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HELPS TO STUDY Biographical and Historical: Robert Browning was born in a suburb of London in 1812. His four grandparents were respectively of English, German, Scotch, and Creole birth. After his marriage with the poet, Elizabeth Barrett, he lived in Italy, where in the old palace Casa Guidi, in Florence, they spent years of rare companionship and happiness. After her death he returned to England, but spent most of his summers abroad. On the Grand Canal, in Venice, the gondoliers point out a palace where at his son's home, Browning died in 1889. He was buried in the Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey.
Browning's poems are not easy to read, because he condenses so much into a word or phrase and he often leaves large gaps to be filled in by the reader's imagination. Anyone can make selections of lines and even entire poems from Tennyson, Poe, Southey, and Lanier, in which the poet has created for us verbal music and beauty. Browning, however, is not so much concerned with this side of poetry as he is with portraying correctly the varied emotions of the human soul.
“Love in the largest sense, as the divine principle working through all nature, is at the very center of Browning's creed. His is the heartiest, happiest, most beautiful poetic voice that his age has read. He stands apart from most others of his kind and age in the positiveness of his religious faith, a faith that is based upon a conviction of the conquering universality of love and self-sacrifice."
“How They Brought the Good News” is without historical basis; the ride occurred only in the imagination of the poet. The inspiration came from Browning's longing for a horseback gallop over the Englisb downs.
Notes and Questions Find Ghent and Aix la Chapelle on What does the fifth stanza tell your map.
you? What was probably the nature of What tells you the praise given
the “good news” carried by the Roland ? messengers ?
The rhythm suggests the gallop of How many messengers
the horses. In which lines is there
this suggestion most marked ? What makes you think so?
Indicate the rhythmic movement.
Words and Phrases for Discussion postern "pique!
burgesses” "stirrup' "twilight' "haunches” "holster" “Good speed! cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew”! "With resolute shoulders each butting away The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray”
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
When her bruised eaglet breathes :
Touched to the quick, he said :
Smiling, the boy fell dead.
HELPS TO STUDY
Notes and Questions On your map find Ratisbon on the Tell the story of the boy rider. Danube River.
What was the mission of the boy What picture have you of Na who rode alone?
poleon from reading this poem Was his heroism greater because he What word used figuratively tells was alone?
you of the rider's speed
On the sea and at the Hogue, sixteen hundred ninety-two,
Did the English fight the French-woe to France ! And the thirty-first of May, helter-skelter through the blue,
Like a crowd of frightened porpoises a shoal of sharks pursue, 5 Came crowding ship on ship to St. Malo on the Rance,
With the English fleet in view.
'Twas the squadron that escaped, with the victor in full chase; First and foremost of the drove, in his great ship, Damfreville ;
Close on him fled, great and small,
Twenty-two good ships in all;
Get us guidance, give us harbor, take us quick—or, quicker still,
15 Then the pilots of the place put out brisk and leapt on board; "Why, what hope or chance have ships like these to pass ?”
laughed they : “Rocks to starboard, rocks to port, all the passage scarred and
scored, Shall the 'Formidable here, with her twelve and eighty guns,
Think to make the river-mouth by the single narrow way, 20 Trust to enter—where 'tis ticklish for a craft of twenty tons,
And with flow at full beside ?
Now, 'tis slackest ebb of tide.
Then was called a council straight. Brief and bitter the debate: "Here's the English at our heels; would you have them take in tow
All that's left us of the fleet, linked together stern and bow, 30 For a prize to Plymouth Sound? Better run the ships aground !"
(Ended Damfreville his speech). “Not a minute more to wait!
Let the captains all and each
Shove ashore, then blow up, burn the vessels on the beach! 35 France must undergo her fate.
“Give the word !” But no such word Was ever spoke or heard :
For up stood, for out stepped, for in struck, amid all these, A captain ? a lieutenant? a mate,-first, second, third ?
No such man of mark, and meet
But a simple Breton sailor, pressed by Tourville for the fleet,
Talk to me of rocks and shoals ?—me, who took the soundings, tell On my fingers every bank, every shallow, every swell,
'Twixt the offing here and Grève, where the river disembogues ? Are you bought by English gold? Is it love the lying's for? 50 Morn and eve, night and day,
Have I piloted your bay,
Have the biggest ship to steer,
Get this Formidable clear, Make the others follow mine,
And I lead them, most and least, by a passage I know well, 60
Right to Solidor past Grève,
And there lay them safe and sound;
Keel so much as grate the ground,
65 Not a minute more to wait.
Take the helm, lead the line, save the squadron !" cried its
chief. Captains, give the sailor place !
He is Admiral, in brief.
See the noble fellow's face