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Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Robert Browning's Poems


Robert Browning


My Last Duchess


1842


Ferrara

That's my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf's hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will't please you sit and look at her? I said
"Frà Pandolf" by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myselfthey turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)                      10
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
Frà 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               20
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,          30
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                              40
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 pretence                                50
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!



Questions
My Last Duchess

Recall and Interpret
1. Who is the speaker of the poem, and what is he showing to the visitor? How does he account for "that spot of joy" on the duchess's cheek?
2. Summarize the speaker's description of the duchess's character and behavior. From this description, what can you infer about his attitude toward her?
3. According to the speaker, why didn't he tell the duchess how her behavior affected him? What does this choice reveal about the speaker's character?
4. What do you think may have happened to the duchess? Use evidence from the poem to support your conclusion.
5. Who is the visitor that the speaker is addressing? Why has he come to see to see the speaker. Support your answer using evidence from the poem.

Evaluate and Connect
6. What reason might the speaker have for telling this story to the visitor? Do you think the speaker reveals more about himself or his actions than he had intended to reveal. Give reasons for your answer.
7. What effects are created by Browning's use of the heroic couplet? Does the form of the poem suit its subject matter? Give reasons for your answer.
8. If you had been the visitor, how do you think you might have reacted to the speaker's story? Explain your answer.


Robert Browning


Porphyria's Lover


1836, 1842


The rain set early in tonight,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down hy my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me -- she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavor,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me forever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could tonight's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last l knew
Porphyria worshiped me: surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While l debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string l wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
l am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
l warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And l untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
l propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And l, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!


Questions
Porphyria's Lover

Recall and Interpret
9. What does Porphyria do after entering the cottage (lines 6-35)? What does her behavior seem to suggest about her character?
10. Describe the nature of the relationship between the speaker and Porphyria. What details from the poem support your description?
11. What does the speaker do to Porphyria? What do his subsequent thoughts and actions seem to suggest about his motivation? Explain.
12. What does the last line tell you about the speaker's state of mind?

Evaluate and Connect
13. How do the setting and tone of the poem contribute to its atmosphere, or prevailing mood?
14. Scan the poem's meter and chart its rhyme scheme. Evaluate how the use of these sound devices helps Browning convey his intended meaning.
15. What other characters from literature or films does the speaker remind you of? What traits do they share?


Robert Browning


Love Among the Ruins


1855


I.

Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
   Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
   Half-asleep
Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
   As they crop---
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
   (So they say)
Of our country's very capital, its prince
   Ages since
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
   Peace or war.

II.

Now,---the country does not even boast a tree,
   As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
   From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
   Into one)
Where the domed and daring palace shot its  spires
   Up like fires
O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
   Bounding all,
Made of marble, men might march on nor be  pressed,
   Twelve abreast.

III.

And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
   Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'erspreads
   And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
   Stock or stone---
Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
   Long ago;
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
   Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
   Bought and sold.

IV.

Now,---the single little turret that remains
   On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
   Overscored,
While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks
   Through the chinks---
Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
   Sprang sublime,
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
   As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his  dames
   Viewed the games.

V.

And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
   Smiles to leave
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
   In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
   Melt away---
That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
   Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
   For the goal,
When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
   Till I come.

VI.

But he looked upon the city, every side,
   Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
   Colonnades,
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,---and then,
   All the men!
When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
   Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
   Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and  speech
   Each on each.

VII.

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
   South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
   As the sky,
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force---
   Gold, of course.
Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
   Earth's returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
   Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
   Love is best.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Sonnet 43


1850


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints!---I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!---and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.


Questions
Sonnet 43

Recall and Interpret

1. In your own words, explain how the speaker describes her love in lines 1-8. What do these lines reveal about the nature of the speaker's love?
2. How does the speaker describe her love in lines 9-12?
3. What do you think the speaker means when she says, "I love thee with the breath, / Smiles, tears, of all my life"? What does it mean to love someone in this manner?
4. How long does the speaker expect her love to last? What line or lines in the poem support your interpretation?

Evaluate and Connect

6. What effects are created by the use of repetition? Give specific examples.
7. How would you describe the speaker's tone, or attitude, towards the subject? What does the speaker's tone seem to suggest about her character and personality?
8. In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the type of love the speaker describes?

Literary Criticism

Some contemporary scholars maintain that the language and imagery of the Sonnets from the Portuguese are dated; other scholars maintain that the poems are too personal to be of wide interest. In your opinion, does either of these criticisms apply to "Sonnet 43"? Do both? Share your opinion with your classmates. Be sure to support your viewpoint with specific evidence from the poem.


Edna St. Vincent Millay


Love is not all


1931


Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.


Questions
Love is Not All

Recall and Interpret
1. In lines 1-6, what evidence does the speaker present to show that "love is not all"? What do these lines suggest about the speaker's attitude toward love?
2. According to lines 7-8, what can lack of love do? Compare this statement with the ideas presented in lines 1-6.
3. What does the speaker suggest she might do in lines 9-13? What attitude toward love does this statement reflect?
4. What attitude about love does the speaker express in the last line of the poem? What does this line suggest about the value the speaker places on love? Explain.

Evaluate and Connect
5. Find at least one example of personification. What effect does it create?
6. What type of sonnet is this? How does the use of this poetic form help Millay to communicate her intended meaning?
7. Theme Connections: Which lines in the poem reflect the speaker's emotional responses to love, and which reflect her rational responses? Which type of response does the speaker seem to value more highly? Give reasons for your answers.
8. Would you describe this as a love poem? Why or why not?