Monday, May 24, 2010

Robert Browning

Robert Browning (1812–1889) is one of the major figures of 19th century poetry. Ironically, prior to the death of his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, he was not well known, and was overshadowed by her. In his youth he had become an atheist, but later he rejected atheism to embrace Christianity. He clearly views this world as the place where imperfect souls are prepared for the perfection of heaven. His views only come through over the distance because his poems are “dramatic monologues” from the perspective of his characters; this makes it hard to know Browning himself.

In one poem — in the form of a letter from an incredulous Arab physician, named Karshish — we read of this man meeting with Lazarus. Karshish writes to a colleague the story of the man Christ raised. (Read the poem here)
He considers Lazarus to be mad, since “This grown man eyes the world now like a child” and believes that the one who raised him is “God himself / Creator and sustainer of the world”.

Some have accused Browning of being overly optimistic, but as The Norton Anthology of English Literature puts it: “Browning’s optimism was not blind. Few writers, in fact, seem to have been more aware of the existence of evil.” With this in mind we can read the following poem more in context.

Pippa’s Song

The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven—
All's right with the world!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca