Prospice by Browning
Summary of Prospice
The poet is not at all afraid of the physical troubles that come at the time of death. Though he may feel suffocation (fog) in his throat, a heaviness in his vision and a cold numbness creeping over his body, all showing that death is very near, yet he is not at all afraid of death. These symptoms of death cannot unnerve him. He may find it difficult to breathe and hard to see because of his blurred vision, yet it is his duty as a strong man to go forward and face with fortitude and courage the severities and pains at the time of death.
During the course of our lives, we engaged in various kinds of activities and have achieved various kinds of honours and distinctions. We choose difficult adventures and take pleasure in overcoming them. There we prove the unconquerable nature of our spirit. But all the honours and glories which we acquire in life are only an introduction to our last fight with death. Like competitors in a race who are awarded prizes at the end of the struggle, the rewards that await, come to us only after death has been overcome.
The poet says that death cannot treat him as a coward. He does not want any mercy at the hands of death. He will face death like a bold man and not like a coward.
The poet says that throughout his life he has struggled with the numerous odds and difficulties of life. He has been a fighter in his life. He will gladly fight the last battle of his life with death. This battle against death would be the final battle of his life. It will also be the best battle because soon after death he will reach the kingdom of God and meet his beloved wife.
Earthly life is completed by our going to Heaven where all the “broken arcs” are made into ‘perfect rounds’ The same idea is conveyed here in these lines in a somewhat different way. Browning says that even the heroes of antiquity had to face death and fight it bravely. We ordinary people should derive inspiration from them and be prepared to meet death bravely and cheerfully like them. If we do so, we can overcome it in one minute. It is like our first plunge into the cold of death water which is painful. Thereafter it is pleasant to be in the water.
Also, death squares up all human accounts.
Death appears to be frightening only when we are afraid of it. As a matter of fact, even the worst moment of death becomes enjoyable and appears to be the best for those who have got courage in them. After all, through death, we pass into another life and pass into Heaven if we are brave. Shortly before death, one feels as if a storm were blowing, it were raining and in the mind of the man about to die it appears as if demons were standing ready to take him to hell. But all this disturbance of the mind and heart gradually decreases. One feels a peace pervading through his entire personality. This peace then gives place to the feelings of joy. Then the dying man sees a light, the light of God and ultimately with the help of this light he is united with the one he loves.
Critical Analysis of Prospice
The poem ‘Prospice’ first appeared in Dramatist Personace in 1864. His wife had died in 1861. The poem is a tribute to her memory. It has been regarded as one of the most inspiring and original poems on the subject of death.
‘Prospice is a Latin word. It means ‘to look forward’. It is an apt title for the poem. In this poem, it is confident that he will conquer death. He ‘looks forward’ joyfully to his reunion with his wife.
The poet compares the experience of climbing up a lofty mountain. A mountain climber has to face fog, mist snowstorms, etc. during his ascent. Like the climber, a man in this world has also to face physical and spiritual sufferings when he approaches death. To face death is the final battle of a man’s life in this world. And the man who puts up a heroic fight is fully rewarded for his bravery.
Throughout his life, the poet has been a fighter. Therefore he is determined to fight Death also bravely. He does not want any mercy or leniency from Death. He does not want to die in a state of unconsciousness like some persons who die in a state of coma during their illness. These people fear Death. In a state of coma, they are sweetly unaware of what is happening to them. The poet would like to be in a state of perfect awareness when death comes to him. He wants to taste all the pain and suffering which Death brings with it. He is ready to meet in Death all the pain and suffering which he has escaped in life through some happy chance. In other words, he is ready to face any amount of suffering at the time of his death. He thinks that in this way he will be able to pay off all his arrears of life.
The poet is a brave man. He is an optimist. He knows that the worst will soon be over. All the pain, all the agony, all the torture will come to an end in no time. Within a very short time, he will find all his suffering vanished. He will be reunited with his beloved wife who is waiting for him in heaven.
Theme of Prospice
The poet looks forward to a battle with death. He expresses a heroic attitude towards death which is man’s arch-enemy, and he flings a challenge at it. This is justly regarded as one of the most original poems in English on the subject of death. The poem is perfectly characteristic of Browning’s philosophy. He is not in the least afraid of death. He would like to experience all the pain and suffering of death. He does not wish to die in a state of coma or unconsciousness because that would mean creeping past death in a cowardly manner.
On the contrary, he wants to taste all the grim horror of death. He would hear the raving of the fiend-voices and be in the very thick of fight. In all references to death in his poetry, Browning shows the same confident faith in the future. Death does not mean for him the close of life; it means the beginning of a new life. He believes in God and in heaven. He has a Christian philosophy of life which finds a brief but unambiguous expression in the lines in which he says that he will be reunited with his wife who is waiting for him in heaven. According to Robert Browning, death is only one stage in the unbroken, immoral life of the soul. Browning was a firm believer in God, in the immortality of the soul and in heaven.
In this poem, we find Browning’s philosophy that love endures even after death and that we must be hoping to meet our loved ones after death in the Kingdom of God. Browning’s poems on death possess the same note of confidence and love for the person concerned and the creator of this world. It is the love and faith in the immortality of love, which enables the poet to believe in life after death and reunion with his dead wife in the Kingdom of God.
In Browning’s other poems related to God and death, even his knaves and rogues have faith in God and rely upon His perfection and mercy. They are in direct contact and are sure of the ultimate union with the Absolute. Sympathetic communion between Man and God is possible because in addition to His attributes of power and knowledge he has the highest attribute of love. It is love which kindles and exacts both knowledge and power and as love is common both to God and man. It is love which harmonizes and unites all living beings.
The language of the poem is very simple, while the sentiments contained are universal and appeal to all. He reasserts his faith in God and not only forgets his sorrows but looks forward to meeting his wife in Heaven.
Questions and Answers
Answer the following questions in your own words. (Word limit 200-250 words)
(i) Comment on imagery in Browning’s poetry.
Answer: The poem titled Prospice is organized around the image of a journey undertaken by a knight in search of a guerdon-a reward-who has met many opponents on the way and is now about to meet the last one the Arch Enemy. But this enemy may choose not to fight. The end may be painless. He may be allowed to pass without a battle. That would be a disappointment. Therefore the next line begins with ‘No, let me.’
(ii) Write a note on the pictorial quality of Browning.
Answer: Browning’s pictorial quality is clearly indicated in Prospice. He compares the experience of meeting death with the experience of climbing up a high mountain with all the dangers and hazards of the upward journey. The hardships of the ascent are vividly pictured in the following lines :
“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”
(iii) Write about the poet’s faith in God’s love and mercy.
Answer: Robert Browning was the poet of soul and in his poems, he has attempted to see the soul of man as created by God. He has firm faith in God, and immortality of the soul. The body may die but the soul lives on in the infinite. It has an afterlife or lives. It has experienced not only in the world and this life but also in countless lives to come. The world is beautiful for God created it out of the fullness of His Love. Life in this world is worth living. For both life and the world are the expressions of Divine Love.
(iv) Describe Browning’s optimism.
Answer: Browning is a cheerful optimist. Optimism is at the very core of his teaching and his view of human life. Contrary to the views of some critics, his optimism is not blind. He does not shut his eyes to the suffering and evil that is prevalent in life. His optimism is founded on the Mercy of God and the realities of life.
(v) Write a note on Browning’s style.
Answer: In form, the poem is a monologue in which the poet is speaking in his own person. The style of the poem is simple. It does not suffer from Browning’s usual defects of style. There is no obscurity about it and it is easily comprehensible. It also shows Browning’s genius for consideration. He says, many of the words in the first few lines have an explosive or a near-explosive sound (technically beginning with letters classified as Plosives, Fricatives, and Affricates): power, press, place, post, death, blast, fear, fog, etc. The effect is a noticeable difficulty in reading corresponding to the sense which too speaks of the difficulty of breathing experienced by a man climbing a mountain or by a man gasping for breath in the last hours It also expresses the determination to face the difficulty with courage. The last lines are similarly noticeable for the frequency of the liquid l, m, n and the soft ‘s’ sounds : ‘dwindle’, ‘blend’, ‘elements’, ‘minutes’, ‘end’, ‘breast’, ‘soul’, ‘clasp’, ‘rest’, ‘peace’, the repeated ‘shall’ etc. and as a result the lines flow smoothly to the ecstasy. ‘Thou soul of my soul I shall clasp thee again whispered with the repeated ‘s’ sound.
Let Us Sum Up
In this unit, you have acquired knowledge about the poet and his poetry. Now you practice to:
understand trends and main features of the Victorian Age, know about life and works of Robert Browning, understand the poetry of Browning, know and understand various literary techniques used by Browning, critically analyse the poems of Browning, and answer the questions based on your text.
1. Comment on the style and Optimism of Browning’s poetry with suitable examples.
2. What philosophy of Browning is expressed in the poem ‘Prospice’? Explain in detail.
Fear death: the poet asks this question which implies a negative answer
Feel the fog in my throat: feeling of suffocation in the throat at the time of death
mist in my face: the blurred vision at the time of death
snows begin: when the winter season begins; when the body begins to become cold as death approaches
blasts: stormy weather; to face difficulty in breathing at the time of death
denotes : informs
the place: refers to death
power of the night: increase of invisibility
press of the storm: increase of difficulty in breathing
the post: the place where death is waiting
foe: the death, the enemy of life
he : the death
Arch fear: the fear of death
visible form: death becomes visible in the shape of the dying man
strong man: a healthy man
must go: must die
journey: the life span
done : completed
summit attained: the final point of life is reached
barriers: difficulties of life
fall: come to an end
battle: the struggle of life
ere : before
guerdon: reward, place in the kingdom of God
ever a fighter: a brave person in life
one fight more: the final fight with death
hate : dislike
bandaged my eyes: closed his eyes
forbore: prevented from moving about
bade : ordered
creep past: go away
taste: to bear sufferings
heroes: great men
bear: to sustain
brunt: fury of death
in a minute pay: life ends suddenly
arrears: miseries of life
element’s rage: difficulties faced by a person
worst turns the best: a strong person dies
friend voices: voices of devils of death
rare : cry
blend: loose intensity of life
light: the light of Heaven
breast : wife
soul of my soul: refers to his wife, E.B. Browning
clasp : embrace
thee: you, refers to his wife