Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Introduction

Digraphs have been silently rendered as "ae" or "oe."

indicates u-grave, a-grave, and a-circumflex.

Stanza and section numbers have been moved to the left margin, and
periods that follow them have been removed.

Periods have been omitted after Roman numerals in the titles of popes
and nobles.

Quotation marks have been left only at the beginning and end of a
multi-line quotation, and at the beginning of each stanza within the
quotation, instead of at the beginning of every line, as in the
printed text.

[The Dramatic Romances, . . . enriched by some of the poems originally
printed in Men and Women, and a few from Dramatic Lyrics as first
printed, include some of Browning's finest and most characteristic
work. In several of them the poet displays his familiarity with the
life and spirit of the Renaissance--a period portrayed by him with a
fidelity more real than history--for he enters into the feelings that
give rise to action, while the historian is busied only with the
results growing out of the moving force of feeling.

The egotism of the Ferrara husband outraged at the gentle wife because
she is as gracious toward those who rendered her small courtesies, and
seemed as thankful to them as she was to him for his gift of a
nine-hundred-years-old name, opens up for inspection the heart of a
husband at a time when men exercised complete control over their
wives, and could satisfy their jealous, selfish instincts by any cruel
methods they chose to adopt, with no one to say them "nay." The
highly developed artistic sense shown by this husband is not
incompatible with his consummate selfishness and cruelty, as many
tales of that time might be brought forward to illustrate. The
husband in "The Statue and the Bust" belongs to the same type, and the
situation there is the inevitable outcome of a civilization in which
women were not consulted as to whom they would marry, and naturally
often fell a prey to love if it should come to them afterwards.
Weakness of will in the case of the lovers in this poem wrecked their
lives; for they were not strong enough to follow either duty or love.
Another glimpse is caught of this period when husbands and brothers
and fathers meted out what they considered justice to the women in "In
a Gondola." "The Grammarian's Funeral" gives also an aspect of
Renaissance life--the fervor for learning characteristic of the
earlier days of the Renaissance when devoted pedants, as Arthur Symons
says in referring to this poem, broke ground in the restoration to the
modern world of the civilization and learning of ancient Greece and
Rome." Again, "The Heretic's Tragedy" and "Holy-Cross Day" picture
most vividly the methods resorted to by the dying church in its
attempts to keep control of the souls of a humanity seething toward
religious tolerance.

With only a small space at command, it is difficult to decide on the
poems to be touched upon, especially where there is not one but would
repay prolonged attention, due no less to the romantic interest of the
stories, the marvellous penetration into human motives, the grasp of
historical atmospheres, than to the originality and perfection of
their artistry.

A word must be said of "The Flight of the Duchess" and "Childe Roland
to the Dark Tower Came," both poems which have been productive of many
commentaries, and both holding their own amid the bray [sic] of
critics as unique and beautiful specimens of poetic art. Certainly no
two poems could be chosen to show wider diversity in the poet's genius
than these.

The story told by the huntsman in "The Flight of the Duchess" is
interesting enough simply as a story, but the telling of it is
inimitable. One can see before him the devoted, kindly man, somewhat
clumsy of speech, as indicated by the rough rhymes, and
characteristically drawing his illustrations from the calling he
follows. Keen in his critical observation of the Duke and other
members of the household, he, nevertheless, has a tender appreciation
of the difficulties of the young Duchess in this unloving artificial
environment.

When the Gypsy Queen sings her song through his memory of it, the
rhymes and rhythm take on a befitting harmoniousness and smoothness
contrasting finely with the remainder of the poem.

By means of this song, moreover, the horizon is enlarged beyond the
immediate ken of the huntsman. The race-instinct, which has so strong
a hold upon the Gypsies, is exalted into a wondrous sort of love which
carries everything before it. This loving reality is also set over
against the unloving artificiality of the first part of the poem. The
temptation is too strong for the love-starved little Duchess, and even
the huntsman and Jacinth come under her hypnotic spell.

Very different in effect is "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."
The one, rich in this lay of human emotion, couched in the simple
language of reality; the other, a symbolic picture of the struggle and
aspiration of the soul. Interpreters have tried to pin this latter
poem down to the limits of an allegory, and find a specific meaning
for every phrase and picture, but it has too much the quality of the
modern symbolistic writing to admit of any treatment so prosaic. In
this respect it resembles music. Each mind will draw from it an
interpretation suited to its own attitude and experiences. Reduced to
the simplest possible lines of interpretation, it symbolizes the
inevitable fate which drives a truth-seeking soul to see the falsity
of ideals once thought absolute, yet in the face of the ruin of those
ideals courage toward the continuance of aspiration is never for a
moment lost.

As a bit of art, it is strikingly imaginative, and suggests the
picture-quality of the tapestried horse, which Browning himself says
was the chief inspiration of the poem. It is a fine example of the
way in which the "strange and winged" fancy of the poet may take its
flight from so simple an object as this tapestried horse, evidently a
sorry beast too, in its needled presentment, or the poetic impulse
would not have expressed itself in the vindictive, "I never saw a
horse [sic] I hated so."]