R Robert Browning

Prospice by Robert Browning

In ‘Prospice’ by Robert Browning, the speaker talks of facing death bravely and being reunited with his soulmate. Read the poem, with a complete analysis.

Prospice by Robert Browning Visual Representation

Prospice ’ by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue. The title comes from Latin and means ‘to look forward.’ In the poem, the speaker talks of looking forward and facing death. He will not fear death but approach it with his head held high. Death is but his last fight before he meets his soulmate again and falls into her embrace. Together, they will rest with God.

Browning wrote ‘Prospice’ in 1861 shortly after his wife’s death. The poem was first published in 1864. From this information, we can say that the speaker is the poet himself. Taking that into account, we will look at the meaning of the poem, the imagery Browning uses, and then delve into a detailed analysis.

Prospice
Robert Browning

Fear death?—to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,
The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go:
For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle's to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.
I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forbore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life's arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.
For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute's at end,
And the elements' rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!
Prospice by Robert Browning


Summary

In ‘Prospice’ by Robert Browning, the speaker talks of facing death without fear, because his soulmate awaits him on the other side.

In the poem, Browning utilizes a dramatic monologue to approach the subject of death. He uses dark imagery throughout the poem to paint a picture of death. This imagery forms the backdrop to which the speaker stands up and fights. Therefore, he will not crawl to death but face it with courage and determination. Because a reward awaits him beyond the dark doors: The light. His soulmate. ‘Prospice’ juxtaposes this dark imagery with the light at the end to offer an optimistic view of death.

You can read the poem in full here.

Meaning

Prospice’ by Robert Browning is a poem about death. The speaker talks of facing death head-on. So, he will not cower in the face of death. When death comes, he wants to experience it in full. There will be no creeping past with bowed head. Looking forward, he will approach death with optimism, because his wife awaits him after his final battle. Picture a man with his head held high, shoulders back, chest out, standing before the Grim Reaper and readying to tussle.

Imagery

Browning uses beautiful imagery throughout the poem to characterize death. In the opening lines, he uses ‘fog’ and ‘mist’ and ‘snows’ to signify the approach of death. Therefore, he positions the reader to think of the cold clutches of death. Moreover, he compares the ending of life to a ‘summit attained’, which likens life to climbing a mountain. The imagery brings forth thoughts of life as a struggle, where we have to battle through. However, the speaker offers optimism against approaching death. He does not want to ‘creep past’ but wants to ‘taste the whole of it’, meaning he will stand tall in the face of death. In the end, there will be ‘peace out of pain’ and ‘[t]hen a light’, when optimism is awarded.

Detailed Analysis

Prospice’ by Robert Browning is a 28-line poem. Every four lines have a rhyme scheme of ABAB. Let us look at every four lines separately for a detailed analysis.

Lines 1-4

Fear death?—to feel the fog in my throat,
The mist in my face,
When the snows begin, and the blasts denote
I am nearing the place,

The poem opens with a rhetorical question: ‘Fear death?’ This immediately tells us that the poem will be about death. As previously mentioned, Browning uses beautiful imagery to signify the approach of death. The ‘fog’ and ‘mist’ and ‘snows’ speak of winter, which gives connotations of death. This is continued in lines 5-8.

Lines 5-8

The power of the night, the press of the storm,
The post of the foe;
Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,
Yet the strong man must go:

In lines 5-8, the reference to ‘the night’ and ‘the storm’ further signifies death. Let us take a closer look at the last three lines of this snippet:

The post of the foe;

Where he stands, the Arch Fear in a visible form,

Yet the strong man must go:

Here, we see death labeled ‘the foe’ which sets up a face-to-face interaction between the speaker and his enemy. In the next line, death is ‘the Arch Fear’, and this works to show that the speaker is not fearless when facing death. However, as line 8 tells us, he must go and face it.

Lines 9-12

For the journey is done and the summit attained,
And the barriers fall,
Though a battle’s to fight ere the guerdon be gained,
The reward of it all.

In lines 9-12, the speaker likens life to climbing a mountain. At the summit, death awaits, the reward for the hard toil of life. These lines are the culmination of the dark imagery to this point. There is almost a pessimistic note to these lines, a lament that death is the reward for all that struggle. However, the pessimism is short-lived, as we shall see in lines 13-16.

Lines 13-16

I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forbore,
And bade me creep past.

In lines 13-16, one could say the speaker comes out swinging:

I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more,

Here, the speaker tells us that he will not go quietly. He is a fighter who is ready to meet the challenge of death. Furthermore, he wants to experience death, as seen in the last two lines of this snippet:

I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forbore,

And bade me creep past.

We see here that the speaker wants to look upon death and face it head-on. He does not want to creep past, to go out with a whimper. So, there is an optimism here that he can contend with the suffering of death.

Lines 17-20

No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers
The heroes of old,
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life’s arrears
Of pain, darkness and cold.

In lines 17-20, the first line bolsters that outlook. The speaker wants to ‘taste the whole of it.’ He wants to be lucid when his time comes. Therefore, he is optimistic he can handle what death brings. In line 18, we see a reference to ‘heroes of old.’ This shows courage, that the speaker will face death with his head held high, confront it. There will be no hiding away.

Let us take a closer look at lines 19 and 20:

Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life’s arrears

Of pain, darkness and cold.

Here, we get another glimpse of the speaker’s courage. He is willing to pay for the good times in his life, even by experiencing pain and suffering, with lines 21-24 giving us a clue as to why.

Lines 21-24

For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave,
The black minute’s at end,
And the elements’ rage, the fiend-voices that rave,
Shall dwindle, shall blend,

In lines 21-24, the speaker tells us that his bravery will be rewarded. Moving to the second line, we are at death’s door, where ‘[t]he black minute’s at end.’ Lines 23 and 24 signify the fight with death. Here, the ‘elements’ rage’ and ‘the fiend-voices that rave’ will fade away. In lines 25-28, there is a transformation.

Lines 25-28

Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain,
Then a light, then thy breast,
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,
And with God be the rest!

In lines 25-28, we have the final fight, the tussle with death. The ‘Arch Fear’ is inevitably victorious. However, there comes a ‘peace out of pain.’ Moreover, ‘a light, then thy breast’ and the speaker acknowledges the ‘soul of my soul.’ Taking into account that Browning wrote this shortly after his wife’s death, we must presume that he addresses her directly here. He shall be reunited with her and both will rest with God, together. This is his reward for his bravery in the face of death. The optimism in the second half of the poem converges here in the ultimate optimism. Light shines through the darkness at the end.

FAQs

Who was Robert Browning?

Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an English poet. He was held in high regard in Victorian times, particularly noted for his mastery of dramatic monologue. The Ring and the Book (1868-69), the story of a Roman murder trial, was his most noted work.

What is the theme of ‘Prospice’ by Robert Browning?

The main theme of ‘Prospice’ by Robert Browning is death. However, it also deals with themes of courage and optimism in the face of death. Additionally, it deals with the ultimate optimism: life after death.

What does guerdon mean?

Guerdon means a reward or recompense. It is an archaic word that is rarely used in contemporary times. However, that does not mean one still can’t use the word. It is perfectly acceptable to use this word in a modern context.

What famous poems use dramatic monologue?

Famous poems that use dramatic monologue are ‘Ulysses’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.


Similar Poetry

If you liked ‘Prospice’ by Robert Browning, you might like these other Robert Browning poems:

For another poem dealing with death, see ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ by Dylan Thomas.

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Prospice by Robert Browning Visual Representation
About
Shane Curry is the author of a collection of short stories. A student at Griffith University, he is in the final year of a Bachelor of Arts with a double major: creative writing and journalism. His completed subjects include Writing Poetry, with high distinction. He is the recipient of the 2020 Griffith Award for Academic Excellence.
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