Robert Browning is one of the most widely read poets in English. His genius lies in his dramatic monologues and A Light Woman is one of his popular works. The poem was first published in 1855 and is known for its complexity since then.
A Light Woman is a poem that talks about love, friendship and loyalty which can be called common subjects in poetry. What makes this poem special is the way in which Robert Browning has used his characters to convey these traits in people.
He presents a complex situation to the readers through one of the people who is involved in it and opens it to the interpretation of the reader to find out the person who they think is right.
A Light Woman Summary
A Light Woman is a dramatic monologue in which the speaker is directly addressing Robert Browning, telling him about an incident that happened between him, his friend and the mistress of his friend. He begins by asking the listener that by the end of the story, who will receive the sympathy of the listener among the three of them.
He begins by telling that his friend was a good man and was even becoming better when he met the woman who became his mistress. He says that when he got to know about their relationship, his friend was already into her. He tried to warn his friend by telling him that this woman had already been with many men and she might be pursuing her merely because of a whim.
He says that he wanted to save his friend before he is completely under her thumb. For this, he tried to get in terms with the mistress. However, because she was not a woman of character, she thought that the speaker was interested in her and offered herself to him.
When his friend got to know about it, started to think that he was an evil person and this made him sad. He started to think that his friend wanted to steal the woman that he loves from him. As a result, he starts questioning the loyalty of his friend.
While the friends were having this misunderstanding, the speaker says that the woman was just sitting like a pear who would attract flies. He tried to explain to his friend that when he found him, she was already ‘quenching the thirst’ of many and it would not matter to her if she loses one of them. He confesses that he did it not to become a hero but to save his friend from loving her.
The speaker continues to ponder the situation further. He says that people should not play with the souls of other just like she was doing with his friend. What is worse, he says, is that his friend was playing with coal just like it was pieces of stone.
Towards the end, he says that his only objective was to present the truth just as it was and he stands by it when he claims that this woman was ‘light’. But he could not prove it because the woman might have asked him what wrong has she done to him. In the last stanza, he directly addresses the poet and tells him that this is the complete truth of his story and if nothing else, he can write a play about it.
Analysis of the Poetry
A Light Woman is a poem that tells a very common tale that people all over the world experience. However, the way in which Browning as chosen to narrate it makes it a very complex and interesting study of the three characters in it.
To begin with, the speaker is to one who presents his entire perspective on the incident. He appears as a man who values friendship and is loyal to a friend. In his story, he is also the one who suffers the wrath of his friend when he told him about his mistress.
However, it is interesting to note that in the poem, there is no evidence that supports his claims. His story is narrated entirely from his own perspective, making it questionable.
The mistress is the central character of the poem A light woman and the poem has been named after her. She has been represented as a woman of loose morals who would lay with a man just because of a whim. However, the person who is describing her is the speaker. Due to this, his judgments about her character come out as a one-sided opinion which may not even be true because of the conflict in his own character.
The friend of the speaker appears as the justest person in the story. If the mistress is a loose woman, he is being cheated in love and if the friend is manipulating the story, he is again the one who is hurt by the disloyalty of his friend. In either case, the actual question is left for the reader to answer- who deserves to be pitied in this case?