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Fra Lippo Lippi by Robert Browning Analysis


One of the longer poems created by Browning (along with The Pied Piper of Hamelin), Fra Lippo Lippi is a poem about a boy who was brought in at an early age by the Church to be a monk who paints for the Church. However, the Church disagrees with what Fra Lippo Lippi really wants to paint about. He escapes from the Church at night making clear he is not monk material just like the Bishop in The Bishop Orders His Tomb is not Bishop material. Below is a complete analysis of Fra Lippo Lippi with reference to the form, structure and language. Feel free to skip to the parts most relevant to you.

Form 

  • The poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue. This is made clear through the use of one voice being Fra Lippo Lippi (FLL). The use of 'I' makes it clear the monk is talking about himself. He shares his emotions too frequently providing enough evidence it is a dramatic monologue.
  • We learn about the journey FLL has taken.
  • There are other characters in the poem such as the guards who FLL talks to the whole way through the poem. This gives us the ability to view FLL from the point of view of the guards because like the reader, he is also a silent listener.

Structure

  • The poem provides a dialectic (the art of discussing and investigating the truth of opinions) structure. This is made clear through the multiple questions he asks, 'what am I a beast for?'
  • There is no real rhyming at all in the poem adding the authenticity of the speech by FLL. Natural speech should not rhyme. This makes the poem seem more like a conversation between FLL and the guards/silent listener even if there is only one voice in the poem.
  • There are no stanzas in this poem which is common in Browning's poems. This makes the speech from FLL sound more fluent and such that it is happening now.
  • There is no real meter or rhythm with the poem due to Browning trying to authenticate the speech from FLL. 

Language

  • 'I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!' The exclamation makes clear that FLL has been caught by surprise. Since he has escaped from the Church (which he shouldn't have done), he is panicking.
  • 'You need not clap your torches to my face'. The use of torches suggests the time setting is at night. As well as this, the FLL portrays the actions of the guards as aggressive.
  • The opening makes us immediately at the centre of the action.
  • He uses his home colloquially, 'The Carmine's my cloister'.
  • 'Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole'. FLL suggests there are people doing worst things than what he is doing now.
  • The guards know he is a monk, 'you know your betters!'
  • FLL talks informally, 'take / Your hand away that's fiddling on my throat'.
  • FLL then attempts to gain power over the guards by mentioning  the fact he knows 'Cosimo of the Medici'. He's bragging as well as trying to get influence.
  • FLL talks to the guards colloquially, 'gullet's-gripe!' By doing this he is lowering himself to get onto the same level as the guards. This makes clear that FLL wants to be friends with them.
  • The line, 'He's a Judas to a tittle, that man is!' is a non-sequitur because it doesn't follow on: it's an interruption.
  • 'And count fair price what comes into their net?' FLL is stating that the powerful take the powerless for granted. This is Browning criticizing society through FLL. 
  • 'Just such a face!' He becomes distracted from being an artist. The use of a caesura adds to the naturality of the conversation. 
  • 'House that harbours on me' FLL wants the guards to have a drink on him.
  • '(And many more beside, lads! more beside!)' This is FLL talking confidentially aside. 
  • FLL is looking around and seeing people that he would like to paint, 'I'd like his face'.
  • Line 35-40 has him flickering between thoughts showing that he is drunk.
  • He now feels its appropriate to joke with the guards, 'I saw the proper twinkle in your eye' illustrating his confidence.
  • The reader's point of view is that FLL is conviviality. He is being friends with the guards and because the guards and the reader are both like the silent listener, we want to be friends with him too. Browning wants us to like him.
  • We gather FLL is bored 'saints and saints / And saints again' through the use of repetition.
  • 'God knows how' Being a monk, FLL should not be blasphemy strengthening the viewpoint that he is not monk material.
  • 'The bit of half-stripped grape-bunch he desires'. FLL makes us engage with him and his life on the streets as he was on the streets before the Church picked him up. This creates the setting of the streets.
  • 'The dropping of wax to sell again'. He catches the wax droppings from candles in Church to sell on. This makes clear the harsh life he lived and complexity of FLL.
  • 'I drew men's faces on my copy-books'. Fra Lippo Lippi drew what he noticed. He wrote in his prayer books showing his creative force at work. He is therefore bored easily and has a lively mind. 
  • 'Lose a crow and catch a lark'. He compares himself to a crow where the Church caught him, tamed him and used his art.
  • He tells the night-watchmen everything because he is drunk and having a good time.
  • 'front of it that ought to be!' The Church use his art to make the Church look beautiful.
  • 'daub'. To him it was just painting: this is the casual language of a real artist.
  • At line 145, he lists to emphasise the type and range of people he paints.
  • 'Fresh from his murder'. He thinks this man he sees has committed murder. 'Fresh' and 'murder' juxtapose against each other emphasising FLL's lively creative mind.
  • Browning creates his character by letting us in to all his secrets. 
  • 'Your business is not to catch men with show'. He paints too much to like people. As well as this, the monks at the Church think he's showing off when he paints when in fact all FLL is doing is celebrating the art of art.
  • 'Your business is to paint the souls of men - / Man's soul, and it's a fire, smoke...no, it's not...' FLL is meant to draw the souls of men. The ellipses illustrate how he is in thought process making clear he is in natural conversation as well as showing he's slightly drunk.
  • 'A fine way to paint soul, by painting body'. He doesn't like to be told how to paint.
  • 'I swallow my rage, / Clench my teeth, such my lips in tight, and paint / To please them - sometimes do and sometimes don't'.We as the silent reader feel his anger. As well as this, the language used is colloquial. We sympathise as he comes across as a real life character: the Church is the only way he can paint.
  • 'And I do these wild things in sheer despite'. He has a way of coping for the anger the Church cause him by escaping the Church like has has done now.
  • 'You tell too many lies and hurt yourself: / You don't like what you only like too much'. He is hurting himself and is being forced to say that he doesn't like what he likes. From this, it is clear he is suffering. A hypocrite does not suffer and does things for the love of it such as painting.
  • 'I'm a beast, I know'. FLL accepts who is is making him honest.
  • 'The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades'. With the use of a list, he comes out with all these things showing his enthusiasm and passion (he can't help himself). He wants to show God's gifts by painting them.
  • The Church think he must improve on nature when he wants to paint the beauty of nature.
  • 'This world's no blot for us / Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good'. He is convinced of the goodness of the world and this is a reason why he lives: for his art.
  • 'I shall paint a piece / ...There's for you!' As the guards are now his friends, FLL is offering to paint for the watchmen.
  • 'Then steps a sweet angelic slip of a thing / Forward, puts out a soft palm'. Fra Lippo Lippi uses women in paintings. 
  • 'There's the grey beginning.' It is getting slightly light suggesting early morning is approaching. This makes clear he has been out all night: not a usual thing for a monk to do.
  • 'Zooks!' He is still being blasphemy - informal: still being casual.
The poem ends with Fra Lippo Lippi going back to the monarchy. He has wormed his way out of things by bribing them. It ends with the guards and Fra Lippo Lippi all being friends. He has charmed the night watchmen. 

Fra Lippo Lippi: Hypocrite?

  • A hypocrite pretends to have values and religious beliefs. However, Fra Lippo Lippi tells the truth, 'And I've been three weeks shut within my mew!'
  • A hypocrite can't have passion for something they don't believe in.
  • He has wormed his way out of trouble with everyone ending as friends. He has charmed the night watchmen which also means he has charmed us.
  • He portrays the Church as in the wrong, 'Lose a crow and catch a lark'. Catch him, tame him and use his art.
  • He is open about his life and how he didn't want to be a monk, 'they made a monk of me', and, 'poor devils of Medici'.
  • He was infected by the Church.
  • He isn't materialistic unlike The Bishop in The Bishop Orders His Tomb
  • He is forced in but wants to get out (rebel against the Church). He openly opposes the Church.
  • Uses language to make FLL at the same level as the night watchmen.
  • He has anger, 'I swallow my rage', at the Church for making him something he doesn't want to be, 'You should not take a fellow eight years old / And make him swear to never kiss the girls'.
Be sure to check out other poems I have analysed on Ask Will Online.

About Will Green

A student in England studying Automotive Engineering with Motorsport, Will created Ask Will Online back in 2010 to help students revise and bloggers make money. You can follow AskWillOnline via @AskWillOnline.

13 comments so far:

  1. how are the exams like on the Robert Browning poems, what type of questions are asked. thanks :)

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    1. They always ask 'How does Browning tell the story in _______'. The second question is usually a statement such as 'Browning's poems are centred around religion' how far do you agree with this statement?

      The first question is always about one poem where you go into detail about it. The second is about a few points from different poems from Browning to create an argument.

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    2. thank you :)

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  2. Thank you so much for taking the time out to upload this information! I found it really helpful and it should help me in my exam which is in May.

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  3. few spelling mistakes but your a life saver
    homework completed :)

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  4. Hi! Does Fra Lippo himself has a "niece"?

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    1. From my understanding, no he doesn't I don't think. Remember that he was picked up by the Church at a very young age.

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  5. This poem is really a very very lengthy one and it is confusing at times if you don't read it sincerely and thoroughly, and its funny too. Basically, Robert Browning is telling a story of a Drunk monk who is caught by the guards while escaping the church and inorder to escape from the guards; the monk tells them his life story and how frustrated he is actually. He is not happy with the church not aggreeing with what he really wants to paint about and most importantly this poem is a criticsm on mandatory celibacy, which is told through the metaphor of art. If art, like sexual desire, cannot be expressed, then it would seem that religion is somehow a lie, that there is always something lurking under the surface.

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  6. Would you say fra lippo lippi is a saucy monk?

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    1. I would say he is saucy since he is sneaking out of the church constantly to get up to mischief.

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  7. will green is saucy

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  8. Can you annot the lines 283-285 in fra lippo Lippi

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