I have a soft spot for Romantic Era poets, like Browning and Keats. There I fully admit this. For me, Robert Browning, though he was a poet in his own right, will always be the husband to Elizabeth Barrett Browning (who wrote Sonnet 43: How Do I Love Thee?) for me. The poem I have selected, I’ve never read before, and thankfully there was a lot of information on it.
It’s called My Last Duchess and is an “Ekphrasis, which means ‘Description’ in Greek. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning. A notable example is “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” by John Keats.” The poem is a fictional account of the Duke of Ferrara during the Italian Renaissance showing a painting of his dead wife as a beautiful young woman to some visitors (the emissary of a Count and also us as the readers) and then tells her story. As the guide for the poem states, “Using conversational couplets and telling punctuation, Browning gives us a study of violence, a test of the rivalry between words and images, and a battle between the male and female gaze.” The SparkNotes discussion of the text has this to say about how the poem engages the reader “The poem calculatedly engages its readers on a psychological level. Because we hear only the Duke’s musings, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work. It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal.”