Robert Browning (May 7, 1812 – December 12, 1889) was a prolific poet of the Victorian era. His dramatic monologues are the reason why he reached the highest pedestal during that period. He inspired several popular writers such as Oscar Wilde, Vladimir Nabokov, George Bernard Shaw, Ezra Pound, and more. He was so eloquent with his plot and setting that Oscar Wilde referred to him as “the most Shakespearean creature since Shakespeare.” He was equally criticized. George Santayana shared his views in the essay “The Poetry of Barbarism” attacking the Leaves of Grass poet Walt Whitman and Robert Browning for their acceptance of irrationality.

Before we read about his poems, we need to know his genre – dramatic monologue. It is a genre where one person speaks to a presumed audience. Browning is popular for the representation of social commentary, irony, dark humor, challenging vocabulary, and more. So, it is extremely tough work to narrow down his top 3, but we tried. In this article, we are going to read about the top 3 poems of Robert Browning.

My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess is presumably the poem that made Browning’s dramatic monologue popular. The themes of this monologue will remind you of Shakespeare’s Othello. It involves themes such as power, jealousy, hatred, and more. The Duke killed his wife and he is explaining the ‘why’ to a visitor while both of them are looking at the Duchess hanging on the wall. It is loosely related to a historical event involving Alfonso, the 16th-century Duke of Ferrara. The reason why the Duke killed the Duchess is that he believed that his wife has been unfaithful. In the poem, he portrays himself as a dominating and controlling gentleman – which reveals the mindset and behaviour of men in that era.

Top 3 Poems of Robert Browning
Top 3 Poems of Robert Browning

Porphyria’s Lover

Porphyria’s Lover is another popular poem by Browning in the form of a dramatic monologue. The theme of the poem concentrates on moral criticism and the want of analysis. Like, his other two popular poems this also defines a tendency of the Victorian era. He blends his soul, experience, and conviction to unravel the human psyche.

The importance of Porphyria was set from the beginning – she calmed the lover by being in his arms. The possessive nature of the lover was exclaimed with “she was mine, mine…” Porphyria calmed down the storm of passion, vexation, and frustration that was within the lover. His heart was filled with Porphyria’s warmth and insecurity of his own. He decides to kill her and he does it as well. Moreover, he also decides to explain how she felt “No pain felt her…” He did it all to have her forever. The silence of Porphyria is symbolic of the quietness of women and the inability to stand against societal conventions. Yet, Porphyria will remain the authentic self because “Porphyria worshipped me”. The best aspect of Browning is his poems have horror but the reading portrays the complexity of the character, not the committed horror.

Top 3 Poems of Robert Browning
Top 3 Poems of Robert Browning

Fra Lippo Lippi

Fra Lippo Lippi is loosely based on Florence painter Filippo Lippi. The poem goes on to create and portray a psychological analysis of Lippo’s character. Throughout the poem, the painter of the Italian Renaissance period is trying to find a balance between reality, spirituality and sensuality, and the goodness of “flesh and blood”. The poem clearly explains that the painter became a monk out of the compulsion of the situation and not from his own will. But as an artist, he will not be in the confinement of the dictation of society. The art belongs to him and he will do as he pleases.  He raises several questions in this poem as an artist – what is the purpose of art? What is the link between art and morality?

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