“Fra Lippo Lippi” -Robert Browning

In the poem “Fra Lippo Lippi” Browning examines the importance of love and the Lippi’s ambivalence towards the Church. The poem begins as Lippi is clearly not acting like a monk: he is caught out on the streets late at night: “you catch me at an alley’s end where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar” (5-6). This shows an obvious break with church doctrine (celibacy for monks) which Lippi also emphasizes throughout his monologue with the song he recalls. He claims to hear the song lyric “take away love, and our earth is a tomb” (54). Although he claims this is the song that enticed him out of his room late at night, it obviously reflects his own feelings on love. Most telling is the lyric “all the latin I construe is, ‘amo’ I love!” (111).

Lippi displays an obvious ambivalence toward the church and toward monk-hood. He implies that his vows aren’t legitimate because he took them at such a young age in such extreme circumstances. He recalls “I did renounce the world, its pride and greed, palace, farm, villa, shop, and banking-house… all at eight years old” (98-101). He also obviously rejects the church’s advice that he “paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!” (193). Decrying “now, is this sense, i ask?” Lippi obviously disagrees, yet he continues his being both a monk and a painter (198). He never renounces his life as a monk for a life of pleasure and leisure, but rather, he lives his life of pleasure in secret. Thus he possesses an unspoken ambivalence.

Lippi’s greatest break with the church comes with love: he bemoans “you should not take a fellow eight years olf and make him swear to never kiss the girls” (224-25). Lippi’s greatest weakness appears to be the flesh, whether it be in his paintings (as the church sees it), or the flesh of women he spends his nights chasing. Lippi declares “my lesson learned, the value and significance or flesh, i can’t unlearn ten minutes afterwards” (267-69).

Its curious that Lippi doesn’t break with the church and paint on his own (although I guess that would be strongly discouraged at the time). He shows an obvious disdain for the effect some of his paintings have on the hoi polloi. He recalls he is told “pity and religion grow i’ the crowd– your painting serves it purpose” to which he responds “hang the fools!” (334-35). He seems greatly dissatisfied by others acting as masters over his artwork, yearning to be his “own master” (226). Thus Browning represents Lippi as a deeply ambivalent character who loved life and all it had to offer, yet was restrained by his own vows to not partake in these pleasures.

-B

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One Response to ““Fra Lippo Lippi” -Robert Browning”

  1. apenglishihhs Says:

    Now this AP quality. Bravo for an indepth response to a long and dense poem.

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