Browning’s Icarus

The Patriot

It was roses, and 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 crowd and cries.
Had I said, “Good folk, 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 window set
For the best of the sight is, all allow,
At the shambles’ gate— or, better yet
By the scaffold’s very foot, I trow.

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

          -Robert Browning

The duality of character and the hypocritical nature of the people comes to the fore in the poem ‘The Patriot’ by Browning. The same people who had once loved him and showered him with roses and myrtle are now taking him to the scaffold to hang him for his misdeeds.
The fickle nature of people is evident in the poem which is brought out by Browning’s thought-provoking monologue. The people who once showered flowers upon him are now flinging stones on him.

Unlike the first stanza, now the place is all empty. There is nobody on the roof-tops cheering him. Only old men who are affected by palsy and unable to cross the threshold of their houses are watching the patriot as he marches towards the gallows. The rest of the people have gathered at the Shambles’s gate to see him die. The duality and ever-changing nature of the people are starkly evident in this incident.

The poet is reminiscing the past where exactly a year ago he was filled with joy as he was being showered with love by the people and given a grand welcome for returning victorious from the war in the first stanza.

The poet establishes the popularity he had in the second stanza where people were rejoicing by ringing bells and the entire atmosphere was thick with its noise. They were cheering for the patriot with their cries rocking the walls. The patriot says if he had asked for anything from the people he would have been granted the wish.

The patriot in the third stanza is seeing ruling his fate. He says that like Icarus he had attempted an ambitious and dangerous task for his country. A note of fatality is seeing in the patriot when he talks of his “harvest” and having to “reap” for his actions. He seems to have submitted himself to his ultimate fate in this stanza.

The roses that are used to welcome the poet is symbolic of the love showered upon him by the people, and myrtle, in Victorian times, symbolized victory and glory. Thus the poet is showered with love from the people and given a grand welcome for returning victorious from the war yet the ending of the poem turns into a gory picture with the patriot bleeding just like Icarus’ waxen wings felt in the face of the Sun.