Selections from the Poems and Plays of Robert Browning
by Robert Browning
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80-84. The Bishop rejoices in all that has to do with the forms and ceremonies of the church. Note in ll. 119-121 his insistence on form and order.

91. Strange thoughts. From this point on the Bishop's mind seems to wander.

108. A visor and a Term. The visor is a mask. A term is any bust or half-statue not placed upon but incorporated with, and as it were immediately springing out of, the square pillar which serves as its pedestal.


The quotation preceding this poem is from Acts xvii, 28, and is, in full, "As certain also of your own poets have said, 'For we are also his offspring.'" The poet thus referred to by Paul was Aratus, a Greek poet from Tarsus, Paul's own city. The Cleon and Protus of Browning's poem are not historical characters, but they are representative of the tone of thought and inquiry on the part of the Greek philosophers at the time of Paul. Lines 1-158 give an account of the achievements of Cleon, a man who has attained eminence in the various realms of poetry, philosophy, painting, and sculpture. He is not in any one accomplishment equal to the great poets, musicians, or artists of the past, and yet he represents progress because he is able to enter into sympathy with the great achievements in all these realms.

1. Sprinkled isles. Presumably the Sporades, the "scattered isles."

4. Profits in his Tyranny. Free government [in Greece] having superseded the old hereditary sovereignties, all who obtained absolute power in a state were called tyrants, or rather despots; for the term indicates the irregular way in which the power was given rather than the way in which it was exercised. Tyrants might be mild in exercise of authority, and, like Protus, liberal in their patronage of the arts.

8. Gift after gift. Protus, a patron of the arts, shows his appreciation of the work of Cleon by many royal gifts. Chief among the slaves, black and white, sent by Protus, is one white woman in a bright yellow wool robe, who is especially commissioned to present a beautiful cup. Lines 136-8 are also descriptive of this girl.

41. Zeus. The chief of the Grecian gods.

47. That epos. An epic poem by Cleon engraved on golden plates.

51. The image of the sun-god on the phare. Cleon has made a statue of Apollo for a lighthouse. Phare is from the island of Pharos where there was a famous lighthouse.

53. The Poecile. The Portico of Athens painted with battle pictures by Polygnotus.

69. For music. "In Greek music the scales were called moods or modes and were subject to great variation in the arrangement of tones and semitones." (Porter-Clarke, note in Camberwell edition.)

82. The checkered pavement. This pavement of black and white marble in an elaborate pattern of various sorts of four-sided figures was a gift to Cleon from his own nation.

100-112. The similitude is involved but fairly clear. The water that touches the sphere here and there, one point at a time, as the sphere is revolved, represents the power of great geniuses who, each at one point, have reached great heights. The air that fills the sphere represents the composite modern mind that synthesizes the parts into a great whole.

132. Drupe. Any stone-fruit. The contrast is between the wild plum and the cultivated plum.

139. Homer. The poet to whom very ancient tradition assigns the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Terpander, the father of Greek music, flourished about 700-650 B.C. Phidias, a famous Athenian sculptor, lived 500-432 B.C. His friend was Pericles, the ruler of Athens.

304. Sappho. A Greek poetess. She wrote about 600 B.C.

305. AEschylus, a Greek tragic poet, 525-456 B.C.

340. Paulus. Paul died about 64 A.D. The date of this poem is therefore about the last quarter of the first century A.D. Cleon had heard so vaguely about the Christian religion that he did not know the difference between Christ and Paul. The "doctrine" spoken of in the last line was the Christian teaching concerning immortality. The Greek, Cleon, had felt a longing to believe in another existence in which man would have unlimited capability for joy, but Zeus had revealed no such doctrine, and the cultivated Greek was not ready to receive it at the hands of a man like Paul.


A poem directly addressed to Mrs. Browning. It was originally appended to the collection of Poems called Men and Women. For other tributes by great poets to their wives see Wordsworth's "She was a phantom of delight," and "O dearer far than life and light are dear;" and Tennyson's "Dear, near and true." Mrs. Browning's love for her husband had found passionate expression in Sonnets from the Portuguese.

2. Naming me. Giving a name to the volume for me.

5-31. Raphael's "lady of the sonnets" was Margharita (La Fornarina), the baker's daughter, whose likeness appears in several of his most celebrated pictures. The Madonnas enumerated in ll. 22-25 are the Sistine Madonna, now in the Dresden Gallery; the Madonna di Foligno, so called because it had been painted as a votive offering for Sigismund Corti of Foligno; the Madonna del Granduca (Petti Palace, Florence) in which the Madonna is represented as appearing to a votary in a vision; and probably the Madonna called La Belle Jardiniere in the Louvre. There is no evidence that Raphael wrote more than one sonnet, or three at most. The "century of sonnets" attributed to him by Browning "is probably an example of poetical license." The volume Guido Reni treasured and left to his heir was a volume with a hundred designs by Raphael. (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 297)

32-57. Dante's chief work was his great poem, the Inferno, in which were caustic sketches of evil men of various sorts. The sketch in the lines 35-41 is made up from two descriptions (Inferno, Cantos 32, 33) of traitors, the one to his country, the other to a familiar friend. The second of these was still alive when Dante wrote (W. M. Rossetti, Academy, Jan. 10, 1891). Beatrice, or Bice, was the woman Dante loved. It was on the first anniversary of her death that he began to draw the angel. Dante tells of this in the Vita Nuovo, xxxv, and there describes the interruption of the "people of importance."

63-4. To Raphael painting is an art that has become his nature; to Dante, poetry is an art that has become his nature. But this one time, for the woman of his love, each chooses the art in which he may have some natural skill but for which he has had no technical training.

73-108. The "artist's sorrow" as contrasted with the "man's joy" is illustrated from the experiences of Moses in conducting the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus xvii). His achievement savors of disrelish because of the grumbling unbelief of the people, and because of the ungracious irritation into which he has been betrayed even when taxing his God-given power to the utmost in their behalf. He must hold steadily to his majesty as a prophet or he cannot control and so serve the crowd, but he covets the man's joy of doing supreme service to the woman whom he loves.

97. Sinai-forehead's cloven brilliance. Exodus xix, 9, 16; xxxiv, 30.

101. Jethro's daughter. Zipporah, the wife of Moses. Exodus ii, 16, 21.

121. He who works in fresco. The fresco painter uses large free strokes of the brush. But in order to give something distinctive to the lady of his love he will try painting tiny illuminations on the margins of her missal.

143. Be how I speak. That is, he usually writes dramatically, giving the experience and uttering the words of the characters he has created, such as the Arab physician, Karshish; the Greek Cleon; Norbert, the man whom the Queen loved in "In a Balcony"; the painter, Fra Lippo Lippi; the heroic pilgrim, Childe Roland; the painter, Andrea del Sarto. But now, for once, he speaks in his own person, directly to the woman he loves.

144-156. In Florence they had seen the new moon, a mere crescent over the hill Fiesole, and had watched its growth till it hung, round and full, over the church of San Miniato. Now, in London, the moon is in its last quarter.

163. Zoroaster. Founder of the Irano-Persian religion, the chief god of which, Varuna, was the god of light and of the illuminated night-heaven.

164. Galileo. A celebrated Italian astronomer (1564-1642).

165. Dumb to Homer. Homer celebrated the moon in the "Hymn to Diana." Keats wrote much about the moon and the hero of his poem "Endymion" was represented as in love with the moon.

172-179. See Exodus xxiv.


Abbe (or Abt) Vogler (1749-1814) was a Catholic priest well known a century ago as an organist and a composer. He founded three schools of music, one at Mannheim, one at Stockholm, and one at Darmstadt. He was especially noted for his organ recitals, as many as 7000 tickets having been sold for a single recital in Amsterdam. In 1798 it was said that he had then given over a thousand organ concerts. His knowledge of acoustics and his consequent skill in combining the stops enabled him to bring much power and variety from organs with fewer pipes than were generally considered necessary. The remodeling and simplification of organs was one of his most eagerly pursued activities. He not only rearranged the pipes, but he introduced free reeds. Through some skillful Swedish organ-builders he was at last enabled to have an organ small enough to be portable and constructed according to his ideas. This he called an "orchestrion." Of Vogler's power as an organist Rinck says, "His organ playing was grand, effective in the utmost degree." It was, however, when he was improvising that his power was most astonishing. Once at a musical soiree Vogler and Beethoven extemporized alternately, each giving the other a theme, and Gansbacher records the pitch of enthusiasm to which he was roused by Vogler's masterly playing. Three of Voglers most famous pupils at Darmstadt were Meyerbeer, Gansbacher, and Carl Maria von Weber. The last of these gives an attractive picture of the musician extemporizing in the old church at Darmstadt. "Never," says Weber, "did Vogler in his extemporization drink more deeply at the source of all beauty, than when before his three dear boys, as he liked to call us, he drew from the organ angelic voices and word of thunder." Browning's poem records the experiences of the musician in one of these moods of rapturous creation.

The argument of the poem is thus given by Mr. Stopford Brooke in The Poetry of Robert Browning, page 149:

"When Solomon pronounced the Name of God, all the spirits, good and bad, assembled to do His will and build His palace. And when I, Abt Vogler, touched the keys, I called the Spirits of Sound to me, and they have built my palace of music; and to inhabit it all the Great Dead came back till in the vision I made a perfect music. Nay, for a moment, I touched in it the infinite perfection; but now it is gone; I cannot bring it back. Had I painted it, had I written it, I might have explained it. But in music out of the sounds something emerges which is above the sounds, and that ineffable thing I touched and lost. I took the well-known sounds of earth, and out of them came a fourth sound, nay not a sound—but a star. This was a flash of God's will which opened the Eternal to me for a moment; and I shall find it again in the eternal life. Therefore, from the achievement of earth and the failure of it, I turn to God, and in Him I see that every image, thought, impulse, and dream of knowledge or beauty—which, coming whence we know not, flit before us in human life, breathe for a moment, and then depart; which, like my music, build a sudden palace in imagination; which abide for an instant and dissolve, but which memory and hope retain as a ground of aspiration—are not lost to us though they seem to die in their immediate passage. Their music has its home in the Will of God and we shall find them completed there."

3. Solomon. In Jewish legend it is said that Solomon had power over angels and demons through a seal on which "the most great name of God was engraved."

13. And one would bury his brow. This description of the foundations of the palace is not unlike Milton's account of the work of the fallen angels in building the palace in hell. (Paradise Lost, I, 170.) That "fabric huge" was as magical in its construction as the palace of Abt Vogler, for, though it was not built by music, it

"Rose like an exhalation with the sound Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet."

16. Nether Springs. Remotest origins.

23. Rome's dome. The illumination of St. Peter's was formerly one of the customary spectacles on the evening of Easter Sunday. "At Ave-Maria we drove to Piazza of St. Peter's. The lighting of the lanternoni, or large paper lanterns, each of which looks like a globe of ethereal fire, had been going on for an hour, and by the time we arrived there was nearly completed.... The whole of this immense church—its columns, capitals, cornices, and pediments—the beautiful swell of the lofty dome ... all were designed in lines of fire, and the vast sweep of the circling colonnades ... was resplendent with the same beautiful light." (C. A. Eaton, Rome in the Nineteenth Century, II, 208.)

23. Space to spire. From the wide opening between the colonnades to the cross on the top of the lantern surmounting the dome.

34. Protoplast. Used apparently for protoplasm, a substance constituting the physical basis of life in all plants and animals.

39. Into his musical palace came the wonderful Dead in a glorified form, and also Presences fresh from the Protoplast, while, for the moment, he himself in the ardor of musical creation felt himself raised to the level of these exalted ones.

53. Consider it well. On the mystery of musical creation and on its permanence see Cardinal Newman's sermon on "The Theory of Development in Christian Doctrine." (Quoted in part, in Berdoe's Browning Cyclopaedia.)

57. Palace of music. Cf. the description of the glowing banquet-room in Keats's "Lamia":

"A haunting music, sole perhaps and lone Supportress of the faery-roof, made moan Throughout, as fearful the whole charm might perish."

The damsel with the dulcimer in Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" sings of Mount Abora, and the poet says:

"Could I revive within me Her sympathy and song To such a deep delight 'twould win me That with music loud and long I would build that dome in air, That sunny dome, those caves of ice! And all who heard should see them there."

In Tennyson's "Gareth and Lynette" (l. 270), Merlin says to Gareth in describing Camelot,

"For and ye heard a music, like enow They are building still, seeing the city is built To music, therefore never built at all, And therefore built forever."

There are also more ancient accounts of this union of music and architecture. Amphion, King of Thebes, played on his lyre till the stones moved of their own accord into the wall he was building. When King Laomedan built the walls of Troy, Apollo's lyre did similar service to that of Amphion in Thebes. For an interesting account of "Voice Figures" see The Century Magazine, May 1891.

64. What was, shall be. For this faith in the actual permanence of what seemed so evanescent, compare Adelaide Procter's "Lost Chord."

69. There shall never be one lost good. Whatever of good has existed must always exist. Evil, being self-destructive, finally "is null, is naught." This is the Hegelian doctrine. Walt Whitman said on reading Hegel, "Roaming in thought over the Universe I saw the little that is Good steadily hastening towards immortality. And the vast all that is called Evil I saw hastening to merge itself and become lost and dead." (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, page 40.)

81. A triumph's evidence. Failure in high heroic attempts seems to point forward to some more favorable future where noble effort is crowned with due success. Cf. "Cleon," lines 186-7:

"Imperfection means perfection hid, Reserved in part to grace the after time."

96. The C Major of this life. The musical terms in this passage are fully explained by Mrs. Turnbull and Miss Omerod in Browning Society Papers. Symbolically this line describes the musician as he comes back to everyday life, proud because of the vision that has been granted him, but with a consciousness that experiences so exalted are not for "human nature's daily food," and that their true function is to send one back to ordinary pains and pleasures with a new acquiescence.

(In The Browning Society Papers are Mrs. Turnbull's "Abt Vogler," and three papers by Miss Helen Omerod: (1) "Abt Vogler the Man." (2) "Some Notes on Browning's Poems relating to Music." (3) "Andrea del Sarto and Abt Vogler.")


Ben Ezra was an eminent Jewish Rabbi of the Middle Ages. His Commentaries on the books of the Old Testament are of great value. Mr. A. J. Campbell, who has studied Browning's poem in connection with the writings of the real Rabbi Ben Ezra, thinks that the distinctive features of the Rabbi of the poem, and the philosophy ascribed to him, were drawn from the works of the historical Rabbi, the keynote of whose teaching was that the essential life of man is the life of the soul, and that age is more important than youth. (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia. Cf. also Berdoe, Browning's Message to His Times, pp. 157-172.)

1. Grow old along with me. Cf. Saul, lines 161-162. See Matthew Arnold's "'Tis time to grow old" for a beautiful statement of the pessimistic attitude toward old age.

7-15. It would be folly, says the Rabbi, to object to the unreasoning ambitions, the fluctuations of desire, the hopes and fears of youth. In fact (ll. 16-30), he counts these very aspirations toward the impossible, this very state of mental and spiritual unrest and doubt, a proof of the spark of divinity which separates men from beasts and allies them to God. It is a characteristic Browning doctrine that conflict, struggle, the pangs and throes of learning, are the stimuli through which character develops.

40-42. Cf. Saul, l. 295.

49-72. In lines 43-48 the Rabbi had urged the subservience of the body to the soul, but in these lines he shows that the life of the flesh is not to be underestimated, that ideal progress comes from a just alliance Of the soul and the body. See Tennyson's "St. Simeon Stylites" for an account of the ascetic ideal in its lowest form.

81. Adventure brave and new. In "Prospice" death is reckoned an adversary to be courageously met and overcome. Here the Rabbi is represented as fearless and unperplexed as he contemplates the new life he will lead after death. In both poems we find unquestioning belief in an active and progressive and happy life after death.

85. Youth ended, I shall try, etc. Compare Tennyson's "By an Evolutionist."

87. Leave the fire ashes. In this figure the "fire" stands for the conflicts of life, the "gold" for whatever has proved of permanent worth, and the "ashes" for whatever has failed to stand the test of time and experience.

92. A certain moment. The moment between the fading of the sunset glory and the shutting down of evening darkness is here selected as the moment in which to appraise the work of the day. In the application of the simile to the life of man (lines 97-102) the "moment" apparently refers to old age when man has leisure and wisdom to appraise the Past.

102. The Future. The life of his "adventure brave and new" after death.

109-111. In "Old Pictures in Florence" Browning applies this idea to the development of art. As soon as men were content to repose in the perfection of Greek art (the thing "found made") stagnation ensued; the new life of art came when men strove for something new and original, even though their first attempts were crude ("acts uncouth").

120. Nor let thee feel alone. The solitude of age gives a chance for unhampered thought.

133-150. One of the things he has learned is that any judgment to be fair must take into account instincts, efforts, desires, as well as accomplishment.

151-186. This metaphor of the wheel is found in Isaiah lxiv, 8; Jeremiah xviii, 2-6; Romans ix, 21. Throughout this metaphor as Browning uses it, man seems to be "passive clay" in the hands of the potter, and under the power of the "machinery" the potter uses to give the soul its bent. The tone of the whole poem is, however, one of strenuous endeavor. Ardor, effort, progress, are the keynotes of life from youth to age. But life is finally counted a divine training for the service of God, and in this training the pious Rabbi sees joined the will of man and the care and guidance of God.

157. All that is, etc. Cf. "Abt Vogler," ll. 69-80.


The idea of this poem was evolved from Shakspere's Caliban, a strange, misshapen, fish-like being, one of the servants of Prospero in The Tempest. He was the son of a foul witch who had potent ministers and could control moon and tides, but could not undo her own hateful sorceries, and who worshiped a god called Setebos. Morally, Shakspere's Caliban was insensible to kindness, had bestial passions, was cowardly, vengeful, superstitious. He had keen animal instincts and knew the island well. He understood Prospero in some measure; learned to talk, to know the stars, to compose poetry, and took pleasure in music.

Thou thoughtest, etc. A quotation from Psalms 1, 21. This sentence is the keynote of Caliban's theological speculations.

1. Will. For "he will" instead of "I will." Through most of the poem Caliban speaks of himself in the third person as a child does. But note lines 68-97, where Caliban rises to unusual mental heights under the stimulus of the gourd-fruit-mash and uses the first person. How is it in ll. 100-108, 135-136, 160?

1-23. This portion of Caliban's soliloquy and the portion in lines 284-295 give the setting for his speculations. The hot, still summer day creates a mood in which Caliban's ideas flow out easily into speech. The thunderstorm at the end abruptly calls him back from his speculations to his normal state of subservience and superstitious fear.

24. Setebos. The god of the Patagonians. When the natives were taken prisoners by Magellan, they "cryed upon their devil Setebos to help them." Eden, History of Travaile.

25. He. The pronoun of the third person when referring to Setebos is capitalized.

31. It came of being ill at ease. Each step in Caliban's reasoning proceeds from some personal experience or observation. In this case he reasons from the fish to Setebos. Caliban attributes to Setebos unlimited power to create and control in whatever is comparatively near at hand and changeable. But Caliban had been affected by the mystery of the starry heavens. The remoteness and fixedness of the stars had suggested a quiet, unalterable, passionless force beyond Setebos, who must, therefore, have limitations. He did not make the stars (l. 27), he cannot create a mate like himself (ll. 57-8), he cannot change his nature so as to be like the Quiet above him (ll. 144-5). Hence, like the fish, Setebos had a dissatisfied consciousness of a bliss he was not born for. Discontent with himself, spite, envy, restlessness, love of power as a means of distraction, are the motives that, according to Caliban's reasoning, actuated Setebos in his creation of the world.

45. The fowls here, beast and creeping thing. Browning's remarkably minute and accurate knowledge of small animals is well illustrated by this poem. For further illustration see Saul, the last soliloquy in Pippa Passes, and the lyric "Thus the Mayne glideth."

75. Put case, etc. In determining the natural attitude of Setebos toward his creations, the formula Caliban uses is, Caliban plus power equals Setebos. The illustration from the bird (ll. 75-97) shows cruelty, and unreasoning, capricious exercise of power. The caprice of Setebos is further emphasized in ll. 100-108.

117. Hath cut a pipe. In his attitude toward his creatures Setebos is envious of all human worth or happiness if it is for a moment unconscious of absolute dependence on him.

150. Himself peeped late, etc. As Caliban gets some poor solace out of imitating Prospero, so one reason for Setebos's creation of the world was a half-scornful attempt to delude himself into apparent content. His imitations, his "make believes," are the unwilling homage his weakness pays to the power of the Quiet.

170-184. The weaknesses of all living beings were special devices whereby Setebos could, through need and fear, torture and rule.

185-199. Setebos worked also out of pure ennui. He liked the exercise of power, he liked to use his "wit," and he needed distraction.

200-210. Setebos hates and favors human beings without discoverable reason.

211-285. It is impossible to discover a way to please Setebos. His favor goes by caprice as does Caliban's with the daring squirrel and the terrified urchin, who please one day, and, doing the same things the next, would bring down vengeance. The only philosophy at which Caliban can arrive is that it is best not to be too happy. Simulated misery is more likely to escape than any show of happiness.


In memory of Browning's cousin, James Silverthorne, the "Charles" of the poem. The "one plant" of the last two stanzas is supposed to be the Spotted Persicaria, "a common weed with purple stains upon its rather large leaves." According to popular tradition this plant grew beneath the Cross, and the stains were made by drops of blood from the Savior's wounds. (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, page 268, quoting from Rev. H. Friend, Flowers and Flower Lore.)


"Prospice" ("Look forward") was written in the autumn following Mrs. Browning's death. "It ends with the expression of his triumphant certainty of meeting her, and breaks forth at last into so great a cry of pure passion that ear and heart alike rejoice. Browning at his best, Browning in the central fire of his character, is in it." (Brooke, The Poetry of Browning, page 251.)


"No poem in the volume of Dramatis Personae is connected with pictorial art, unless it be the few lines entitled 'A Face,' lines of which Emily Patmore, the poet's wife, was the subject, and written, as Browning seldom wrote, for the mere record of beauty. That 'little head of hers' is transferred to Browning's panel in the manner of an early Tuscan piece of ideal loveliness." (Dowden, Life of Browning.)

14. Correggio. A famous Italian painter of the Lombard school. These lines well describe his style.


These are the closing lines of the first book of The Ring and the Book. The passage is generally and probably rightly interpreted as an invocation to the spirit of his wife.


This poem was written and printed as the Prologue to Pacchiarotto and How he Worked in Distemper, published in 1876. It was, however, given the title "A Wall" when published in 1880 in Selections from Robert Browning's Poems, Second Series. The last two stanzas express one of the fundamental ideas of Browning's poetry. Under the figure of the wall with its pulsating robe of vines and the eagerness of the lover to penetrate to the life within the house, he sets forth his thought of the barrier between himself and a longed-for future life in heaven. The "forth to thee" is to be interpreted as referring to his wife.


Three of Browning's poems, "At the Mermaid," "House," and "Shop," refer with more or less explicitness to Shakspere. The last stanza in "House" contains a quotation from Wordsworth's "Scorn not the Sonnet" to the effect that in his sonnets Shakspere revealed the most intimate facts of his life. "At the Mermaid" and "House" both combat this idea. In "At the Mermaid" Browning in the person of Shakspere says:

"Which of you did I enable Once to slip within my breast, There to catalogue and label What I like least, what love best, Hope and fear, believe and doubt of, Seek and shun, respect—deride? Who has right to make a rout of Rarities he found inside?"

As applied to Browning the poems represent the indignation with which he regarded such personal revelations, such utterance of sighs and groans, as characterized Byron (the "Last King" of "At the Mermaid"); but they overstate the impersonal nature of Browning's own work which is frequently a very direct statement of his own emotions and views, while even from his dramatic work it is not difficult to find his "hopes and fears, beliefs and doubts." In stanzas 10-12 of "At the Mermaid," for example, just after he has protested against "leaving bosom's gate ajar," he fully sets forth the joy, the optimism, of his own outlook on life. "Shop" is an indirect protest against the assumption that Shakspere wrote mainly for money, caring merely for the material success of his work. (See Poet-Lore, Vol. III, pp. 216-221, April, 1889, for Browning's tribute to Shakspere.) More directly the poem represents the starved life of the man whom "shop," the business necessary to earn a living, occupies "each day and all day long" with no spirit-life behind.


This poem was written during Browning's second visit to Le Croisic in Brittany, in September, 1867. It was published in The Cornhill Magazine, March, 1871, the proceeds of one hundred guineas being sent by Browning to the Paris Relief Fund, to provide food for the people after the siege of Paris. The story is historic. Mrs. Lemoyne, in 1884, read "Herve Riel" to Browning and he then told her that it was his custom to learn all about the heroes and legends of any town that he stopped in and that he had thus, in going over the records of the town of St. Malo, come upon the story of Herve Riel, which he narrated just as it happened in 1692, except that in reality the hero had a life holiday. "The facts of the story had been forgotten, and were denied at St. Malo; but the reports of the French Admiralty were looked up, and the facts established." (Dr. Furnivall quoted in Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia.)


This little poem was written and printed as the Prologue to La Saisiaz in 1878, but in the Selections it appeared as No. 3 of "Pisgah-Sights."


Prefatory stanzas to The Two Poets of Croisic.


This fate of the musician and the cricket has the same fundamental idea as the prefatory stanzas, the power of love to soften what is gruff and brighten what is somber in life.

64. Music's son. Goethe. The "Lotte" of the next line, the heroine of Goethe's Sorrows of Werther, was modeled in part on Charlotte Buff, with whom Goethe was at one time in love.


[Greek: Chairete, nikomen.] Rejoice we conquer!

2. Daemons. In Greek mythology a superior order of beings between men and the gods.

4. Her of the aegis and spear. Athena, whose aegis was a scaly cloak or mantle bordered with serpents and bearing Medusa's head.

5. Ye of the bow and the buskin. Artemis or Diana, the huntress. Ancient statues represent her as wearing shoes laced to the ankle.

8. Pan. The god of nature, half goat and half man. To him was ascribed the power of causing sudden fright by his voice and appearance. He came suddenly into the midst of the Persians on the field of Marathon—so the legend runs—and threw them into such a "panic" that, for this reason, they lost the battle.

9. Archons of Athens, topped by the tettix. Archon. One of the nine rulers of Athens. Tettix. A grasshopper. "The Athenians sometimes wore golden grasshoppers in their hair as badges of honor, because these insects are supposed to spring from the ground, and thus they showed they were sprung from the original inhabitants of the country." (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 336.)

12. Reach Sparta for aid. The distance between Athens and Sparta is about 135 miles.

18. Persia bids Athens proffer slaves'-tribute, water and earth. The Persians sent to those states which they wished to subject, messengers who were to ask earth and water as symbols of submission.

19. Eretria. An important city on the island of Euboea.

20. Hellas. Greece.

38. The moon, half-orbed. Spartan troops finally came to Athens after the full moon.

47. Filleted victim. A victim whose head was decked with ribbons.

52. Parnes. Herodotus refers in this connection to the Parthenian mountain.

62. Erebos. Hades, the abode of shades or departed spirits.

83. Fennel. The Greek word Marathon means fennel.

89. Miltiades. One of the ten Athenian generals.

105. Unforeseeing one. The poet finishes the story, which he has hitherto allowed Pheidippides to tell for himself.

105. Marathon day. In the month of September, B. C. 490.

106. Akropolis. The stronghold of Athens.


The love of the Arab for his horse is traditional. "The story is a common one and seems adapted from a Bedouin's anecdote told in Rollo Springfield's The Horse and His Rider." (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia, p. 280.)


This poem is in the nature of a prelude to the group of poems published under the title Jocoseria, 1883. Each poem in this volume shows the lack of some element that would have brought the human action or experience to perfection.

8. Comer. The invocation probably refers to the spirit of love with its inspiring, transforming power.


This poem was published in Jocoseria in 1883. It is doubtless to be grouped with the poems that refer directly to Mrs. Browning.


Browning says that this poem has no direct historical reference. He calls it "An Old Story," because in all ages men have experienced this unjust reversal of public approval. The poem is merely an imaginative, dramatic representation of the fickleness of popular favor.


The title of this poem means "Threatening Tyrant." It comes from Horace's "Ode on the Just Man," in Odes, III, 3, i. The just man is not frightened by the frown of the threatening tyrant—non vullus instantis tyranni. Archdeacon Farrar refers the incidents to persecution of the early Christians. The poem certainly deals with some period when the ruler of a great realm had unlimited power to follow out his most insignificant animosities, and when just men and just causes had no human recourse.

The general idea of the poem is clear and forcible, but there are many minor difficulties of interpretation.

6. What was his force? An ironic question. The man groveled because he was powerless to resist, and (line 10) because resistance might bring even worse punishment.

11. Were the object, etc. If the man could be made rich, if his life could be crowded with pleasures, if there could be found relatives or friends whom he loved, then there would be obvious ways of hurting him, he would stand forth in sufficient importance to make the swing of the tyrant's hand effective. But as it is, the man's poverty and friendlessness and meagerness of life render it difficult to find out vulnerable points of attack. He remains hidden (perdue) and, like the midge of the egg of an insect (nit), is safe through his very insignificance.

21. spilth. That which is poured out profusely. The flagon is a vessel with one handle and a long narrow neck or spout.

35. Then a humor, etc. The tyrant goes through various changes of mood in his attitude toward his enemy. In lines 35-43 he feels a moment of contemptuous compunction at the man's suffering, and recognizes the absurdity of a contest between a great king and a person as insignificant as a tricksy elf, a toad, or a rat. But in line 44 his mood turns. He perceives that the burden (gravamen) of the whole matter lies in the incredibly petty nature of this unconquerable, baffling opposition to his will. He sees how the situation would awaken the wonder of the great lords who abjectly obey his lightest word, but he concludes that, after all, the small becomes great if it vexes you.

53. I soberly, etc. Even the tyrant sees a kind of grotesque humor as he narrates first the elaborate plans to entrap and crush so seemingly powerless a foe, and then the striking reversal of position when the man proves to have God on his side, and the tyrant becomes the one to cower in fear.


At the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, Lombardy and Venetia were assigned to Austria. Most of the inhabitants submitted to the foreign rule, but there were always small bands of patriots who stirred up revolutions against Austria. The chief revolution was that led by Mazzini in 1848, and when he was in exile he read this poem with much appreciation. In Pippa Passes (1840), in the story of Luigi and the Austrian police, Browning had already given a picture based on Italy's struggle for freedom. In 1844 he visited Italy and then wrote "The Italian in England," which appeared in 1845. This poem does not represent a definite historic incident, but such a one as might have occurred in the life of some Italian patriot. For a similar feeling towards Italian independence see Mrs. Browning's Casa Guidi Windows (written 1848-1851). For earlier poems see Byron's "Ode" beginning "O Venice, Venice, when thy marble walls," Shelley's "Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills," and the following sonnet by Wordsworth:

"Once did She hold the gorgeous east in fee; And was the safeguard of the west: the worth Of Venice did not fall below her birth, Venice, the eldest Child of Liberty. She was a maiden City, bright and free; No guile seduced, no force could violate; And, when she took unto herself a Mate, She must espouse the everlasting Sea. And what if she had seen those glories fade, Those titles vanish, and that strength decay; Yet shall some tribute of regret be paid When her long life hath reached its final day: Men are we, and must grieve when even the Shade Of that which once was great, is passed away."

8. Charles. Carlo Alberto, King of Sardinia. He had used severe measures against "Young Italy," the party founded by Mazzini.

19. Metternich. A noted Austrian diplomat and one of the most powerful enemies of Italian freedom.

75. Duomo. The most famous church in Padua.

78. Tenebrae. Darkness. A religious service commemorative of the crucifixion. Fifteen lighted candles are put out one at a time, symbolizing the growing darkness of the world up to the time of the crucifixion.


The first interlude in Ferishtah's Fancies. These interludes are love lyrics which follow the separate Fables and Fancies of the Persian Dervish Ferishtah, and state in terms of the affections the truth embodied in didactic or philosophical fashion in the fables. In the first fable, "The Eagle," the Dervish observes an eagle feeding some deserted ravens. His first inference is that men will be cared for as the ravens, without effort of their own; later he sees that men should be as eagles and provide for the weak. The Dervish at once seeks the largest sphere of human usefulness with the words

"And since men congregate In towns, not woods—to Ispahan forthwith!"

The lyric protests against the temptation to self-centered seclusion on the part of those who are entirely satisfied in each other's love.


The volume of poems entitled Asolando was, by a strange chance, published on the day of Browning's death. Most of these poems were written in 1888-1889. The book was dedicated to Mrs. Arthur Bronson. The "Prologue" should be compared with Wordsworth's "Ode on Intimations of Immortality."

13. Chrysopras. The ruby and the emerald of this passage stand for rich red and green. The chrysopras is also green (an apple green variety of Chalcedony), but the first part of the word is from the Greek [Greek: chrysos], "gold," and that may be the color intended here.


The title means, The Chief Good. The poem came out in Asolando in 1889.


In the Pall Mall Gazette, Feb. 1, 1890 the following incident is given concerning the third stanza of this poem:

"One evening just before his death illness, the poet was reading this from a proof to his daughter-in-law and sister. He said: 'It almost looks like bragging to say this, and as if I ought to cancel it; but it's the simple truth; and as it's true, it shall stand.'"

Compare this poem and Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar."


Mrs. Sutherland Orr writes that while Browning was one day strolling through Dulwich Wood "the image flashed upon him of someone walking ... alone through life; one apparently too obscure to leave a trace of his or her passage, yet exercising a lasting though unconscious influence at every step of it; and the image shaped itself into the little silk-winder of Asolo, Felippa, or Pippa."


Asolo in the Trevisan. Asolo, a fortified medieval town at the foot of a hill surmounted by the ruins of a castle, and situated in the center of the silk-growing and silk-spinning industries, is in the province of Treviso about thirty-three miles northwest of Venice.

62. Monsignor. A title conferred upon prelates in the Roman Catholic church. This Monsignor is the chief personage in Part III, or Night.

88. Martagon. A kind of lily with light purplish flowers. The common name is Turk's Cap. Perhaps that suggested to Browning his comparison to the round bunch of flesh on the head of a Turk bird, or turkey.

131. Possagno church. Designed by Canova, who was born at Possagno, an obscure village near Asolo.

181. The Dome. The Duomo, or Cathedral, in the center of the town. The palace of the Bishop's brother is close by.


28. St. Mark's. There is an extensive view from Asolo. Venice, with its cupolas and steeples, is seen to the east. Ottima detects the belfry of the Church of St. Mark. The towns of Vicenza and Padua are also discernible.

59. The Capuchin. A branch of the Franciscan order of monks. Their habit is brown.

170. Campanula chalice. The flower of any one of a large genus of flowers with bell-shaped corollas.


27. El canibus nostris. Virgil, Eclogues iii, 67. "Notior ut jam sit canibus non Delia nostris"—"So that now not Delia's self is more familiar to our dogs." The boy Giovacchino of whose poetry they are making fun evidently had ideals not in harmony with the ways of these Venetian art students. These "dissolute, brutalized, heartless bunglers," as Jules calls them, attack with quick, clever, merciless tongues whatever savors of idealism, aspiration, purity. Their revenge for the scornful superiority manifested towards them by Jules is to secure, by a well-managed trick, a marriage between him and a paid model.

86. Canova's gallery. Possagno was the birthplace of the sculptor Canova, and the circular church there was designed by him. In the gallery at Possagno is his Psyche (Psiche-fanciulla, or Psyche the young girl); his Pieta (the mother with the dead Christ in her arms) is in the church.

111. Malamocco. A little town on an island near Venice.

111. Alciphron. A Greek writer (about 200 A. D.) of fictitious letters famous for the purity of their style and for the knowledge they give of Greek social customs.

115. Lire. Plural of lira, an Italian coin equal to 18.6 cents in our money.

117. A scented letter. Forged letters have represented this fourteen year old, ignorant model as delicate, shy, reserved, intellectually alert, with lofty poetic and artistic ideals.

117. Tydeus. One of the Seven Allies in the enterprise against Thebes. Jules is supposed to have modeled a statue of him for the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts. From Scene II, 14, we see that it is still in clay.

120. Paolina. Some actress at the Phenix, the leading theater of Venice.

140. Hannibal Scratchy. In jest they burlesque the name of Annibale Caracci, a famous Italian artist, and apply it to one of their number.


39. This minion. This favorite. Bessarion (1395-1472), a learned Greek cardinal, discovered a poem, "The Rape of Helen," written by a Greek epic poet, Coluthus, in the sixth century, and Bessarion's scribe copied it out on parchment with blue, red, and dark-brown lettering.

43. Odyssey. Homer's account of the adventures of Ulysses. The quoted passage is in the Odyssey, Bk. XXII, 10. When Ulysses reached home he wreaked vengeance on the suitors of his wife. Antinous was the first to fall. The story of the "bitter shaft" blotted out by a flower is symbolic of the story of the hatred of Lutwyche, which was robbed of its bitterness by Phene's love.

50. Almaign Kaiser. The German Emperor. Swart-green is really "black-green"; here it means the "dark-green" of bronze. The Emperor's truncheon is a short staff, the emblem of his office.

54. Hippolyta. The Queen of the Amazons on a fine horse from Numidia.

59. Bay-filleted. The bay or laurel with which victors were crowned was supposed to be an antidote against thunder because it was the tree of Apollo. Pliny says that Tiberius and some other Roman emperors wore a wreath of bay leaves as an amulet, especially in thunder-storms. (See Brewer, Dictionary of Phrase and Fable; also Byron, Childe Harold, IV, 41.)

61. Hipparchus. In B. C. 514 Harmodius and Aristogeiton conspired against the tyrants Hippias and Hipparchus, and carrying swords hid in myrtle, they slew Hipparchus. Cf. Byron, Childe Harold, III, 20.

"All that most endears Glory, is when the myrtle wreathes a sword Such as Harmodius drew on Athens' tyrant lord."

75. Parsley. An aromatic herb used in ancient time in crowns worn at feasts.

86. Archetype. The original pattern or model. Beautiful colors and shapes in flowers, in flames, trees, and fruit suggested to the poet the beauty of perfect human forms. The rosy bloom of the peach bending close over the bough and nestled among the leaves is sufficient to suggest rosy limbs, and from that suggestion comes the whole imaginative picture of the dryad, the nymph of the woods.

95. Facile chalk. Jules exults in the facility with which the artist, in any realm of art, manipulates his implements and his materials. His especial enthusiasm is for marble, which he has come to regard as an original, primitive substance, containing in itself all other substances. It may be made to seem as light and clear as air, as brilliant as diamonds. Sometimes as his chisel strikes, it seems to be metal. Again it seems to be actual flesh and blood. At moments when the sculptor works with swift intensity it seems to flush and glow like flame.

181. I am a painter, etc. The poem by Lutwyche is professedly "slow, involved, and mystical." But Jules gradually perceives the purport of the words. Lutwyche's hate is to have its most hideous possible aspect because it is to appear suddenly through Love's rose-braided mask.

272. The Cornaro. Catharine Cornaro was the wife of James, King of Cyprus. After his death she was induced to abdicate in favor of the Republic of Venice, which took possession of Cyprus in 1487. She was assigned a palace and court at Asolo. She was generous, kind, just, and deeply beloved. Her life seemed to hold all possible external conditions of happiness. The song is further explained in lines 275-279.

306. Ancona. A lovely city in eastern Italy.


1. Bluphocks. Browning's note on this character reads, "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew v, 45.)

2. Your Bishop's Intendant. The Bishop's Superintendent (whose real name is Maffeo) has charge of the estate the Bishop has just inherited from his brother. The money Bluphocks has is the bribe given him by Maffeo to destroy Pippa, who is really the heir to the estate. Maffeo expects the Bishop to reward him well for this service.

11. Prussia Improper. "The arm of land bounded on the north by the Baltic and on the south by Poland was long called 'Prussia Proper' to distinguish it from the other provinces of the kingdom. Koenigsberg is just over the boundary of Brandenberg." (Rolfe, Select Poems of Browning.)

14. Chaldee. A Semitic dialect.

21. Celarent, Darii, Ferio. Coined words used in logic to designate certain valid forms of syllogism.

24. Posy. A brief inscription or motto originally in verse, and suitable for a ring or some trinket.

25. How Moses, etc. For the story of Moses and the plagues of Egypt see Exodus viii and x. For the story of Jonah (who was commanded, however, not to go to Tarshish) see Jonah i. For Balaam and his ass see Numbers xxii, 22.

33. Bishop Beveridge. There was a Bishop of that name, but of course Bluphocks is making a pun.

35. Charon's wherry. Charon was a god of hell. It was his business to carry the dead across the river Styx. People thus carried over the Stygian ferry paid Charon by a small coin put between their lips.

36. Lupine-seed. "In plant-lore 'lupine' means wolfish, and is suggestive of the Evil One." (Berdoe, Browning Cyclopaedia.)

36. Hecate's supper. Hecate was a goddess of hell to whom offerings of food were made. An obolus is a silver coin worth about fifteen cents.

39. Zwanziger. A twenty-kreuzer piece of money.

47. Prince Metternich. A celebrated Austrian statesman. (1773-1859.)

54. Panurge. A prominent character in Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais. Hertrippa is a magician who gives Panurge advice on the subject of marriage. Bluphocks is simply racking his brain for words to rhyme with "Pippa," so that he may write doggerel poetry to or about her. For "King Agrippa" see Acts xxvi, 27.

77. Carbonari. All persons leaving a city had to have a passport officially signed giving the destination and the date of departure. Luigi had obtained such a passport for Vienna for that night. It was, however, suspected that this was a mere trick to give a wrong notion of his whereabouts. If the passport should prove to be a pretense, other suspicions against Luigi would be confirmed; it would be taken for granted that he belonged to the Carbonari, a secret society of Italian patriots; he would be arrested and sent to the prison at Spielberg. But if he should go to Vienna he is to be let alone. The officers are, of course, on the wrong track. If Luigi goes to Vienna it is to carry out his purpose of killing the tyrant. If he stays in Asolo it means that he has abandoned that purpose.


6. Lucius Junius. This name comes easily to Luigi's lips because Lucius Junius Brutus inspired the Romans against Tarquin.

14. Old Franz. The Austrian Emperor, Francis, I. Luigi's fancy is caught by the echoes and the flowers, but they play into his dominant idea of the freedom of Italy.

19. Pellicos. Silvio Pellico was an Italian patriot who had suffered a long imprisonment in Spielberg Castle.

122. Andrea, etc. Three former Italian patriots who had conspired against Austria.

135-143. Note in these lines how little Luigi really understands of the point at issue. His emotional temperament has been stirred to the point of desperate action, but the "ground for killing the King" he hardly knows.

152. Jupiter. The largest of the planets. When a planet rises after midnight it becomes a morning star.

163. Titian at Treviso. Treviso is seventeen miles from Venice. Its cathedral contains a fine Annunciation by Titian which Luigi and his betrothed Chiara had planned to see together.

164. A king lived long ago. This song was published in 1835 and later adapted for this poem. The song has a great effect on Luigi because beside his mental picture of the hated Austrian ruler he now places his old folk-king who judged his people wisely, whose dignity and grace awed even a python, and whom the gods loved. The possibility of having good kings stirs his waning determination to rid the earth of evil ones.


6. The same treat. The feast of the girl is made up of fig-peckers (birds that feed on figs), lampreys (eel-like fish esteemed a delicacy), and red wine from Breganze, a town noted for its wines.

17. Spring's come, etc. These girls are well differentiated. The "first girl" is set apart from the others by her superior refinement, by her longing for her country home, and by her unhappiness with Cecco. The "third girl" seems to be the leader in the plan against Pippa.

22. Deuzans, etc. Varieties of apples.

64. Ortolans. Birds about the size of larks, and an expensive delicacy.

66. Polenta. A coarse corn-meal pudding.

89. Great rich handsome Englishman. Bluphocks, who has been hired by the Intendant to lure Pippa into evil courses.


1. Monsignor. The Bishop has come from Messina in Sicily to take possession of his dead brother's estate. The "Ugo" to whom he speaks is the Intendant mentioned at the beginning of Interlude II.

4. Benedicto benedicatur. A form of blessing for the repast. "Let it be consecrated with a good saying."

9. Assumption Day. The festival of the Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven comes August 25.

36. Jules. This is the Jules of Noon. His history is thus carried on beyond the point where we left him at the close of his interview with Phene.

51. Correggio. An Italian artist (1494-1534).

72. Podere. (Plural, poderi.) A small farm or manor.

83. Cesena. An Episcopal city about twelve miles from Forli.

108. Millet-cake. A cake made of an Italian grain and eaten only by the poorest classes.

135. Letter No. 3. The information from Rome is based on a wrong assumption. The elder brother had an infant heir whom the second brother endeavored to put out of the way in order that he might himself inherit the estate. He hired Maffeo to destroy the child, and, according to the information from Rome, Maffeo did so. On this assumption Maffeo is to be arrested and the money and land given him by the second brother to keep the deed a secret are now to revert to the church.

154. So old a story. In reality Maffeo has been more astute than they thought. He did not kill the child but kept it ready to produce as the heir to the estates if the second brother at any time proved delinquent in the required payments.

174. Let us understand one another. He believes that when the Bishop sees himself about to lose the estate, he too will show himself ready for a bargain. The Bishop is simply to keep still and Maffeo will see that the heir—who is Pippa—shall be finally brought to shame and death. The Bishop is to have the estates, and Maffeo is to keep his ill-gotten gains and be given a chance to escape. The Bishop is apparently listening to the tempter when he hears Pippa's song. Its fresh lilting sweetness, and especially, perhaps, the wording of the last line, touch his heart and his conscience, and he suddenly orders Maffeo's arrest, at the same time uttering the prayer, "Have mercy upon me, O God."


7. My Zanze. Zanze was evidently the "third girl" who took Pippa in charge at the end of Interlude III.

30. Monsignor's people. Zanze was apparently talking to Pippa under the Monsignor's window. Pippa broke off the unwelcome talk by her song, and Zanze had hardly time to begin again when there came the noise of the arrest of Maffeo.

* * * * *

Transcriber's note

The following changes have been made to the text:

Page 44: "Rabbi Ben Erza" changed to "Rabbi Ben Ezra".

Page 89: Numbered line 25.

Page 199: Numbered line 90.

Page 323: Numbered line 5.

Page 392: "opposed such beginings" changed to "opposed such beginnings".

Page 395: "Baldasarre Galuppi" changed to "Baldassare Galuppi".

Page 417: "name to to the volume" changed to "name to the volume".

Page 419: "Voglers masterly playing" changed to "Vogler's masterly playing".

Page 423: "deveolpment of art" changed to "development of art".

Page 425: "Pacchiarotte" changed to "Pacchiarotto".

Page 436: "Chiari" changed to "Chiara".

Page 436: "Breganza" changed to "Breganze".


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