Robert Browning

Among the Rocks by Robert Browning

‘Among the Rocks’ is a beautiful lyric poem written from the perspective of James Lee’s wife, a character of Robert Browning’s collection, Dramatis Personae (1864).

‘Among the Rocks’ by Robert Browning is a short lyric poem about seeing life’s trials and tribulations in a positive light. This piece is, on one hand, a grieving wife’s shifting perspectives upon her husband’s absence or death. On the other hand, it also explores how faith and a positive outlook help one to embrace what nature or God sends on their way. This piece is the seventh lyric of “James Lee,” also known as “James Lee’s Wife,” the first poem of Browning’s Dramatis Personae (1864).

Among the Rocks
Robert Browning

Oh, good gigantic smile o' the brown old earth,
    This autumn morning! How he sets his bones
To bask i' the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet
For the ripple to run over in its mirth;
    Listening the while, where on the heap of stones
The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;
    Such is life's trial, as old earth smiles and knows.
If you loved only what were worth your love,
Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:
    Make the low nature better by your throes!
Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!
Among the Rocks by Robert Browning


Summary

‘Among the Rocks’ by Robert Browning is an incredible nature lyric that sets an autumnal scene by the shores, and meditates upon one’s sufferings and mortality.

The poem begins in a romantic fashion depicting a cherishing seaside landscape with rocks, rippling waves, and sea-larks’ sweet twitters. With the unfolding of the primary image, Browning’s speaker hints at the simple doctrine of human life, which is to accept everything as they come like the firm rocks by the sea. Then digressing from the central image, the speaker talks about her past love. She is of the view that one should try to make their surroundings better by their pain and longings. The suffering in this world is definitely going to help one to get to heaven.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Oh, good gigantic smile o’ the brown old earth,

    This autumn morning! How he sets his bones

To bask i’ the sun, and thrusts out knees and feet

For the ripple to run over in its mirth;

    Listening the while, where on the heap of stones

The white breast of the sea-lark twitters sweet.

Robert Browning’s poem ‘Among the Rocks’ begins with an apostrophe or an impassioned address to an animate idea. In this case, the speaker addresses the “good gigantic smile” of the “brown old earth.” From this expression, it can be assumed that the earth seems alive and happy for the speaker on an autumn morning. After setting the morning scene, the speaker describes a person, probably old, sitting along the sea. He stretches to bask in the sun and thrusts out his knees and feet. Then he let the ripples wash his knees and feet. It seems the sea is also enjoying the morning. In the meantime, he listens to the white-breasted sea-larks twitters that seem sweet to him. Their full-throated songs and the cool ripples fill the person with renewed vigor.

Stanza Two

That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true;

    Such is life’s trial, as old earth smiles and knows.

If you loved only what were worth your love,

Love were clear gain, and wholly well for you:

    Make the low nature better by your throes!

Give earth yourself, go up for gain above!

By describing the scene and how the person cherishes the morning, the speaker takes a straight plunge into the main idea of the poem. By “that,” Browning implies the carefree manner of the person. This carefree embracing of nature is, according to the poet, the simple, ancient, and true doctrine of life. Life’s trials are like the ripples in the sea. The old earth smiles as it knows it better.

In the following lines, the speaker becomes a bit personal and thinks about her past love. She, in an honest fashion, if she has ever loved one worthy of her love, her love would prevail. It would clear her doubts and make things right once again. With a renewed trust she has found in herself, the speaker hopes to make her low mood better through her momentary throes or pains. It is the suffering that would help her become stronger. Further, she wishes to devote herself to earth as the person in the first stanza does, with the hope of getting admittance to heaven.

Structure and Form

Browning’s poem ‘Among the Rocks’ is a lyric poem that is written from the third-person and second-person perspectives. The poem begins with an omniscient narrator describing the landscape. Then the narrator addresses the audience or herself to discuss some philosophical topics about life, love, suffering, and the afterlife. Browning presents everything in only twelve lines that are separated evenly into two stanzas. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCABC CDECDE. Each line of the poem consists of five iambs. It means the overall poem is composed in iambic pentameter.

Literary Devices

In ‘Among the Rocks,’ Browning makes use of the following literary devices:

  • Personification: It seems that the poem begins with a personification, which occurs when an inanimate idea such as the earth is invested with human attributes. For instance, in the first line, the “brown old earth” is depicted as if it has the ability to smile like humans.
  • Alliteration: The repetition of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of neighboring words can be found in “good gigantic,” “he sets his,” “bones/ to bask,” “ripple to run,” “while, where,” etc.
  • Asyndeton: In the first line of the second stanza, “That is the doctrine, simple, ancient, true,” Browning intentionally drops an “and” for the sake of poetic effect.
  • Metaphor: In the last line, Browning metaphorically hints at heaven by the phrase, “go up for gain above.” The “gain” is a metaphor for divine love.
  • Rhetorical Exclamation: Throughout the poem, the speaker uses rhetorical exclamations in order to express her positive outlook and happiness in life. For instance, the last two lines of the poem contain this device.


Themes

In ‘Among the Rocks,’ Browning includes some interesting themes that include but are not limited to life, love, acceptance, faith, and the afterlife. In the first stanza, Browning, in an easy-going fashion, romanticizes nature. He depicts a carefree person letting their time pass in close contact with nature. The second stanza develops on the learning from this scene. According to the poet, life is as simple as letting things come and go and accepting everything as it is. In the case of love, if one has truly loved someone, it would prevail, no matter how painful the separation seems.

FAQs

What is ‘Among the Rocks’ by Robert Browning about?

Robert Browning’s lyric poem ‘Among the Rocks’ is about a speaker who is trying to get some sort of release with the help of nature. Overall, this poem is about how to live life fully without feeling bogged down by momentary trials and tribulations.

What form is ‘Among the Rocks’ written in?

‘Among the Rocks’ by Robert Browning is written in lyric form. It is a romantic poem that consists of two six-line stanzas. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCABC CDECDE. The poem is composed in iambic pentameter.

When was ‘Among the Rocks’ written?

The poem ‘Among the Rocks’ was written in the 1860s when Browning was residing in London with his son. It was first published as part of the long poem entitled “James Lee’s Wife” in the collection Dramatis Personae (1864).

What is the tone of ‘Among the Rocks’?

The tone of the poem remains calm and optimistic throughout. In the first stanza, the attitude of the speaker is positive and happy. The following stanza becomes a bit calm and serious, and the ending becomes light-hearted and hopeful again.


Similar Poetry

The following list contains several poems that are similar to Browning’s lyric ‘Among the Rocks.’ You can also consider exploring other Robert Browning poems

You can also explore these heartfelt poems about losing a loved one.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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