'A Pretty Woman' by Robert Browning

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That fawn-skin-dappled hair of hers,
And the blue eye
Dear and dewy,
And that infantine fresh air of hers!


To think men cannot take you, Sweet,
And enfold you,
Ay, and hold you,
And so keep you what they make you, Sweet!


You like us for a glance, you know---
For a word's sake
Or a sword's sake,
All's the same, whate'er the chance, you know.


And in turn we make you ours, we say---
You and youth too,
Eyes and mouth too,
All the face composed of flowers, we say.


All's our own, to make the most of, Sweet---
Sing and say for,
Watch and pray for,
Keep a secret or go boast of, Sweet!


But for loving, why, you would not, Sweet,
Though we prayed you,
Paid you, brayed you
in a mortar---for you could not, Sweet!


So, we leave the sweet face fondly there:
Be its beauty
Its sole duty!
Let all hope of grace beyond, lie there!


And while the face lies quiet there,
Who shall wonder
That I ponder
A conclusion? I will try it there.


As,---why must one, for the love foregone,
Scout mere liking?
Earth,---the heaven, we looked above for, gone!


Why, with beauty, needs there money be,
Love with liking?
Crush the fly-king
In his gauze, because no honey-bee?


May not liking be so simple-sweet,
If love grew there
'Twould undo there
All that breaks the cheek to dimples sweet?


Is the creature too imperfect,
Would you mend it
And so end it?
Since not all addition perfects aye!


Or is it of its kind, perhaps,
Just perfection---
Whence, rejection
Of a grace not to its mind, perhaps?


Shall we burn up, tread that face at once
Into tinder,
And so hinder
Sparks from kindling all the place at once?


Or else kiss away one's soul on her?
Your love-fancies!
---A sick man sees
Truer, when his hot eyes roll on her!


Thus the craftsman thinks to grace the rose,---
Plucks a mould-flower
For his gold flower,
Uses fine things that efface the rose:


Rosy rubies make its cup more rose,
Precious metals
Ape the petals,---
Last, some old king locks it up, morose!


Then how grace a rose? I know a way!
Leave it, rather.
Must you gather?
Smell, kiss, wear it---at last, throw away!

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Critical Interpretation of "A Pretty Woman" by Robert Browning

When it comes to poetry, one name that never fails to make it into the conversation is Robert Browning. The man was a master of words, and his works have stood the test of time. "A Pretty Woman" is one of his most famous poems and for good reason. In this literary criticism, we will explore the various themes, motifs and literary devices employed by Browning to create this masterpiece.

The Poem

But why don't we start by reading the poem in question? Here it is in its entirety:


That fawn-skin-dappled hair of hers,

And the blue eye

Dear and dewy,

And that infantine fresh air of hers!


To think men cannot take you, Sweet,

And enfold you,

Ay, and hold you

And so keep you what they make you, Sweet!


You like us for a glance, you know—

For a word's sake

Or a sword's sake,

All's the same, whichever way the love's go.


And if folk would but let you be,

You'd never flout them,

Ay, nor scout them,

But still your heart would silently

Tut-tut its wisdom in head and feet.


And when you took your lamp and went,

And the first step,

Alone, and left

Me with the vestige of your scent,


And your voice thrill'd my happy followings,—

And I paused

As I had transgress'd, and lost

Most or all which makes life worth the owning,


—Thinks,—"Here was I, the foolish, over-fond,

And there was she, the shallow-hearted thing

Who could not see what behind her lay

Only this waste and woe of sins and days!"


But oh, with my stride from door to gate,

And the clink of my sword on pavement-stone,

And the drumming of hoof and the trump of fate,

And the shout of my squadrons forward-sent,


What care I for the love you sent?

This is gain, there's the sword at my left to use,

And its guard on my right as well.

I can flash like fire o'er the battle-heaps;

And when all's done, what matter then!


Hush! If you saw some western cloud

All billowy-bosom'd, over-bowed

By many benedictions—sun's and moon's

And evening-star's—strange deathbeds of great kings,

And garniture of those incomparable rings

And all adjusted properly:

Would not you say, "Some one has crowned his head,

Begun his rule, and so now quiet sleeps

With closed eyes, and sleeps eternally!"

Themes and Motifs

One of the most prevalent themes in "A Pretty Woman" is the idea of unrequited love. The narrator expresses his love for the woman, but she remains unattainable. He longs to hold her, to keep her, but knows that it will never happen. The motif of unrequited love is further emphasized by the woman's "infantine fresh air," which suggests a sort of childish innocence that cannot be tainted by love or desire.

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the idea of masculinity and power. The narrator is a soldier, and he takes great pride in his physical abilities and his ability to wield a sword. He sees his love for the woman as something that weakens him, and in the end, he decides that his duty as a soldier is more important than his desire for her.

The motif of power is also reflected in the descriptions of the woman. She is depicted as delicate and innocent, but there is a sense that she possesses a power that the narrator cannot fully understand. She has the ability to captivate men with just a glance or a word, and this power is both alluring and frightening to the narrator.

Finally, the poem explores the idea of mortality and the fleeting nature of life. The woman's beauty is compared to a western cloud that is "over-bowed by many benedictions" and garnished with "incomparable rings." However, even this beauty is fleeting, and the cloud will eventually dissipate, just as the woman's youth and beauty will fade with time. The motif of mortality is further emphasized by the mention of the "drumming of hoof and the trump of fate," which suggests the inevitability of death.

Literary Devices

Browning employs a variety of literary devices in "A Pretty Woman" to create a rich and complex poem. One of the most striking devices is the use of repetition. The phrase "And enfold you, Ay, and hold you" is repeated in stanza two, creating a sense of longing and desire. Similarly, the phrase "For a glance, you know" is repeated in stanza three, emphasizing the idea that the woman's power lies in her ability to captivate men with just a look.

Another device used by Browning is the use of imagery. The descriptions of the woman's hair and eyes create a vivid picture in the reader's mind, and the metaphor of the western cloud is both beautiful and haunting. The use of military imagery, such as the clink of the narrator's sword and the drumming of hoof, creates a sense of power and strength.

Browning also employs the use of rhyme and meter to create a musical quality to the poem. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, with an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme. This creates a sense of rhythm and flow to the poem, which makes it easier to read and more enjoyable to listen to.


In conclusion, "A Pretty Woman" is a masterful poem that explores themes of love, power, and mortality. Through his use of literary devices such as repetition, imagery, and rhyme, Browning creates a rich and complex poem that is both beautiful and haunting. The poem is a testament to Browning's skill as a poet and his ability to capture the essence of the human experience. It is a work that will continue to be studied and appreciated for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has always been a medium of expression for the human soul. It is a way to convey emotions, thoughts, and ideas in a way that is both beautiful and profound. One such poem that has stood the test of time is "A Pretty Woman" by Robert Browning. This classic poem is a masterpiece that captures the essence of love, beauty, and desire in a way that is both timeless and universal.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a beautiful woman who he sees walking down the street. He is immediately struck by her beauty and is drawn to her like a moth to a flame. The woman is described as having "yellow hair" and "a mouth like a rose." Her beauty is so captivating that the speaker cannot help but be entranced by her.

As the poem progresses, the speaker's desire for the woman becomes more intense. He longs to be with her, to touch her, to feel her presence. He describes her as a "vision" and a "dream" that he cannot shake from his mind. The woman becomes an obsession for the speaker, and he cannot help but be consumed by his desire for her.

However, as the poem reaches its climax, the speaker realizes that his desire for the woman is futile. He knows that he can never have her, and that his love for her is doomed to be unrequited. He describes her as a "star" that he can never reach, and he resigns himself to the fact that he will never be able to possess her.

The poem ends with the speaker acknowledging the futility of his desire for the woman. He knows that he will never be able to have her, but he still finds solace in the fact that he was able to experience her beauty. He describes her as a "gift" that he was given, and he is grateful for the brief moment that he was able to bask in her radiance.

At its core, "A Pretty Woman" is a poem about the power of beauty and desire. It is a reminder that sometimes, the things that we desire most in life are the things that we can never have. The speaker's obsession with the woman is a reflection of the human condition, and the poem serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing our desires to consume us.

One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Browning's descriptions of the woman are vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a woman who is both beautiful and unattainable. The use of color imagery, such as the woman's "yellow hair" and "mouth like a rose," adds to the poem's sense of beauty and desire.

Another notable aspect of the poem is its use of repetition. The phrase "pretty woman" is repeated throughout the poem, emphasizing the speaker's obsession with the woman's beauty. The repetition also serves to reinforce the idea that the woman is an object of desire, rather than a person with her own agency.

The poem's structure is also worth noting. It is written in quatrains, with each stanza consisting of four lines. This structure gives the poem a sense of symmetry and balance, which is fitting given the poem's themes of beauty and desire. The use of rhyme and meter also adds to the poem's musicality, making it a joy to read aloud.

In conclusion, "A Pretty Woman" is a classic poem that explores the power of beauty and desire. Browning's use of vivid imagery, repetition, and structure make the poem a masterpiece that is both beautiful and profound. The poem serves as a reminder that sometimes, the things that we desire most in life are the things that we can never have. It is a cautionary tale about the dangers of allowing our desires to consume us, and a celebration of the beauty that exists in the world around us.

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