Here is where I lean on quotations I pulled from The Ring and the Book for various reasons. It’s an instructive exercise! I hope.
First, one example of one reason Robert Browning is difficult. He is describing the ring in the poem’s title, how it was made:
That trick is, the artificer melts up wax
With honey, so to speak; he mingles gold
With gold’s alloy, and, duly tempering both,
Effects a manageable mass, then works:
But his work ended, once the thing a ring,
Oh there’s repristination! Just a spirt
O’ the proper fiery acid o’er its face,
And forth the alloy unfastened flies in fume… (I, ll. 17-24)
Word-power builders like “repristination” are regular features of Browning’s poems. “A coinage of B’s, meaning a return to an earlier, purer state,” note on p. 263, emphasis added to make me feel better about not knowing the meaning of “repristination.”
Please review the last two lines above. Goal #1 is to follow the rules of blank verse, to count syllables and stresses. Goal #2 is to make the blank verse natural enough to credibly fit the character speaking the lines. Goal # 3 is cranking up the poetic effects, like the long string of “f” words in those two lines.
Granite, time’s tooth should grate against, not graze, -
Why, this proved sandstone, friable, fast to fly (I, 660-1)
Or even better:
Come, here’s the last drop does its worst to wound,
Here’s Guido poisoned to the bone, you say,
Your boasted still’s full strain and strength: not so!
One master-squeeze from screw shall bring to birth
The hoard i’ the heart o’ the toad, hell’s quintessence. (II, 1364-8)
It is possible that the more the poetic effects are laid on, the more obscure the verse becomes and the more damage is done to Goal #2, naturalness. An entire poem or this length written this way – well, Browning could never have finished it. Algernon Swinburne even in quite long poems is attracted to the idea that every single line must be puffed and polished to peaks of poetic perfection, and as a result he is even more obscure than Browning, at times a poet of songful gibberish, lovely, sonorous gibberish.
As interesting as the story is and as cleverly designed as the multiple perspectives are, the reader of The Ring and the Book has to enjoy the poetry, or else the enterprise if pointless. That is what I am trying to say.
Or, if not the poetry, the recipes (Gigia is the cook):
(There is a porcupine to barbacue;
Gigia can jug a rabbit well enough,
With sour-sweet sauce and pine-pips; but, good Lord,
Suppose the devil instigate the wench
To stew, not roast him? Stew my porcupine?
If she does, I know where his quills shall stick!
Come, I must go myself and see to things:
I cannot stay much longer stewing here) (VIII, 1368-75)
The old Joy of Cooking is with Gigia – porcupines are for stewing. A bit earlier (ll. 535-41) there is a recipe for liver with parsley and fennel – “nothing stings / Fried liver out of its monotony / Of richness, like a root of fennel, chopped.” How I would like this to be Browning’s comment on his poetry. He must constantly sting his blank verse out of its monotony. He uses every trick he’s got.