Robert Browning (1812-89)
Browning’s first notable poem is the extremely subjective Pauline published in 1833 is highly Shelleyan. Paracelsus was published in 1835 was the story of the hero’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge which is beyond the grasp of one single man. This poem brings forth Browning’s predominant idea that a life without love is a failure. The poetic style is diffuse, but the verse contains passages of great beauty with one or two charming lyrics. His next work was the play Strafford (1837) he achieves real pathos towards the close. Sordello (1840) was an attempt to decide the relationship between art and life and was Browning’s most obscure work. The poem has a detailed historical allusion and occasional passages of descriptive beauty is too compressed.
About eight volumes of his work from 1841 onward are collected in Bells and Pomegrates, published in 1846. Apart from poems, the collection included plays like Pippa Passes, King Victor and King Charles, The Returns of the Druses, A Bolt on the Scutcheon, Colomb’s Birthday. Pippa Passes contains some dramatic situations and charming songs but it is Dramatic Lyrics, Dramatic Romances, Men and Women and Dramatis Personae that we begin to see the real Browning. In these volumes we see that Browning has started experimenting with the genre of poetry in which his genius found expression- the dramatic monologue.
Browning was deeply interested in the human psyche, particularly in its unusual forms. My Last Duchess is about the abnormally possessive Duke who liquidates his wife because he bestowed smiles on everyone. In Porphyria’s Lover, the lover kills Porphyria in order to eternize the moment when she is completely his. Browning’s themes divide themselves broadly into three groups- philosophical or religious, love and lighter themes as it can be seen in The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Browning’s style of work has been subject of endless discussion because of the fascinating problems it presents. When it comes to descriptive power Browning differs from that of Tennyson’s, who slowly creates a lovely image by careful massing of details while Browning cares less for beauty of description for its own sake. He gained slow recognition but like Wordsworth and wrote too freely and often very carelessly and perversely. Fame of Browning rests on four volumes, published between 1842 and 1864.
Browning’s works were not concerned with Victorian life. He did not try to know Victorian England he was more drawn towards Renaissance Italy. He is a master of a surprising variety of metrical forms and excels in the manipulation of rhythmic effects. He has an assured place among the great English poets by virtue of his distinctive dramatic monologues and his charming love poems.