In literature nature has a significant role. The word ‘nature’ suggests the whole universe and every created object-living or non-living. Browning had his own attitude to nature according to his temperament and poetic sensibilities. In the present essay let us have a glimpse of the treatment of nature in the poetry of Browning.
Browning, nurtured in the Romantic atmosphere of poetry, did not overlook the influence of nature on man; but in a bid to forge a new kind of poetry consciously eschewed overemphasis on nature and attempted to focus on human nature. More precisely, to Browning Love was more important than Nature.
It was an established practice of the Neo classical writers to minutely and painstakingly perceive distinct/specific natural phenomenon and then extract the unspecific/universal from them. The Romantics showed in their creative writings a reverse trend. It’s a fact that the Romantics viewed nature more subjectively than objectively. Browning found the solely sense perceptions not as important as the intuitive and instinctual vision of the semantic aspects of objects in nature. In Nature Browning discovered a redoubtable character endowed with the variegated feelings of human beings, and inducing in us very mixed reactions of her mighty impact-benign, terrible and awe-inspiring. “Nature and Passion are powerful”, and Browning’s poetic device of harmonizing the animated Nature and primal passions in Man is very subtle and skilful.
As a poet Browning was attracted more by the Italian painting, sculpture and music than by its picturesque landscape. Landor’s epitaph on himself: “Nature I loved, and after Nature Art” can be applied in the case of Browning only by inverting the word-order, and in that reconstructed word-order Browning would have declared: “Art I loved, and after Art, Nature.” In nature Browning saw the elemental powers doing good as well as evil. Browning is not at all partial and does not show any temperamental inclination to magnify the benevolent powers by minimizing the evil ones.
Browning finds nature in her totality. In other words, he observes in nature the harmonious co-existence of calm, serene beauty on the one hand, and ruggedness, ugliness and the grotesque on the other. As offspring of mother nature we have similarity with the luminous, radiant and beautiful things as well as with the monstrous, rugged ones. Browning’s instress and poetic temperament was more fascinated by things grotesque, rugged, top-heavy like the toad-stool, lop-sided, etc. This element of ruggedness is thus amply reflected everywhere in his treatment of human characters, in the depiction of landscape, in the use of verse form, and vocabulary.
However, Browning is seen always at ease in describing an object or a landscape, and it thoroughly arrests vivid pictures. Incidentally, we may recall the question of one of the friends of Browning: “Do you care for nature much?” In reply Browning said, “Yes, a great deal, but for human beings a great deal more.” That Browning cared a great deal for nature is explicit in beautiful artistic descriptions of the moon which he found most “noteworthy”.
“Porphyria’s Lover” opens with the lover’s description of a storm violently raging outside:
The rain set in early to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
The outside storm is eerie and doing “its worst to vex the lake” and when the lover describes it he shows his perfectly sanity, but its fury is felt in all its intensity when he listens to it with his heart ready to break. So the “eerie storm,” as Bristow describes it, not only serves the purpose of a decorative background but also acquires symbolic dimension.
Browning had a belief in the general indifference of nature towards man’s situations and affairs; but this does not totally exclude the possibility of capturing the primeval powers abundant in nature. In some absolutely rare and exceptional situations his lovers catch “for a moment the powers at play” and this blissful quintessential moment obliterates the barrier between soul and soul as well as between man and nature.
In a perfect blend of nature imagery and sensuous imagery Browning attempts to reinforce the irresistible physical appeal and attraction of the beloved, and the transitoriness of carnal beauty and its enjoyment. The interstellar radiance falls on and beautifully colours the “billowy-bosomed” cloud which has an explicit suggestion of the enticing effect of the speaker’s beloved whose ripe voluptuous breast and blushing beauty is transient and as fleeting as the “western cloud”.
Though Browning had an unflinching faith in the existence of a soul even in lifeless inert objects, in the poem “Transcendentalism”, he did neither employ the scientific concept of the evolutionary process inextricably related to sea or find any strong affinity between the voice of the sea and that of the human soul. Perhaps he put aside this aspect this aspect of nature because his avowed purpose was to unfold human nature; and he relegated nature to a foil to man. Lessening the significance of nature in his scheme of poetry and imposing his main thrust on the inner nature of human beings, Browning has no claim to philosophizing nature. He has no definite philosophic views of nature.