Why is the World Oblivious of the Bi-Centenary of Robert Browning- the Poet of Love?

12 Jun

This year marks the bicentenary of Charles Dickens and also Robert Browning. Robert Browning was  born just three months after Charles Dickens , but in the same year , 1812.But for unknown reasons England and India seem to be silent on Browning.

 Robert Browning was born in the same year ,1812,as that of Charles Dickens , but he lived more till 1889. Really, history has not treated the Victorian poets kindly. Browning is less famous today than Dickens all over the world and there is not the expected revival of interest in his work. But it is really surprising that we have nearly forgotten his contribution to the Victorian literature. Writing during the age of the novel, and caught between the Romantics’ poetic riches and the modernists’ iconoclasm, Victorian poets were overlooked for much of the 20th century. Even in the 21st century ,we still feel reluctant to celebrate that he was one of the greatest poets of the Victorian period and it was he who inspired confidence at a time when all the devils of pessimism were loosed out of hell.

“Ah, Love, but a day,
And the world has changed!
The sun’s away,
And the bird estranged;
The wind has dropped,
And the sky’s deranged;
Summer has stopped.
Ah, Love, but a day,
And the world has changed!”

Browning, the poet of love sings out so spontaneously in poem after poem. His facile optimism is no longer the target of the critics, because in his poetry, he  challenged  the multitude of devils and achieved his optimism as in ‘Roland to the Dark Tower Came’, or ‘Caliban Upon Setebos’. His robust sense of life was no less significant than that of Chaucer  as Landor compared him in his beautiful poetic lines: “Since  Chaucer was alive and hale,/No man hath walked along our roads with step /So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue/So varied in discourse.”There was no other English writer of the nineteenth century who to the same degree made all human experiences his own. His poems are not poems about little children who win good-conduct prizes. They are poems of the agonies of life, poems about tragic severance, poems about failure. They range through the virtues and the vices with the magnificent boldness of Dostoevsky’s novels.

Nowhere else in English poetry outside the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer is there such a varied and humorous gallery of portraits. We find in his poems, indeed, no fastidious escape from life, but an exalted acceptance of it. Browning is one of the very few poets who, echoing the Creator, have declared that the world is good. His sense of the goodness of it even in foulness and in failure is written over half of his poems. The madman, the atheist, the adulterer, the traitor, the murderer, the beast, are portrayed in them side by side with the hero, thee saint, and the perfect woman. There is every sort of rogue here half-way between good and evil, and every sort of half-hero who is either worse than his virtue or better than his sins. He was born with a passion for living in other people’s experiences. So impartially and eagerly he did it, that even Oscar Wilde felt compelled to comment : “”Taken as a whole the man was great,” . Wilde begins – after recalling figures from the poems – by declaring that as “a creator of character he ranks next to him who made Hamlet”. 

Dramatic monologue is not his invention but whenever one talks of this literary genre, Browning’s name comes first, because ,it came of age with Robert Browning only.The objective distancing of  a poet from his themes is a part of his impersonality as an artist. The first of  Browning’s confession of his aims as an artist that the poet is no philosopher. Browning’s modernism consists in the invention of  a harsh speech of his own for common use,which  he uttered in all the varied rhythms of his poems. Thus his poems have the movement of living things. They are lacking  in smooth and static loveliness as they happen in modern poetry. It is really strange that the author of Men and women , Dramatis Personae, and The Ring and the Book is given a muted celebration of his bicentenary .Punch may lampoon him as ‘ inescapably a Victorian gentleman, but living out a fantasy of being Italian’.But Browning was cent per cent English in his thoughts and ideas. Only his subjects in some poems were Italian. Browning was known no less  for his love poems : ”O lyric Love, half angel and half bird /And all a wonder and a wild desire” sang out Browning in The Ring and the Book. Friends , why so mute about the bi-centenary of this great poet ?


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