"Darkness Quieted By Hope"
Context: Long noted for its obscurity, Sordello, a study of "the incidents in the development of a soul," is based on the troubadour poet's spiritual growth and the maturation of his poetic genius. The historical background, the Italian civil wars of the late Middle Ages, is so confusing that Browning, who otherwise ignores his audience's lack of historical training, spends several hundred lines describing the political dispute between the Ghibellins and the Guelfs. He places the young Sordello in this world of violence and struggle so that his problems as a poet will take on greater meaning. The quotation occurs toward the end of this long introduction and just before the young poet is first seen as he turns the dreary, war-torn world into a realm of unequalled splendor. As Sordello is presented, Browning compares him to his great follower Dante and points out that, while Dante described the worlds of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, Sordello's world was that of ordinary men and women; Browning hopes to bring Sordello from the obscurity into which Dante's greater vision cast him.
. . . what if I approach the august sphereNamed now with only one name, disentwineThat under-current soft and argentineFrom its fierce mate in the majestic massLeavened as the sea whose fire was mixt with glassIn John's transcendent vision,–launch once moreThat lustre? Dante, pacer of the shoreWhere glutted hell disgorgeth filthiest gloom,Unbitten by its whirring sulphur-spume–Or whence the grieved and obscure waters slopeInto a darkness quieted by hope;Plucker of amaranths grown beneath God's eyeIn gracious twilights where his chosen lie,–I would do this! If I should falter now!