TASK: Open the file below and read through the poem, filling in gaps using the available options. Don't be tempted to look at the complete version of the poem, until you have finished. Why did you settle for your particular word choices?


First Published 1845, in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics.
Contextual Information:

"One of Browning's best known, if not actually best, poems" JH Baker

The Lost Leader is a poem full of anger and disappointment at a once esteemed person who has betrayed his friends. The poem refers to Browning’s disgust at Wordsworth’s desertion of the ‘liberal cause’. While the poem is thought to directly refer to Wordsworth, the title is left ambiguous and therefore could be related to any leader who has ‘deserted’ the cause. 'The Lost Leader' later became the title of a book written all about the life of Wordsworth.

The critic Robert Lynd writes: (Browning thought) ‘that Wordsworth was a turncoat, a renegade—a poet who began as the champion of liberty and ended as its enemy. This is the general view, and it seems to me to be unassailable.’

Browning always made it clear that the poem was based on Wordsworth, but stopped short of saying that it was directly addressed to Wordsworth himself, instead saying that the portrait was "purposely disguised a little, used in short as an artist uses a model, retaining certain characteristic traits, and discarding the rest"

It is useful to compare the Leader in Browning's poem with Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost. Though we are detached from the Leader, the poem is not written from his point of view, we are encouraged to sympathise with the speaker and regret the loss of the man who was once great.
Language, Imagery and Verse Form:

- The title is very ambiguous: the lack of identity not only allows the reader to interpret the poem on a number of levels but also could act as a further insult to Wordsworth (who may now have been viewed with such little respect that he did not warrant a name). The word lost can reflect various ideas: he may have no clear idea of where he is heading (his beliefs may have become clouded); it could reflect a death of a leader (although it is more likely to be a metaphorical death in this case); he may have been 'lost' to the other side - a complete change in beliefs suggests that he has ultimately betrayed all those who followed and respected him.

- 'handful of silver he left us' - strong biblical connotations of Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Very hyperbolic - comparison to the ultimate betrayal perhaps exaggerates the extent of what Wordsworth actually did. Indeed, Browning actually suggests that Wordsworth has been conned slightly as 'they, with the gold to give' only paid him in 'silver', and whilst 'so much was theirs' they only allowed him a 'little'.

- 'loved him so, followed him, honoured him' - tricolon to show the initial respect of the two writers (Wordsworth was a hero of Browning until the ultimate 'betrayal')

- 'mild and magnificent eye' - the use of an oxymoron emphasises the opposing qualities that Wordsworth was considered to have (originally); there was an obvious respect for Wordsworth as Browning argues that they 'learned his great language, caught his clear accents' before continuing to mention the 'great' writers throughout history. We are with the opposing idea of Wordsworth 'sink(ing) to the rear and the slaves'.

- The poem features a catalectic meter (I..I..I..II) which closely resembles the sound of a snare drum. The poem sounds like a battle-song and you are immediately presented with the idea of marching into battle. At the beginning of the second stanza Browning uses a repeated caesura in order to break up the rhythm of the 'song-like' meter; this almost provides the reader with a sense of call and response, once again epitomising the idea of a battle march. Browning continues to mock the leader through the use of the oxymoronic 'boasts his quiescence'. The idea that Wordsworth used to be able to write about what he was passionate about yet now lives a silent life, governed by those higher than him is one that Browning takes a personal attack to.

- Throughout the poem we are presented with extremely hyperbolic images - 'one more insult to God'/'one more devils' triumph', 'let him never come back to us!', 'made him our pattern to live and to die!'

- The conclusion of the poem leaves the reader torn - is Browning stating that he will forgive Wordsworth (but only once he is dead) or is the image 'the first by the throne' actually mocking Wordsworth? If we were to take the latter as true then the idea that Wordsworth would be sat next to Jesus (in the afterlife) is mirrored by the fact that Wordsworth would have been fulfilling regal duties in his real life; this is Browning parodying the life of a 'sell-out'.

- The oppositions from within the poem reflect the opposition between Browning and Wordsworth in life.

Suggested poems to compare it to:
  1. Prospice (the idea of battles, oppositions, death etc)
  2. Soliloquy (comparison of tone; both poems are 'attacking' an individual but have very contrasting approaches)
  3. Up at a Villa, Down in the City (use of oppositions)