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Youth and Art by Robert Browning
One time, we settled in the same street, you and I were lonely like a loner bird. Your job was dealing with clay, polished and crafted it into a visual artwork. Then you laughed and said that someday you will be on top and exclude your competitors. And for myself, I preoccupied by creating music and singing a song. We both deal with art but in different types. You needed a piece of marble, I needed a good music. Together we concentrated in each of our different world. I looked at you, sitting and rubbing your moustache-mouth, wearing a cap and blouse like a boy of the South. Then I noticed that there is an awkwardness of you. This is not my fault if you are the one who starts to look someone else. You make me shocked. In spring season, when stores in our street looked quiet, I watched models and some of them look like a hussy go up-stairs to your place. What is your reason and why did I have no power to discuss this conflict to you. Time passed, I am a wife of a rich old lord and you are called as knight and an R.A. We have no experience for being happy. This is our half-hearted life. This is not the first time when people keep misinterpreted us. We gave up each other and our relation expired in forever.
Focus of Analysis
The author found that there are many issues approach in this poem. Generally this poem is a kind of love-poetry that expresses happiness in several aspects such as manner and the characters’ interests. Love-poetry can be interpreted as poetry of pleasure, of beauty, or of social sentiment. It may be made for the grace and wit of it; it may deal with love in its place among the stimulating incidents and joys of life; or it may be taken in its relation to the deeper life of men and women (Fotheringham, 1972). But the author decides to use ‘unsatisfied love’ issue as the focus of this analysis. This issue concludes the whole meaning of this poem and expressing the implicit topic of this poem. This issue attracts the sentiment of womanhood towards her lover. This unsatisfied love gives sweetness of love and uncertainty of feeling.
This poem tells about two artists, one a woman and a singer, the other a man and a sculptor, lived in their early days of struggle in opposite garrets. They had something more than kindness for each other. But with decision to make, they had no room in their lives for simple love. They have made their decision, even though not all they wished, but some part of what they hoped of both now, yet she feels something lost never to be gained. Both of them are being ignorant with their actual condition. With no more true happiness, they continue live of each with half-hearted.
Detailed Meaning (Language)
It once might have been, once only:→ Denotative
We lodged in a street together,→ Denotative; Visual
You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
I, a lone she-bird of his feather.→ Connotative; Tactile; Metaphor
Your trade was with sticks and clay,→ Denotative
You thumbed, thrust, patted and polished,→ Denotative; Visual
Then laughed “They will see some day→ Denotative; Auditory
Smith made, and Gibson demolished.”→ Connotative; Visual
My business was song, song, song;→ Denotative
I chirped, cheeped, trilled and twittered,→ Denotative; Auditory
“Kate Brown’s on the boards ere long,→ Connotative; Visual
And Grisi’s existence embittered!”→ Connotative; Tactile
I earned no more by a warble→ Denotative
Than you by a sketch in plaster;→ Denotative; Visual
You wanted a piece of marble,→ Denotative
I needed a music-master.→ Denotative
We studied hard in our styles,→ Denotative; Tactile
Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,→ Connotative; Visual; Simile
For air looked out on the tiles,→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
For fun watched each other’s windows.→ Connotative; Tactile; Metaphor
You lounged, like a boy of the South,→ Denotative; Visual; Simile
Cap and blouse–nay, a bit of beard too;→ Denotative; Visual
Or you got it, rubbing your mouth→ Denotative; Visual
With fingers the clay adhered to.→ Denotative; Visual
And I–soon managed to find→ Denotative
Weak points in the flower-fence facing,→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
Was forced to put up a blind→ Denotative; Tactile
And be safe in my corset-lacing.→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
No harm! It was not my fault→ Denotative; Tactile
If you never turned your eye’s tail up→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
As I shook upon E in alt,→ Connotative; Tactile; Metaphor
Or ran the chromatic scale up:→ Connotative; Metaphor
For spring bade the sparrows pair,→ Connotative; Visual; Personification
And the boys and girls gave guesses,→ Denotative
And stalls in our street looked rare→ Denotative; Visual
With bulrush and watercresses.→ Denotative; Visual
Why did not you pinch a flower→ Denotative
In a pellet of clay and fling it?→ Denotative
Why did not I put a power→ Denotative; Tactile
Of thanks in a look, or sing it?→ Denotative; Tactile
I did look, sharp as a lynx,→ Connotative; Visual; Simile
(And yet the memory rankles,)→ Denotative; Tactile; Personification
When models arrived, some minx→ Denotative; Visual
Tripped up-stairs, she and her ankles.→ Denotative; Visual
But I think I gave you as good!→ Denotative; Tactile
“That foreign fellow,–who can know→ Denotative; Visual
How she pays, in a playful mood,→ Denotative; Tactile
For his tuning her that piano?”→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
Could you say so, and never say→ Denotative
“Suppose we join hands and fortunes,→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
And I fetch her from over the way,→ Denotative; Visual
Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?”→ Connotative; Audio; Metaphor
No, no: you would not be rash,→ Denotative; Tactile
Nor I rasher and something over:→ Denotative; Tactile
You’ve to settle yet Gibson’s hash,→ Connotative; Visual; Metaphor
And Grisi yet lives in clover.→ Denotative; Visual
But you meet the Prince at the Board,→ Denotative; Visual
I’m queen myself at bals-par,→ Denotative; Visual
I’ve married a rich old lord,→ Denotative; Visual
And you’re dubbed knight and an R.A.→ Denotative; Visual
Each life unfulfilled, you see;→ Denotative; Tactile
It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:→ Connotative; Visual; Personification
We have not sighed deep, laughed free,→ Denotative; Tactile
Starved, feasted, despaired,–been happy.→ Denotative; Tactile
And nobody calls you a dunce,→ Denotative
And people suppose me clever:→ Denotative; Tactile
This could but have happened once,→ Denotative
And we missed it, lost it for ever.→ Denotative; Tactile
- Denotative: we can see the meaning directly from the written text (explicit meaning).
- Connotative: the meaning is implied in the text, so we should predict the meaning.
- Visual: we can see the events that happen.
- Tactile: we cannot see the events, but we can feel or taste it.
- Auditory: we can hear from the events that happen (it appeals to the sense of
- 1st stanza, line 3: You, a sparrow on the housetop lonely,
A sparrow can be related to the man who seems weak (if we compare with the physical of sparrow itself) and just stare (it relates with the sparrow usually do on the housetop).
- 1st stanza, line 4: I, a lone she-bird of his feather.
The speaker compares herself as the same kind with the sparrow in the 1st stanza, line 3.
- 5th stanza, line 3:For air looked out on the tiles,
It shows their busy activities give heat to the room until the smoke appears from the ground.
- 5th stanza, line 4:For fun watched each other’s windows.
It means both of them still enjoy their business and care for one another.
- 7th stanza, line 2:Weak points in the flower-fence facing,
It shows the time when the speaker found an obstacle or problem and she cannot handle it anymore.
- 7th stanza, line 4:And be safe in my corset-lacing.
It means that the speaker does not want to be involved deeper to the problem that she found and she decided to play safe.
- 8th stanza, line 2:If you never turned your eye’s tail up
It shows that the speaker is concern about the man will be cheating on her.
- 8th stanza, line 3:As I shook upon E in alt,
‘E in alt’ mean as capital letter ‘E’ if it associates with music has meaning as higher pitch. The speaker said ‘shook’ which overall can be inferred that the speaker is experiencing high anxiety.
- 8th stanza, line 4:Or ran the chromatic scale up
The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches (Benward, 2003), if this scale up then it means as a higher pitch.
- 12th stanza, line 4:For his tuning her that piano?”
Tuning is the process of adjusting the pitch of one or many tones from musical instruments to establish typical intervals between these tones (Milne,2007: 15–32). It means the speaker thinks that the man tries to approach other women. From this line also reveals that the speaker is jealous.
- 13th stanza, line 2:”Suppose we join hands and fortunes,
This line interprets as the speaker’s dream of marriage.
- 13th stanza, line 4:Her, piano, and long tunes and short tunes?”
‘Long tunes and short tunes’ can be interpreted as another woman who disturbs the speaker’s mind.
- 14th stanza, line 3:You’ve to settle yet Gibson’s hash
‘Gibson’ is an English sculptor who was famous in the 18th century. This sentence means as suggestion from the speaker to the man, that even he succeed in the future he should stay still in that place.
- 9th stanza, line 1: For spring bade the sparrows pair,
Spring is not a human being so it cannot bade something or someone.
- 11th stanza, line 2:(And yet the memory rankles,)
Memory is not a human being so it cannot injure (as verb).
- 16th stanza, line 2:It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
It in this line refers to life (it relates with 16th stanza, line 1) so it cannot do as what human can do.
- 5th stanza, line 2:Chipped each at a crust like Hindoos,
The speaker tries to compare her selves and the man with people who are Hindu.
- 6th stanza, line 1:You lounged, like a boy of the South,
The speaker tries to compare the man’s style with the boy from the South.
- 11th stanza, line 1:I did look, sharp as a lynx,
The speaker tries to compare her sight with lynx. Lynx is a wild cat with yellowish-brown fur , a short tail, and tufted ears, found chiefly in the northern latitudes of North America and Eurasia (Hamilton, 1998). Like most other types of cats, lynx has sharp eyes comparing with the speaker had told that she is looking carefully.
Robert Browning wrote this poem inspired by his previous poem entitled “The Last Ride Together”. He also got inspiration from “Two in The Campagna”, one of his poems that he wrote about love, art, and hesitate feeling. Frequently, Browning would begin to create a poem by thinking about an artist, an artwork, or a type of art that he admired or disliked. Then he would speculate on the character or artistic philosophy that would lead to such a success or failure. According to Fotheringham, Browning has many dramatic monologues poem about artists who attempt to capture some of artistic philosophy because his characters speculate on the purposes of art (Fotheringham, 1972).
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“The Last Ride Together” tells about one of many supreme hours in the life of passion that Browning liked to conceive and could present so admirably (Eliot, 1917). Its lyrical quality and movement, with its firm and passionate grasp of the dramatic situation, make the poem one of the finest of its class. And the moods of energetic abandon to the pure joy of the hour, with clear sight of what the characters inside the poem want. The tense ‘spring’ of the verse gives the passion and the self-mastery of the lover in the poem which also mentioned in “Youth and Art” poem.
“Two in the Campagna” explores the fleeting nature of love and ideas. The speaker regrets that, just as he cannot ever perfectly capture an idea, he cannot achieve total intimacy with his lover, this also happened with the speaker of “Youth and Art” poem. The last stanza, line 4 in “Two in the Campagna” explains the resulting pain serves as a reminder of human limitations can be compare with “Youth and Art” poem when the speaker show her feeling of lost, which means there are no perfect human because they have limitation. The comparison between love and art remarks on the difficulty of interpersonal communication, for example when the speaker of “Two in Campagna” cannot really see through his lover’s eyes, and he never communicate the subtle shadings of his thoughts through his poetry.
Browning has shared our age’s romantic interest in art. He has also shared his interest in art theories, and most of his poems on art have a critical quality of artist’s life, especially in this poem entitled “Youth and Art.” The author chooses ‘unsatisfied love’ issue as the focus analysis which covers the whole meaning of this poem. This issue mostly defined in 16th stanza:
Each life unfulfilled, you see;
It hangs still, patchy and scrappy:
We have not sighed deep, laughed free,
Starved, feasted, despaired,–been happy.
The speaker tells that her condition will not be the same as before. Moreover, this issue is more emphasized by the last stanza, line 4: And we missed it, lost it for ever. It clearly shows that both of them have the feeling of lost and their love story is not fulfilled because they have no strong will to resolve their problem. And lots of imageries in this poetry support the issue for example, in 13th stanza, line 2: Suppose we join hands and fortunes, it visualizes her hypothetic towards the man whom she adores. The author hope by giving illustration, analyzing and focusing on one issue can make the readers deeply understand the unsatisfied love that occurs in this poem.
Benward, Saker. Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.47. 7th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
Eliot, Charles W. The Harvard Classics: The Shelf of Fiction. New York: P.F. COLLIER & SON, 1917.
Fotheringham, James. Studies of The Mind and Art of Robert Browning. 5th Ed. Rev. New York: Haskell House Publishers Ltd., 1972.
Hamilton, William J., Whitaker, John O. Mammals of the Eastern United States. Cambridge: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Milne, Andrew, William A. Sethares, and James Plamondon. Invariant Fingerings Across a Tuning Continuum. Computer Music Journal. Vol 31. No 4. Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007.
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