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A narrative poem in iambic pentameter couplets by R. Browning, published 1840. The poem was received with incomprehension and derision by the critics and the public, and its notorious ‘obscurity’ caused prolonged damage to Browning's reputation. The Pre‐Raphaelites, for whom it became a cult text, were its first defenders, followed later by Pound; it is now coming to be recognized as one of the finest long poems of the century, and of central importance in the interpretation of Browning's work, particularly its relation to the Romanticism on whose tenets it heavily relies and which, at the same time, it challenges and disputes. Its genuine difficulty springs from the swiftness and compression of the language, the convoluted time‐scheme of the narrative, and the fusion of intense specificity (or historical detail, landscape, etc.) with the abstract ideas which form the core of the argument.

The narrative is set in Italy during the period of the Guelf–Ghibelline wars of the late 12th and 13th cents, and traces the ‘development of a soul’, that of the troubadour Sordello, along a path of self‐realization where political, aesthetic, and metaphysical ideas reflect each other; all this in the framework of a plot strongly influenced by the elements of fairy tale (lost heir, wicked stepmother, unattainable princess, etc.).

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Robert Browning (1812—1889) poet

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