Browning and Wordsworth

Browning and Wordsworth

Browning and Wordsworth

Browning and Wordsworth


"William Wordsworth's poetry was far more influential upon that of Robert Browning than has hitherto been supposed. Browning read Wordsworth intensively from a very early age, and became a devoted admirer of much of his work. In particular, Wordsworth's aesthetic beliefs about the poet's role in the world were as important to Browning's own conception of this role as those of Shelley, whose relationship with Browning has been far more extensively discussed. This book principally uses Harold Bloom's "influence theory" to examine this relationship, which can usefully be seen as a "struggle" on Browning's part to "throw off" the "burden of influence" imposed upon him by his Romantic predecessor; it also puts forward more historical and biographical explanations for some of the relationship's complexities, including Browning's awareness of Wordsworth's rising critical reputation in the late Victorian period and the responsibilities imposed upon him in his later career by his own social position as a "literary lion."" "This book will be of interest to students of English literature - particularly those working on Bloomian influence theory, Wordsworth, or Browning - as well as to more senior scholars working on poetry of the Romantic and Victorian periods. The work will also interest those working on the deeply ambiguous figure of the later Browning - simultaneously the most popular poet in the country after Tennyson and one of the most uncompromisingly complex - and his vexed relationship with the reading public." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


On September 6, 1889, the elderly robert browning, having recently arrived in the small Italian town of Asolo on a visit to his friend Katherine Bronson, wrote what would become the prologue to his final volume, Asolando. in this poem he describes the not-uncommon way his return to a much-loved place has failed to live up to his earlier experience; in particular, the landscape now lacks the extraordinary qualities he had seen in it as a young man over fifty years before. He begins with two stanzas whose placement in quotation marks gives them the appearance of a quotation from the work of another poet—a “poet” who seems to share Browning’s melancholy feeling that the landscape, perceived in old age, lacks the lambent qualities it seemed to possess to a younger eye:

“The Poet’s age is sad: for why?
In youth, the natural world could show
No common object but his eye
At once involved with alien glow—
His own soul’s iris-bow.

“And now a flower is just a flower:
Man, bird, beast, are but beast, bird, man—
Simply themselves, uncinct by dower
Of dyes which, when life began,
Round each in glory ran.”

(lines 1-10)

Browning answers this poet with a determination to face up to “truth ablaze,” asking his “friend” whether he would rather gaze at the world through a colored “optic glass” or through a clear glass that will aid rather than distort or blur perception, revealing “the naked very thing” (lines 19, 11, 16). He prefers such a “glass” to “falsehood’s fancy-haze” (line 20). His return to Asolo fails to provide him with a “lambent flame,” but this . . .

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