AD's English Literature : Robert Browning’s treatment of human psychology and attitude to life reflected in : Two in the Campagna and The Laboratory

Robert Browning’s treatment of human psychology and attitude to life reflected in : Two in the Campagna and The Laboratory


“Through out my life I have learned to love. Love is the Summum bonum of my life”. – says Robert Browning in a letter to his friend. And what he says here constitutes the philosophy he wishes to advocate in all his poems. Browning’s philosophy is optimistic, heartening and cheering. He is a poet of hope, joy faith, and immortality of soul, invincibility of good and supremacy of God. The best of his poems: The Last Ride Together, A Grammarian’s Funeral, Fralippo Lippi, Pophyria’s Lover etc. been ample evidence of his philosophic outlook. As a dramatic monologue, Browning’s  poem Two In The Campagna sheds light on another facts of his philosophy of life, namely ‘an instant cannot be made eternal’, while poems like Porphyria’s Lover and Andrea Del Sarto strongly uphold the poet’s apposite point of view that instant can be made eternal. In Two In the Campagna, Browning holds just the opposite view, stressing the ever fluctuating nature of human thoughts and feeling including the moment of consummation. In fact, Browning was fully aware of the wide and varied phases of passions and thoughts. He gives an expression almost all of them in his poetry. He can point the fierce passion (Pippa Passes), the romantic love (The Last Red Together), the abnormal love (Porphyria’s Lover), married love (Meeting at Night), and so on.

    The essentials of Browning’s dramatic monologues are the central speaker, a critical moment of dramatic situation, fervent spiritual experience, a silent listener, lyricism, images from nature and rugged diction. in Two In The Campagna the lover is the speaker, in presence of his beloved who remains silent throughout the poem, the setting is in Roman Campagna and the critical thought, that arises in the Lover’s mind is the fleeting and transitory nature of love, even if profound in whatever degree, can never be made permanent. The speaker passionately declares his lover for the ladylove and wishes this attachment to transform something permanent and eternal. But love is paradoxical in nature and it prompts such question in lover’s thought: “Is it under our control/ to love or not to love?” surprisingly every lover of beloved is destined to experience a sense of frustration in not being able to make the instant eternal. The fleeting nature of ecstatic moments (consummation) in the scheme of love is eloquently, rather movingly expressed by the lover:
 “ I pluck the rose
 And love it more than tongue can speak –
 Then the good minutes goes”.
The idea of man’s inherent helplessness in his attempt to make the instant eternal acquires a lofty philosophical height fostering a psychological realism. An answer to this paradox is given at last by the lover that the human passion is really infinite, while the possibility of having fulfillment of all the desires is limited:
“Only I discern
 Infinite passion and the pain
 Of finite hearts that yearn”.

            If the chief interest of Two in the Campagna lies in exploration of the inadequacy of every human situation, the poem The Laboratory points to Browning’s conscious attempt to study in jealousy in another human situation. The Laboratory unmistakably unfolds Browning’s skill in analyzing the psychology of a jilted woman. The entire poem serves as mirror to reflect the complex and cruel nature of that prevented woman who coolly watched the alchemist grinding poison which she would administer to her rival. What makes the lady so much desperate is her ingrained jealousy, her sense of being defeated by the lover, a sort of adjunct inferiority complex. The complex compounded with enormous jealousy prompts the lady to take recourse to such a dangerous step like killing her rival and would be victor by poisoning.

            Thus, Browning’s poems are characterized by a remarkable insight into the subtleties of human nature which Browning studies by an analysis of individual characters. The conflict in his monologues is not situational but psychical. Browning is thus a forerunner of psycho-analysis and the stream of consciousness technique. And the characters portrayed by Browning – be it he a lover in Two in the Campagna or be it she the jilted lady in The Laboratory have become so vivid and life like that they always seem to belong to down to the earth reality.   

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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