The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

Robert Browning – Killing For Pleasure, and Poetry.

When it comes to poetry of the 19th century, there is no one, for me, who comes close to the dark and powerful approach of Robert Browning. Between “Porphyria’s Lover,” and “My Last Duchess,” his control over the dramatic monologue was far beyond the reach of any other poet – maybe since Shakespeare. If you’ve never read any of his work before, please take a look below at “My Last Duchess,” and let me know what you think. Definitely give it a few reads, and allow it to sink in a bit before commenting. Enjoy!

“My Last Duchess”

– Robert Browning

THAT’S my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Frà Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said         5
“Frà Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)         10
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps         15
Frà Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:” such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough         20
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad.
Too easily impressed: she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favor at her breast,         25
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,         30
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill         35
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set         40
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;         45
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence         50
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,         55
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

About Christopher Margolin

Chris Margolin spent more than a decade in Education as a high school English teacher, and is now an Instructional Coach for the Longview School District. He is also the founder of The Poetry Question, an online journal which focuses on reviews of small press poetry publications, and runs a regular series called "The Power of Poetry," where notable poets share their personal stories of how poetry has affected their lives. Margolin resides in Vancouver, Washington with his wife, and daughter.

One comment on “Robert Browning – Killing For Pleasure, and Poetry.

  1. VHathaway
    July 24, 2013

    Love Browning’s monologues. I use “My Last Duchess” in my AP Lit classroom as an example of reading for what the character omits yet is clearly in the text. So rich even beyond that. I did a dramatic reading of it in a class I was taking and it was so much fun. And “Porphyria’s Lover” is just so darn creepy. I also like Frost’s “Home Burial” for many of the same reasons, although it is more tragic than creepy. These also work well in theatre class when you’re trying to get kids to move away from some of the less adeptly written monologues they find on the interwebs.

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