Which Poetic Technique Does Robert Browning Use In This Excerpt From “My Last Duchess”?
What are some literary devices and figures of speech used in Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess"?
The literary techniques and figures of speech included in Robert Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” include the following (highlighted with italics):
- Looking as if she were alive. I call [alliteration: repetition of the same consonants]
- The depth and passion of its earnest glance, [assonance: repetition of the same vowel sounds]
- And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst, [more assonance]
- How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, 'twas not
Her husband's presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess' cheek: perhaps [enjambment: lack of punctuation at the ends of lines; adds to the conversational flow of the poem]
- "Half-flush that dies along her throat:'' such stuff [metaphor; foreshadowing: the color does not literally “die,” but the use of the word “dies” does foreshadow her death]
- A heart---how shall I say?---too soon made glad,[interjection or interruption; imitates the interruptions and hesitations characteristic of real speech]
- Too easily impressed; she liked whate'er [caesura: a heavy break in the middle of a line]
- The dropping of the daylight in the West, [vivid imagery; more alliteration]
- all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. [more assonance]
- Who'd stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? [rhetorical question]
- forsooth, and made excuse,
---E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose [heavy assonance here]
- As if alive. Will't please you rise? We'll meet [iambic pentameter meter: ten syllables, with all the even syllables accented and the odd syllables unaccented]
- Taming a sea-horse, [symbolism: the tamed sea-horse symbolizes the way the Duke likes to tame his wives]
Browning’s talent in using and combining all these various techniques helps contribute to the success and memorability of the poem.
A major poetic technique Browning uses in "My Last Duchess" is ekphrasis. This is using a work of art, such as a painting, in a poem. In this poem, the narrator, the Duke of Ferrara, is commenting on a painting of his late wife; we never meet the wife, but we do get descriptions of her painted image as the duke gazes on it. This emphasizes that, to the duke, a wife is a possession more than a human being. At the end of the poem, too, the duke points out a valued art object, a statue of Neptune taming a sea horse. This reinforces the suggestion that the new duchess will be yet another object added to the duke's collection—and suggests, through art, that "taming" is important to the duke.
The poem is a classic example of dramatic monologue, in which a narrator or speaker, without meaning to, makes known aspects of his character. Here, the narrator reveals both his arrogance and his deep jealousy of his wife: he can't bear that she would like anyone or anything but him. As he puts it:
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’erShe looked on, and her looks went everywhere.Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,The dropping of the daylight in the West,The bough of cherries some officious foolBroke in the orchard for her . . .
One of the major devices Browning uses in this poem is irony: the poem is essentially the Duke of Ferrara's lengthy harangue about his late wife who he thinks was just terrible because she failed to act as though she appreciated the honor of being married to him more than she appreciate other, smaller gifts. The duke blames his wife for being too easy to please; he wanted her to think that he and the name he gave her were the most important, the best possible gifts, and he believes that her failure to do so was a reflection of her and her lack of gratitude. He does not realize, however, that his selfishness is far worse, that he has killed a sweet-spirited woman who simply took joy in and felt gratitude for any beautiful thing. He is the monster here, not her.