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The Patriot -- Robert Browning

Many thanks to Suresh Ramasubramanian, for reminding me of the anthology
wherein I first read this poem.
(Poem #364) The Patriot
 - An Old Story


It was roses, roses, all the way,
With myrtle mixed in my path like mad.
The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
A year ago on this very day!


The air broke into a mist with bells,
The old walls rocked with the crowds and cries.
Had I said, "Good folks, mere noise repels -
But give me your sun from yonder skies!"
They had answered, "And afterward, what else?"


Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun,
To give it my loving friends to keep.
Nought man could do have I left undone,
And you see my harvest, what I reap
This very day, now a year is run.


There's nobody on the house-tops now -
Just a palsied few at the windows set -
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
At the Shambles' Gate - or, better yet,
By the very scaffold's foot, I trow.


I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
A rope cuts both my wrists behind,
And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
For they fling, whoever has a mind,
Stones at me for my year's misdeeds.


Thus I entered Brescia, and thus I go!
In such triumphs, people have dropped down dead.
"Thou, paid by the World, - what dost thou owe
Me?" God might have questioned; but now instead
'Tis God shall requite! I am safer so.
-- Robert Browning
A poignant depiction of the fickleness of public opinion; this poem
ranks with the best of Empson and Auden in cataloguing the ebb and flow
of human affairs (specifically, politics). The first line has, of
course, passed into the language, but the entire poem is skilfully and
delicately constructed. The fifth stanza, I think, is my especial
favourite - simple, yet remarkably touching. One could say the same
about the poem as a whole.



Few poets have suffered more than Browning from hostile incomprehension
or misplaced admiration, both arising very often from a failure to
recognize the predominantly dramatic nature of his work. The bulk of his
writing before 1846 was for the theatre; thereafter his major poems
showed his increasing mastery of the dramatic monologue. This consists
essentially of a narrative spoken by a single character and amplified by
his comments on his story and the circumstances in which he is speaking.
From his own knowledge of the historical or other events described, or
else by inference from the poem itself, the reader is eventually enabled
to assess the intelligence and honesty of the narrator and the value of
the views he expresses.


During Browning's lifetime, critical recognition came rapidly after
1864; and, although his books never sold as well as his wife's or
Tennyson's, he thereafter acquired a considerable and enthusiastic
public. In the 20th century his reputation, along with those of the
other great Victorians, declined, and his work did not enjoy a wide
reading public, perhaps in part because of increasing skepticism of the
values implied in his poetry. He has, however, influenced many modern
poets, such as Robert Frost and Ezra Pound, partly through his
development of the dramatic monologue, with its emphasis on the
psychology of the individual and his stream of consciousness, but even
more through his success in writing about the variety of modern life in
language that owed nothing to convention. As long as technical
accomplishment, richness of texture, sustained imaginative power, and a
warm interest in humanity are counted virtues, Browning will be numbered
among the great English poets.

        -- EB


Browning, Robert

  b. May 7, 1812, London
  d. Dec. 12, 1889, Venice

The son of a clerk in the Bank of England in London, Browning received
only a slight formal education, although his father gave him a grounding
in Greek and Latin. In 1828 he attended classes at the University of
London but left after half a session. Apart from a journey to St.
Petersburg in 1834 with George de Benkhausen, the Russian consul
general, and two short visits to Italy in 1838 and 1844, he lived with
his parents in London until 1846, first at Camberwell and after 1840 at

During this period (1832-46) he wrote his early long poems and most of
his plays. Browning's first published work, Pauline: A Fragment of a
Confession (1833, anonymous), although formally a dramatic monologue,
embodied many of his own adolescent passions and anxieties. Although it
received some favourable comment, it was attacked by John Stuart Mill,
who condemned the poet's exposure and exploitation of his own emotions
and his "intense and morbid self-consciousness." It was perhaps Mill's
critique that determined Browning never to confess his own emotions
again in his poetry but to write objectively. In 1835 he published
Paracelsus and in 1840 Sordello, both poems dealing with men of great
ability striving to reconcile the demands of their own personalities
with those of the world. Paracelsus was well received, but Sordello,
which made exacting demands on its reader's knowledge, was almost
universally declared incomprehensible.

Encouraged by the actor Charles Macready, Browning devoted his main
energies for some years to verse drama, a form that he had already
adopted for Strafford (1837). Between 1841 and 1846, in a series of
pamphlets under the general title of Bells and Pomegranates, he
published seven more plays in verse, including Pippa Passes (1841), A
Blot in the 'Scutcheon (produced in 1843), and Luria (1846). These, and
all his earlier works except Strafford, were printed at his family's
expense. Although Browning enjoyed writing for the stage, he was not
successful in the theatre, since his strength lay in depicting, as he
had himself observed of Strafford, "Action in Character, rather than
Character in Action."

By 1845 the first phase of Browning's life was near its end. In that
year he met Elizabeth Barrett. In her Poems (1844) Barrett had included
lines praising Browning, who wrote to thank her (January 1845). In May
they met and soon discovered their love for each other. Barrett had,
however, been for many years an invalid, confined to her room and
thought incurable. Her father, moreover, was a dominant and selfish man,
jealously fond of his daughter, who in turn had come to depend on his
love. When her doctors ordered her to Italy for her health and her
father refused to allow her to go, the lovers, who had been
corresponding and meeting regularly, were forced to act. They were
married secretly in September 1846; a week later they left for Pisa.

Throughout their married life, although they spent holidays in France
and England, their home was in Italy, mainly at Florence, where they had
a flat in Casa Guidi. Their income was small, although after the birth
of their son, Robert, in 1849 Mrs. Browning's cousin John Kenyon made
them an allowance of £100 a year, and on his death in 1856 he left them

Browning produced comparatively little poetry during his married life.
Apart from a collected edition in 1849 he published only Christmas-Eve
and Easter-Day (1850), an examination of different attitudes toward
Christianity, perhaps having its immediate origin in the death of his
mother in 1849; an introductory essay (1852) to some spurious letters of
Shelley, Browning's only considerable work in prose and his only piece
of critical writing; and Men and Women (1855). This was a collection of
51 poems--dramatic lyrics such as "Memorabilia," "Love Among the Ruins,"
and "A Toccata of Galuppi's"; the great monologues such as "Fra Lippo
Lippi," "How It Strikes a Contemporary," and "Bishop Blougram's
Apology"; and a very few poems in which implicitly ("By the Fireside")
or explicitly ("One Word More") he broke his rule and spoke of himself
and of his love for his wife. Men and Women, however, had no great sale,
and many of the reviews were unfavourable and unhelpful. Disappointed
for the first time by the reception of his work, Browning in the
following years wrote little, sketching and modeling in clay by day and
enjoying the society of his friends at night.

At last Mrs. Browning's health, which had been remarkably restored by
her life in Italy, began to fail. On June 29, 1861, she died in her
husband's arms. In the autumn he returned slowly to London with his
young son.

His first task on his return was to prepare his wife's Last Poems for
the press. At first he avoided company, but gradually he accepted
invitations more freely and began to move in society. Another collected
edition of his poems was called for in 1863, but Pauline was not
included. When his next book of poems, Dramatis Personae
(1864)--including "Abt Vogler," "Rabbi Ben Ezra," "Caliban upon
Setebos," and "Mr. Sludge, The Medium' "--reached two editions, it was
clear that Browning had at last won a measure of popular recognition.

In 1868-69 he published his greatest work, The Ring and the Book, based
on the proceedings in a murder trial in Rome in 1698. Grand alike in
plan and execution, it was at once received with enthusiasm, and
Browning was established as one of the most important literary figures
of the day. For the rest of his life he was much in demand in London
society. He spent his summers with friends in France, Scotland, or
Switzerland or, after 1878, in Italy.

The most important works of his last years, when he wrote with great
fluency, were the long narrative or dramatic poems, often dealing with
contemporary themes, such as Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau (1871), Fifine
at the Fair (1872), Red Cotton Night-Cap Country (1873), The Inn Album
(1875), and the two series of Dramatic Idyls (1879 and 1880). He wrote a
number of poems on classical subjects, including Balaustion's Adventure
(1871) and Aristophanes' Apology (1875). In addition to many collections
of shorter poems--Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper (1876),
Jocoseria (1883), Ferishtah's Fancies (1884), and Asolando: Fancies and
Facts (1889)--Browning published toward the end of his life two books of
unusually personal origin--La Saisiaz (1878), at once an elegy for his
friend Anne Egerton-Smith and a meditation on mortality, and Parleyings
with Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887), in which he
discussed books and ideas that had influenced him since his youth.

While staying in Venice in 1889, Browning caught cold, became seriously
ill, and died on December 12. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

        -- EB

34 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

neil broad said...

I'm writing an essay on this poem but have obviously got to understand it beofre I continue. I believe this to be about politics or religion, but need to understand what the patriot has done to deserve death. Can you help as struggling to find.

Many thanks

Louise Broad

Dave said...

help me understand about this poem the PATRIOT by Robert Browning . Im writing a essay about this and so far havnt grasped its context. Hope you may be able to help David Wright

milena said...

The whole point is that he hasn't done anything specifically to deserve death, rather, ironically, that he did all he could for the people he loved whom turned against him despite all this. Therefore, political and social corruption.

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