1. Why did Browning chose the peculiar six-line stanza form rhymed abbaab and the iambic pentameter line for his "realistic romance."
2. The poem is dominated by nightmarish images. If the poem is indeed a kind of Coleridgian dream, how should we interpret the closing lines of the poem?
3. Browning's "landscapes are generally brief and entirely subservient to narrative and character" according to W. C. DeVane in A Browningthen Handbook. Why in this poem has Browning lavished so much attention on the physical setting and described it in such detail?
4. "Childe Roland has no foes to fight; that may be past. His critical fight is . . . in the soul and against the whole appearance of things . . . . — James Fotheringham, Studies in the Poetry of Robert Browning, p. 381)
Explain how such elements as the crippled gatekeeper, "The Band," and the omnipresent noise at the poem support this analysis.
5.Judith Weissman regards the object of Roland's quest, the "Dark Tower," as an "architectural symbol of a corrupt political order in both 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came' and 'Love Among the Ruins' " (18), a poem written at almost exactly the same time. What internal evidence do we find in the former poem to support Weissman's interpretation? What else may the Dark Tower symbolize?
6.Weissman groups "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" with such nineteenth-century anti-war texts as Thackeray's Vanity Fair, Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, and Tolstoy's War and Peace "as one of many demystifications of military heroism" (18). She sees Browning's central message in the poem as how the military code of honour and glory "destroys the inner life of the would-be hero, by making us see a world hellishly distorted through Roland's eyes" (18). What clues suggest that Roland is projecting his own disillusionment and despair onto the landscape, and that his physical surroundings are not in fact "a particularly blighted part of the world" (14)?
7. Weissman interprets "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" as reflecting Browning's belief "that energy is easier to sustain for the sake of an ethical goal than for the sake of mere worldly honor or worldly ease, and that our psychological and spiritual natures make ethical action rewarding" (20)
What elements in the poem seem to support this statement? What other thematic statements can you propose for the poem?
8. The poem takes its title from Edgar's mad song in King Lear, III, iv, 187-189:
Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still — Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British Man.
Critics have asserted that this song by a leading character in disguise, unfriended in a wasteland and attempting to escape the kingdom with a price on his head, is merely a point of imaginative departure for the poet's realistic romanticism. What connections, however, may one make between Edgar's song and Browning's poem? How is "romantic realism" an apt description for the genre of "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came"?
In The Arden Shgakespeare text of King Lear, editor R. A Foakes offers the following commentary on Edgar's song:
nonsense verses. A line possibly from a lost ballad concerning Roland, famous as related to Charlemagne, and as hero of Le Chanson de Roland, is tied into a familiar cry from some version of Jack the Giant-killer. The lines may also point to Edgar, who will turn into a hero and kill the 'giant' Edmund.
In other words, the madman, in reality the weakling and dupe Edgar, may ironically prove as heroic as the lengendary hero of the chanson de gestes, Charlemagne's champion Roland, who sacrifices his life at Roncevaux to save the French army from Moorish annihilation.
9. According to Phelps,
"Three entirely different interpretations may be made of the poem. First, the Tower is the quest, and Success is found only in the moment of Failure. Second, the Tower is the quest, and when found is worth nothing: the hero has spent his life searching something that in the end is seen to be only a round, squat, blind turret--for such things do men throw away their lives! Third, the Tower is not the quest at all--it is damnation, and when the knight turns aside from the true road to seek the Tower, he is a lost soul steadily slipping through increasing darkness to hell" [Phelps 233]
Which of these three interpretations do you find most appealing, and why?
10. Constance Hassett sees not one but two Rolands, Roland the hero and Roland the victim: which Roland predominates and why in Browning's characterization? "Roland's epiphany," remarks Hassett, "as is customary in Browning's poetry, is represented as an unforeseen event" (111). What is the "event," and what is the nature of Roland's "epiphany"? Hassett concludes, "to recognize projection as projection is to be freed of its as delusion--and that is Roland's triumph" (112). What does she mean by "projection," and over what precisely does Roland "triumph" at the end of the poem?
11.According to Hassett, "Perhaps the weariest of all [Browning's characters] is Childe Roland who welcomes the prospect of failure and death" (12). Where precisely does Browning's persona express this sentiment, and why does he seem to "welcome" the unsuccessful termination of his quest?
12. Woolford points to the importance of an interlocutor:
Essentially, the presence of an interlocutor prompts a 'realist' reading of the monologue as genuine speech, which in turn promotes or even determines that alienation of reader from persona which preserves our consciousness of an implied author. Dramatic lyrics are altogether less certain to involve either 'natural' speech or alienation . . . . .
Dramatic lyrics use a dramatized speaker, but because he addresses the reader directly, it is impossible to regard his utterance as a natural speech-event; he speaks a poem, and Browning's invariable use of lyric metres and rhyme-schemes for monologues of this kind reinforces the point. Such poems, however 'dramatic in principle' (to use Browning's own phrase) are simultaneously 'lyric in expression'; their persuasion is directed at the reader, and though the reader can refuse to be persuaded, he cannot be certain that this is the appropriate response. Dramatic monologues, conversely, because addressed to an interlocutor are immediately understood as 'real speech' occupying a dramatic situation which is as it were overheard by a reader detached from the speaker's rhetorical purpose. [Woolford 72]
Bearing in mind Woolford's distinction between a dramatic monologue and a dramatic lyric, explain whether"Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" is a soliloquy, a dramatic lyric, or a dramatic monologue.
DeVane, William Clyde. A Browning Handbook. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1955.
Fotheringham, James. Studies in the Poetry of Robert Browning. London: Kegan, Paul, and Trench, 1887.
Hassett, Constance W. The Elusive Self in the Poetry of Robert Browning. Athens, Ohio: Ohio U. P.,1982.
Phelps, William Lyon. Robert Browning. New York: Archon, 1912. Rpt. 1968.
Symons, Arthur. An Introduction to the Study of Robert Browning. London: J. M. Dent, 1906.
Weissman, Judith. "Browning's Politics of Hell: 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came' and 'The Statue and the Bust'." Concerning Poetry 10, 2 (Fall 1977): 11-22.
Woolford, John. Browning the Revisionary. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.
Last modified 8 June 2007