Boot and Saddle by Robert Browning

‘Boot and Saddle’ was first published in 1842 under the title ‘My Wife Gertrude’ in Browning’s collection Dramatic Lyrics. This book was the second in a set of three entitled Bells and Pomegranates. It is part of Dramatic Lyrics’ first section, subtitled Cavalier Tunes. The poem has since, by various artists (as its structure suggests) been set to music. 

 

Summary of Boot and Saddle

‘Boot and Saddle’ by Robert Browning is a perfectly rhymed poem that depicts the ride of an Englishmen going to fight during the English Civil War. 

The poem focuses on the action of the man on horseback. He repeats, through a chorus of “‘Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!’” that he’s prepared for any fight. The speaker addresses the location, Brancepeth Castle and those he will find there: the Roundheads, or Parliamentarians. He has no intention of surrendering and will only take the advice of counsellors who are prepared to fight. 

 

Structure of Boot and Saddle 

‘Boot and Saddle’ by Robert Browning is a sixteen-line poem that is divided into four tercets, or sets of three lines, and four single stanza “chorus” lines. These lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AAAA, with each line ending with the same sounds. The pattern lasts throughout the poem, creating a musical texture that is complemented by the use of the refrain, “‘Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!’”

 

Poetic Techniques in Boot and Saddle

Browning makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Boot and Saddle’. These include but are not limited to repetition, allusion, and enjambmentAn allusion is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this case, the poet is alluding to the English Civil war. This can be intuited through the use of words like “Roundheads” which refers to English Parliamentarians fighting against Charles I. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first tercet and lines two and three of the second. 

Repetition the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone or phrase within a poem. This technique is very important in ‘Boot and Saddle’. It can be seen most prominently through the use of the same end sound in each line, as well as the reuse of the refrain four times in the poem.

 

Analysis of Boot and Saddle

Lines 1-4 

Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!

Rescue my Castle, before the hot day

Brightens the blue from its silvery grey,

 

(Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by making use of a line that is sometimes used as the title of this poem. He calls out “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!” These simple steps outline what it takes to get onto his horse and “away!” off on whatever journey he is undertaking at the moment. This poem lacks details and is rather a snapshot of moments on horseback and a brief look into the speaker’s intentions while riding. 

He speaks of rescuing his castle before the day turns from “blue” to “silvery grey”. This seems to speak to the passage of time, on a smaller and larger scale. The chorus asserts itself next, bringing in the line “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!” once more. 

 

Lines 5-8 

Ride past the suburbs, asleep as you’d say;

Many’s the friend there, will listen and pray

“God’s luck to gallants that strike up the lay,

 

(Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

The adventure the speaker has embarked on takes him past the suburbs where people are quiet. He is out and about when no one else is. The use of suburbs as a descriptor confuses the time period, making it harder to understand where or when he is. The speaker also refers to “you” in the first line of this stanza. There is someone specific he is addressing these lines to. 

He acknowledges that there are many friends in this area. They will listen and pray and encourage “God’s luck” to those who are “gallant”. The speaker appears to be obliquely referring to himself and whatever mission he’s on. 

 

Lines 9-12 

Forty miles off, like a roebuck at bay,

Flouts Castle Brancepeth the Roundheads array:

Who laughs, Good fellows ere this, by my fay,

 

(Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!”

In the third tercet of ‘Boot and Saddle’, he looks forward, some forty miles, to describe Castle Brancepeth, “like a roebuck at bay”. This phrase refers to a male roe deer who is “at bay,” or made to fight against attackers or pursuers. He is like this creature, repressed to fight against whomever or whatever assaults him. 

The second line speaks of “Brancepeth,” a village in County Durham, England and the “Roundheads”. The latter provides the reader with a necessary detail to understand where and when this speaker is supposed to be. The “Roundheads” were a group of people who supported Parliament and Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War. They were also known as Parliamentarians and fought against Charles I. They “array,” meaning that they are everywhere, in some kind of impressive arrangement. 

The speaker is still in high spirits, ready to fight, as the refrain reinforces.

 

Lines 13-16 

Who? My wife Gertrude; that, honest and gay,

Laughs when you talk of surrendering, “Nay!

I’ve better counsellors; what counsel they?”

 

(Chorus) “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!

In the final tercet of ‘Boot and Saddle’, the speaker refers to his “wife Gertrude”. She “Laughs when you talk of surrendering”. There is no chance, he alludes to, that they are going to surrender. Someone has suggested it, but the speaker has no intention to do so. He has better counsellors that this person and inquires into their thoughts. With the positioning of the last refrain, this seems to be the answer. 

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