April 25th, 2013



Browning is odd. Really odd. He comes into a culture where people are writing odes and sonnets and the odd blank verse epic in the romantic taste and he's having none of it. What he wants to write are poems that describe how people think- not how he thinks himself (he rarely writes in his own persona-) but how a whole bunch of crazy characters think-  murderers, obsessives, grouchy old organists, elderly mathematicians, monks, spirit mediums- from all over the historical continuum. He starts by writing plays- but they're not very good plays because his characters like to speechify for pages- and gradually he realizes  (to be honest I'm not sure of the chronology here) that speechifying is his talent and he needs to drop the pretense of drama and isolate his speakers and let them hold forth in stand-alone poems. And so the dramatic monologue is born. Add to his love of weird and outre subject matter an enjoyment of complicated metre and outrageous rhymes and you have the most original, eccentric, and downright infuriating poet in the entire corpus of English literature.

He wrote a lot- and wrote it (one feels) with considerable ease. He didn't care about carelessness. Or being succinct. Or being awkward. Sometimes he waffles. In fact he waffles a great deal. (Modern readers are deterred by the sheer size of so many of his poems). But that's all about his characters going round the houses in pursuit of an idea. Sometimes they capture it, sometimes it sort of evades them. He isn't too bothered about beauty- which isn't to say he can't manage it. There are some lovely, delicate lyrics.  Everyone knows Home Thoughts From Abroad- which is as close to a conventional Wordsworthian nature poem as he's interested in producing.  It's wonderful.  And, Yes, he seems to be saying, I can do that. It's (comparatively) easy. Now how about a poem in a metre I invented myself about the funeral of a Renaissance grammarian?