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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

The question is that of a duel


"IN A YEAR" is a wondering and sorrowful little comment on a man's shallowness and inconstancy.

"WOMEN AND ROSES" is the impression of a dream, and both vague and vivid, as such impressions are. The author _dreams_ of a "red rose-tree," with three roses upon it: one withered, the second full-blown, the third still in the bud; and, floating round each, a generation of women: those famed in the past; the loved and loving of the present; the "beauties yet unborn." He casts his passion at the feet of the dead; but they float past him unmoved. He enfolds in it the glowing forms of the living; but these also elude him. He pours it into the budding life, which may thus respond to his own; but the procession of maidens drifts past him too. They all circle unceasingly round their own rose.

"BEFORE" and "AFTER" are companion poems, which show how differently an act may present itself in prospect and in remembrance, whether regarded in its abstract justification, or in its actual results. The question is that of a duel; and "BEFORE" is the utterance of a third person to whom the propriety of fighting it seems beyond a doubt. "A great wrong has been done. The wronged man, who is also the better one, is bound to assert himself in defence of the right. If he is killed, he will have gained his heaven. For his slayer, hell will have begun: for he will feel the impending judgment, in the earth which still offers its fruits;

in the sky, which makes no sign; in the leopard-like conscience[96] which leers in mock obeisance at his side, ready to spring on him whenever the moment comes. There has been enough of delay and extenuation. Let the culprit acknowledge his guilt, or take its final consequences."

The duel is fought, but it is the guilty one who falls; and "AFTER" gives the words of his adversary--his boyhood's friend--struck with bitter remorse for what he has done. As the man who wronged him lies wrapped in the majesty of death, his offence dwindles into insignificance; and the survivor can only feel how disproportionate has been the punishment, and above all, how unavailing. "Would," he exclaims, "that the past could be recalled, and they were boys again together! It would be so easy then to endure!"

"MEMORABILIA" shows the perspective of memory in a tribute to the poet Shelley. His fugitive contact with a commonplace life, like the trace of an eagle's passage across the moor, leaves an illumined spot amidst blankness.

"THE LAST RIDE TOGETHER" depicts the emotions of a ride, which a finally dismissed lover has been allowed to take with his beloved. He has vainly passed his youth in loving her. But as this boon is granted, she lies for a moment on his breast. "She might have loved him more; she might also have liked him less." As they ride away side by side, a sense of resignation comes over him. His life is not alone in its failure. Every one strives. Few or none succeed. The best success proves itself to be shallow. And if it were otherwise--if the goal could be reached on earth--what care would one take for heaven? Then the peace which is in him absorbs the consciousness of reality. He fancies himself riding with the loved one till the end of time; and he asks himself if his destined heaven may not prove to be this.


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