'In A Gondola' by Robert Browning

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_He sings_.

I send my heart up to thee, all my heart
In this my singing.
For the stars help me, and the sea bears part;
The very night is clinging
Closer to Venice' streets to leave one space
Above me, whence thy face
May light my joyous heart to thee its dwelling-place.

_She speaks_.

Say after me, and try to say
My very words, as if each word
Came from you of your own accord,
In your own voice, in your own way:
``This woman's heart and soul and brain
``Are mine as much as this gold chain
``She bids me wear; which'' (say again)
``I choose to make by cherishing
``A precious thing, or choose to fling
``Over the boat-side, ring by ring.''
And yet once more say ... no word more!
Since words are only words. Give o'er!

Unless you call me, all the same,
Familiarly by my pet name,
Which if the Three should hear you call,
And me reply to, would proclaim
At once our secret to them all.
Ask of me, too, command me, blame---
Do, break down the partition-wall
'Twixt us, the daylight world beholds
Curtained in dusk and splendid folds!
What's left but---all of me to take?
I am the Three's: prevent them, slake
Your thirst! 'Tis said, the Arab sage,
In practising with gems, can loose
Their subtle spirit in his cruce
And leave but ashes: so, sweet mage,
Leave them my ashes when thy use
Sucks out my soul, thy heritage!

_He sings_.


Past we glide, and past, and past!
What's that poor Agnese doing
Where they make the shutters fast?
Grey Zanobi's just a-wooing
To his couch the purchased bride:
Past we glide!


Past we glide, and past, and past!
Why's the Pucci Palace flaring
Like a beacon to the blast?
Guests by hundreds, not one caring
If the dear host's neck were wried:
Past we glide!

_She sings_.


The moth's kiss, first!
Kiss me as if you made believe
You were not sure, this eve,
How my face, your flower, had pursed
Its petals up; so, here and there
You brush it, till I grow aware
Who wants me, and wide ope I burst.


The bee's kiss, now!
Kiss me as if you entered gay
My heart at some noonday,
A bud that dares not disallow
The claim, so all is rendered up,
And passively its shattered cup
Over your head to sleep I bow.

_He sings_.


What are we two?
I am a Jew,
And carry thee, farther than friends can pursue,
To a feast of our tribe;
Where they need thee to bribe
The devil that blasts them unless he imbibe
Thy ... Scatter the vision for ever! And now,
As of old, I am I, thou art thou!


Say again, what we are?
The sprite of a star,
I lure thee above where the destinies bar
My plumes their full play
Till a ruddier ray
Than my pale one announce there is withering away
Some ... Scatter the vision for ever! And now,
As of old, I am I, thou art thou!

_He muses_.

Oh, which were best, to roam or rest?
The land's lap or the water's breast?
To sleep on yellow millet-sheaves,
Or swim in lucid shallows just
Eluding water-lily leaves,
An inch from Death's black fingers, thrust
To lock you, whom release he must;
Which life were best on Summer eves?

_He speaks, musing_.

Lie back; could thought of mine improve you?
From this shoulder let there spring
A wing; from this, another wing;
Wings, not legs and feet, shall move you!
Snow-white must they spring, to blend
With your flesh, but I intend
They shall deepen to the end,
Broader, into burning gold,
Till both wings crescent-wise enfold
Your perfect self, from 'neath your feet
To o'er your head, where, lo, they meet
As if a million sword-blades hurled
Defiance from you to the world!

Rescue me thou, the only real!
And scare away this mad ideal
That came, nor motions to depart!
Thanks! Now, stay ever as thou art!

_Still he muses_.


What if the Three should catch at last
Thy serenader? While there's cast
Paul's cloak about my head, and fast
Gian pinions me, himself has past
His stylet thro' my back; I reel;
And ... is it thou I feel?


They trail me, these three godless knaves,
Past every church that saints and saves,
Nor stop till, where the cold sea raves
By Lido's wet accursed graves,
They scoop mine, roll me to its brink,
And ... on thy breast I sink

_She replies, musing_.

Dip your arm o'er the boat-side, elbow-deep,
As I do: thus: were death so unlike sleep,
Caught this way? Death's to fear from flame or steel,
Or poison doubtless; but from water---feel!

Go find the bottom! Would you stay me? There!
Now pluck a great blade of that ribbon-grass
To plait in where the foolish jewel was,
I flung away: since you have praised my hair,
'Tis proper to be choice in what I wear.

_He speaks_.

Row home? must we row home? Too surely
Know I where its front's demurely
Over the Giudecca piled;
Window just with window mating,
Door on door exactly waiting,
All's the set face of a child:
But behind it, where's a trace
Of the staidness and reserve,
And formal lines without a curve,
In the same child's playing-face?
No two windows look one way
O'er the small sea-water thread
Below them. Ah, the autumn day
I, passing, saw you overhead!
First, out a cloud of curtain blew,
Then a sweet cry, and last came you---
To catch your lory that must needs
Escape just then, of all times then,
To peck a tall plant's fleecy seeds,
And make me happiest of men.
I scarce could breathe to see you reach
So far back o'er the balcony
To catch him ere he climbed too high
Above you in the Smyrna peach
That quick the round smooth cord of gold,
This coiled hair on your head, unrolled,
Fell down you like a gorgeous snake
The Roman girls were wont, of old,
When Rome there was, for coolness' sake
To let lie curling o'er their bosoms.
Dear lory,*1 may his beak retain
Ever its delicate rose stain
As if the wounded lotus-blossoms
Had marked their thief to know again!

Stay longer yet, for others' sake
Than mine! What should your chamber do?
---With all its rarities that ache
In silence while day lasts, but wake
At night-time and their life renew,
Suspended just to pleasure you
Who brought against their will together
These objects, and, while day lasts, weave
Around them such a magic tether
That dumb they look: your harp, believe,
With all the sensitive tight strings
Which dare not speak, now to itself
Breathes slumberously, as if some elf
Went in and out the chords, his wings
Make murmur wheresoe'er they graze,
As an angel may, between the maze
Of midnight palace-pillars, on
And on, to sow God's plagues, have gone
Through guilty glorious Babylon.
And while such murmurs flow, the nymph
Bends o'er the harp-top from her shell
As the dry limpet for the lymph
Come with a tune be knows so well.
And how your statues' hearts must swell!
And how your pictures must descend
To see each other, friend with friend!
Oh, could you take them by surprise,
You'd find Schidone's eager Duke
Doing the quaintest courtesies
To that prim saint by Haste-thee-Luke!
And, deeper into her rock den,
Bold Castelfranco's Magdalen
You'd find retreated from the ken
Of that robed counsel-keeping Ser---
As if the Tizian thinks of her,
And is not, rather, gravely bent
On seeing for himself what toys
Are these, his progeny invent,
What litter now the board employs
Whereon he signed a document
That got him murdered! Each enjoys
Its night so well, you cannot break
The sport up, so, indeed must make
More stay with me, for others' sake.

_She speaks_.


To-morrow, if a harp-string, say,
Is used to tie the jasmine back
That overfloods my room with sweets,
Contrive your Zorzi somehow meets
My Zanze! If the ribbon's black,
The Three are watching: keep away!


Your gondola---let Zorzi wreathe
A mesh of water-weeds about
its prow, as if he unaware
Had struck some quay or bridge-foot stair!
That I may throw a paper out
As you and he go underneath.

There's Zanze's vigilant taper; safe are we.
Only one minute more to-night with me?
Resume your past self of a month ago!
Be you the bashful gallant, I will be
The lady with the colder breast than snow.
Now bow you, as becomes, nor touch my hand
More than I touch yours when I step to land,
And say, ``All thanks, Siora!''---
Heart to heart
And lips to lips! Yet once more, ere we part,
Clasp me and make me thine, as mine thou art!
[_He is surprised, and stabbed_.
It was ordained to be so, sweet!---and best
Comes now, beneath thine eyes, upon thy breast.
Still kiss me! Care not for the cowards! Care
Only to put aside thy beauteous hair
My blood will hurt! The Three, I do not scorn
To death, because they never lived: but I
Have lived indeed, and so---(yet one more kiss)---can die!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry in a Gondola: A Literary Exploration

Robert Browning's "Poetry in a Gondola" is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry that explores the themes of love, beauty, and the power of art. The poem depicts a couple taking a gondola ride in Venice, reflecting on the nature of poetry and its ability to capture the essence of life. Throughout the poem, Browning uses vivid imagery and powerful metaphors to convey his message, creating a work that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the depths of Browning's poetry to uncover the hidden meanings and explore the significance of his words.

Structure and Form

Before we dive into the complexities of the poem, it is essential to look at its structure and form. "Poetry in a Gondola" is a lyric poem, consisting of fourteen stanzas, each with six lines. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCC. This structure gives the poem a musical quality, with a steady rhythm and a harmonious flow. The use of iambic pentameter also gives the poem a sense of formality, emphasizing the weight of the words and their importance.

The poem is divided into two parts, with the first part describing the scenery and the setting, while the second part delves into the themes of the poem. This structure creates a sense of progression, with the first part providing a foundation for the second part, which is where the poem's deeper meanings are revealed.

Imagery and Metaphors

Browning is a master of imagery and metaphors, and "Poetry in a Gondola" is no exception. The poem is rich with vivid descriptions of the setting, creating a sense of place and atmosphere. Browning uses sensory language to evoke the sights, sounds, and smells of Venice, painting a picture of the city in the reader's mind.

One of the most striking images in the poem is the comparison between the gondola and a cypress tree:

"The blackest mosses, live with streaks
Of gold through them, as if some moonbeams lay
Upon watch there, too intent to seek
Aught but a reflex from the watery way,
Where the gondola, with oar's help, gay,
Twinkles on like a fire-fly in the rosy air."

Here, the gondola is compared to a firefly, twinkling in the rosy air. This metaphor creates a sense of movement and lightness, emphasizing the beauty of the scene. The comparison between the mosses and moonbeams also creates a sense of magic and enchantment, highlighting the otherworldly nature of Venice.

Another powerful image in the poem is the comparison between the sea and the sky:

"The sea's line has a quickened breath,
And the near grey banks, distincter seen,
Of the long cloud, break crispèd into wreaths
Of cleft white vapour, whose unstirred serene
Is starred with drops unshed, nor less serene
The surface, glassed with muffled oar beneath."

Here, Browning uses the sea and the sky as metaphors for the couple's relationship. The sea is compared to the woman, who has a "quickened breath," while the sky is compared to the man, who is calm and collected. This metaphor creates a sense of balance and harmony, highlighting the couple's connection to each other and the world around them.


"Poetry in a Gondola" explores several themes, including love, beauty, and the power of art. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of life and the power of art to capture that beauty. Browning uses the setting of Venice to convey his message, emphasizing the city's otherworldly nature and its ability to inspire awe and wonder.

One of the most important themes in the poem is the power of poetry. Browning argues that poetry has the ability to capture the essence of life, to convey the beauty and wonder of the world around us. He writes:

"The world's in turn, so,--life turns wolfish too,
And bears its teeth at beauty. It was glad
Once,--poetry was pastime--hope grew blue
And blossom'd manifoldly,--and that bade
The muses shoulder their tasks, and make glad
This world, which else wants help and hinders true."

Here, Browning suggests that poetry has the power to transform the world, to make it a more beautiful and hopeful place. He argues that poetry is essential to our lives, that it gives us hope and helps us to see the beauty in the world.

Another important theme in the poem is the nature of love. Browning portrays love as a force that connects us to the world around us, that brings us closer to the beauty of life. He writes:

"All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame."

Here, Browning suggests that love is the driving force behind all human experience, that it is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. He argues that love is essential to our existence, that it connects us to the world around us and helps us to find meaning in our lives.


"Poetry in a Gondola" is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry that explores the themes of love, beauty, and the power of art. Browning's use of vivid imagery and powerful metaphors creates a work that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. The poem celebrates the beauty of life and the power of poetry to capture that beauty, highlighting the importance of art in our lives. Browning's portrayal of love as a force that connects us to the world around us is both moving and profound, emphasizing the essential nature of love to our existence. "Poetry in a Gondola" is a work of art that continues to inspire and move readers to this day, a testament to the enduring power of poetry to touch our hearts and souls.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry In A Gondola: A Masterpiece of Robert Browning

Robert Browning, the renowned English poet, is known for his dramatic monologues that explore the complexities of human nature. One of his most celebrated works is "Poetry In A Gondola," a poem that captures the essence of love, art, and the human experience. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of this masterpiece and explore its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem is set in Venice, a city known for its romantic canals and artistic heritage. The speaker, who is presumably Browning himself, is riding in a gondola with his lover, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. As they glide through the water, the speaker reflects on the power of poetry and its ability to transcend time and space. He muses on the idea that poetry is a form of immortality, a way to preserve one's thoughts and emotions for future generations.

The poem is divided into six stanzas, each with a distinct theme and tone. The first stanza sets the scene and establishes the mood of the poem. The speaker describes the beauty of Venice and the tranquility of the gondola ride. He notes that the city is a place of inspiration for poets and artists, a place where the imagination can run wild.

In the second stanza, the speaker reflects on the power of poetry to capture the essence of life. He notes that poetry can express the joys and sorrows of the human experience, and that it can bring people together across time and space. He compares poetry to a "bridge" that connects the past and the present, and that allows us to communicate with those who have come before us.

The third stanza takes a more introspective turn, as the speaker reflects on his own mortality. He notes that he will one day die, but that his poetry will live on. He muses on the idea that his words will continue to inspire and move people long after he is gone.

The fourth stanza is perhaps the most romantic of the poem, as the speaker turns his attention to his lover. He notes that their love is like a work of art, something that is both beautiful and enduring. He compares their love to the poetry of Dante and Petrarch, two of the greatest Italian poets of all time.

The fifth stanza takes a more philosophical turn, as the speaker reflects on the nature of reality. He notes that the world is full of illusions and that poetry can help us see beyond them. He compares poetry to a "lamp" that illuminates the darkness and helps us find our way.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as the speaker returns to the present moment. He notes that the gondola ride is coming to an end, but that the memory of it will live on in his poetry. He reflects on the power of art to transcend time and space, and on the enduring nature of love.

Throughout the poem, Browning employs a variety of literary devices to convey his message. He uses metaphors, similes, and personification to bring his ideas to life. For example, he compares poetry to a "bridge" and a "lamp," two objects that help us navigate the world. He also personifies the city of Venice, describing it as a "queen" who inspires poets and artists.

Browning also uses repetition and parallelism to create a sense of rhythm and unity in the poem. For example, he repeats the phrase "poetry is" several times throughout the poem, emphasizing the central theme of the work. He also uses parallel structure in the final stanza, repeating the phrase "I and she" to create a sense of symmetry and balance.

In conclusion, "Poetry In A Gondola" is a masterpiece of Robert Browning's poetic oeuvre. It captures the essence of love, art, and the human experience, and explores the power of poetry to transcend time and space. Through its use of literary devices and its masterful structure, the poem creates a sense of unity and harmony that is both beautiful and enduring. It is a testament to Browning's skill as a poet and his ability to capture the complexities of the human soul.

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