Saturday, July 11, 2009


Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright of the 19th century whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.

Robert’s father was a man of fine intellect and character who loved collecting books. He amassed a library of around 6000 books and encouraged his son to read and take interest in literature and art. His mother, with whom he shared a close bond, was a talented musician and a devout non-conformist.

In his childhood, Robert was distinguished by his love for poetry and natural history; however he demonstrated a strong dislike for institutionalized education. Realising this, his parents arranged a suitable tutor for their son to be educated at home.

Browning was a fast learner and by the age of 14 was fluent in French, Greek, Italian, Latin as well as his native English. He quit college after one year of studying and his parents, understanding his decision, supported him well into his 30’s.

Browning became a great admirer of Romantic poets, especially Shelley. Following Shelley’s precedence, he became a vegetarian and an atheist, both of which he gave up later.

Browning fell in love with Elizabeth Barret with whom he shared deep love for poetry. The two married secretly because of her father’s disapproval and settled down in Italy. He wrote comparatively little poetry in the next 15 years. Until this time Browning had a relatively low profile. It was only after Elizabeth’s death that he moved back to England and wrote some of his most acclaimed poetry and finally got the recognition he deserved. He and Tennyson are now mentioned together as the foremost poets of the age.

Browning’s influence continued to grow and led to the forming of the Browning society in 1881. He died in 1889 on the same day as his final volume of verse, Asolando, was published. He lies buried in the poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey.

One of his famous poems is " Incident of the French Camp." It is based on a true incident which took place during Napoleon's war with Austria. It is a salutation to modest heroism .

You know, we French stormed Ratisbon:
A mile or so away,
On a little mound, Napoleon
Stood on our storming-day;
With neck out-thrust, you fancy how,
Legs wide, arms locked behind,
As if to balance the prone brow
Oppressive with its mind.

Just as perhaps he mused, "My plans
That soar, to earth may fall,
Let once my army-leader Lannes
Waver at yonder wall."
0ut 'twixt the battery-smokes there flew
A rider, bound on bound
Full-galloping; nor bridle drew
Until he reached the mound.

Then off there flung in smiling joy,
And held himself erect
By just his horse's mane, a boy:
You hardly could suspect
(So tight he kept his lips compressed
Scarce any blood came through)
You looked twice ere you saw his breast
Was all but shot in two.

"Well," cried he, "Emperor, by God's grace
"We've got you Ratisbon!
"The Marshal's in the market-place,
And you'll be there anon
To see your flag-bird flap his vans
Where I, to heart's desire,
Perched him--" The chief's eye flashed; his plans
Soared up again like fire.

The chief's eye flashed, but presently
Softened itself, as sheathes
A film the mother-eagle's-eye
When her bruised eaglet breathes,
"You're wounded!" "Nay," the soldier's pride
Touched to the quick, he said:"I'm killed, Sire!" And his chief beside,
Smiling the boy fell dead.
Here is a link to a beautiful recital of this poem
Divya Gurnay

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