Elizabeth barrett browning

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A Musical Instrument



WHAT was he doing, the great god Pan,

    Down in the reeds by the river ?

Spreading ruin and scattering ban,

Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,

And breaking the golden lilies afloat

    With the dragon-fly on the river.

He tore out a reed, the great god Pan,

    From the deep cool bed of the river :

The limpid water turbidly ran,

And the broken lilies a-dying lay,

And the dragon-fly had fled away,

    Ere he brought it out of the river.

High on the shore sate the great god Pan,

    While turbidly flowed the river ;

And hacked and hewed as a great god can,

With his hard bleak steel at the patient reed,

Till there was not a sign of a leaf indeed

    To prove it fresh from the river.

He cut it short, did the great god Pan,

    (How tall it stood in the river !)

Then drew the pith, like the heart of a man,

Steadily from the outside ring,

And notched the poor dry empty thing

    In holes, as he sate by the river.

This is the way,' laughed the great god Pan,

    Laughed while he sate by the river,)

The only way, since gods began

To make sweet music, they could succeed.'

Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed,

    He blew in power by the river.

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan !

    Piercing sweet by the river !

Blinding sweet, O great god Pan !

The sun on the hill forgot to die,

And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly

    Came back to dream on the river.

Yet half a beast is the great god Pan,

    To laugh as he sits by the river,

Making a poet out of a man :

The true gods sigh for the cost and pain, —

For the reed which grows nevermore again

    As a reed with the reeds in the river.
POETElizabeth Barrett Browning



SUBJECTSPoetry & PoetsArts & SciencesMusic

POETIC TERMSRhymed Stanza, Refrain

The Charge of the Light Brigade



Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!

Charge for the guns!” he said.

Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

   Someone had blundered.

   Theirs not to make reply,

   Theirs not to reason why,

   Theirs but to do and die.

   Into the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

   Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of hell

   Rode the six hundred.


Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

   All the world wondered.

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right through the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reeled from the sabre stroke

   Shattered and sundered.

Then they rode back, but not

   Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

   Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell.

They that had fought so well

Came through the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

   Left of six hundred.


When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

   All the world wondered.

Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

   Noble six hundred!

POETAlfred, Lord Tennyson 1809–1892



SUBJECTSWar & ConflictHeroes & PatriotismSocial Commentaries

POETIC TERMSRhymed Stanza, Elegy

My Last Duchess






That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,

Looking as if she were alive. I call

That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands

Worked busily a day, and there she stands.

Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said

“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read

Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

The depth and passion of its earnest glance,

But to myself they turned (since none puts by

The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,

How such a glance came there; so, not the first

Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not

Her husband’s presence only, called that spot

Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps

Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps

Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint

Must never hope to reproduce the faint

Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff

Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough

For calling up that spot of joy. She had

A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,

Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er

She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.

Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,

The dropping of the daylight in the West,

The bough of cherries some officious fool

Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule

She rode with round the terrace—all and each

Would draw from her alike the approving speech,

Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked

Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked

My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name

With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame

This sort of trifling? Even had you skill

In speech—which I have not—to make your will

Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this

Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,

Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let

Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set

Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—

E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose

Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,

Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without

Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;

Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands

As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet

The company below, then. I repeat,

The Count your master’s known munificence

Is ample warrant that no just pretense

Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;

Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed

At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go

Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,

Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,

Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

POETRobert Browning 1812–1889



SUBJECTSMen & WomenRelationshipsArts & SciencesMarriage & CompanionshipPainting & SculptureSocial CommentariesHistory & PoliticsLiving

POETIC TERMSCouplet, Dramatic Monologue, Ekphrasis, Persona

Robert Browning


Although the early part of Robert Browning’s creative life was spent in comparative obscurity, he has come to be regarded as one of the most important poets of the Victorian period. His dramatic monologues and the psycho-historical epicThe Ring and the Book(1868-1869), a novel in verse, have established him as a major figure in the history of English poetry. His claim to attention as a children’s writer is more modest, resting as it does almost entirely on one poem, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” included almost as an afterthought in Bells and Pomegranites. No. III.—Dramatic Lyrics(1842) and evidently never highly regarded by its creator. Nevertheless, “The Pied Piper” moved quickly into the canon of children’s literature, where it has remained ever since, receiving the dubious honor (shared by the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, 1911) of appearing almost as frequently in “adapted” versions as in the author’s original.

Browning was born on 7 May 1812 in Camberwell, a middle-class suburb of London; he was the only son of Robert Browning, a clerk in the Bank of England, and a devoutly religious German-Scotch mother, Sarah Anna Wiedemann Browning. He had a sister, Sarianna, who like her parents was devoted to her poet brother. While Mrs. Browning’s piety and love of music are frequently cited as important influences on the poet’s development, his father’s scholarly interests and unusual educational practices may have been equally significant, particularly in regard to Browning’s great children’s poem. The son of a wealthy banker, Robert Browning the elder had been sent in his youth to make his fortune in the West Indies, but he found the slave economy there so distasteful that he returned, hoping for a career in art and scholarship. A quarrel with his father and the financial necessity it entailed led the elder Browning to relinquish his dreams so as to support himself and his family through his bank clerkship.

Browning’s father amassed a personal library of some six thousand volumes, many of them collections of arcane lore and historical anecdotes that the poet plundered for poetic material, including the source of “The Pied Piper.” The younger Browning recalled his father’s unorthodox methods of education in his late poem “Development,” published in Asolando: Fancies and Facts (1889). Browning remembers at the age of five asking what his father was reading. To explain the siege of Troy, the elder Browning created a game for the child in which the family pets were assigned roles and furniture was recruited to serve for the besieged city. Later, when the child had incorporated the game into his play with his friends, his father introduced him to Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad. Browning’s appetite for the story having been whetted, he was induced to learn Greek so as to read the original.

Much of Browning’s education was conducted at home by his father, which accounts for the wide range of unusual information the mature poet brought to his work. His family background was also important for financial reasons; the father whose own artistic and scholarly dreams had been destroyed by financial necessity was more than willing to support his beloved son’s efforts. Browning decided as a child that he wanted to be a poet, and he never seriously attempted any other profession. Both his day-to-day needs and the financial cost of publishing his early poetic efforts were willingly supplied by his parents.
Browning’s early career has been characterized by Ian Jack as a search for an appropriate poetic form, and his first published effortPauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833), proved in retrospect to be a false start. Browning’s next poetic production, Paracelsus (1835), achieved more critical regard and began to move toward the greater objectivity of the dramatic monologue form that Browning perfected over the next several years. Browning also wrote several plays intended for the stage, along with closet dramas; however, he was not suited to be a playwright. His chief theatrical patron, William Macready, was already becoming disillusioned by the plays’ lack of success and the poet’s persistent difficulties in creating theatrical plots.
Before that estrangement, however, the alliance between Browning and Macready had one salutary effect: it provided the occasion for Browning’s composition of “The Pied Piper.” In May 1842 Macready’s son Willie was sick in bed; Willie liked to draw and asked Browning to give him “some little thing to illustrate” while in confinement. The poet responded first with a short poem, “The Cardinal and the Dog,” and then, after being impressed with Willie’s drawings for it, with “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.”
The story of the Pied Piper was evidently well known in Browning’s home. The poet’s father began his own poem on the subject in 1842 for another young family friend, discontinuing his effort when he learned of his son’s poem. The primary source of the story was a seventeenth-century collection, Nathaniel Wanley’s Wonders of the Little World (1678). Browning claimed many years later that this was the sole source, but William Clyde DeVane notes that some significant details in Browning’s account, including an erroneous date for the event described, occur in an earlier work, Richard Verstegen’s Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities (1605), but not in Wanley.

Whatever its sources, “The Pied Piper” reflects the hand of a master storyteller. The poem tells a story of civic venality and retribution. Desperate to rid the city of rats, the corrupt and repulsively corpulent mayor engages the mysterious piper to charm the vermin away; the piper plays a tune that draws the rats from their holes and leads them to the river Weser, where they drown. Only one especially hardy rat escapes death—by swimming across the river—to tell a cautionary tale to other rats; the rat’s story enables Browning to provide an explanation for the piper’s magic, as the rat tells how the sound of the pipe evoked all kinds of wonderful rattish treats:


                                       I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,

                                       And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
                                       In a cider-press’s gripe;
                                       And a moving away of pickle-tub boards,
                                       And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
                                       And a drawing the corks of train-oil flasks,
                                       And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks.


With the rats destroyed and their nests blocked up, the mayor and corporation of Hamelin feel secure in reneging on their agreement with the piper and refuse to pay him the thousand guilders he demands. Where they had offered fifty times the piper’s requested fee before the rats were eliminated, they now offer only fifty guilders, thinking of all the fine wines they might purchase with the money saved. After all, the mayor claims, the piper cannot restore the rats to life.

The angry piper then blows a new tune and lures the children of Hamelin to follow him—not, this time, to the river but to the Koppelberg, a mountain west of the city, which opens up to swallow all but one, a lame boy who cannot walk fast enough to pass through the opening before it closes. The child, saved by his physical limitations, neatly parallels the rat who survives destruction by its superior fitness and serves a similar function of revealing the secret of the piper’s song, which had promised an idyllic world of play for all who followed.

The Hamelin city officials offer rewards and send searchers in all directions to find the missing children, but to no avail. Browning explains how the story passes into local tradition, illustrated in stained glass and commemorated in all legal memorandums from that day onward. His account also notes, as does the Verstegen source text, the existence of a pocket of Saxons in Slavic Transylvania that may be descended from the lost children of Hamelin and it ends with the moral that people should keep their promises.

“The Pied Piper” has a great deal of charm, and both its theme and its moral reflect the mainstream of Victorian thought. Browning, however, seems to have held the poem in little esteem and reportedly only included it in Dramatic Lyrics because of the need for additional verse to fill out the sixteen-page pamphlet. Indeed, this narrative poem does not seem to fit comfortably with the dramatic monologue form of the other poems in the book, which include such widely anthologized pieces as “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover.” While “The Pied Piper” found its own audience and John Forster’s review of Dramatic Lyrics in The Examiner quoted favorably nearly half the poem, critical attention has usually focused on the other poems in the volume, the shorter dramatic monologues in which Browning finally found the form that would establish him as a major poet of his time and a significant influence on modern poetry.

While “The Pied Piper” differs from most of Browning’s adult poetry, much of its charm and delight derive from the same poetic tools that Browning deployed in his more serious work. However, techniques that are praised in “The Pied Piper” are frequently perceived as defects in the adult poems. Victorian critics disliked his predilection for outrageous (and sometimes unpronounceable) rhymes and the excessive use of single rhymes, as in the vivid account of the rat infestation that opens “The Pied Piper”:



                                       They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
                                           And bit the babies in the cradles,
                                       And ate the cheese out of the vats,
                                           And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles,
                                       Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
                                           Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
                                       And even spoiled the women’s chats.

Earlier critics tended to see Browning’s rhyme patterns as appropriate for light verse such as children’s poems, where the emphasis is on entertainment, but as a defect in adult poetry, with its philosophical or religious concerns. The source of “The Pied Piper” in arcane reference works from past centuries also suggests one of the problems Browning had in achieving an audience for his adult poetry: he was frequently attacked for obscurity in his verse, and much of that obscurity derives from his unreferenced allusions to the vast body of arcana that he had read.

Another narrative poem, “‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,’“ appeared in Browning’s collection of dramatic monologues Bells and Pomegranates. No. VII.—Dramatic Romances & Lyrics (1845). While not expressly written for children, this poem was printed separately in a child’s edition after Browning’s death and for many years was commonly included in children’s school texts; it remains popular for its galloping anapestic rhythm and exciting description of a cross-country equestrian race. The poem presents an entirely imaginary seventeenth-century mission to relieve the city of Aix-la-Chapelle in Germany. Three riders are dispatched from Ghent, in Belgium, to carry an important message; two of the riders’ horses fail, and the third, that of the speaker, accomplishes the mission to universal acclaim. What the message is, other than to secure the freedom of the German city, is never stated.

Besides introducing the world to “The Pied Piper” and establishing the poet’s modus operandi for his future verse, Dramatic Lyrics also had a lasting effect on Browning’s personal life. Elizabeth Barrett admired the book, and in her 1844 poem “Lady Geraldine’s Courtship” she expressed the esteem in which she held Browning by linking him to William Wordsworth and Alfred Tennyson as one of the great poets of the age. She met Browning and the two poets fell deeply in love; unfortunately, Elizabeth’s father, Edward Moulton Barrett, would not countenance any of his children marrying and leaving the home. On 12 September 1846 they were secretly married, and one week later they eloped to the Continent.

Browning wrote relatively little during the marriage, in part because the family frequently moved and, because of Elizabeth’s frail health, he was usually busy making all the arrangements for housing and transportation. The Brownings had one child, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, called “Pen,” born in 1849 (the same year Browning’s mother died). Both parents doted on the boy, and Robert Browning took particular responsibility for his son’s education—yet another diversion from poetic production. The poet who some years earlier had produced a major children’s poem to amuse the son of a friend made no similar creations for his own son, however, but continued to work on longer philosophical poems for an adult audience.
Browning became in his later years that curious phenomenon, the Victorian sage—widely regarded for his knowledge and his explorations of philosophical questions of great resonance in Victorian life. He witnessed the creation (by F.J. Furnivall in 1881) of the Browning Society, dedicated to the study of the poet’s work and thought. Just before his death in 1889, Browning finally published the other poem written for young Willie Macready, “The Cardinal and the Dog.” This fifteen-line poem, like “The Pied Piper,” originated in one of the legends recounted in Wanley’s Wonders of the Little World. It tells how Cardinal Crescenzio, a representative of the pope at the Council of Trent, was frightened by the apparition of a large black dog that only he could see, after which he became seriously ill; on his deathbed he again saw the dog. The poem has elicited little critical response and has seldom been anthologized; its interest today lies primarily in its role as a warm-up to “The Pied Piper.”
Anyone as widely adulated as Browning was during the later years of his life is bound to suffer a decline in critical valuation. Along with other Victorians, Browning was dismissed by influential figures among the modernists, including T.S. Eliot (although Ezra Pound paid tribute to Browning as one of his literary fathers). Following World War II, however, Browning’s reputation has been salvaged by a more objective generation of critics who note his poetic failings but also trace his influence on the poetic forms and concerns of his twentieth-century successors. Through all the vicissitudes of critical reputation, however, Browning’s major contribution to the canon of children’s literature, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” has retained its popular audience.

The Darkling Thrush


I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter's dregs made desolate

      The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

      Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

      Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be

      The Century's corpse outleant,

His crypt the cloudy canopy,

      The wind his death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

      Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

      Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among

      The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

      Of joy illimited;

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,

      In blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

      Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings

      Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

      Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

      His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew

      And I was unaware.

POETThomas Hardy 1840–1928



SUBJECTSWinterNatureLandscapes & PastoralsSocial CommentariesLivingArts & Sciences,Animals


POETIC TERMSRhymed Stanza, Common Measure, Alliteration, Elegy

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse 
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo, 
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse. 
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo 
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero, 
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question ...

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

               So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

               And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

               And should I then presume?

               And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...
I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head

               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

               That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

               “That is not it at all,

               That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old ... I grow old ...

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.


SUBJECTTime & Brevity, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, Love, Cities & Urban Life,Disappointment & Failure, Living, Religion, Relationships, Men & Women, Growing Old,Arts & Sciences, Reading & Books, Classic Love, Desire, Unrequited Love, Heartache & Loss,Realistic & Complicated



POETIC TERMSMixed, Allusion, Dramatic Monologue, Refrain, Persona

The Waste Land


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