Students in my course on Victorian poetry heard a recital by Rolf Eising of Robert Browning’s “A Serenade at the Villa”. The poem is not easy to understand, but its musical quality makes it fun to read.
A Serenade at the Villa
The opening scene is set in an Italian garden where a man tries to win the heart of his beloved in the troubadour fashion:
Life was dead and so was light.
You heard music; that was I.
In the dead of night the lover expresses his feelings through verse and music, while lightning and rain herald a storm.
Bloodlike, some few drops of rain.
To my lute I left the rest.
Before the break of dawn the speaker decides to ‘pass away’, that is to leave the garden:
Found me, I had passed away.
Light last on the evening slopes,
Serving most with none to see.”
His fear is, however, that his beloved might actually resent his attention and would rather be left alone in a storm to die than bear the sound of his voice or the sight of his face.
Than such music on the roads!
Show the final storm begun —
That shape be where these are not?
Is that face the last one sees?”
His fear of being rejected is not unjustified, as can be seen in the last stanza. The villa remains dark, the windows shut and even the garden seems to be glad to get rid of an unwelcome intruder.
Ground its teeth to let me pass!
If you wonder now why success with the ladies has never been guaranteed even to the most passionate serenader, you may want to consider Dr Hellerforth’s very personal explanation:
Hans Thoma, Mondscheingeiger, 1897
Dr. Rainer Hellerforth, Serenade, 2014. Published with kind permission of the artist.
Dickson, A. (1950). BROWNING, ROBERT, A serenade at the villa. Explicator, 9, 2. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/