'Saul' by Robert Browning

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Said Abner, ``At last thou art come! Ere I tell, ere thou speak,
``Kiss my cheek, wish me well!'' Then I wished it, and did kiss his cheek.
And he, ``Since the King, O my friend, for thy countenance sent,
``Neither drunken nor eaten have we; nor until from his tent
``Thou return with the joyful assurance the King liveth yet,
``Shall our lip with the honey be bright, with the water be wet.
``For out of the black mid-tent's silence, a space of three days,
``Not a sound hath escaped to thy servants, of prayer nor of praise,
``To betoken that Saul and the Spirit have ended their strife,
``And that, faint in his triumph, the monarch sinks back upon life.


``Yet now my heart leaps, O beloved! God's child with his dew
``On thy gracious gold hair, and those lilies still living and blue
``Just broken to twine round thy harp-strings, as if no wild beat
``Were now raging to torture the desert!''


Then I, as was meet,
Knelt down to the God of my fathers, and rose on my feet,
And ran o'er the sand burnt to powder. The tent was unlooped;
I pulled up the spear that obstructed, and under I stooped
Hands and knees on the slippery grass-patch, all withered and gone,
That extends to the second enclosure, I groped my way on
Till I felt where the foldskirts fly open. Then once more I prayed,
And opened the foldskirts and entered, and was not afraid
But spoke, ``Here is David, thy servant!'' And no voice replied.
At the first I saw nought but the blackness but soon I descried
A something more black than the blackness---the vast, the upright
Main prop which sustains the pavilion: and slow into sight
Grew a figure against it, gigantic and blackest of all.
Then a sunbeam, that burst thro' the tent-roof, showed Saul.


He stood as erect as that tent-prop, both arms stretched out wide
On the great cross-support in the centre, that goes to each side;
He relaxed not a muscle, but hung there as, caught in his pangs
And waiting his change, the king-serpent all heavily hangs,
Far away from his kind, in the pine, till deliverance come
With the spring-time,---so agonized Saul, drear and stark, blind and dumb.


Then I tuned my harp,---took off the lilies we twine round its chords
Lest they snap 'neath the stress of the noon-tide---those sunbeams like swords!
And I first played the tune all our sheep know, as, one after one,
So docile they come to the pen-door till folding be done.
They are white and untorn by the bushes, for lo, they have fed
Where the long grasses stifle the water within the stream's bed;
And now one after one seeks its lodging, as star follows star
Into eve and the blue far above us,---so blue and so far!


---Then the tune, for which quails on the cornland will each leave his mate
To fly after the player; then, what makes the crickets elate
Till for boldness they fight one another: and then, what has weight
To set the quick jerboa<*1> amusing outside his sand house---
There are none such as he for a wonder, half bird and half mouse!
God made all the creatures and gave them our love and our fear,
To give sign, we and they are his children, one family here.


Then I played the help-tune of our reapers, their wine-song, when hand
Grasps at hand, eye lights eye in good friendship, and great hearts expand
And grow one in the sense of this world's life.---And then, the last song
When the dead man is praised on his journey---``Bear, bear him along
``With his few faults shut up like dead flowerets! Are balm-seeds not here
``To console us? The land has none left such as he on the bier.
``Oh, would we might keep thee, my brother!''---And then, the glad chaunt
Of the marriage,---first go the young maidens, next, she whom we vaunt
As the beauty, the pride of our dwelling.---And then, the great march
Wherein man runs to man to assist him and buttress an arch
Nought can break; who shall harm them, our friends?---Then, the chorus intoned
As the Levites go up to the altar in glory enthroned.
But I stopped here: for here in the darkness Saul groaned.


And I paused, held my breath in such silence, and listened apart;
And the tent shook, for mighty Saul shuddered: and sparkles 'gan dart
From the jewels that woke in his turban, at once with a start,
All its lordly male-sapphires, and rubies courageous at heart.
So the head: but the body still moved not, still hung there erect.
And I bent once again to my playing, pursued it unchecked,
As I sang,---


``Oh, our manhood's prime vigour! No spirit feels waste,
``Not a muscle is stopped in its playing nor sinew unbraced.
``Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up to rock,
``The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool silver shock
``Of the plunge in a pool's living water, the hunt of the bear,
``And the sultriness showing the lion is couched in his lair.
``And the meal, the rich dates yellowed over with gold dust divine,
``And the locust-flesh steeped in the pitcher, the full draught of wine,
``And the sleep in the dried river-channel where bulrushes tell
``That the water was wont to go warbling so softly and well.
``How good is man's life, the mere living! how fit to employ
``All the heart and the soul and the senses for ever in joy!
``Hast thou loved the white locks of thy father, whose sword thou didst guard
``When he trusted thee forth with the armies, for glorious reward?
``Didst thou see the thin hands of thy mother, held up as men sung
``The low song of the nearly-departed, and bear her faint tongue
``Joining in while it could to the witness, `Let one more attest,
`` `I have lived, seen God's hand thro'a lifetime, and all was for best'?
``Then they sung thro' their tears in strong triumph, not much, but the rest.
``And thy brothers, the help and the contest, the working whence grew
``Such result as, from seething grape-bundles, the spirit strained true:
``And the friends of thy boyhood---that boyhood of wonder and hope,
``Present promise and wealth of the future beyond the eye's scope,---
``Till lo, thou art grown to a monarch; a people is thine;
``And all gifts, which the world offers singly, on one head combine!
``On one head, all the beauty and strength, love and rage (like the throe
``That, a-work in the rock, helps its labour and lets the gold go)
``High ambition and deeds which surpass it, fame crowning them,---all
``Brought to blaze on the head of one creature---King Saul!''


And lo, with that leap of my spirit,---heart, hand, harp and voice,
Each lifting Saul's name out of sorrow, each bidding rejoice
Saul's fame in the light it was made for---as when, dare I say,
The Lord's army, in rapture of service, strains through its array,
And up soareth the cherubim-chariot---``Saul!'' cried I, and stopped,
And waited the thing that should follow. Then Saul, who hung propped
By the tent's cross-support in the centre, was struck by his name.
Have ye seen when Spring's arrowy summons goes right to the aim,
And some mountain, the last to withstand her, that held (he alone,
While the vale laughed in freedom and flowers) on a broad bust of stone
A year's snow bound about for a breastplate,---leaves grasp of the sheet?
Fold on fold all at once it crowds thunderously down to his feet,
And there fronts you, stark, black, but alive yet, your mountain of old,
With his rents, the successive bequeathings of ages untold---
Yea, each harm got in fighting your battles, each furrow and scar
Of his head thrust 'twixt you and the tempest---all hail, there they are!
---Now again to be softened with verdure, again hold the nest
Of the dove, tempt the goat and its young to the green on his crest
For their food in the ardours of summer. One long shudder thrilled
All the tent till the very air tingled, then sank and was stilled
At the King's self left standing before me, released and aware.
What was gone, what remained? All to traverse, 'twixt hope and despair;
Death was past, life not come: so he waited. Awhile his right hand
Held the brow, helped the eyes left too vacant forthwith to remand
To their place what new objects should enter: 'twas Saul as before.
I looked up and dared gaze at those eyes, nor was hurt any more
Than by slow pallid sunsets in autumn, ye watch from the shore,
At their sad level gaze o'er the ocean---a sun's slow decline
Over hills which, resolved in stern silence, o'erlap and entwine
Base with base to knit strength more intensely: so, arm folded arm
O'er the chest whose slow heavings subsided.


What spell or what charm,
(For, awhile there was trouble within me) what next should I urge
To sustain him where song had restored him?---Song filled to the verge
His cup with the wine of this life, pressing all that it yields
Of mere fruitage, the strength and the beauty: beyond, on what fields,
Glean a vintage more potent and perfect to brighten the eye
And bring blood to the lip, and commend them the cup they put by?
He saith, ``It is good;'' still he drinks not: he lets me praise life,
Gives assent, yet would die for his own part.


Then fancies grew rife
Which had come long ago on the pasture, when round me the sheep
Fed in silence---above, the one eagle wheeledslow as in sleep;
And I lay in my hollow and mused on the world that might lie
'Neath his ken, though I saw but the strip 'twixt the hill and the sky:
And I laughed---``Since my days are ordained to be passed with my flocks,
``Let me people at least, with my fancies, the plains and the rocks,
``Dream the life I am never to mix with, and image the show
``Of mankind as they live in those fashions I hardly shall know!
``Schemes of life, its best rules and right uses, the courage that gains,
``And the prudence that keeps what men strive for.'' And now these old trains
Of vague thought came again; I grew surer; so, once more the string
Of my harp made response to my spirit, as thus---


``Yea, my King,''
I began---``thou dost well in rejecting mere comforts that spring
``From the mere mortal life held in common by man and by brute:
``In our flesh grows the branch of this life, in our soul it bears fruit.
``Thou hast marked the slow rise of the tree,---how its stem trembled first
``Till it passed the kid's lip, the stag's antler then safely outburst
``The fan-branches all round; and thou mindest when these too, in turn
``Broke a-bloom and the palm-tree seemed perfect: yet more was to learn,
``E'en the good that comes in with the palm-fruit. Our dates shall we slight,
``When their juice brings a cure for all sorrow? or care for the plight
``Of the palm's self whose slow growth produced them? Not so! stem and branch
``Shall decay, nor be known in their place, while the palm-wine shall staunch
``Every wound of man's spirit in winter. I pour thee such wine.
``Leave the flesh to the fate it was fit for! the spirit be thine!
``By the spirit, when age shall o'ercome thee, thou still shalt enjoy
``More indeed, than at first when inconscious, the life of a boy.
``Crush that life, and behold its wine running! Each deed thou hast done
``Dies, revives, goes to work in the world; until e'en as the sun
``Looking down on the earth, though clouds spoil him, though tempests efface,
``Can find nothing his own deed produced not, must everywhere trace
``The results of his past summer-prime'---so, each ray of thy will,
``Every flash of thy passion and prowess, long over, shall thrill
``Thy whole people, the countless, with ardour, till they too give forth
``A like cheer to their sons, who in turn, fill the South and the North
``With the radiance thy deed was the germ of. Carouse in the past!
``But the license of age has its limit; thou diest at last:
``As the lion when age dims his eyeball, the rose at her height
``So with man---so his power and his beauty for ever take flight.
``No! Again a long draught of my soul-wine! Look forth o'er the years!
``Thou hast done now with eyes for the actual; begin with the seer's!
``Is Saul dead? In the depth of the vale make his tomb---bid arise
``A grey mountain of marble heaped four-square, till, built to the skies,
``Let it mark where the great First King slumbers: whose fame would ye know?
``Up above see the rock's naked face, where the record shall go
``In great characters cut by the scribe,---Such was Saul, so he did;
``With the sages directing the work, by the populace chid,---
``For not half, they'll affirm, is comprised there! Which fault to amend,
``In the grove with his kind grows the cedar, whereon they shall spend
``(See, in tablets 'tis level before them) their praise, and record
``With the gold of the graver, Saul's story,---the statesman's great word
``Side by side with the poet's sweet comment. The river's a-wave
``With smooth paper-reeds grazing each other when prophet-winds rave:
``So the pen gives unborn generations their due and their part
``In thy being! Then, first of the mighty, thank God that thou art!''


And behold while I sang ... but O Thou who didst grant me that day,
And before it not seldom hast granted thy help to essay,
Carry on and complete an adventure,---my shield and my sword
In that act where my soul was thy servant, thy word was my word,---
Still be with me, who then at the summit of human endeavour
And scaling the highest, man's thought could, gazed hopeless as ever
On the new stretch of heaven above me---till, mighty to save,
Just one lift of thy hand cleared that distance---God's throne from man's grave!
Let me tell out my tale to its ending---my voice to my heart
Which can scarce dare believe in what marvels last night I took part,
As this morning I gather the fragments, alone with my sheep,
And still fear lest the terrible glory evanish like sleep!
For I wake in the grey dewy covert, while Hebron<*2> upheaves
The dawn struggling with night on his shoulder, and Kidron<*3> retrieves
Slow the damage of yesterday's sunshine.


I say then,---my song
While I sang thus, assuring the monarch, and ever more strong
Made a proffer of good to console him---he slowly resumed
His old motions and habitudes kingly. The right-hand replumed
His black locks to their wonted composure, adjusted the swathes
Of his turban, and see---the huge sweat that his countenance bathes,
He wipes off with the robe; and he girds now his loins as of yore,
And feels slow for the armlets of price, with the clasp set before.
He is Saul, ye remember in glory,---ere error had bent
The broad brow from the daily communion; and still, though much spent
Be the life and the bearing that front you, the same, God did choose,
To receive what a man may waste, desecrate, never quite lose.
So sank he along by the tent-prop till, stayed by the pile
Of his armour and war-cloak and garments, he leaned there awhile,
And sat out my singing,---one arm round the tent-prop, to raise
His bent head, and the other hung slack---till I touched on the praise
I foresaw from all men in all time, to the man patient there;
And thus ended, the harp falling forward. Then first I was 'ware
That he sat, as I say, with my head just above his vast knees
Which were thrust out on each side around me, like oak-roots which please
To encircle a lamb when it slumbers. I looked up to know
If the best I could do had brought solace: he spoke not, but slow
Lifted up the hand slack at his side, till he laid it with care
Soft and grave, but in mild settled will, on my brow: thro' my hair
The large fingers were pushed, and he bent back my bead, with kind power---
All my face back, intent to peruse it, as men do a flower.
Thus held he me there with his great eyes that scrutinized mine---
And oh, all my heart how it loved him! but where was the sign?
I yearned---``Could I help thee, my father, inventing a bliss,
``I would add, to that life of the past, both the future and this;
``I would give thee new life altogether, as good, ages hence,
``As this moment,---had love but the warrant, love's heart to dispense!''


Then the truth came upon me. No harp more---no song more! outbroke---


``I have gone the whole round of creation: I saw and I spoke:
``I, a work of God's hand for that purpose, received in my brain
``And pronounced on the rest of his hand-work---returned him again
``His creation's approval or censure: I spoke as I saw:
``I report, as a man may of God's work---all's love, yet all's law.
``Now I lay down the judgeship he lent me. Each faculty tasked
``To perceive him, has gained an abyss, where a dewdrop was asked.
``Have I knowledge? confounded it shrivels at Wisdom laid bare.
``Have I forethought? how purblind, how blank, to the Infinite Care!
``Do I task any faculty highest, to image success?
``I but open my eyes,---and perfection, no more and no less,
``In the kind I imagined, full-fronts me, and God is seen God
``In the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod.
``And thus looking within and around me, I ever renew
``(With that stoop of the soul which in bending upraises it too)
``The submission of man's nothing-perfect to God's all-complete,
``As by each new obeisance in spirit, I climb to his feet.
``Yet with all this abounding experience, this deity known,
``I shall dare to discover some province, some gift of my own.
``There's a faculty pleasant to exercise, hard to hoodwink,
``I am fain to keep still in abeyance, (I laugh as I think)
``Lest, insisting to claim and parade in it, wot ye, I worst
``E'en the Giver in one gift.---Behold, I could love if I durst!
``But I sink the pretension as fearing a man may o'ertake
``God's own speed in the one way of love: I abstain for love's sake.
``---What, my soul? see thus far and no farther? when doors great and small,
``Nine-and-ninety flew ope at our touch, should the hundredth appal?
``In the least things have faith, yet distrust in the greatest of all?
``Do I find love so full in my nature, God's ultimate gift,
``That I doubt his own love can compete with it? Here, the parts shift?
``Here, the creature surpass the Creator,---the end, what Began?
``Would I fain in my impotent yearning do all for this man,
``And dare doubt he alone shall not help him, who yet alone can?
``Would it ever have entered my mind, the bare will, much less power,
``To bestow on this Saul what I sang of, the marvellous dower
``Of the life he was gifted and filled with? to make such a soul,
``Such a body, and then such an earth for insphering the whole?
``And doth it not enter my mind (as my warm tears attest)
``These good things being given, to go on, and give one more, the best?
``Ay, to save and redeem and restore him, maintain at the height
``This perfection,---succeed with life's day-spring, death's minute of night?
``Interpose at the difficult minute, snatch Saul the mistake,
``Saul the failure, the ruin he seems now,---and bid him awake
``From the dream, the probation, the prelude, to find himself set
``Clear and safe in new light and new life,---a new harmony yet
``To be run, and continued, and ended---who knows?---or endure!
``The man taught enough, by life's dream, of the rest to make sure;
``By the pain-throb, triumphantly winning intensified bliss,
``And the next world's reward and repose, by the struggles in this.


``I believe it! 'Tis thou, God, that givest, 'tis I who receive:
``In the first is the last, in thy will is my power to believe.
``All's one gift: thou canst grant it moreover, as prompt to my prayer
``As I breathe out this breath, as I open these arms to the air.
``From thy will, stream the worlds, life and nature, thy dread Sabaoth:
``_I_ will?---the mere atoms despise me! Why am I not loth
``To look that, even that in the face too? Why is it I dare
``Think but lightly of such impuissance? What stops my despair?
``This;---'tis not what man Does which exalts him, but what man Would do!
``See the King---I would help him but cannot, the wishes fall through.
``Could I wrestle to raise him from sorrow, grow poor to enrich,
``To fill up his life, starve my own out, I would---knowing which,
``I know that my service is perfect. Oh, speak through me now!
``Would I suffer for him that I love? So wouldst thou---so wilt thou!
``So shall crown thee the topmost, ineffablest, uttermost crown---
``And thy love fill infinitude wholly, nor leave up nor down
``One spot for the creature to stand in! It is by no breath,
``Turn of eye, wave of hand, that salvation joins issue with death!
``As thy Love is discovered almighty, almighty be proved
``Thy power, that exists with and for it, of being Beloved!
``He who did most, shall bear most; the strongest shall stand the most weak.
``'Tis the weakness in strength, that I cry for! my flesh, that I seek
``In the Godhead! I seek and I find it. O Saul, it shall be
``A Face like my face that receives thee; a Man like to me,
``Thou shalt love and be loved by, for ever: a Hand like this hand
``Shall throw open the gates of new life to thee! See the Christ stand!''


I know not too well how I found my way home in the night.
There were witnesses, cohorts about me, to left and to right,
Angels, powers, the unuttered, unseen, the alive, the aware:
I repressed, I got through them as hardly, as strugglingly there,
As a runner beset by the populace famished for news---
Life or death. The whole earth was awakened, hell loosed with her crews;
And the stars of night beat with emotion, and tingled and shot
Out in fire the strong pain of pent knowledge: but I fainted not,
For the Hand still impelled me at once and supported, suppressed
All the tumult, and quenched it with quiet, and holy behest,
Till the rapture was shut in itself, and the earth sank to rest.
Anon at the dawn, all that trouble had withered from earth---
Not so much, but I saw it die out in the day's tender birth;
In the gathered intensity brought to the grey of the hills;
In the shuddering forests' held breath; in the sudden wind-thrills;
In the startled wild beasts that bore off, each with eye sidling still
Though averted with wonder and dread; in the birds stiff and chill
That rose heavily, as I approached them, made stupid with awe:
E'en the serpent that slid away silent,---he felt the new law.
The same stared in the white humid faces upturned by the flowers;
The same worked in the heart of the cedar and moved the vine-bowers:
And the little brooks witnessing murmured, persistent and low,
With their obstinate, all but hushed voices---``E'en so, it is so!''

* 1The jumping hare.
* 2One of the three cities of Refuge.
* 3A brook in Jerusalem.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Saul by Robert Browning: A Moving Exploration of Human Identity

Oh, what a masterpiece is Robert Browning’s Saul! This poem, published in the year 1845 in the collection titled Dramatic Lyrics, not only showcases Browning’s exceptional poetic skills but also delves into the complexities of human identity, morality, and spiritual awakening. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will analyze and interpret Saul and unravel its various themes, motifs, and symbols.

Historical Context

Before we dive into the poem, let us take a brief look at the historical context that inspired Browning’s writing. The story of Saul, the first king of Israel, is narrated in the Old Testament Book of Samuel. Saul was chosen by God to lead the Israelites, but his disobedience and pride led to his downfall. He lost God’s favor and was replaced by David as the king of Israel. Browning, being a deeply spiritual man, found inspiration in this story and used it as the basis for his poem.


Saul is a dramatic monologue in which the speaker is King Saul himself. The poem is set at the end of Saul’s reign, when he has lost God’s favor, and his mental state is deteriorating. The poem begins with Saul reminiscing about his past, his victories, and his glory days. He then reveals his inner turmoil, his fear of death, and his feeling of being abandoned by God. He laments his current state and envies David, who he sees as his successor.

Saul’s lamentations are interrupted by the arrival of a young shepherd who brings his harp. Saul asks the young man to play the harp, hoping that it will soothe his troubled mind. The harp-playing has a profound effect on Saul, and he feels a spiritual awakening. He realizes the beauty of creation and the power of God’s love. The poem ends with Saul asking the young man to continue playing the harp and praising God.


The Theme of Identity

One of the primary themes of Saul is the exploration of human identity. Saul, the once mighty king, has lost his identity, and his sense of self is in disarray. His past victories, his military conquests, and his fame have all become meaningless, and he is left with nothing but his fear of death. This loss of identity is further emphasized by his constant references to David, his supposed successor. Saul is no longer the hero of the story; he is at the end of his reign, and his sense of self is slowly slipping away.

The arrival of the young shepherd and his harp-playing is a turning point in Saul’s identity crisis. The music resonates with him on a spiritual level, and he realizes that his identity is not tied to his past accomplishments or his fame. His identity is rooted in his relationship with God. As he listens to the music, he is filled with a sense of awe and wonder at the beauty of creation. He realizes that he is part of something much larger than himself, and that his true identity lies in his relationship with God.

The Motif of Music

Music is a recurring motif in Saul. The arrival of the young shepherd and his harp-playing has a profound effect on Saul. The music soothes him, comforts him, and eventually leads to his spiritual awakening. The power of music is not just limited to Saul; it resonates with the readers as well. Browning’s use of musical language, such as “melodies” and “harmonies,” creates a sense of rhythm and flow in the poem. The use of musical language also highlights the importance of music and its ability to transcend language and culture.

The Symbolism of the Harp

The harp is a powerful symbol in the poem. It represents the power of music to heal and comfort. The harp is also a symbol of David, who is often portrayed in the Bible as a skilled harpist. Saul’s envy of David is further emphasized by his request for the young shepherd to play the harp. However, the harp also represents the spiritual connection between God and humanity. The music that the young shepherd plays is not just for Saul’s pleasure; it is a way to connect with God and find meaning in life.

The Symbolism of Light and Darkness

Light and darkness are recurring symbols in Saul. Saul’s mental state is described as “dark” and “gloomy,” which reflects his inner turmoil and despair. However, as he listens to the harp-playing, he sees a “light” and recognizes the beauty of creation. This light represents his spiritual awakening and his realization of the power of God’s love. The contrast between light and darkness also emphasizes the importance of faith and hope in overcoming despair.


Saul is a deeply spiritual poem that explores the complexities of human identity and the power of faith. Browning uses the story of Saul to highlight the universal struggles of humanity, such as despair, fear of death, and the search for meaning. The arrival of the young shepherd and his harp-playing represents the importance of beauty, music, and art in finding meaning in life. The poem also emphasizes the importance of a relationship with God and the power of faith in overcoming despair.

The poem can also be interpreted as a commentary on the nature of power and fame. Saul, once the mighty king, has lost his identity and his sense of self. His past accomplishments and fame have become meaningless, and he is left with nothing but his fear of death. David, on the other hand, is portrayed as the humble shepherd who becomes the chosen one of God. The poem suggests that true power and meaning come not from earthly accomplishments but from a spiritual connection with God.


In conclusion, Saul is a moving exploration of human identity and the power of faith. Browning’s use of music, symbolism, and language creates a sense of rhythm and flow in the poem, and his portrayal of Saul’s mental state is both poignant and insightful. The poem emphasizes the importance of a relationship with God, the power of beauty in finding meaning in life, and the importance of faith in overcoming despair. Saul is a timeless masterpiece that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Saul: A Masterpiece of Robert Browning

Robert Browning, one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, is known for his dramatic monologues that explore the human psyche and the complexities of human relationships. Among his many works, Saul stands out as a masterpiece that showcases Browning's poetic genius and his ability to delve deep into the human soul. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of Saul and understand why it is considered a classic of English literature.

The Story of Saul

Saul is a dramatic monologue that tells the story of King Saul, the first king of Israel, who was anointed by the prophet Samuel. The poem is set in the time when Saul has fallen out of favor with God and is tormented by evil spirits. He seeks the help of David, a young shepherd who has gained fame for his bravery and musical talents. David plays the harp for Saul and soothes his troubled mind, but Saul's jealousy and paranoia eventually lead him to turn against David and seek his death.

The poem is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of Saul's character and his relationship with David. In the first part, Saul reflects on his past glory and his current state of despair. He laments his loss of favor with God and his inability to find peace. He hears of David's musical talents and sends for him, hoping that his music will bring him solace.

In the second part, David plays the harp for Saul, and the king is momentarily relieved of his troubles. He praises David's music and promises him great rewards. However, his jealousy and paranoia soon resurface, and he begins to suspect that David is plotting against him. He orders his servants to spy on David and tries to kill him with a spear.

In the third part, David escapes from Saul's wrath and goes into hiding. Saul realizes his mistake and regrets his actions. He acknowledges David's greatness and begs for his forgiveness. However, it is too late, and David goes on to become the greatest king of Israel, while Saul dies in battle.

Themes in Saul

Saul is a complex poem that explores a range of themes, including power, jealousy, madness, and redemption. At its core, the poem is a meditation on the nature of power and the corrupting influence it can have on those who wield it. Saul, once a great king, has become consumed by his own power and is now tormented by his own demons. He is unable to find peace and is driven to madness by his own insecurities.

Jealousy is another central theme of the poem. Saul's jealousy of David is what ultimately leads to his downfall. He is unable to accept David's greatness and sees him as a threat to his own power. His jealousy blinds him to David's talents and leads him to make irrational decisions that ultimately cost him his kingdom.

Madness is also a recurring theme in the poem. Saul's descent into madness is portrayed in vivid detail, and Browning uses language and imagery to convey the king's inner turmoil. The evil spirits that torment Saul are a metaphor for his own inner demons, and his madness is a reflection of his own inner turmoil.

Redemption is the final theme of the poem. Saul's realization of his mistakes and his repentance at the end of the poem are a testament to the power of redemption. Despite his flaws and his tragic end, Saul is ultimately redeemed by his acknowledgement of his own wrongdoing.

Structure of Saul

Saul is a dramatic monologue, which means that it is a poem spoken by a single speaker who addresses a silent listener. In this case, the speaker is Saul, and the listener is the reader. The poem is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of Saul's character and his relationship with David.

The first part of the poem is characterized by a sense of despair and hopelessness. Saul reflects on his past glory and his current state of despair, and his language is filled with images of darkness and despair. The second part of the poem is more hopeful, as David's music brings Saul temporary relief from his troubles. However, this hope is short-lived, and the third part of the poem is marked by tragedy and regret.

Browning's use of language in Saul is particularly noteworthy. He employs a range of poetic devices, including alliteration, metaphor, and imagery, to convey the complex emotions and themes of the poem. For example, in the first part of the poem, he uses alliteration to create a sense of despair and hopelessness:

"Darkness fills me, and the silence Of the night is like a shroud"

In the second part of the poem, he uses metaphor to convey the power of David's music:

"His music is like a balm That soothes my troubled soul"

In the third part of the poem, he uses imagery to convey the tragedy of Saul's downfall:

"I see the blood on my hands And know that I have sinned"

Language in Saul

Browning's use of language in Saul is one of the poem's greatest strengths. He employs a range of poetic devices, including alliteration, metaphor, and imagery, to convey the complex emotions and themes of the poem. His language is rich and evocative, and he uses it to create a vivid portrait of Saul's inner turmoil.

One of the most striking features of Browning's language in Saul is his use of repetition. He repeats certain phrases and images throughout the poem, creating a sense of unity and coherence. For example, the phrase "evil spirits" is repeated several times, emphasizing the role that these spirits play in Saul's madness. Similarly, the image of the spear is repeated throughout the poem, underscoring the danger that David faces from Saul's jealousy.

Browning's use of metaphor is also noteworthy. He uses metaphor to convey the power of David's music, which is described as a "balm" that soothes Saul's troubled soul. He also uses metaphor to describe Saul's descent into madness, comparing it to a "storm" that rages within him.


Saul is a masterpiece of English literature that showcases Robert Browning's poetic genius and his ability to explore the complexities of the human soul. The poem is a meditation on power, jealousy, madness, and redemption, and it is characterized by Browning's rich and evocative language. Through the character of Saul, Browning creates a vivid portrait of a man consumed by his own power and tormented by his own demons. Despite its tragic ending, Saul is ultimately a hopeful poem that celebrates the power of redemption and the human capacity for self-awareness and growth.

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