The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Andrea del Sarto” is a meandering poem of 267 lines in blank verse, broken unevenly into three stanzas of 243, 23, and 1 line(s). The title identifies the subject of the poem, Andrea del Sarto, a distinguished artist of the Florentine School of painting. The poem is written in the first person, the speaker being Andrea, not Robert Browning. Andrea, conversing with his silent wife, Lucrezia, reflects on his life and art, thereby dramatically revealing his moral and aesthetic failure.

The poem begins with Andrea’s placative request to Lucrezia to sit with him and not “quarrel any more.” The failure of the marriage quickly becomes evident as Andrea acknowledges that her physical presence affords no guarantee of intimacy or rapport. His wife’s consent to sit is rewarded with a promise that he will accede to her wishes, permitting Lucrezia’s friends to dictate the circumference and price of his art. His most persuasive ploy for the pleasure of her company—even for a few evening hours—is his pledge to “shut the money” from his work in her hand.

As Andrea muses over the state of his life and his art, detailing his experiences and implying his dreams, he becomes an unconscious study in the complexity of failure: an artist possessing an uncommon aptitude for perfection in execution, but lacking the personal character traits to achieve success. Andrea views in all that he has touched—his life, his marriage, and his paintings—a “common greyness.” He gropes desultorily for the cause of this diminution of his promise.

He first...

(The entire section is 646 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The dramatic monologue has become synonymous with Robert Browning’s genius, and in “Andrea del Sarto” the poet probes the nature of one human failure. Form follows content, the language being informal as is natural in conversation. In harmony with the dwindling quality of Andrea’s life, the tone is subdued, reflecting the passive resignation that feeds Andrea’s impotence. In meter, also, the rhythm yields to the emotional tenor of the speaker’s reverie, moving from the placid acceptance of the present through a lively reflection on his Fontainebleau years to the wistful contemplation of eternity. His low-pulsed “quietly, quietly the evening through” is interrupted by brief spurts of broken rhythm and faster-paced patterns: “Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,/ And fail in doing.”

The diction is sometimes oblique and indirect, conveying the ambiguity of Andrea’s perception of truth. Browning also employs a rhetorical technique of questions and answers to advance the reader through time and provide details of the speaker’s past. The questions are not directly responded to, but answers emerge through roundabout discourse: Andrea’s “you turn your face, but does it bring your heart” arouses doubt concerning Lucrezia’s affection for her husband, but his subsequent bribe—an offer to prostitute his art for her greed—turns the skepticism into a certainty that she is indifferent not only to Andrea but also to art in general....

(The entire section is 428 words.)