on 2 November 2012
We can be forgiven for thinking of Robert Browning (1812-1889) as just another boring old `stiff-necked' Victorian, and who in their right mind would accuse him of writing absolutely nothing of interest, despite living through one of the most fascinating periods of British history? In fact, Browning, by comparison to some of his contemporary `sentimental poets' can be viewed as quite modern in his outlook with his varied interests in such things as spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical subjects.
Browning was influenced by the Romantics: Shelley, Byron and Keats and his first published poem `Pauline' (1833) received little notice. He travelled to Russia in 1834 (and Italy in 1838) and his dramatic blank verse poem `Paracelsus' was published in 1835, and a play, also in blank verse, `Strafford' (1840) was produced at Covent Garden. But `Sordello' a narrative poem in iambic pentameter couplets also of 1840 and set in Italy was poorly received and almost ruined his reputation as a poet beyond repair for a long time!
Browning corresponded with fellow poet and in my opinion the greater poet, Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861) in 1845 after admiring her `Poems' of the same year. The relationship was kept a secret from Elizabeth's father and the couple married and eloped to Italy in 1846, remaining there till Elizabeth's death in 1861 (they had one child, a disappointment hardly worth mentioning).
Browning's other works include: `Christmas Eve and Easter Day' a poem in two parts of 1850 and `Men and Women' a collection of fifty-one poems of 1855:
`There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met/ To view the last of me, a living frame/ For one more picture! in a sheet of flame/ I saw them and I knew them all. And yet/ Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set, / And blew `'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came''.' [xxxiv. From `Men and Women' 1855].
Other collections are: `Dramatis Personae' (1864) and `The Ring and the Book' (1868-9), a collection of twelve books in blank verse.
He returned to England and more work followed such as his `Dramatic Idylls' (1879-80) and he died in Venice in 1889. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
Some of Browning's subject matter can be obscure and ponderous yet he achieved lasting popularity in later life. But like that other giant of Victorian verse, Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), he was a truly great poet who can only be fully appreciated by a dedicated and detailed study of his works, which of course, for those interested in poetry, is the least one can do to honour his name! Wonderful!