Robert Browning

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Discuss the role of optimism in Robert Browning's poetry.

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Optimism in Robert Browning's poetry reflects Victorian faith in progress and traditional religious beliefs, despite the era's scientific and materialistic tendencies. In poems like "Rabbi Ben Ezra" and "Andrea del Sarto," Browning celebrates life, faith, and the pursuit of achievement. His famous lines, "God's in His heaven—All's right with the world!" from "Pippa Passes," epitomize his unwavering positive outlook.

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Browning's poetry articulates Victorian optimism and belief in progress at a time when England had reached the pinnacle of prestige and power in the world, both for being the first country to leap full-throttle into industrialism and through the uncontested naval and military superiority it established after the defeat of the French in the Napoleonic wars, and maintained throughout the nineteenth century. 

Even in the area of religion, where Darwinism was shaking other poets' faith in the divine order and the existence of God, Browning maintained a strong faith in conventional religious thinking and an afterlife. 

Examples of optimism in Browning's poetry abound. In "Rabbi Ben Ezra" he celebrates both the incarnate life and the life of the spirit, writing:

Let us cry 'All good things

are ours.'

In the more famous poem "Andrea del Sarto," he expresses an optimistic faith in progress and striving for achievement, writing:

A man's reach should exceed his grasp

or what's heaven for?

Browning died at the end of 1889, while all still was, for his social class at least, and in words, "right with the world." He never experienced the carnage of World War I or the way that war shook the intellectual world's optimism and faith in human progress. 

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Robert Browning, a cherished poet of the Victorian era, has many of his poems filled with unbridled optimism. By the term “Optimism”, one means positive attitude or thought process. If you are optimistic, you will tend to see the good or positive in everything that happens, even if it initially appears downright challenging and negative.

When Browning was writing, the attitude of the milieu was scientific and materialistic. And this means, people had lost faith in religion, morality and spirituality. But that was where Browning differed from his contemporaries. He was optimistic about the existence of God and the notion of a perfect heaven. His poetry is a reflection of this, deviating from the scientific temperament typical of his age.

Let's consider the religious fervor in the following lines taken from his poem Song from Pippa Passes,

God's in His heaven— 
All's right with the world!

Also, in his poem Rabbi Ben Ezra, he writes...

Grow old along with me! 
The best is yet to be

And there can be many such examples. I would not refrain here from mentioning that whether Browning’s poetry can be fully called as optimistic remains a topic for debate. Any work of literature, especially poetry, is subjected to the subjective interpretation of the readers.

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Define if Robert Browning is a poet of optimism.

There can be no reduction of Robert Browning to optimism or pessimism.  His renowned dramatic monologues are intense psychological studies often mad and horrific minds. In Fra Lippo Lippi, for instance, Browning takes a very unsavory  character and challenges readers to discover the goodness, or life-affirming qualities. In addition, there is a satiric tone to this as it mocks the speaker's contemporaneous judges.

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Define if Robert Browning is a poet of optimism.

Precisely Number 4: Optimism does not flow from Browning's dramatic monologues. He may have been optimistic in his pursuit of Elizabeth Barret's love, but such optimism surely did not flow into his dramatic monologues--unless optimism is seen in a job neatly done:

In one long yellow string l wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. .... ("Porphyria's Lover")

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Define if Robert Browning is a poet of optimism.

This is an interesting qustion, as #2 makes clear. I must admit, I tend to think of the dramatic monologues of Robert Browning focusing more on a pessimistic view of human nature than looking at its positives. Consider poems such as "Porphyria's Lover" or " My Last Duchess," both of which involve arrogance, possession, and murder. I can't see how such poems could be described as "positive." Part of the genius of Browning is the way in which he is able to present the subtle nuances of various characters through his dramatic monologues.

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Define if Robert Browning is a poet of optimism.

I don't define optimism in terms of good and evil.  I think poetry can be optimistic if it looks at everyday life in a positive way.  If you expect something good, that's optimism in my book.  When you see something good, or plan on something good, that's optimistic poetry.  Most poems about nature are optimistic.  Poems about love, less so.

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Define if Robert Browning is a poet of optimism.

The meaning of the word optimism (according to Dictionary.com) means:

a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
Therefore, to write poetry with an optimistic perspective, the poetry must prove that good always overcomes evil. In regards to determining this, a reader will offer a completely subjective interpretation of the poem. This means that not all readers come to understand a poem in the same way- one may read the poem in a completely different way than another. This being said, one would simply need to see if they agree that the poetry of Robert Browning speaks to them in an optimistic fashion. If one does, then they would see Browning as an optimistic poet. If they do not, they would not regard Browning as an optimistic poet. For example, in a critical reading of "A Woman's Last Word", one could justify the poem as optimistic or not optimistic. In an optimistic reading, one would justify the poem as such by stating that the speaker of the poem does not want to fight with her lover. Instead, she wants him to go to sleep so as to find peace in sleep. If one justifies the speaker as wanting peace for the lover, through sleep, then they could consider the poem as optimistic (good (sleep) overcoming bad (no sleep). Another way to look at the poem would be that the speaker does not want to deal with the problems that night. Instead, she would rather put them off for another day. If a reader does not agree with this action, they would not consider that the outcome of the sleep would result in good. Therefore, the reader could justify the poem as not being optimistic. Basically, the speaker wishes to ignore the problems and simply bury them.

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