My Last Duchess
Robert Browning
1842

Famous as an example of the dramatic monologue in poetry, Browning’s poem hasn’t left us with any particularly notable lines or phrases, like some others on this list, but is one of the most re-printed poems in English, a standard of high school literature classes, and one widely-recognized by its title if not by its verse. It’s a nobleman showing off his art to the representative of a potential second wife, discussing the first wife whose portrait hangs behind a curtain. The speaker is, we expect, Alfonoso Il Este, 16th century duke of Ferrara, and the ex in question Lucrezia de Medici – his young first wife who died (and suspiciously so) at 17 after he had abandoned her when her overly flirtatious nature compromised his possession of her as private trophy.

Browning tried his hand at poetry for some time before anyone took any notice, but eventually got a little attention from William Wordsworth and Thomas Carlyle, who encouraged him to continue writing and helped him make a name for himself as an up-and-comer on the literary scene. He produced a number of minor plays and a whole bunch of poetry, much of it nothing special to speak of, but a few pieces that have been profoundly influential and earned Browning a spot (alongside his wife, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning) on anyone’s english canon.  And he has left his mark on language, a couple of short lines from a moderately well-known poem/play that have taken on a life far beyond their literary home: “God’s in his heaven/ All’s right with the world.”

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