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Robert Browning: Poems Summary and Analysis

by Robert Browning

"Life in a Love"

Summary

The poem's speaker addresses a woman who has seemingly just mentioned the possibility that she might leave him (the first line is "Escape me?"). He insists that such escape is impossible, since his pursuit of her is "much like a fate, indeed!" Even if his pursuit is interrupted by failure, he will "get up to begin again." His life is devoted towards the "chase" of her, and no matter how little hope he has, he will continue after her.

Analysis

This short poem, published in Men and Women in 1855, is most immediately about love, though its themes of fate and free will give it a more sophisticated message.

The speaker's primary assertion - that he will never cease in his pursuit of his beloved no matter how the effort is paid off - is characterized initially as being out of his control. He admits that his uncontrollable tenacity is "a fault" in his character, because it is "too much like a fate." Though he acknowledges that even at his best, he "shall scare succeed," he accepts it as part of himself. It is a curious interpretation of love, one not born from romantic fulfillment but instead from fate. The attraction does not read in the poem as one that brings him happiness but rather as a burden he must accept. In this way, the poem can be understood in terms of Browning's recurring theme of the impossible quest, one that a heroic man pursues even as simultaneously accepts that the prize can never truly be achieved.

It is precisely in terms of this acceptance that Browning complicates the idea of fate, suggesting in the latter part of the poem that one has free will even within the confines of fate. He says that even when the "old hope [for her] drops to ground," a new one takes its place and he will "shape" himself to it. In other words, he is willing to accept that this tenacity is his fate. There is a strength in this acceptance, in that he does not let the fate control him even if it does shape his life. He gives himself partial credit for defining his "shape," suggesting that acceptance of the fate comprises half of his identity.

Browning's theme of transience and the ever-changing human psyche is also manifest in the poem. Love here is not a simple path to happiness, but rather a struggle that leads the speaker, in very few lines, to swing from loving pursuit of his fate to begrudging acceptance of it. Both mindsets are true and honest, and part of the same complicated, contradictory individual.

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