The poem The Patriot by Robert Browning shows the fortune of a hero which can change very swiftly. It is a story of punishment or rather reward ironically forced upon the speaker of the poem within a year for his services. The speaker is being taken to the scaffolds to be executed like a criminal, who only a year ago was welcomed with flowers by the public for being a patriot. According to some critics, this poem is a satire on the instability of the public opinion.




The poem begins with the speaker or the patriot reminiscing a past incident  that occurred exactly a year ago with him. He was given a grand welcome by the people of the town. The opening lines of the poem shows that roses mixed with myrtles were strewn on his path as gestures of their love for him. It seemed that the roofs of the houses would shake with the crowd gathered on them. Even the spires of the church were decorated with beautiful flags which flew in the breeze like flames of fire. Such was the welcome, the speaker received from the people on his arrival to the town a year ago.


The second stanza is a prolongation of the first stanza. It tells about the craziness of the people on his arrival to the town. The air was filled with the ringing of bells to announce the arrival of the patriot. The walls of old buildings were so filled up with people and their cries that they seemed to shake. The crowd was so moulded by him that had he asked them to bring the sun for him from their skies, they willingly would have accepted his demand and asked him what else would he need after that.


The speaker now expresses his regrets for having leaped at the sun for having leaped at the sun for the people of the town whom he loved dearly. In fact he went ahead to do every possible act for the interest of the public. Here Browning makes the reference of Icarus, ( Greek mythology ) the son of Daedalus who was a master craftsman. While escaping from Crete by the means of wings made of wax by Daedalus, he warned his son Icarus not to be overconfident and keep himself neither too low nor too high during their flight. Icarus turned a deaf ear to his father’s instructions and went too near the sun which melted his wax wings and he fell headlong into the ocean and drowned. The reference of Icarus is made intentionally by Browning in this stanza to show it is not wise to be overconfident as well as over ambitious which unfortunately the speaker of the poem had become. The patriot or the speaker says that he had not left anything undone which is capable for any human being to do. He feels sure of doing all that any man could have done. But the reward he received which he calls his harvest has left him with a feeling of dejection. A complete change has taken place for him within a year.


The present stanza is a contrast to the first stanza. As in the first stanza, the housetops shook with people, in the fourth stanza those very housetops are seen empty except a few old and sick people who can not walk upto the scaffold to watch the death execution of the speaker. This juxtaposition of his present miserable state as traitor against a year ago’s warm welcome as a patriot shows his life time achievement. From the poem it is already clear to us that he has power, but what is not clear is the amount of power and what type of power or rather what position he exactly enjoyed in his state. It is also not clearly reflected the type and the number of people who went to the scaffolds to watch his hanging. The people who a year ago were interested to see the speaker’s arrival to town and hence gathered on housetops and old walls, making those shake under their burdens, are now more interested in watching his death execution and so have gathered at “ Shambles Gate “ where the scaffold is placed. This stanza is again an extension or continuation of the previous stanza. This gives a more detailed description of the public humiliation that the speaker undergoes. He is not only taken to the scaffolds at the Shambles Gate but his hands are tied behind with a rope so tightly that his wrists get cut and start bleeding. He is even being stoned by the public which draws blood from his forehead. The public stones him as a punishment for his year’s misdeeds. A typical of Browning’s poems, the use of pathetic fallacy is made. The speaker is made to walk in the rain. The rain not only wets him to lose his dignity, but also simultaneously the rain symbolically proves his innocence by washing him clean. The rain also symbolizes corruption and a negative mood. The situation describes the common citizens who in general are corrupt in nature since they are hanging a person who has not done anything wrong. An atmosphere of tension has been built up by Browning in this stanza to show that the speaker was very near the end of his life. He uses the imageries of rain which depicts a gloominess and a rope cutting the wrists of the speaker and stones being flung at him to highlight the change in the behaviour of the public.


In the last stanza of the poem the speaker finally meets his death. The ending of the poem however is more optimistic compared to the general tone of the poem. The speaker ultimately realizes that for some people their doom is brought by their act of goodness and helping and thinking for others. Like many of Browning’s poems, the poet or the speaker gives a universal meaning to the poem by making reference to religion. Now he is no more upset. He feels safe with the thought that the God is their to judge the wrong done against him. Although he is dying, he knows morally that he has done no wrong and this thought of his fills him with a sense of safety and a surety that after his death, he will go to heaven, and there is no fear of him to go to hell, though the public feels he will go to hell for his misdeeds. The poem in fact ends with a question from Browning if it is better to be in the other world where there is no corruption like the world where we live in but only peace prevails or to remain in this world full of corruption.

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