Robert Browning

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Discuss the use of optimism in Robert Browning 's poetry.

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Browning's poetry articulates Victorian optimism and belief in progress at a time when England had reached the pinnacle of prestige and power in the world, both for being the first country to leap full-throttle into industrialism and through the uncontested naval and military superiority it established after the defeat of the French in the Napoleonic wars, and maintained throughout the nineteenth century. 

Even in the area of religion, where Darwinism was shaking other poets' faith in the divine order and the existence of God, Browning maintained a strong faith in conventional religious thinking and an afterlife. 

Examples of optimism in Browning's poetry abound. In "Rabbi Ben Ezra" he celebrates both the incarnate life and the life of the spirit, writing:

Let us cry 'All good things

are ours.'

In the more famous poem "Andrea del Sarto," he expresses an optimistic faith in progress and striving for achievement, writing:

A man's reach should exceed his grasp

or what's heaven for?

Browning died at the end of 1889, while all still was, for his social class at least, and in words, "right with the world." He never experienced the carnage of World War I or the way that war shook the intellectual world's optimism and faith in human progress. 


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Robert Browning, a cherished poet of the Victorian era, has many of his poems filled with unbridled optimism. By the term “Optimism”, one means positive attitude or thought process. If you are optimistic, you will tend to see the good or positive in everything that happens, even if it initially appears downright challenging and negative.

When Browning was writing, the attitude of the milieu was scientific and materialistic. And this means, people had lost faith in religion, morality and spirituality. But that was where Browning differed from his contemporaries. He was optimistic about the existence of God and the notion of a perfect heaven. His poetry is a reflection of this, deviating from the scientific temperament typical of his age.

Let's consider the religious fervor in the following lines taken from his poem Song from Pippa Passes,

God's in His heaven— 
All's right with the world!

Also, in his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra, he writes...

Grow old along with me! 
The best is yet to be

And there can be many such examples. I would not refrain here from mentioning that whether Browning’s poetry can be fully called as optimistic remains a topic for debate. Any work of literature, especially poetry, is subjected to the subjective interpretation of the readers.

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