She liked whate'er she looked on

Staying with the Brownings, this is among Robert's best known poems, and in my view a masterpiece worthy of Fra Pandolf himself. “My Last Duchess”, first published in 1842, is a monologue in the character of Ferrara, a 16th century Duke who married a Medici. Sinister notes sound in the Duke's speech, which grow louder though his tone varies not one jot. The result is a deep chill, as though his hand closed around your arm in seeming camaraderie but you felt in his fingers a murderous strength. It's masterful storytelling, as well as clever poetry. 

FERRARA.

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf'” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady's wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat:” such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart - how shall I say? - too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace - all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men, - good! but thanked
Somehow - I know not how - as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech - (which I have not) - to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark” - and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
- E'en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me! 

Robert Pinsky, a former US poet laureate, has a poetry column over at Slate. His post on this poem includes the wonderful recording of newsman Mike Wallace reading the poem at a literary event at Town Hall, New York, in 1998. He reads with great insight, and his reading shows up how seamlessly Browning could make rhyme sound like speech. Worth a listen.

I love your verses with all my heart

So wrote Robert Browning, on the 10th of January 1845, to Elizabeth Barrett, a famed poet who was also an invalid and a recluse. She wrote back.

Their story is one of the most romantic to be found in literary history, but it's not the romance of tragic infidelities, wrenching separations, narcosis, tuberculosis, and early death that attend so many other literary heroes. It's the truer romance of genuine kinship, kindling intellects, a full and free exchange of idea and emotion, and a flight to Italy where health, happiness and fertility crowned their marriage. And it all started with this letter.

...since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me - for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration - perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter! - but nothing comes of it all - so into me has it gone, and part of me has it become, this great living poetry of yours, not a flower of which but took root and grew [...] the fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought - but in this addressing myself to you, your own self, and for the first time, my feeling rises altogether. I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart - and I love you too: do you know I was once not very far from seeing .. really seeing you? Mr Kenyon said to me one morning “would you like to see Miss Barrett?” - then he went to announce me, - then he returned .. you were too unwell - and now it is years ago - and I feel as at some untoward passage in my travels - as if I had been close, so close, to some world’s-wonder in chapel or crypt, .. only a screen to push and I might have entered - but there was some slight .. so it now seems .. slight and just-sufficient bar to admission, and the half-opened door shut, and I went home my thousands of miles, and the sight was never to be! 

Well, these Poems were to be - and this true thankful joy and pride with which I feel myself

 Yours ever faithfully,

Robert Browning.