About this poet

Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, England. His mother was an accomplished pianist and a devout evangelical Christian. His father, who worked as a bank clerk, was also an artist, scholar, antiquarian, and collector of books and pictures. His rare book collection of more than 6,000 volumes included works in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Much of Browning's education came from his well-read father. It is believed that he was already proficient at reading and writing by the age of five. A bright and anxious student, Browning learned Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was fourteen. From fourteen to sixteen he was educated at home, attended to by various tutors in music, drawing, dancing, and horsemanship. At the age of twelve he wrote a volume of Byronic verse entitled Incondita, which his parents attempted, unsuccessfully, to have published. In 1825, a cousin gave Browning a collection of Percy Bysshe Shelleys poetry; Browning was so taken with the book that he asked for the rest of Shelley's works for his thirteenth birthday, and declared himself a vegetarian and an atheist in emulation of the poet. Despite this early passion, he apparently wrote no poems between the ages of thirteen and twenty. In 1828, Browning enrolled at the University of London, but he soon left, anxious to read and learn at his own pace. The random nature of his education later surfaced in his writing, leading to criticism of his poems' obscurities.

In 1833, Browning anonymously published his first major published work, Pauline, and in 1840 he published Sordello, which was widely regarded as a failure. He also tried his hand at drama, but his plays, including Strafford, which ran for five nights in 1837, and the Bells and Pomegranates series, were for the most part unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the techniques he developed through his dramatic monologues—especially his use of diction, rhythm, and symbol—are regarded as his most important contribution to poetry, influencing such major poets of the twentieth century as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Frost.

After reading Elizabeth Barrett’Poems (1844) and corresponding with her for a few months, Browning met her in 1845. They were married in 1846, against the wishes of Barrett's father. The couple moved to Pisa and then Florence, where they continued to write. They had a son, Robert "Pen" Browning, in 1849, the same year his Collected Poems was published. Elizabeth inspired Robert's collection of poems Men and Women (1855), which he dedicated to her. Now regarded as one of Browning's best works, the book was received with little notice at the time; its author was then primarily known as Elizabeth Barrett's husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in 1861, and Robert and Pen Browning soon moved to London. Browning went on to publish Dramatis Personae (1863), and The Ring and the Book (1868). The latter, based on a seventeenth-century Italian murder trial, received wide critical acclaim, finally earning a twilight of reknown and respect in Browning's career. The Browning Society was founded while he still lived, in 1881, and he was awarded honorary degrees by Oxford University in 1882 and the University of Edinburgh in 1884. Robert Browning died on the same day that his final volume of verse, Asolando, was published, in 1889.


A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Asolando: Fancies and Facts (1889)
Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850)
Complete Poetic and Dramatic Works of Robert Browning (1895)
Dramatic Idyls (1879)
Dramatic Idyls: Second Series (1880)
Ferishtah's Fancies (1884)
Jocoseria (1883)
La Saisiaz, and The Two Poets of Croisicv (1878)
Men and Women (1855)
New Poems by Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1914)
Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper, with Other Poems (1876)
Paracelsus (1835)
Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887)
Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (1833)
Red Cotton Night-Cap Country; or, Turf and Towers (1873)
Robert Browning: The Poems (1981)
Robert Browning: The Ring and the Book (1971)
Sordell (1840)
The Brownings to the Tennysons (1971)
The Complete Works of Robert Browning (1898)
The Inn Album (1875)
The Poetical Works of Robert Browning (1868)
The Ring and the Book (1868)
The Works of Robert Browning (1912)
Two Poems (1854)

Prose

Browning to His American Friends (1965)
Dearest Isa: Browning's Letters to Isa Blagden (1951)
Learned Lady: Letters from Robert Browning to Mrs. Thomas FitzGerald 1876-1889 (1966)
Letters of Robert Browning Collected by Thomas J. Wise (1933)
New Letters of Robert Browning (1950)
Robert Browning and Julia Wedgwood: A Broken Friendship as Revealed in Their Letters (1937)
The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, 1845-1846 (1969)
Thomas Jones, The Divine Order: Sermons (1884)

Anthology

The Agamemnon of Aeschylus (1877)

Drama

Aristophanes' Apology (1875)
Balaustion's Adventure, Including a Transcript from Euripides (1871)
Bells and Pomegranates, No. IV - The Return of the Druses: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1943)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. I - Pippa Passes (1841)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. II - King Victor and King Charles (1842)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. III - Dramatic Lyrics (1842)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. V - A Blot in the 'Scutcheon: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1843)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. V - Colombe's Birthday: A Play in Five Acts (1844)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. VII - Dramatic Romances & Lyrics (1845)
Bells and Pomegranates. No. VIII - and Last, Luria; and A Soul's Tragedy (1846)
Dramatis Personae (1864)
Fifine at the Fair (1872)
Poems: A New Edition (1849)
Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, Saviour of Society (1871)
Strafford: An Historical Tragedy (1837)

Rabbi Ben Ezra

Robert Browning, 1812 - 1889
   Grow old along with me!
   The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
   Our times are in His hand
   Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be 
       afraid!'

   Not that, amassing flowers,
   Youth sighed, 'Which rose make ours, 
Which lily leave and then as best recall?'
   Not that, admiring stars,
   It yearned, 'Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends
       them all!'
	   
   Not for such hopes and fears 
   Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark! 
   Rather I prize the doubt
   Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.

   Poor vaunt of life indeed,
   Were man but formed to feed
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast; 
   Such feasting ended, then
   As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the 
       maw-crammed beast?

   Rejoice we are allied
   To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive! 
   A spark disturbs our clod;
   Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.

   Then, welcome each rebuff
   That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go! 
   Be our joys three-parts pain!
   Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge 
       the throe!

   For thence,—a paradox
   Which comforts while it mocks,—
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
   What I aspired to be,
   And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink 
    i' the scale.
	
   What is he but a brute 
   Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play? 
   To man, propose this test—
   Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?

   Yet gifts should prove their use:
   I own the Past profuse
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
   Eyes, ears took in their dole,
   Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once 'How good to 
       live and learn'?

   Not once beat 'Praise be thine!
   I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too: 
   Perfect I call thy plan:
   Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou 
       shalt do!'

   For pleasant is this flesh;
   Our soul, in its rose-mesh
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest:
   Would we some prize might hold
   To match those manifold
Possessions of the brute,—gain most, as we did best!

   Let us not always say,
   'Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!' 
   As the bird wings and sings,
   Let us cry, 'All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than 
       flesh helps soul!'
	   
   Therefore I summon age 
   To grant youth's heritage,
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
   Thence shall I pass, approved
   A man, for aye removed
From the developed brute; a god though in the 
       germ.

   And I shall thereupon
   Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
   Fearless and unperplexed,
   When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.

   Youth ended, I shall try
   My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
   And I shall weigh the same,
   Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.

   For, note when evening shuts,
   A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the grey:
   A whisper from the west 
   Shoots—'Add this to the rest, 
   Take it and try its worth: here dies another day.'

   So, still within this life,
   Though lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last, 
   'This rage was right i' the main,
   That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now I have proved the 
       Past.'
	   
   For more is not reserved 
   To man, with soul just nerved
To act to-morrow what he learns to-day:
   Here, work enough to watch
   The Master work, and catch
Hints of the proper craft, tricks of the tool's true play.

   As it was better, youth
   Should strive, through acts uncouth, 
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
   So, better, age, exempt
   From strife, should know, than tempt 
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death nor be afraid!

   Enough now, if the Right
   And Good and Infinite
Be named here, as thou callest thy hand thine own, 
   With knowledge absolute,
   Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel 
       alone.

   Be there, for once and all,
   Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past! 
   Was I, the world arraigned,
   Were they, my soul disdained,
Right? Let age speak the truth and give us peace 
       at last!

   Now, who shall arbitrate?
   Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive; 
   Ten, who in ears and eyes
   Match me: we all surmise,
They, this thing, and I, that: whom shall my 
       soul believe?

   Not on the vulgar mass
   Called 'work', must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price; 
   O'er which, from level stand,
   The low world laid its hand,
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

   But all, the world's coarse thumb
   And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account; 
   All instinct immature,
   All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled 
   the man's amount:

   Thoughts hardly to be packed
   Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped; 
   All I could never be,
   All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher 
       shaped.

   Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
   That metaphor! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay,—
   Thou, to whom fools propound,
   When the wine makes its round,
'Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize 
       to-day!'

   Fool! All that is, at all,
   Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
   What entered into thee,
   That was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay 
       endure.
	   
   He fixed thee mid this dance 
   Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
   Machinery just meant
   To give thy souls its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

   What though the earlier grooves 
   Which ran the laughing loves
Around thy base, no longer pause and press? 
   What though about thy rim,
   Skull-things in order grim
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress?

   Look not thou down but up!
   To uses of a cup,
The festal board, lamp's flash, and trumpet's peal, 
   The new wine's foaming flow,
   The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what need'st 
   thou with earth's wheel?

   But I need, now as then,
   Thee, God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst, 
   Did I—to the wheel of life
   With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily,—mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:

   So, take and use Thy work,
   Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the   
       aim!
   My times be in Thy hand!
   Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete 
        the same!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Robert Browning

Robert Browning

Although playwright and poet Robert Browning was slow to receive acclaim for his work, his later work earned him renown and respect in his career, and the techniques he developed through his dramatic monologues—especially his use of diction, rhythm, and symbol—are regarded as his most important contribution to poetry, influencing such major poets of the twentieth century as Ezra Pound...

by this poet

poem
The gray sea and the long black land;  
And the yellow half-moon large and low:  
And the startled little waves that leap  
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,  
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.  
  
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;  
Three fields to cross till
poem
Gr-r-r--there go, my heart's abhorrence!
   Water your damned flower-pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
   God's blood, would not mine kill you!
What? your myrtle-bush wants trimming? 
   Oh, that rose has prior claims--
Needs its leaden vase filled brimming?
   Hell dry you up with its flames!

At
poem

I

Hamelin Town's in Brunswick, 
By famous Hanover city; 
The river Weser, deep and wide, 
Washes its wall on the southern side; 
A pleasanter spot you never spied; 
But, when begins my ditty, 
Almost five hundred years ago, 
To see the townsfolk suffer so 
From vermin, was