The Patriot by Robert Browning

It was roses, roses, all the way,
With myrtle mixed in my path like mad:
The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,
The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,
A year ago on this very day.

The air broke into a mist with bells,
The old walls rocked with the crowds and cries.
Had I said, ‘Good folks, mere noise repels –
But give me your sun from yonder skies!’
They had answered, ‘And afterward, what else?’

Alack, it was I who leaped at the sun,
To give it my loving friends to keep!
Nought man could do have I left undone:
And you see my harvest, what I reap
This very day, now a year is run.

There’s nobody on the house-tops now –
Just a palsied few at the windows set –
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
At the Shambles’ Gate—or, better yet,
By the very scaffold’s foot, I trow.

I go in the rain, and, more than needs,
A rope cuts both my wrists behind;
And I think, by the feel, my forehead bleeds,
For they fling, whoever has a mind,
Stones at me for my year’s misdeeds.

Thus I entered, and thus I go!
In such triumphs, people have dropped down dead.
‘Paid by the World, what dost thou owe
Me?’ – God might question; now instead,
‘Tis God shall repay! I am safer so.

Summary

‘The Patriot’ is a dramatic verse that deals with the fickleness of public opinion and hero-worship. The speaker of the poem is a patriot. He thinks of his glorious past. A year ago he was given a grand welcome on his arrival to the town. People had thrown roses and myrtle in his path. The church-spires were decorated with bright flags. The house-roofs were full of people who wanted to have a look at him. Bells rang to announce the patriot’s arrival. The frenzy and madness exceeded all limits. People were even ready to catch the sun for him.

But everything has changed now. The patriot is being taken to the scaffold for all his ‘misdeeds’. There is nobody on the house-tops now. Everyone knows that today, the best of the sights is at the foot of the scaffold. He is going in the rain with his wrists tied behind. People are throwing stones at him and his forehead is bleeding. What an ill-fate to a man who spent all his life for his countrymen!

Even in the midst of tragedy, the poem ends quite optimistically. Death is not the end of everything. The patriot hopes that since he did not receive his reward in this world, he will be rewarded in the other world. He feels safe in the hands of God. Thus the poem also becomes an expression of Browning’s optimistic philosophy of life. “God is in His heaven and all is well with the world.”

Analysis

“The Patriot” is a poem comprising 6 stanzas. Each stanza consists of 5 lines and its rhyming pattern is ababa. It is a dramatic monologue. Dramatic monologue is a literary device in which a character freely gives vent to his feelings in front of the audience in order to reveal the inner working of his mind. As such, the hero of this interesting but tragic poem talks to the audience aloud and tells us that how he was acclaimed at one stage and put to a tragic end at another. Symbolically, the poem has unmistakable political overtones as the major theme of it seems to be the rise and fall of leaders in the contemporary politics.

The first stanza is an elaborate description of how the poet is welcomed back with pomp and ceremony by all the townspeople. His path is laden with roses and myrtles, which signify love, respect and honour being showered on the patriot by the residents of the town who have clambered onto their roofs to get a glimpse of the patriot and welcome him home and showcase their gratuity. This creates an imagery of the house itself moving and swaying with the weight and number of people. Even the church spires were decorated with fiery coloured flags. This gives the reader an idea of the enormity of the celebrations. In the last line the poet discloses to the reader that these events occurred on this date, exactly a year ago.

In the second stanza, the narrator says how the ringing of the church bells infected the air and it seemed to be echoing the celebratory noise. The walls of the city, which were already on the verge of erosion, due to time, reflected the impact of the din created by the crowd. It seemed to conduct tremors. The patriot here is telling the people that how he doesn’t want all the cheers and applause, but wants the people to fetch the sun from the skies for him. He wants the power, glory, admiration and honour. He wants to live in their memories as an immortal hero. Here a side of the patriot is shown that searches, not for momentary praise, but for everlasting recognition and glory. He doesn’t want extravagant celebrations that can die down with time. He is looking for something more permanent. For a while therefore, he imagines asking people to fetch him the sun, a symbol of immortality, power, honour and glory. The presumed answer of the crowd is reflective of their frivolous nature. They would immediately ask the patriot what more did he require. This indicates that though people who had assembled to welcome him were zealous and passionate, they lacked a high degree of sensibility. The way they are expected to react to their hero’s demand only suggests their uncritical inclination towards hero worship.

The third stanza acts as a conjunction for the transition from the past to the present. The patriot says that despite him asking the townspeople to get him the sun, in the end it was he who leaped for it and got it for the people, who he refers to as his beloved friends. This act that he does is such in nature that had he left it undone, no other man could have accomplished it. This stanza has a tone of regret. This can be deciphered by the use of “Alack!” or Alas. Also, the last two lines indicate towards this as the patriot mourns about how his deed has been repaid by the people. His “harvest” is what he has reaped, whereas what he had sown was bringing glory, power and honour to the people. The first two stanzas narrate the incidents of a year back, when the patriot was given celebrity status. This stanza acts as a synopsis to the current events.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker says that there are no more people on the roof tops, trying to catch a glimpse of the patriot. Only a few cripples can be seen at the windows. The patriot takes up a sarcastic tone at this point and says that this is because the best sight is at the gate of the gallows. In this stanza, a contrast is drawn between the time when the roof tops were heaving with people, celebrating the patriot’s deeds, and the current scenario where the people are assembled, but near the gallows. Only the ones who cannot travel to the spot of execution, the ones who are crippled, are staring outside their windows to get a look at the patriot. The patriot’s anguish is seen when he taunts about the townspeople, saying they will be found, not on the roofs, but on the site of the execution, or better still, at the foot of the gallows. This stanza is suggestive of the patriot’s fate that he is being taken to be executed.

In the fifth stanza, the poet has employed the sad imagery of the patriot walking in the rain, heading towards the gallows. His wrists are tied tightly behind his back with a rope that cuts through his skin. He can feel blood trickling down his forehead, but he cannot know for sure as his hands are bound, so he can’t touch and feel. His cuts are because of the stones being flung at him by anybody and everybody. The picture being projected in this stanza is a very pitiable one as it is in direct contrast with the imagery of the first and the second stanza. The patriot provides an ambiguous explanation for this transition, saying he is being punished for the misdeeds that he has committed within this one year. Despite the fact that no rigid and stable details have been given of the patriot’s act, it can be inferred that most probably he has indulged in acts of treachery, betrayal or any such unpatriotic act. This conclusion can be reached keeping the title of the poem in mind. The main gist of this stanza is the description of the poet’s walk of shame.

The sixth and concluding stanza of the poem begins with the patriot declaring how he is leaving, the same way that he entered. He is walking towards his death through the same streets on which he had entered the town and was welcomed as a celebrity, a hero. Even the most important, the most loved people have lost their glamour and glory. The most triumphant have also fallen. The patriot’s religious beliefs have been reflected and his belief in afterlife has been showcased when he mentions how he will be received by God. If God might ask him, now that he has been paid for his deeds by the world, what more does he owe to God. The patriot’s reply to this has shades of faith and optimism. He replies saying that his real repayment will be done by God. He is placing his trust in God as he knows that he has committed no moral wrongs and the almighty is always just and fair. Hence, he is safe with God as he won’t have to face anymore undeserving punishments and will be truly and justly rewarded for his acts or deeds.

In all, the poem is a superb example of current political upheaval and changed public opinion. The writer wants to suggest that nothing remains the same in the world politics. It is a world of self-interest and selfish people who, for individual benefits, may go against the common good of the country.

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