What makes Robert Browning’s poetry exhilarating is not optimism, but strenuous vitality. Life is presented as a challenge. Failure is inevitable but unimportant, so long as the fight goes on. The murdered Pompilia, refusing on her deathbed to admit ‘one faint fleck of failure’ in Caponsacchi’s attempt to save her life, expresses almost too literally this never-say-die spirit. Even Andrea del Sarto, the most depressed and defeatist of all Browning’s characters, is last heard planning to paint a vast mural in heaven, and stressing (‘as I choose’) that he is still, in a way, the master of his fate. This sense of irrepressible vitality is conveyed, not just through character, action, or explicit statement, but more immediately by language, versification, and poetic texture. Browning’s very individual style was evidently developed to satisfy the special feeling for ‘fact’ that he shared with Thomas Carlyle, and that drew him towards historical subjects.
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