Robert Browning

(1812-1889 / London / England)

A Light Woman


I.

So far as our story approaches the end,
Which do you pity the most of us three?---
My friend, or the mistress of my friend
With her wanton eyes, or me?

II.

My friend was already too good to lose,
And seemed in the way of improvement yet,
When she crossed his path with her hunting-noose
And over him drew her net.

III.

When I saw him tangled in her toils,
A shame, said I, if she adds just him
To her nine-and-ninety other spoils,
The hundredth for a whim!

IV.

And before my friend be wholly hers,
How easy to prove to him, I said,
An eagle's the game her pride prefers,
Though she snaps at a wren instead!

V.

So, I gave her eyes my own eyes to take,
My hand sought hers as in earnest need,
And round she turned for my noble sake,
And gave me herself indeed.

VI.

The eagle am I, with my fame in the world,
The wren is he, with his maiden face.
---You look away and your lip is curled?
Patience, a moment's space!

VII.

For see, my friend goes shaling and white;
He eyes me as the basilisk:
I have turned, it appears, his day to night,
Eclipsing his sun's disk.

VIII.

And I did it, he thinks, as a very thief:
``Though I love her---that, he comprehends---
``One should master one's passions, (love, in chief)
``And be loyal to one's friends!''

IX.

And she,---she lies in my hand as tame
As a pear late basking over a wall;
Just a touch to try and off it came;
'Tis mine,---can I let it fall?

X.

With no mind to eat it, that's the worst!
Were it thrown in the road, would the case assist?
'Twas quenching a dozen blue-flies' thirst
When I gave its stalk a twist.

XI.

And I,---what I seem to my friend, you see:
What I soon shall seem to his love, you guess:
What I seem to myself, do you ask of me?
No hero, I confess.

XII.

'Tis an awkward thing to play with souls,
And matter enough to save one's own:
Yet think of my friend, and the burning coals
He played with for bits of stone!

XIII.

One likes to show the truth for the truth;
That the woman was light is very true:
But suppose she says,---Never mind that youth!
What wrong have I done to you?

XIV.

Well, any how, here the story stays,
So far at least as I understand;
And, Robert Browning, you writer of plays,
Here's a subject made to your hand!

Submitted: Sunday, May 13, 2001
Edited: Sunday, May 13, 2001

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  • Rookie Emily Tong (9/14/2013 2:58:00 AM)

    Here is my take on this poem: (probably not perfect, still in the midst of studying literature at A levels)
    Basically this is a poem about Browning's friend, and how he has been captivated by a certain lady. However, it is suggested to us that this lady has no intentions of truly loving his friend and perhaps has other ulterior motives, can can be inferred from the animal imagery that surrounds her 'An eagle's the game her pride prefers, though she snaps at a wren instead', which suggests to us that perhaps she's in for some material gains, though she is unable to see that Browning's friend is perhaps not a suitable candidate for this. Also can be seen from the allusions to traps and nets and how his friend is 'tangled in her toils'. As such, in the end, with Browning able to see through her, he has decided to spare his friend the misery of marrying this woman and instead diverted her attention onto himself and married her instead. While this is indeed a noble act, it is not recognized by his friend, who views it as Browning having stolen the girl of his dreams, or in this case, his 'light lady'. To the friend, this lady was almost sort of a holy figure to him and he almost seemed to worship her, as the word 'light' does hold such connotations. Moreover, we are told that his friend's 'day was turned to night' and that his 'sun's disc has elipsed', giving us an indication as to how she was almost sort of a light source for him. His friend then holds much grudges and hatred towards browning, as can be seen through the phrase 'he eyes me as the basilisk', a mythical creature that had the power to kill just by its gaze, which suggests very strong negative feelings that the friend holds against browning. At the end of the poem, we are given a sense that perhaps Browning should not have proceeded with such an action because it has obviously been misinterpreted by his friend and it has caused more harm to his friend now that he has to deal not just with the loss of love, but also the loss of friendship. (Report) Reply

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