especially lines 18-19, 29-30, 33-44, 50-52, 59-62, 80-84, 122-125.


This is a little masterpiece in its vividness and condensation. The passions of hate and jealousy have seldom been so well portrayed. The time and place are probably France and the sixteenth or seventeenth century. Berdoe has called attention in his Browning Cyclopaedia, to the number of fine antitheses in the second stanza.

Who are present in the scene? Who are to be the victims? Account for the speaker's patience in stanza iii. Point out the things that show the intensity of her hate. Does she display any other feeling than hate and jealousy?


Where is the speaker? What scene is in his imagination? Trace the growth in his mind of this scene: in color effects, in the kind of life introduced, in the intensity of the feeling, in the vividness with which he enters into it. What is the charm in lines 12-14?


4. =Bacchus=. The Roman god of wine, frequently invoked in the garnishment of Latin and Italian speech.

42. =Pulcinello= is the Italian for clown or puppet, and the prototype of the English Punch.

48, =Dante=, =Boccaccio=, and =Petrarch=. Italy's first three great authors. See a biographical dictionary or encyclopaedia for their dates and their works.

=St. Jerome= (340-420.) One of the fathers of the Roman, church. He prepared the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate.

48. =the skirts of St. Paul has reached=. Has done almost as well as St. Paul.

51. =Our Lady=. The image of the Virgin Mary. Observe our hero's taste and his religions solemnity.

52. =seven swords=, etc. Representing the seven "legendary sorrows" of the Virgin. See Berdoe's Browning Cyclopaedia, or Brewer's Reader's Handbook, or Dictionary of Phrase and Fable for the list.

UP AT A VILLA is one of the best humorous poems in the language. The hero's desires and sorrows are so naive, his tastes so gravely held, that he provokes our sympathy as well as our laughter. One of the charms of the poem is the way in which he is made to testify, in spite of himself, to the beauties of the country (as in lines 7-9, 19-20, 22-25, 32-33, 36) and to the monotony or clanging emptiness of the city (as in lines 12-14, 38-54). Compare lines 8 and 82 with the picture in De Gustibus.


=Toccata=. See an unabridged dictionary.

1. =Galuppi=. Baldassare Galuppi, Venice, 1706-1785, a celebrated musician and prolific composer.

6. =St. Mark's=. The famous cathedral of Venice. =Doges ... rings=. The Doge was chief magistrate of Venice. The annual ceremony of "wedding the Adriatic" by casting into it a gold ring was instituted in 1174, in commemoration of the victory of the Venetian fleet over Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor of Germany.

8. =Shylock's bridge=. By the Rialto. A house by the bridge, said to be Shylock's, is still pointed out to visitors.

18. =clavichord=. An instrument of the type of the piano.

19 ff. =thirds=, =sixths=, etc. For the musical terms see an unabridged dictionary or a musical dictionary.

30. Compare the lines in Fitzgerald's translation of the Rubaiyat:--

"For some we loved, the loveliest and the best That from his vintage rolling Time hath prest, Have drunk their cup a round or two before, And one by one crept silently to rest."

This is the characteristic note of poetic melancholy, found again and again from Virgil to Tennyson.

37-39. Is the ironical tone of these lines in harmony with the spirit of the rest of the poem?

What does Galuppi's music mean to Browning? What does it recall of the life in Venice? Is the lightness of tone in the music itself or in the poet's idea of Venice? What emotions are aroused? What causes the poet's sadness? Is the verse musical? Does it suit the ideas it conveys?


George Joseph Vogler, known also as Abbe (or Abt) Vogler (1748-1816), was a German musician. He composed operas and other musical pieces, became famous as an organist, and invented an organ with pedals and several keyboards. Browning seems to have in mind the complex musical harmonies of which the instrument was capable. See lines 10, 13, 52, 55, and 84 of the poem. See also the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

3. =Solomon=. Legends about Solomon and his power over the spirits of earth and air are common in Jewish and Arabic literature.

9 ff. =building=. The idea of building by music is an old one. See the classical story of Amphion and the walls of Thebes, Coleridge's Kubla Khan, and Tennyson's Gareth and Lynette, lines 272-274.

19. =rampired=. Furnished with ramparts.

23. The reference is to St. Peter's in Rome.

The musician's imagination takes fire from his playing, and his music seems like a glorious palace which he is building. The notes are conceived as spirits doing his bidding (stanzas i-iii). As he proceeds the images change, and heaven and earth seem to unite with him in his creative activity: light flashes forth, and heaven and earth draw nearer together. Now he sees the past, the beginnings of things, and the future; even the dead are back again in his presence. His imagination has anulled time and space. As he thinks of his art, it seems more glorious to him than painting and poetry: these work by laws that can be explained and followed, while music is a direct expression of the will, an act of higher creative power.

When the music ends he cannot be consoled by the thought that as good music will come again. So he turns to the one unchanging thing, "the ineffable Name." Thus he gains confidence to say, "there shall never be one lost good." All failure and all evil are but a prelude to the good that shall in the end prevail. So he returns in hope and patience to the C major, the common chord of life.

ART VOGLER is famous, not only for its confident optimism, but as an example of Browning's power of annexing a new domain--that of music--to poetry.

Where does the musician cease to speak of Solomon's building and begin to describe his own? Note, in stanza ii, how he speaks first of the "keys," and afterwards has in mind the notes; how he speaks of the bass notes as the foundation, and the upper notes as the structure. Where is the climax of his creative vision? What does he mean in line 40? Is he right in saying music is less subject to laws than poetry and painting? Why is he sad when his music ceases? Why does he turn to God for consolation? Follow carefully the argument in stanza ix. Is it convincing? What analogy does he find between music, and good and evil?


Abraham Ben Meir Ben Ezra, into whose mouth Browning puts the reflections in this poem, was born in Toledo, Spain, in 1090, and died about 1168. He was distinguished as philosopher, astronomer, physician, and poet. The ideas of the poem are drawn largely from the writings of Rabbi Ben Ezra. See Berdoe's Browning Cyclopaedia.

1. =Grow old along with me=. Come, and let us talk of old age.

7-15. =Not that=. Connect "not that" of lines 7 and 10, and the "not for, etc.," of 13, with "Do I remonstrate" in line 15.

29. =hold of=. Are like, share the nature of.

39-41. Compare A Grammarian's Funeral.

117. =be named=. That is, known, or distinguished.

124. =Was I= (whom) =the world arraigned=. Browning frequently omits the relative.

139-144. Compare lines 36-41. Note here and elsewhere in this poem the frequent repetition, and variation of the same idea.

151. =Potter's wheel=. The figure of the Potter's wheel is frequent in Oriental literature. See Isaiah lxiv. 8, and Jeremiah xviii, 2-6; see also Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat, stanzas xxxvii, xxxviii, lxxxii-xc.

169-171. In the period of youth.

172-174. In old age.

What cares agitate youth? Why is it better so? Wherein does man partake of the nature of God? What plea is made for the "value and significance of flesh"? Show how Browning denies the doctrine of asceticism. What is meant by "the whole design," line 56? Why does Rabbi Ben Ezra pause at the threshold of old age? What has youth achieved? What advantage has old age? What are its pleasures? Its employments? Explain the figure in lines 91-5. By what are the man and his work to be judged? Compare the use of the figure of the Potter's wheel with that in the Old Testament. What has Browning added? Point out the element of optimism in the poem. How does its view of old age differ from the pagan view? See Browning's Cleon.


The Grammarian is a type of the early scholars who gave to Europe the treasures of Greek thought by translating the manuscripts recovered after the fall of Constantinople. The time is therefore the Renaissance, the latter part of the fifteenth century, and the place probably Italy. The Grammarian was a scholar and thinker, not a mere student of grammar in the modern sense.

23. =Our low life=. Lacking the learning and high endeavor of their master.

45-46. =the world bent on escaping=. That is, the world of the past.

48. =shaping=, their mind and character.

97-98. Compare with lines 65-72, 77-84, and 103-4.

129-131. The Greek particles [Greek: oti, oun, and de.]

Describe the scene and action of the poem. Note the march-like and irregular movement of the verse: does it fit the theme? Why do they carry the Grammarian up from the plain? What was his work? What was his aim? What is the value of such work (1) in presenting an ideal of life, (2) in the history of culture? What circumstances in his life enhance his praise? Did he make any mistake? Does Browning think so? How does Browning defend him? What imagery in the poem seems especially effective? Are you reminded of anything in "Rabbi Ben Ezra"? Criticise the rhymes and metre.


An Italian painter, of the Florentine school; born 1487, died 1531. His merits and defects as an artist are given in the poem. The crime to which he is here made to refer was the use, for building himself a house, of the money intrusted to him by the French king for the purchase of works of art. For an account of his life and work see the article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Vasari's Lives of the Painters.

15. =Fiesole= (pronounced Fe-[='a]-so-l[ve]). A small Italian town near Florence.

119. =Rafael=. The great painter, Raphael (1483-1520).

130. =Agnolo=. Michael Angelo (1475-1584), one of Italy's greatest men: famous as sculptor, painter, architect, and poet.

150. =Fontainebleau=. A town southeast of Paris, formerly the residence of French kings, and still famous for its Renaissance architecture and for the landscapes around it.

241. =scudi=. The scudo is an Italian silver coin worth about one dollar.

262. =Leonard=. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), another of Italy's great men: artist, poet, musician, and scientist.

Construct the scene and action of the poem. How does the coloring harmonize with the artist's mood? Why is he weary? How does he think of his art: what merit has it? What does it lack? How does he explain this lack? What clew to it does his life afford? Is his art soulless because he has done wrong? Or, do the lack of soul in his painting, and the wrongdoing, and the infatuation with Lucrezia's beauty, all arise from the same thing,--the man's own nature? Does he appeal to your sympathy, or provoke your condemnation? Does he blame himself, or another, or circumstances?

What idea have you of Lucrezia? What does she think of Andrea? Of his art? What things does he desire of her?

What problems of life are here presented? Which is principal: the relation of man and woman, the need of soul for great work, or the interrelation between character and achievement? Or, is there something else for which the poem stands?

Can you cite any lines that embody the main idea of the poem? Does anything in it remind you of The Grammarian, or of Rabbi Ben Ezra?


Setebos was the god of Caliban's mother, the witch Sycorax, on Prospero's island.

Read Shakespeare's The Tempest. Observe especially all that is said by or about Caliban. Observe that Browning makes Caliban usually speak of himself in the third person, and prefixes an apostrophe to the initial verb, as in the first line.

Tylor's Primitive Culture and Early History of Mankind give interesting accounts of the religions of savages.

How is Caliban's savage nature indicated in the opening scene? What things does he think Setebos has made? From what motives? What limit to the power of Setebos? Why does Caliban imagine these limits? How does Setebos govern? Out of what materials does Caliban build his conceptions of his deity? Why does he fear him? How does he propitiate him? Why is he terrified at the end? Compare this passage with the latter part of the Book of Job. What, in general, is the meaning of the poem? Can you cite anything in the history of religions to parallel Caliban's theology?


When Browning was asked by Rev. Dr. J.W. Chadwick whether the central idea of this poem was constancy to an ideal,--"He that endureth to the end shall be saved,"--he answered, "Yes, just about that."

4-5. =to afford suppression of=. To suppress.

11. ='gin write=. Write.

48. =its estray=. That is, Childe Roland himself.

66. =my prisoners=. Those who had met their death on the plain? Or, its imprisoned vegetation?

68. =bents=. A kind of grass.

70. =as=. As if.

91. =Not it!= Memory did not give hope and solace.

106. =howlet=. A small owl.

114. =bespate=. Spattered.

133. =cirque=. A circle or enclosure.

137. =galley-slaves= whom =the Turk=, etc.

140. =engine=. Machine.

143. =Tophet=. Hell.

160. =Apollyon=. The Devil.

Note the hero's mood of doubt and despair. At what point in his quest do we see him? What does he do after meeting the cripple? How does the landscape seem as he goes on? What moral quality does it seem to have? See lines 56-75. What new elements are introduced to add to the horror of the scene? What memories come to him of the failures of his friends? Was their disgrace in physical or moral failure? How does he come to find the Tower? Why does Browning represent it as a "dark tower"? Does his courage fail at the end of his quest? Or does he win the victory in finding the tower and blowing the challenge?


The Arabs were among the earliest in the cultivation of mathematical and medical science. This fact, together with their monotheism, makes Karshish an appropriate character for the experience of the poem.

1-14. An ancient and oriental idea of the soul and its relation to the body.

15. =Sage=. Abib, to whom the letter is sent.

17. =snake-stone=. A stone used to cure snake-bites.

19. =charms=. Note here and elsewhere the mixture of science and superstition.

21-33. The poet has given local color to the journey.

28. =Vespasian= was appointed general-in-chief against the insurgent Jews in 67 A.D., and began the great siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The date of the poem and the length of time since Lazarus's return to life may thus be estimated.

37-38. Note the vividness gained by making Karshish keep the physician's point of view.

44. =falling-sickness ... cure=. Epilepsy. Karshish is already admitting into his letter the story of Lazarus.

48. Not only spiders, but many other animals or parts of animals were formerly used as medicines.

64-65. Karshish, still half ashamed of his interest in the marvellous story he has to tell, first gives this as a pretext, and then, in the next lines confesses.

171 ff. Belief in magic survived in some degree among the educated until a century or two ago.

177. =Greek-fire=. A violently inflammable substance, supposed to have been a compound of naphtha, sulphur, and nitre, which was hurled against the enemy in battle. As it was first used in 673, in the siege of Constantinople, Browning is guilty of an unimportant anachronism.

252-255. A good touch, to make the earthquake mean to Karshish an omen of the gravest event within his ken.

268-269. Karshish, still unconvinced by the story of Lazarus, naturally regards it as irreverent.

304-311. This comes to Karshish as an afterthought, a corollary to the idea in the body of the poem.

How is the general style of the verse-letter maintained? What is Karshish's mission in Judea? How does he show his devotion to his art? Point out instances of local color. Are they in harmony with the main current of the poem, or do they detract from the interest in the story? Why does Karshish work up to his story so diffidently? Why has the incident taken such hold upon him? What do you conceive to be his character and worth as a man?

What of Lazarus? What change has been wrought in him? Is he in any way unfitted for this life? To what does Karshish compare him, with his sudden wealth of insight behind the veil of the next world? Which of the two men is better fitted for the condition in which he is placed? What religious significance does the story of Lazarus come to have to Karshish? What parallel ideas do you find in Rabbi Ben Ezra and in this poem? Compare George Eliot's story, The Lifted Veil.

SAUL. (PAGE 196.)

This is generally regarded as one of Browning's greatest poems. Even his detractors concede to it beauty of form, fervor of feeling, and richness of imagery. The incident upon which it is based is found in 1 Samuel, chapter xvi. Saul is in the depths of mental eclipse, and David has been summoned to cure him by music. The young shepherd sings to him first the songs that appeal to the gentle animals; then the songs that men use in their human relationships,--songs of labor, of the wedding-feast, of the burial-service, of worship; then he sings the joy of physical life, ending in an appeal to the ambition of King Saul. Saul is roused, but not yet brought to will to live. So David sings anew of the life of the spirit, the spirit of Saul living for his people. Then a touch of tenderness from the king flashes into David a prophetic insight: If he, the imperfect, would do so much for love of Saul, what would God, the all-perfect, do for men? And so he reaches the conception of the Christ, the incarnation.

The poem is full of echoes of the Old Testament, fused with the spirit of modern Christianity and modern thinking. It is touched here and there with bits of beauty from Oriental landscape. The long, even swell of the lines carries one along with no sense of the roughness so common in Browning's verse. Rising by steady degrees to the climax, we feel, like David, some sense of the "terrible glory," some sense of the unseen presences that hovered around him as he made his way home in the night.


One Word More was appended to Browning's volume Men and Women (1855), by way of dedication of the book to his wife. It is characteristic of its author in its reality of feeling, in its seeking an unusual point of view, in its parenthetic and allusive style, and its occasional high felicity of expression. Those who feel overpowered by Browning's vigor and profundity of thought, might stop here to note the exquisite inconsistency between the examples cited and the thing thus illustrated. The painter turning poet, the poet turning painter, the moon turning her unseen face to a mortal lover; these are compared to Browning the poet,--writing another poem. The only difference in his art is that the poet here speaks for himself in the first person, and not, as usual, dramatically in the third person. The idea of the poem may be found, stripped of digression and fanciful comparisons, in the eighth, twelfth, fourteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth stanzas. Something of the same idea appears in My Star.

5. =Rafael,= etc. More commonly spelled Raphael. Born in Italy in 1483, died in 1520; generally regarded as the greatest of painters. The Sistine Madonna, at Dresden, is considered his greatest work. See lines 21-24.

Only four of his sonnets exist. A translation of these is given in Cooke's Guide Book to Browning. There is no authentic record of such a "century of sonnets" having ever existed.

10. Tradition is dim and uncertain as to the identity of this love of Raphael's.

27. =Guido Reni= (1576-1642). A celebrated Italian painter. Berdoe says that the volume owned by Guido Reni was a collection of a hundred drawings by Raphael.

32-33. =Dante= (1265-1321). The greatest of Italian poets. His Divina Commedia, consisting of the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, is his most famous work. His romantic passion for Beatrice (pronounced =a-[.a]-tr[=e]-che) is referred to in his Divina Commedia, and is recounted in his Vita Nuova.

37-43. In allusion to the fact that Dante freely consigned his enemies, political and personal, living or dead, to appropriate places in his Inferno and Purgatorio.

45-48. This interruption of his work is described in the thirty-fifth section of the Vita Nuova. The hostile nature of the visit seems to be of Browning's invention.--COOKE.

57. =Bice=. Beatrice.

74 ff. In allusion to Moses smiting the rock and bringing forth water. See Exodus, chapter xvii.

95. =Egypt's flesh-pots=. See Exodus, chapter xvi.

97. =Sinai's cloven brilliance=. See Exodus, chapter six. 16-25.

101. =Jethro's daughter=, Zipporah. See Exodus, chapters ii and xviii.

136. =Cleon=. See the poem of that name. =Norbert=. See In a Balcony.

138. =Lippo=. See Fra Lippo Lippi.

150. =Samminiato=. San Miniato, a church in Florence.

160. =Mythos=. In reference to the myths of Endymion, the mortal with whom the goddess Diana (the moon) fell in love. See a classical dictionary, and Keats's poem Endymion.

163. =Zoroaster=. The founder of the Persian religion. Reference is here made to his observations of the heavenly bodies while meditating on religious things.

164. =Galileo= (1564-1642). The great Italian physicist and astronomer.

165. =Keats=. See note on line 160.

174. =Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu=. See Exodus, chapter xxiv.

186. Compare the idea in My Star.