Written in the form of a dramatic monologue, The Patriot- An old story by Robert Browning is an account of a man’s fall from power to disgrace. From the title of the poet, The Patriot, one gathers that the poem is about an individual. On the other hand, the subtitle, “an old story,” can be deciphered as a universal story that can apply to anybody. This is in line with the contrast that is projected in the poem.
The Patriot- An Old Story: Critical Analysis
The first stanza describes the Patriot’s arrival into the town and the magnificent welcome given to him by the townspeople. His path has been laden with roses and fragrant myrtles, and people have clambered on their rooftops to catch a glimpse of and congratulate the Patriot. The past tense used in the first stanza creates a retrospective narrative. It has been implied that the town is a very cluttered and old one. “Old walls rocked” in the second stanza is evidence of this. The poet has religious beliefs, and this can be seen in the first and second stanzas where he mentions churches and bells. Also, the last stanza has him reaching out to God’s heaven for justice. But, the patriot is shown as a man who values permanence more than temporary glory. This is reflected in his asking the townspeople to fetch him the sun, as it is the ultimate symbol of power, glory, and immortality.
True to the title of the poem, the patriot himself fetches the sun for his beloved friends, but it is then that regret enters his tone. His feeling of betrayal is quite clear when he mentions that despite his good deeds, he is reaping. “A year has run” signifies that something eventful has taken place through that one year which has had some adverse effects. This is when he starts narrating the current scenario. The mood of the poet changes to sarcastic and ironic as he draws a contrast by juxtaposing the full roofs in the past with the empty ones at present. The fickle nature of the townspeople can also seem like the same people who were celebrating the patriot are now gathered near the gallows to cheer his execution. To emphasize on the Patriot’s emotions, his walk of shame is described where the Patriot comments on the transitory nature of man, who might love today and hate tomorrow. Despite this sorrowful tone of the poem, one notices that Browning ends the poem on a note of optimism as he hopes that regardless of the misunderstanding and evils contaminating the world, God always does justice. It is in death that the patriot will be granted what he truly deserves and will rest peacefully in God’s heaven. This is also an example of the faith he places in God and religion.
The Patriot- An Old Story: Annotations
Roses, roses all the way-The path is heavily laden with roses; rose symbolizes love, happiness, celebration
Myrtle- Evergreen shrub with white flowers
Mixed in my path like mad- The myrtle has been spread out with the roses, a celebratory gesture of welcome.
House roofs seemed to heave and sway- People were crowding on their rooftops to get a glimpse of the poet. This abundance of people created an image of the house roofs themselves moving with the throng.
Church spires flamed- The flags that had been put up were so fiery in color that they made it look like the church spires were on fire.
The air broke into a mist with bells- the chime of the church bells injected the air.
Old walls rocked- the crowd of people created a din, causing a noisy atmosphere. The noise was such that it is described as “even the walls shook.”
Good folk, mere noise repels—
But give me your sun from yonder skies!- the poet addresses the people who are celebrating and welcoming him with cries of joy. He says, “Dear folks, more than your cries of celebration and joy, I would appreciate it if you give me your sun.” Sun is symbolic of power, glory, and respect.
To give it to my loving friends- to give it to my beloved friends.
Now a year is run- A year has passed
Palsied- crippled, unhealthy
Shambles’ gate- gate to the slaughterhouse, the gallows
Scaffold- a wooden platform used for the execution of criminals
Trow- think or believe
A rope cuts both my wrists behind- a rope is cutting through the wrists tied behind.
Thus I entered, and thus I go- I am leaving the same way that I entered.
Paid by the world, what dost thou owe
me?- all the people of the world have paid you, so what do you owe me?
‘Tis God shall repay: I am safer so- God shall truly repay for his deeds, do justice. Hence, he is safer in death than in life.
The Patriot- An Old Story: Poetic Devices
With six stanzas, each consisting of five lines, The Patriot by Robert Browning has a rhyme scheme ABABA. This makes this poem a Sicilian Quintain. This poem has an Iambic Pentameter.
“I go in the rain”: The rain here is symbolic of several things. The Patriot gets wet by the rain, losing his dignity. Also, it can be viewed that the rain washes him clean, representing his innocence. The rain also works to create a tense atmosphere.
The image projected at the beginning of the poem is juxtaposed with the current scenario. This can be seen when the rooftops are swaying with people in the first stanza, but in the fourth stanza, they are empty. This shows how the Patriot went on from becoming loved to hate.
This effect works to create a contrast, which is actually the central idea of this poem.
“Crowd and cries”
“Dropped down dead.”
This use of alliteration adds rhyme and rhythm to the poem.
The use of roses in the first stanza symbolizes people’s love and affection towards him. The celebratory attitude of the people and they’re honoring the Patriot has been metamorphosed as roses.
Glory, power, and immortality have been metamorphosed into the sun. He asks the men for the sun as it is the ultimate symbol of power.
“And you see my harvest, what I reap.” In this line, the Patriot’s deeds have been referred to as harvest, and the consequences have been metamorphosed as reaping.
“The house roofs seemed to heave and sway.” The roofs of the houses have been given the human characteristic of heaving and swaying. This has been done to refer to the crowd on the roofs and their frenzy on seeing the Patriot, causing them to clamber over each other and give an impression of swaying.
The poem begins with an image of the past where the patriot is welcomed back to his town with paths laden with roses and myrtles. The use of roses projects a positive picture as they symbolize love. The heaving rooftops are evidence of the fact that the town is a very cluttered and crowded one.
They create a contrast between the past and the present. The image of crowded rooftops is juxtaposed with the image of empty rooftops and roads. Rain acts as a negative agent as it creates a scene of misery and works to change the mood of the poem. The Patriot is walking through the town and is bleeding and in pain. In God’s abode, the reference to safety ends the poem on an upbeat note, as the imagery is of positivity and optimism.
Updated by Anjali Roongta on 24th April 2023.
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