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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
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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
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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?
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