What is the effect of inverted sentences in brownings poem "my last duchess", and why is this significant technique significant?

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lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Sentence inversion, sometimes called “hyperbation” is when the normal grammatical word order is reversed. It can be a single word or a group of words. Poets use inversion to force their poetry to rhyme, to make it fit into the meter, to emphasize their themes, to focus attention on specific elements such as characters or characters’ motives (as in this poem), or to interrupt the flow of the narrative to grab the reader’s attention. There are different types of inversion or hyperbation: anastrophe, hypallage and hysteron proteron. Examples are as follows:

Anastrophe: “the sun brilliant shown all day” (normal order would be “the brilliant sun shown all day”

Hypallage: “dark walking in the slow night” (normal order would be “slow walking in the dark night”)

Hysteron proteron: “I conquered, I saw, I came” (normal order would be “I came, I saw, I conquered”)

If you examine some of the inverted lines in My Last Duchess, you will see that Browning employs many of these devices to focus attention on various elements of the Duke’s dramatic monologue. These manipulations of language help us discern what type of character the Duke is – an egomaniac. For example:

But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)

We see here that the Duke puts the emphasis on himself a great deal when he is talking about his “last duchess”.

Or, in this example, we see how he treated his wife like a belonging, because he is showing off HER picture, yet the word order indicates that the person viewing the picture is more important than the picture of the woman:

for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,

Go through the poem and look for other examples. You will find that the words that occur first receive the emphasis. Then ask youself why the poet does this in this particular case. It will help you appreciate the artistry of the poem and help you understand the psychology of the Duke.