Themes in Robert Browning Poems

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The Patriot

The poem tells the story of a well-respected man who falls from power - it is the story of pride coming before a fall.

We see the contrast between the 'glory days' when the "old walls rocked with the crowd" and today, where there is "nobody on the rooftops." It seems that the public has fallen out of love with the narrator. 

Whilst he seems to think that what he did was right because he gave the sun to his "loving friends," it seems the there is an implication of, perhaps, some corruption involved. Perhaps the title "The Patriot" is ironic, as the narrator has done nothing for his country, only for himself

The fact that he says that he is "safter so" in being killed, and that God will have to "repay" him shows how, even after everything, the narrator still believes that he is right. Is Browing making a comment on senseless selfishness?

The title "an old story" makes is seem like it is a familiar tale, one we have all seen before and will see again. Browing is making a comment on the corruption and apathy of those in power.

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My Last Duchess

This poem tells the story of a Duke who had his last wife killed for flirting with other men, and how he is planning on remarrying

The narrator's casual language when talking about his late wife is alarming, he says that  he "gave commands and all smiles stopped together," and abrupt ending to the Duchess' life, after forty-five lines building up an image of her. 

It makes the Duke sound cold and apathetic, and incredibly sinister. Is Browing commenting on the misogyny of this man? Or his abuse of power?

He is very possesive of his Duchess, saying that "she had a heart...too soon made glad," clearly showing his desire for her to only be happy with him. Perhaps, in fact, this is a poem about obsession and possesion?

The fact that, at the end, he negotiates an "ample..dowry" for his next wife seems to show how he hasn't learned anything and will continue to act in this way.

Perhaps this poem is about the nature of treating people as objects? It seems that there are mant different ideas in Browing's My Last Duchess.

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The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Written as "a child's story" for a sick boy, this poem is about a piper who is commisioned to rid a town of rats, but, when he is not paid, takes away the children as well. 

The moral of this tale seems to be pretty clearly spelled out in the last stanza: "if we've promised them aught, let us keep out promise!" Browing is instilling the need to keep bargins. 

However, it seems that the poem is a lot more complex than a simple child's story, as the political message at the end seems to show how it is about the nature of corruption. That the "Mayor and Corporation" are corrupt politicians, and that this should be dealt with. 

Perhaps, really the "piper of Hamelin town" is the hero of the story, for he lets retribution rain down on the corruption. 

Maybe, it is less a scary story of what will happen if you don't keep deals, and more a comment on the way these people should be dealt with.

What is clear, is that Browing wanted to show the consequences of corruption, especially in the government. 

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Porphyria's Lover

This poem is about two lovers who cannot be together because of "pride" - he is poor and she is rich. And so, to solve this, the narrator murders his lover, so she can stay his forever. 

The concise and apathetic way that the narrator tells the story - "while I debated what to do" - makes the conclusion very sinister. When he "strangles her," it seems very cold and detatched.

He wants to keep her "perfectly pure and good" forever, so perhaps Browing is commenting on the possessive nature of men towards women? Or maybe this is simply a narrative about possesion, and its disasterous consequences

The ambiguous line at the end -  "and yet God has not said a word!"  - could be interpreted as meaning that, because God hasn't told him off, the narrator believes that he was right.

Or, perhaps, it is more of an 'in-your-face': "where is your God now?" line? Is the narrator saying that there is no God because he was allowed to do this? Does his realise that it was wrong?

What is clear, is that this poem focuses on the nature of obbession, and perhaps even the negatives of social stigmas?

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Fra Lippo Lippi

This poem is about a crude monk who, whilst not a particularly pious believer, in the sense that he has many sexual indiscretions, believes profusely in the power of art for art's sake, and that he should be allowed to recreate realistic faces in his art, which he values so much. 

Fra Lippo Lippi says that "God uses is to help each other so, lending our minds out," and that that is what art is for. 

He strongly believes in the "beauty and the wonder and the power" of the world, and wants to recreate this as "God made it all!" Browning is commenting on the value of art, and perhaps of piety; that it is religiously noble to want to recreate the world in realistic form. 

He also explains his 'animal instincts' by saying that he is "a beast," but that he knows the "value and significance of flesh." This is perhaps interpreted as a good thing? Is Browning saying that sexual indiscretions of the flesh are okay? Maybe not, be he is certainly saying that we should not judge Fra Lippo Lippi so for it. 

At the end, Lippi puts himself in the picture he is painting - "I'm the man!" - a final act of defiance against those who say that he is not allowed to express himself in this way!

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The Laboratory

This poem is about a lady buying poison to poison a woman she is jealous of. It is the only poem narrated by a woman in the collection.

The poem is, clearly, about jealousy. The narrator wants her rival to "drop dead," she is so jealous. Perhaps Browing is showing us what will happen if we let jealousy fester.

She wants revenge, as she feels that she has been wronged, that this 'other women' "ensnared him" when he should have been hers. Again, Browning is showing how low the human imagination can sink if we let jealous in.

Also the story seems to revolve around death, and how much pleasure the narrator takes out of it; she asks the poison-maker to "grind away, moisten and mash-up thy paste," and it seems like she is enjoying it.

It seems that the narrator has a deep hatred of women, that she needs to be better than them. She says that she doesn't want her target to be "spare[d]...the pain." Perhaps Browing is commenting on the way jealous can make us hate our allies?

The narrator is also very paranoid, stating that her ex-lover and rival are "laugh[ing] at her." This is what jealousy does to you.

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