ROBERT BROWNING (1812-1889) Born in London, Robert Browning attended London University but was largely self-educated, learning Latin, Greek, French, and Italian by the time he was fourteen. He was an accomplished but little-known poet and playwright when he began courting the already famous poet Elizabeth Barrett. After they eloped to Italy in 1846, the Brownings enjoyed a period of happiness during which they produced most of their best-known work. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1861, Robert returned to En gland with their son and for the rest of his life enjoyed great literary and social success. His major collections are Men and Women (1855), dedicated to his wife, and Dramatis Personae (1864), which contains some of his finest dramatic monologues. Lionized as one of En gland’s greatest poets by the time of his death, Browning is buried in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey. The Dramatic Monologue Robert Browning is famous for his use of the dramatic monologue form. Dramatic monologues feature a speaker who is clearly a “character “or “persona” rather than the author of the poem. The speaker addresses an auditor, attempting to justify or explain his or her behavior or reaction to a particular situation. The reader is thus in the position of “overhearing” the speaker’s self-representation and is implicitly invited to judge the speaker. Usually, the speakers in dramatic monologues reveal more than they intend to about themselves, and the poems often turn on the gap between the speaker’s self-perception and the (often less flattering) conclusions readers are invited to draw about their temperament and character. “My Last Duchess” Describe the dramatic situation. How would you characterize the speaker? What do we know about him? How is each aspect of his character suggested? What do his descriptions of the painting and statue tell you about him? What does the poem suggest about the nature of men's and women's roles through its characterization of the duke and his characterization of his “last duchess”? What assumptions does the duke make about his former wife? What assumptions do you make? What role does remarriage play in the work? SYLVIA PLATH (1932-1963) Sylvia Plath was born in Boston; her father, a Polish immigrant, died when she was eight. After graduating from Smith College, Plath attended Cambridge University on a Fulbright scholarship, and there she met and married the poet Ted Hughes, with whom she had two children. As she documented in her novel The Bell Jar (1963), in 1953—between her junior and senior years of college—Plath became seriously depressed, attempted suicide, and was hospitalized. In 1963, the break-up of her marriage led to another suicide attempt, this time successful. Plath has attained cult status as much for her poems as for her “martyrdom” to art and life. In addition to her first volume of poetry, The Colossus (1960), Plath’s work has been collected in Ariel (1966), Crossing the Water (1971), and Winter Trees (1972). Her selected letters were published in 1975; her expurgated journals in 1983; and her unabridged journals in 2000. “Daddy” What is this poem about? What is the speaker comparing her father to? What is the effect of the comparison? (of the speaker as a Jew and her father as a German Nazi? Why is the poem titled “Daddy” and not Papa or Father? Why is she so angry? Does Plath trivialize the holocaust with the repeated references and images? What is the effect of incorporating German words into the poem? How would you describe the tone of the poem? What does it sound like? It is an autobiographical poem about her father. In a reading for BBC radio of ‘Daddy’ Sylvia Plath explains: “Here is a poem spoken by a girl with an Electra complex.* Her father died while she thought he was God. . . . . In the daughter the two strains marry and paralyze each other--she has to act out the awful little allegory once over before she is free of it.” *(Definition: A psychoanalytic term used to describe a girl’s romantic feelings toward her father and anger towards her mother. It is comparable to the Oedipus complex). LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967) Born in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes was raised mainly by his maternal grandmother, though he lived intermittently with each of his parents. He studied at Columbia University, but left to travel and work at a variety of jobs. Having already published poems in periodicals, anthologies, and his own first collection, The Weary Blues (1926), he graduated from Lincoln University; published a successful novel, Not without Laughter (1930); and became a major writer in the intellectual and literary movement called the Harlem Renaissance. During the 1930s, he became involved in radical politics and traveled the world as a correspondent and columnist; during the 1950s, though, the FBI classified him as a security risk and limited his ability to travel. In addition to poems and novels, he wrote essays, plays, screenplays, and an autobiography; he also edited anthologies of literature and folklore. His Collected Poems appeared in 1994. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” Discuss the following literary devices in this poem: Tone Symbolism Repetition Syntax (how the sentences are structured) “Harlem” The poem was written in 1951 before the full force of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. The dream may refer to the aspirations of African Americans to move out of the poverty-stricken conditions of the urban ghetto in Harlem to participate in the “American Dream.” More generally, it refers to any frustrated plan of self-fulfillment. What words and images promote the theme “frustration with self-fulfillment” in this poem? How do the sound patterns and format contribute to the“dream” state of this poem? What do you make of the subtitle for this poem? “Sailing to Byzantium” by W. B. Yeats In the first line of the poem, what country is he talking about? And how is it different from the place he is dreaming of? What does Yeats imagine that a poet would like to do ideally in this poem, that is, if he could have anything in the world? Why in the second stanza does Yeats talk about old age, and why does he want to escape? What does Byzantium symbolize to Yeats? In what ways is Yeats a "Romantic" poet? What themes, ideas, concerns are central to the two poems you have read?