Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Form Understood as Content

We talked a lot about the content of "My Last Duchess" in class, in terms of both the objectification of the Duchess, the power paranoia of the Duke and the relationship to audience. The content of this poem, however, is also specifically enacted in its form in the phrase unit and meter, the defamiliariazaiton of the objects of the poem, the framing, and the imposition of structure from the Duke. The poem is tightly knit to convey the same structurally and formally precisely what it shows through content. The strict iambic pentameter and heroic couplets lends itself to the almost maniacal control exercised by the Count. By speaking of both painting and Duchess in unfamiliar tones, Browning creates a transfer of the usual perception of an object into the sphere of new perception with roughened, impeded language. Even the poem itself is framed like the painting discussed, the Duke's talking directly to his audience surrounding his story of his wife. The structure is ultimately directly the imposition of the Duke, although the structure also points to the difficulty that the Duke has in asserting this control. The enjambments of the poem, for example, occur when he speaks of his wife and her death, imparting a feeling of loss of control as he struggles to reassert himself against her memory and the power of authorship of the painting. By creating this double layer of content, with form as content and content as content, Browning posits art (in this case the poem) as a way of breaking down our easy or "natural" way of perception to induce a new way of seeing.

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