The Ring and the Book, by Robert Browning (paper)

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The Ring and the Book is Browning's supreme literary achievement. It was written after the poet had attained complete mastery of his very individual style, it absorbed his creative activity for a prolonged period, and it issued with the stamp of his characteristic genius on every page. All that he had written before was preliminary to the composition of this great work—artist’s sketches in lyric, drama, and romance, preliminary to this supreme effort. In a very real sense, The Ring and the Book is Browning.
 
The genesis of the poem is long since a twice-told tale: how the poet discovered on a market barrow in the Piazza di San Lorenzo, Florence, of a June day in 1860, the Old Yellow Book, which contained the record of a murder trial at Rome in 1698; how this ugly record of a long-since musty crime held him as he walked homeward through the blaze of midday; how, when black evening came, he fused his live soul with the inert stuff of the tale as he trod the terrace of Casa Guidi and breathed the beauty and the fearfulness of night; and how at length he transformed the crude record into this stupendous literary monument.