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Born (as was Charles Dickens) in 1812; died (as did Gerard Manley Hopkins) in 1889, Robert Browning (part Romantic, part Victorian, and certainly part Modern) remains one of the most influential yet controversial literary giants of the 19th Century. Controversial? Henry James called him "a poet without a lyre." Oscar Wilde acknowledged that Browning had a lyre but that its strings were broken, famously remarking, "He used poetry as a medium for writing in prose." Yet both men admired him as a consummate creator of character, rivaling Shakespeare. These evaluations notwithstanding, those of us who vaguely remember Browning from high school as the quintessential composer of blank-verse dramatic monologues, will perhaps be surprised and delighted at the range of rhythmic -- and rhyming -- patterns the poems in this collection show. Indeed, in a market fairly saturated with wonderful E.B.B. and R. Browning offerings, it was savvy of acclaimed British actor Greg Wagland to concentrate here on shorter, lyrical poems that I, as a casual Browning fan, was unfamiliar with. But how, with the aforementioned embarrassment of riches, does one choose one Robert Browning audiobook? If, as publisher-critic Michael Schmidt has written, "we read [poetry] with our ears," I would rephrase this by saying that if we're lucky, we also hear it with our eyes. But I'm not lucky; unlike prose, I MUST HEAR poetry, and the nature of (especially) this particular poet's oeuvre is such that he demands to be heard in dramatically polished recordings such as this one by Wagland — the new kid on the Browning block. (At Audible you can also compare veteran voice actors David Timson and Patience Tomlinson's superb collaboration, with James Mason's iconic portrayals of disturbed priests and uxoricidal husbands; you can purchase 3 to 15-minute readings by Cathy Dobson, or at the other extreme Frederick Davidson's 5-hour (!) monotone marathon.) Obviously narrators differ in vocal tone and timbre, as well as interpretive approach. For these reasons alone you and I may prefer different readers. On a theoretical continuum from straight-up reading to the over-wrought ACTING so preciously satirized by Jon Lovitz's SNL sketches, Greg Wagland lands in the golden middle: not quite understated; pensive but not subdued. That said, unlike say Davidson (who always sounds like Davidson), Wagland's tone varies as it should depending upon the poem, and his interpretations are always moving and dead on. The poems on this audiobook, listed in ORDER, are: 1. The Bishop Orders his Tomb ... 2. The Lost Leader 3. Love Among the Ruins. 4. Up at a Villa ... 5. A Woman's Last Word. 6. A Toccata ... 7. Love in a Life. 8. Life in a Love. 10. Two in the Campagna 11. Dubiety 12. Apparent Failure 13. Prospice 14. Soliloquy ... 15. A Grammarian's Funeral 16. Pictor Ignatius 17. My Star. All poems but the first one rhyme. So much for high-school memories and Oscar Wilde.
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