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"The Lost Leader" by Robert Browning

A Close study of Robert Browning's Poem

Michelle Alspaugh

on 3 October 2012

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Transcript of "The Lost Leader" by Robert Browning

"The Lost Leader"
by Robert Browning Divided into 2 stanzas: the first one detailing the nature of the leader's betrayal and the second the speakers' firm resolve to continue on despite the leader's desertion Structure The nature of their former admiration Though inspired by William Wordsworth, the poem loosely is about any leader who betrays his cause Just for a handful of silver he left us, The nature of the leader's betrayal Stanza is organized around what they shall do...but without him
(Mood shift) Speakers' resolve to continue Just for a ribbon to stick in his coat-- Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us, Lost all the others she lets us devote; They, with the gold to give, doled him out silver, "handful of silver" *religious allusion to Judas
*repetition emphasizes "cost" of leader's betrayal (wound done to his followers) as well as the price that he could be purchased for "a ribbon to stick in his coat" visual image of a ribbon evokes a vain, trivial
object emphasizes the speakers' disdain for his betrayal
*suggests that speakers believe the leader's act was equally trivial and petty.
*Though it literally suggests the leader's betrayal as being for personal vanity, it also may extend to the idea of personal accolades, or "ribbons", such as one wins parallel structure of "just for" indicates that both of these reasons are of equal weight to the speakers the consonance of the "s" creates a soft effect, as if the speakers are speaking of their leader casually, off handedly
* also indicates that they are somewhat removed from the first moment of betrayal, as this would then be marked with more dramatic, emotional sounds
*this suggests that the speakers are resigned to the betrayal and are simply speaking not to their leader, but to each other the leader finds a "gift" which fortune
chooses to withhold from them
this could either be literally monetary wealth
or it could signal serendipitous opportunity, such as luck
*the personification of fortune of as a woman introduces the idea that the leader was lured away, so to speak ( see : greek sirens) the image of the leader "finding" something is then
contrasted in the next line with what he lost--
"all the others she lets us devote"
(presumably, Fortune left them with a few gifts, which
are left ambiguous--this ambiguity increases the universal quality of the poem because it also expresses the "we are better off without him anyway" mentality we are prone to have when we have lost something and trying to reconcile ourselves to the situation "They...with the gold to give"----vs. all our copper had gone for his service Parallel structure:
We that had loved him so, followed him, honored him/lived in his mild and magnificent eye/Learned his great language, caught his clear accents/Made him our pattern to live and to die! Listing of famous writers who did not abandon the cause: Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Shelley Final action: He alone breaks from the van and the freeman/He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves we shall march prospering--not thro' his presence Songs may inspirit us,--not from his lyre Deeds will be done, --while he boasts his quiescence
Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire Blot out his name, then record one lost soul more one task more declined one more footpath untrod one more devil's triumph and sorrow for angels one wrong more to man one more insult to God
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