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‘Epilogue’ is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning. A part of Asolando, his collection of poetry, it is the final poem penned by him on his death day. As the title suggests, it is thus the poet asking his readers to bid farewell to him without pity as death beckons him in the ‘epilogue’ of his life.
About the Poet:
Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an eminent English poet and playwright. His dramatic monologues, in particular, were well famed, noted for their dark humour. Famous works of his include ‘My Last Duchess’, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, and ‘Meeting at Night’.
At the midnight in the silence of the sleep-time, When you set your fancies free, Will they pass to where—by death, fools think, imprisoned— Low he lies who once so loved you, whom you loved so, —Pity me?
The poem begins with a poet on a retrospective mode. He states how ‘midnight’ tends to be the time when one lets loose their imagination, allowing it to run wild and free. The persona then goes on to state how only fools assumed that these fancies would be ‘imprisoned’ upon death, being trapped forever.
The poet, lying on the deathbed himself as he writes this poem, states as such. He asks then whether the readers whom he loved and whom loved him back pitied him for being in such a state.
Oh to love so, be so loved, yet so mistaken! What had I on earth to do With the slothful, with the mawkish, the unmanly? Like the aimless, helpless, hopeless, did I drivel
The poet, from this stanza, deplores his beloved readers for being ‘mistaken’ in pitying him. He proceeds to question his very existence among people who were lazy, cloying, and ‘unmanly’. He then questions himself, whether he too was like them, ‘aimless’, ‘helpless’, and ‘hopeless’, merely drivelling. He ends this stanza with questioning who he was in the world, what role did he have.
One who never turned his back but marched breast forward, Never doubted clouds would break, Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph, Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, Sleep to wake.
He answers his own question from the previous stanza here. Instead of choosing to be cynical of whom he was and criticising himself, he views himself in a positive light. He calls himself one who was not cowardly, one who was not afraid and marched on, chest out. He claims to be a man free of doubts whether some misfortune would befall him.
However, he was not hopeless but was pragmatic. He did not dream aimlessly and was aware that rights were ‘worsted’ and evil would triumph over good just as the reverse was true. Yet, he believes that humans fall only to rise. We break free of confusions that plague us only to fight better.
He ends this stanza with an inspiring note on how humans ‘sleep’ only to ‘wake’, shedding light on how every failure was only a stepping stone for success and a bigger and brighter dawn.
No, at noonday in the bustle of man's work-time Greet the unseen with a cheer! Bid him forward, breast and back as either should be, "Strive and thrive!" cry "Speed,—fight on, fare ever There as here!"
In the final stanza, the poet lets out an assertive note, urging people to remained prepared at all times. Even in ‘noonday’, one should expect the unexpected and welcome it with a ‘cheer’.
With that thought in mind, the poet asks the readers to send him ‘forward’, that is, into death. They should do so with their chest out and back straight- with no pity whatsoever. They must ask him to ‘Strive and thrive’ and to ‘fight on’. He thus urges his readers, ‘you’, to bid him farewell as the warrior that he was, to ask him to fare just as he did ‘here’ on earth in ‘there’, afterlife.
This is an inspirational poem. Instead of mourning his loss, he elaborates on how death was a part and parcel of life- inevitable- and thus one had to let one go into oblivion just as they would send off a warrior, asking them to fight on just as they had in life.