Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came Analysis

Robert Browning

The Poem

The title is a direct quotation from a song of Edgar in William Shakespeare’s King Lear (c. 1605-1606). It has traditionally been assumed that the persona is Roland, although such an assumption is unwarranted. This poem is an interior monologue, a hybrid of the soliloquy and the dramatic monologue, and the “narrator” is simply thinking aloud. The thinker-narrator is a quester of many years, something that the mythical Roland was not. Moreover, the persona does not appear to be a very young man preparing for knighthood, as the word “childe” would suggest.

“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” begins in medias res. Since no background or explanation is given for what is happening, the reader is initially confounded. Gradually, it becomes clear that the persona is searching for the “Dark Tower” and has just asked an aged cripple for directions. Suspicious that the cripple has maliciously misdirected him even to his death, he nevertheless proceeds on the appointed path. He is exhausted by his search, “drawn out through years,” and would be glad to reach an end of any kind, even if the end should mean failure or death.

At line 43, the persona turns away from the ominous cripple-guide to continue his search. Immediately on entering the gray plain, the safe road vanishes. The protagonist finds himself amid gathering darkness, entrapped in a grotesque, alien environment. Much of the remainder of the...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Forms and Devices

The poem consists of 204 lines divided into thirty-four stanzas. As is the case with many of Browning’s dramatic poems, the meter keeps to a conversational (in this case thoughtful) rhythm while remaining predominantly iambic pentameter. “In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to balk” is a telling exception. The rhyme scheme of the six-line stanzas is fixed at abbaab. A powerful effect of emphasis and finality is often achieved by means of the rhyme of the final line of the stanza echoing that of the third line. Stanzas 2, 9, and 16 are good examples of this sound effect.

In the hands of a lesser poet, the use of a fixed stanza form could inhibit the free flow of thought and reduce credibility by making the reader question the appropriateness of the form for the substance. Such is not the case, however, with this poem. Through the frequent use of enjambment and internal stops, Browning is able to approximate the fluidity of consciousness. In this freeing of the restraints of form, this poem is a tour de force in the manner of Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” in which naturalness of speech is achieved within the confines of rhymed couplets.

In “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” Browning makes extensive use of cacophony, simile, and metaphor. The harsh ugliness of the landscape is conveyed by means of such shrill words and phrases as “cockle,” “spurge,” “blotches,” “chopped,”...

(The entire section is 435 words.)