Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Andrea del Sarto” is a poem about success and failure in life and art, as expressed through the unconscious self-analysis of a sensitive, intelligent artist.

Andrea’s mediocrity stresses the truth of a common Browning motif: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” Unfortunately, such a premise negates success for Andrea (known in history as the “faultless painter”), for he possesses an ability for technique that others “agonize” to reach. Significantly, this excellence comes facilely: “I can do with my pencil what I know,/ What I see, . . ./ Do easily, tooperfectly.” Yet, as Andrea theorizes, “In this world, who can do a thing will not;/ And who would do it, cannot, I perceive.” Therefore, since Andrea is one who “can,” he is ineffective.

His plaintive observation that others whose works lack precision “reach many a time a heaven” denied him reveals frustration; however, his very expertise, according to Browning’s credo, signifies baseness and superficiality. Andrea’s cognizance of his own ennui as, amoebalike, he is indifferent to criticism or praise, is indicative of a paralysis precluding an essential motivation, which would empower transcendence. Andrea should be “reaching that heaven might so replenish him/ Above and through his art.”

Inextricably intertwined with the preceding theme is another, focusing on the balance between mind (art) and heart (love). For Andrea, love takes...

(The entire section is 469 words.)