According to Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” descended upon him as a sort of dream and was written in a single day, January 2, 1852. Browning denied any allegorical intentions in writing it and was characteristically reluctant to offer any help in interpreting it. Many years later, Browning said that the poem had demanded to be written and that he was aware of no particular meaning when he composed it. When a friend asked if the poem’s meaning could be described as “He that endureth to the end shall be saved,” Browning replied affirmatively.
“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” has been the subject of numerous studies. William Clyde DeVane has found in Gerard de Lairesse’s The Art of Painting (translated into English in 1778), a book that had a profound and permanent influence on Browning, the origin of many of the poem’s images, including the cripple, the pathless field, the diseased vegetation, the river, the water rat, the claustrophobic mountains, and the malevolent sunset. The image of the tower was suggested by one he had seen several times in Italy, and he told Mrs. Orr, his early biographer, that the horse came to him from a figure in a tapestry he owned.
Because of its suggestion of allegory, this poem has been a favorite subject of interpretation of Browning societies. Some see in the poem a dark pessimism reflecting unresolved conflicts in the poet’s psyche. Others...
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