Original poem reprinted online here: "After" by Robert Browning
Originally read: July 10, 2013
More information about the Poet: Robert Browning
Inescapable. That's what I thought after I reread the poem. The structure of the poem has a couplet in the beginning and the ending, but what's inescapable is the second stanza -- the emotion that the speaker holds -- even after.
"Take the cloak from his face, and at first / Let the corpse do its worst!" The first line has a tone of anger behind it towards the unknown subject; however, note how the speaker addresses the corpse to "do its worst". But what can a corpse do other than rot in the speaker's mind? Well, I guess I gave it away.
It's not necessarily the person that the speaker holds onto, it's the conceptual. Furthermore, the rhyme scheme that goes aabbcc..(and so forth) chokes the poem into a forced connection, "How he lies in his rights of a man!"
The speaker then addresses Death, "Death has done all death can. / And, absorbed in the new life he leads," what's curious about these lines are the punctuation. The statement about death is direct and not expounded upon as though the speaker addresses Death as a situation modifier; but the conjunction of "and" signifies something added to the statement, and wants to keep each separate -- not so much like a semi-colon where there's a connection. Maybe like separate actions of significance.
Anyway, the poem curt punctuation also adds a sense of constriction, but the we get to the core of the poem:
Nor his wrong nor my vengeance; both strike
on his senses alike,
And are lost in the solemn and strange
Surprise of the change.
Now this isn't addressed to the dead or even death -- this is all based on "my vengeance" and the semi-colon indicates that the rest of the lines -- emotions and rhetoric apply to vengeance -- "are lost." The abruptness of the "loss."
What's lost is retribution but not vengeance -- not that feeling note the tone with, "Ha, what avails death to erase /His offence, my disgrace?" That lost of retribution embitters the speaker -- that "ha" also serves as an exclamation in which the tone stagnates. Bitter before, bitter after -- not epiphany, just loss equating to disappointment:
I would we were boys as of old
in the field, by the fold:
His outrage, God's patience, man's scorn
Were so easily borne!
Sarcasm. It's hard to read -- note that the colon refers to the past -- to boyhood where such things like outrage, patience and score were still there. It's the emotion the speaker is reliving in order to justify vengeance.
And with the last couplet, "I stand here now, he lies in his place: / Cover the face!" Yes, the couplet refers to the now -- but note how the now is just as angry as the past. Note also the command to "cover the face" does, indeed refer to the subject. But could also refer the speaker as well (note the colon here defines rather than leads). The speaker is keeping the vengeance -- that need regardless of how he looks.