Robert Browning: Poems

Tortured Knights: Eliot, Byron, and Browning

Though they come from the shores of different eras and the minds of different authors, the protagonists of Byron’s “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” are all knights in their own way. One can go even further: they are, basically, all the very same man. Childe Harold and the Byron narrator, Childe Roland, and J. Alfred Prufrock are all tortured men on a kind of a search; they are each of them haunted by thoughts of their past. Their goals overlap and blend with one another; each man finds himself hopeless, facing his own doubt, and he seeks a relief that he doesn’t believe in. And though their methods are admittedly different, each one of them ultimately self-destructs. Within the context of their respective eras, each hero ends up at a tragic dead-end; these poems capture the moments before they attain it, caught up in small seconds that reach towards an ending. “In a minute there is time,” says Prufrock, “For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse” (47-8). His “love song” spans the minutes he’s too scared to undo. Childe Harold wanders sadly forth and keeps no track of time; and Childe Roland is left standing,...

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