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A Pretty Woman by Robert Browning

A Pretty Woman is a lyrical poem by Romantic Era poet Robert Browning. The poem was first published in his 1855 collection Men and Women. Since then, the poem has evoked the interests of critics and readers, not for its depth but rather the lack of it.

It is believed that Browning wrote this poem after meeting a niece of his friend. According to a letter written by his wife Elizabeth Barret Browning, he felt that the girl was one of the prettiest women that he has seen in his life. But her lack of character and personality annoyed him so much that he decided to write this piece.

Robert Browning
Robert Browning

A Pretty Woman Summary

The poem begins with a beautiful sentence that describes the beauty of the hair of a pretty woman. In the second line, her eyes have been admired. The second stanza begins with Browning telling the way in which all men desire this woman for her pretty looks. Further, he states that mesmerized by the beauty of the woman, men try to woo her with their words and their bravery, which is all it takes to please her.

By the end of the fourth stanza, Browning has started to make his point very clear. He points out that the woman is beautiful but lacks any depth of personality. In an amusing and mocking tone, he continues to speak of the ways that men use to please such a woman. He says that the only purpose of a woman like her is to look pretty and people would be pleased by her.

Then Browning starts to talk about the love that other people may feel for her. He minces his words but says that she has been made with such perfection that none of her features have any flaws. That is the reason why most men want to please her. She is so graceful that nobody would reject her. But when it comes to her soul, nobody would want to want her.

A Pretty Woman
A Pretty Woman

Finally, Browning uses the metaphor of a rose to speak of the beauty of this woman. He says that she is as fresh as a rose and her beauty pleases someone like that of a rose. When a rose is fresh, people smell it, kiss it and wear it on their collars and hair. But when the rose withers away, it is thrown which is going to be the same fate as her. Because beauty fades and mind stays, the pretty woman is likely to meet the fate of the rose some day.

A Pretty Woman Analysis

A Pretty Woman is a very effective attempt made by Browning in order to convey the harms of being overly pretty. The most effective part of the poem is the tone that Browning has used. He mocks the woman by his tone which might annoy a reader but helps the meaning and content of the poem very much. Through his tone, Browning says that because the woman lacks any intelligence, such sweet language would please her while the reader would know that he is making fun of her.

A similar effect has been evoked by Browning through the diction and structure of the poem. It is important to study both of these aspects together to understand the intention of Browning for the same. He has used very simple language, mostly monosyllabic words to compose this poem. The poem is divided into eighteen stanzas, each with a rhyme scheme of abba.

Further, the words that he has used to rhyme are repeated in most stanzas, especially in the first and fourth line. To the reader, it almost feels like Browning is making fun of the woman by saying to her that because he has written this poem for her, he will use rhyming words. However, because of the lack of intelligence, she will not be bothered by the shallowness of the language and would be convinced that the poem is good only because the sentences rhyme.

The Ideals of Beauty in Romantic Era
The Ideals of Beauty in the Romantic Era

To conclude, the poem is not rich in its meaning, content or even style and structure. For a reader, it may appear as a childish attempt by an aspiring poet at the art of poetry. However, for a poet at the stature of Browning, this is not the case.

The poor form and style of the poem is a deliberate attempt that Browning has made. He has used this method to convey to the reader the feelings of frustration that he might have felt on his encounter with a woman who possesses all the beauty of the world but lacks in intellect. The reader is likely to feel annoyed by the poor composition and shallowness of the poem and when that happens, it can be considered that Browning as succeeded in achieving what he has attempted through A Pretty Woman.

A Pretty Woman Poem