Robert Browning

Women and Roses by Robert Browning

‘Women and Roses’ by Robert Browning conveys a man’s perspective on women throughout time. They are represented by three apples on his metaphorical apple tree.

The poem is characteristic of Browning’s syntactic style as well as the Victorian habit of alluding to, but not outright discussing, sex and sexual repression. The poet uses examples of figurative language throughout, including similes and metaphors

Women and Roses 
Robert Browning 

I. 

I dream of a red-rose tree.
And which of its roses three
Is the dearest rose to me?

II.

Round and round, like a dance of snow
In a dazzling drift, as its guardians, go
Floating the women faded for ages,
Sculptured in stone, on the poet's pages.
Then follow women fresh and gay,
Living and loving and loved to-day.
Last, in the rear, flee the multitude of maidens,
Beauties yet unborn. And all, to one cadence,
They circle their rose on my rose tree.

III.

Dear rose, thy term is reached,
Thy leaf hangs loose and bleached:
Bees pass it unimpeached.

IV.

Stay then, stoop, since I cannot climb,
You, great shapes of the antique time!
How shall I fix you, fire you, freeze you,
Break my heart at your feet to please you?
Oh, to possess and be possessed!
Hearts that beat 'neath each pallid breast!
Once but of love, the poesy, the passion,
Drink but once and die!---In vain, the same fashion,
They circle their rose on my rose tree.

V.

Dear rose, thy joy's undimmed,
Thy cup is ruby-rimmed,
Thy cup's heart nectar-brimmed.

VI.

Deep, as drops from a statue's plinth
The bee sucked in by the hyacinth,
So will I bury me while burning,
Quench like him at a plunge my yearning,
Eyes in your eyes, lips on your lips!
Fold me fast where the cincture slips,
Prison all my soul in eternities of pleasure,
Girdle me for once! But no---the old measure,
They circle their rose on my rose tree.

VII.

Dear rose without a thorn,
Thy bud's the babe unborn:
First streak of a new morn.

VIII.

Wings, lend wings for the cold, the clear!
What is far conquers what is near.
Roses will bloom nor want beholders,
Sprung from the dust where our flesh moulders.
What shall arrive with the cycle's change?
A novel grace and a beauty strange.
I will make an Eve, be the artist that began her,
Shaped her to his mind!---Alas! in like manner
They circle their rose on my rose tree.
Women and Roses by Robert Browning


Summary

‘Women and Roses’ by Robert Browning discusses a speaker’s opinion of and desire for women. 

The poem is divided into three loose sections in which the speaker addresses women through time, each represented by an apple on his metaphorical apple tree. The women of the past, present, and future each get an apple, and he spends the stanzas discussing their attributes, how he’d like to preserve and own them, and liberate them. 

Themes

Browning engages with the themes of relationships, sex, and women’s rights/lives in this eight-stanza poem. It was influenced by the arguments regarding these topics in the mid-19th century in England and therefore contains some controversial suggestions about owning and controlling women. But, at the same time, the speaker does suggest a desire to liberate women from the confines of sexual repression in these lines. 

Relationships in the Victorian Era

Relationships in the Victorian era were famously repressive. While certainly not every partnership was marked by controlling ideas of sex, love, and companionship, the vast majority were. Women were, by and large, expected to refrain from sex or any sexual thoughts or feelings until marriage. Most women went into marriage with no understanding of what was going to be asked of them, what sex entailed, or how children were produced. And even once married, they were expected to have sex with their husband only for procreation.

The idea of drawing true intimate passion and pleasure from relationships, as Browning’s speaker suggests in this poem, would’ve been entirely antithetical to the more puritanical Victorian beliefs during his lifetime.

Structure and Form

‘Women and Roses’ by Robert Browning is an eight-stanza poem divided into alternating stanzas of three and nine lines. The odd-numbered stanzas are three lines long, and the even-numbered stanzas are nine lines long. The tercets follow a rhyme scheme of AAA, and the nine-line stanzas follow a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDDE. The “E” rhyme in every stanza is the same the word “tree.” It is part of a refrain, “They circle their rose on my rose tree,” that’s used at the end of every nine-line stanza. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem,  the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza and lines one and two of the second stanza. 
  • Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader’s senses. For example, “Deep, as drops from a statue’s plinth / The bee sucked in by the hyacinth.” 
  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Deep” and “drops” in line one of the sixth stanza and “bud’s the babe” in line two of the seventh stanza. 
  • Simile: seen through the speaker comparing himself to a bee. The poet writes, “So will I bury me while burning, / Quench like him at a plunge my yearning.”


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One

I dream of a red-rose tree.

And which of its roses three

Is the dearest rose to me?

In the first stanza of ‘Women and Roses,’ the poet begins with the speaker describing a dream of a red rose tree with three flowers on it. The statement transforms into a rhetorical question in which he asks which of the “roses” is the “dearest” to him. These three roses, it becomes clear, represent women, making the dream and his question make more sense. 

Stanza Two

Round and round, like a dance of snow

In a dazzling drift, as its guardians, go

Floating the women faded for ages,

Sculptured in stone, on the poet’s pages.

Then follow women fresh and gay,

Living and loving and loved to-day.

Last, in the rear, flee the multitude of maidens,

Beauties yet unborn. And all, to one cadence,

They circle their rose on my rose tree.

The speaker describes different women in this stanza, depicting them as sculpted in stone on the “poet’s pages” or defined in creative expression. The speaker sees them as important, lovely, and lively, even though they exist in history. 

There are also “fresh and gay women,” those who are loved “to-day,” he notes. These are women of his time, those who are living in the same places he is. 

The final group of women he describes as “Beauties yet unborn.” These women, all three groups, are circling the rose tree to the same cadence. He depicts the women in a positive light in these lines, but he focuses solely on their beauty, clearly objectifying them as people to be admired and loved for their beauty and grace.  

Stanza Three

Dear rose, thy term is reached,

Thy leaf hangs loose and bleached:

Bees pass it unimpeached.

The third stanza dresses a rose and tells it that it’s growing old and that now, no one, not even the bee, wants anything to do with it. This clearly implies that women, as they age, become less appealing to the men in their lives. But, Browning doesn’t conform quite so expectedly to this anti-feminist trope

Stanza Four 

Stay then, stoop, since I cannot climb,

You, great shapes of the antique time!

How shall I fix you, fire you, freeze you,

Break my heart at your feet to please you?

Oh, to possess and be possessed!

Hearts that beat ‘neath each pallid breast!

Once but of love, the poesy, the passion,

Drink but once and die!—In vain, the same fashion,

They circle their rose on my rose tree.

The poet’s speaker, whether Browning intended this persona to represent his own opinions or not, asks the same aging rose to “stoop” down to him “since he cannot climb” the tree. The rose is representative of the older women, those who are in “antique time.” 

Browning’s speaker says that he would like to “fix…fire” and “freeze” the rose to preserve these women of old in their most beautiful, lively form.

Stanza Five 

Dear rose, thy joy’s undimmed,

Thy cup is ruby-rimmed,

Thy cup’s heart nectar-brimmed.

The fifth stanza provides a transition to a discussion of the contemporary women in Browning’s life, those living in the Victorian era. He discusses the perfect roses of his time that are “undimmed” by time or age. 

Stanza Six 

Deep, as drops from a statue’s plinth

The bee sucked in by the hyacinth,

So will I bury me while burning,

Quench like him at a plunge my yearning,

Eyes in your eyes, lips on your lips!

Fold me fast where the cincture slips,

Prison all my soul in eternities of pleasure,

Girdle me for once! But no—the old measure,

They circle their rose on my rose tree.

In the sixth stanza, he uses sexual language to suggest his desire for intimacy with these women, or a representation of these women, in his time. He would like to bury himself in these roses and, like a bee, quench at a “plunge my yearning.” 

He would like to grow close to these women and be folded into their bodies as a bee diving deep into a hyacinth flower. The speaker wants nothing more than the pleasure of their bodies and to be confined and trapped among such a woman or women. This suggests a change in traditional gender roles, with the speaker taking joy from a woman being in control of what he does. But, his way of love is not what’s enjoyed in his contemporary time. The “old measure” is in control and controlling society’s perception of what is right in a relationship. 

Stanza Seven 

Dear rose without a thorn,

Thy bud’s the babe unborn:

First streak of a new morn.

The seventh stanza is addressed to the women of the future. The roses are not yet budding on the tree. These women are going to see a different life and a different type of relationship, he hopes. 

Stanza Eight

Wings, lend wings for the cold, the clear!

What is far conquers what is near.

Roses will bloom nor want beholders,

Sprung from the dust where our flesh moulders.

What shall arrive with the cycle’s change?

A novel grace and a beauty strange.

I will make an Eve, be the artist that began her,

Shaped her to his mind!—Alas! in like manner

They circle their rose on my rose tree.

In the future, he says, roses will “bloom nor want beholders.” He believes that real love exists outside of time and societal restrictions. The speaker imagines a feature, albeit not a perfect one, where things are different than they were in the Victorian era. 

He announces that he will “make an Eve, be the artist that began her, / Shaped her in his mind!” In just this way, the world shapes the roses on his tree and controls the way women behave. But, at the same time, he’s suggesting another form of control. But one where it seems women would have some more liberty over their emotions and sex lives. 

FAQs 

When was ‘Woman and Roses’ written? 

This poem was written sometime around the mid-1800s. It was published in Browning’s 1855 collection Men and Women. It included 52 poems divided into two volumes. Today, its regarded as one of his most important collections. 

What is the purpose of ‘Woman and Roses’ by Robert Browning?

The purpose is to explore women throughout time and how a specific speaker sees love and society’s perception of it. He demonstrates his desire to own and control women but also establish relationships in which sex is pleasurable for both sides. 

What is the tone of ‘Woman and Roses’ by Robert Browning?

The tone is passionate. The speaker feels strongly about every part of the poem and each of the three roses on his rose tree. He expresses his love and admiration for each type of rose clearly in the eight stanzas. 

What is ‘Woman and Roses’ by Robert Browning about? 

The poem is about women, relationships, and how a speaker sees both of these topics from a Victorian perspective. The speaker, likely at least inspired by Browning’s personal experiences, at once expresses a desire to love, be intimate with, liberate, and control/own women. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Browning poems. For example: 

  • 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).
  • A Woman’s Last Word– is made up of a wife’s request to her husband that they stop arguing for the night and enter into a peaceful sleep. 
  • Boot and Saddle– is a perfectly rhymed poem that depicts the ride of an Englishmen going to fight during the English Civil War. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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