A Comparative Study: John Keats and Robert Browning’s works through Ode On A Grecian Urn and My Last Duchess
In the world of poetry, John Keats and Robert Browning have remarkable contributions through their work. Though they belong to different literary era and have variety in their beliefs, writings, both of them have flourished the English literature with their individuality. In addition, “Ode” and “My last” are remarkable works of the respective poets, which showcases their mastery of writing.
So, in this paper, the following discussions will explore the works of Keats and Brownings by analyzing two of their poems “Ode “ and “My Last Duchess” through their writing styles and structures. It will also show how their visions are portrayed in their poems with reflection of their literary eras. Along with that, the differences in their beliefs reflected in their works will also be focused.
John Keats is an English poet of the Romantic era. In his short life of 25 years, he had a remarkable career through his wonderful writings like any other great poet. At first, he did not get recognition for his great writings. However, by the end of the 19th century, he was one of the most beloved poets of his era. He had published only fifty-four poems. Despite having short life span, he explored and masterly used wide range of poetic forms. Ode was one of his finest creations. Ode is one form of lyric poetry for praising something, through which the poet can express his emotions with sensual imagery. In addition, some of his notable works include “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”and “Sleep and Poetry”.
Robert Browning was English poet and playwright of Victorian era. From the beginning, he was interested in poetry. In the teenage, romantic poets like Shelly and Lord Byron inspired him towards poetry. He was renowned for dramatic monologue, the form he mastered and made his writings unique. Dramatic monologue is a kind of poetry which is written in the form of speech or narrative by an imagined person and the speaker unintentionally reveals traits of their character while explaining a specific situation. “My last duchess” is one of his best works to showcase his mastery of dramatic monologue. Along with this, some of his other remarkable works are- “The Ring and the Book”, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”, “The Pied Piper of Hameline”, “A Tale”. Among these, The children’s poem “The Pied Piper of Hameline” of 1842 was the one for which he was famous but he did not value it enormously. Along with this, “The Ring and the Book” was his another masterpiece.
As a part of an era which is considered as triumph of emotions, he wonderfully portrayed his feelings through his writings. The depiction of natural imagery in his poetry also reflects the literary era he belongs to. In his writings, the idea of imagination is present which leads readers into an imaginary world, contradictory to the real world. In many of his poems, the idea of death, time are also present. On the contrary, Robert Browning is more focused on social issues. Dark humor is another component of his writings. Through his writings, he showed how the patriarchal society was dominating towards women. They had no way of expressing their feelings. They only needed to follow what they are told to do. In his writing, he presented more realistic ideas than the Romantic poets. Hence, the shift of ideas was evident from the romantic, nature related writing towards a more realistic one.
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” is one of the finest creations of John Keats, written in 1819. Shackford in her paper titled “The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’” stated that “The Ode on a Grecian Urn is the culmination of Keats’s interest in form and is also the most positive expression of his belief in the communicative, the ministering powers of beauty”(7). It was the third of the five great odes of his. It is also believed that the odes- Psyche, Nightingale, Grecian Urn, Melancholy and Autumn are sequentially written. In this ode, the speaker addresses the Grecian urn as “unravish’d bride of quietness”, “foster-child of silence and slow time”. He also personifies the urn as “historian” who can tell tales. There is also reference of arts which are frozen in the urn’s body. The different arts frozen in urn’s body leads the speaker into the world of imagination. It continues throughout the poem. Later on, in the final stanza the speaker says to the urn when his generation will be dead, the urn will be there through the lines:
“When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe”
After that, the speaker urges to the urn to pass the message to the world that beauty lies in truth and that is all the urn knows and needs to know, through the last two lines:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
“My Last Duchess” is one of the popular writings of Robert Browning. It was written in 1842 and appeared in Dramatic Lyrics which is contained in Bells and Pomegranates.
The reason behind this poem being Brownings popular one is that this poem is remarkable example of Browning’s dramatic monologue. The plot of the poem moves around the duke and his dominance. Through this poem Browning shows how the patriarchal society used to dominate females. In this poem, the duke is the speaker of the poem. At the very beginning of the poem, he is showing his palace and his art collection to a guest and he is interested to marry that person’s daughter. Then, he shows him the portrait of his last duchess, his late wife who a lovely, young girl. Monteiro in his paper titled “Browning’s ‘My Last Duchess’” stated that “The gesture implicit in the first line directs us toward the revealed portrait of the last Duchess, but an earlier moment in the performance has come with the withdrawing of the curtain before the painting, for the speaker soon insists, “none puts by/ The curtain I have drawn for you, but I.”(235). He talks about the portrait and the duchess. Here, the aggressive, controlling nature of the duke can be detected by these lines:
“But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)”
These lines shows as if he does not even want that no one other than him could see her wife. It can also be interpreted as if it is he who will decide before whom his wife will appear or not. It will be his decision with whom she can talk or not. There is no need for anything of her choice or opinion. This shows the typical picture of women in the Victorian era. Women did not have anything to say, they were suppose to just follow what they are told to do. By continuing, he talks about her (duchess) nature.
Apparently, it seems like the duchess was a person having low moral values, who used to talk, laugh, flirt with anyone through the lines:
“Sir, ‘twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek;”
These lines shows that the duke was not ready to accept that his wife could smile or stay happy with anyone else. She should be only smiling with her husband. He emphasizes “her husband’s presence”(14) shows the desire of domination which duke wanted to have over the duchess. Later on, through his continuation of monologue, it can be assured that he was the one who was responsible for the premature death of the duchess. It was his commands through which she is today only a portrait with ultimate silence. It can be referred to these lines:
“I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive.”
Later on, the duke proceeds with the guest to show him his other arts in his collection.
However, for comparing Keats and Browning’s works, the most visible difference is in the structure of their poems. For example, in the “ode” of Keats there is difference in rhyme scheme in some stanzas. On the other hand, Browning’s “My last” is perfectly rhymed.
Keat’s “ode” consists of 5 stanzas, each with ten lines. It is written in iambic pentameter, which means each line consisting 10 syllables. For the perfect iambic pentameter line 8 can be chosen-
What men | or gods | are these? | What mai- | dens loth?
Line 17 also shows the same pattern-
Bold lo- |ver ne-| ver ne- | ver canst | thou kissThe rhyme scheme of this poem is not perfect. The first four lines of each stanza are the same and that is ABAB. However, the later lines changes in different stanzas. In the first stanza, the later six lines are rhymed as CDEDCE. It is different with the second stanza. In the second stanza, the rhyme scheme of later six are as CDECED. The third and fourth stanza has the same rhyme scheme, and that is CDECDE. The last stanza is rhymed as CDEDCE, just like the first stanza.
Browning’s “My last” clearly shows there is no stanzas, rather consists of one long stream of couplets with 56 lines. This lack of distinct stanzas may indicate the duke’s self-obsession. The whole poem is with only his lines, that ended up not having any stanza break as he did not pass the floor to the person with whom he was talking. In addition, in this poem the presence of both open and closed couplets are visible. There is open couplets as there is lack of punctuation at the end of the line. In this poem, open couplets are more than closed ones. There is also use of enjambment in this poem, since sentence goes to the next line and not necessarily end at the end of the line. Second line of the poem shows enjambment-
Looking as if she were alive. I call
The sentence does not end at the end of the sentence, it ended before and the next sentence continued to be the next line. So, it is an example of enjambment.
This poem is written in iambic pentameter which means there will be ten syllables each line.
Those syllables will be an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one.Through the last line of the poem, it can be shown-
Which Claus | of Inns- | bruck cast | in bronze | for me!
In this line, there are ten syllables. This pattern is broken in the second line of the poem-
Looking | as if | she were | alive | I call
Here, the word “Looking” is a trochee. A trochee is metrical pattern in poems where there will a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Same type of break in pattern can be noticed in line 43-
Never | to stoop. | Oh, sir, | she smiled, | no doubt,
Line 55 shows the same-
Taming | a sea- | horse, thought | a rar | ity,
This poem is written in rhyming couplets. The rhyme scheme of this poem is AABBCCDD. It remains the same throughout the whole poem.
By analyzing the two poems, In the “ode”, the way in which Keats portrays the exploration of the idea that art can go beyond time and reality, made the poem significant. Human beings are mortals. Every living creature of this world, have to leave this earth at one point. However, the beauty of any art, any message frozen in arts can escape the inevitability of death. All of these are interpreted through imagination, which is deceiving human beings. It shows the notion of eternity which is contradictory with reality. Everything is imagined here which reflects the literary era in which Keats belongs to, the Romantic era. On the other hand, through the poem “My last duchess”, Browning showed how the male dominated society subjugated women. The way the duke treated the duchess exactly shows the domination of the patriarchal society. It is also reflecting the current scenario of our society. The duchess had to die just because he could not fit into the criteria of the duke, as if her life’s worth is just nothing. It also reflects the cruel scenario of women of the Victorian age. It is also related with our country or Asian subcontinent as well. He also tried to portray the strict social codes of society for women. These ideas of his writings reflects the period in which Browning belongs to, that is the Victorian era.
To sum up, As Keats and Browning belong to different literary era, their beliefs, writing subjects, themes, structures are very different from each other. Keats in his writings uses imagination, nature, time, death. On the contrary, Browning’s poems are of social issues, dark humour, irony, challenging vocabulary. Their writing styles are also different, where Keats works with ode, Browning mastery on dramatic monologue. At last, though there are many differences in keat’s and Browning’s works, both of them remarkably contributed for enriching English literature.
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