Wordle & the Brownings

As an English teacher, I love Wordle. I also love getting a chance to teach one of my pet literary periods, British Victorian, using its telling word clouds. I’ve pasted extremely loooong texts into its input — most notably Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s Sonnets from the Portuguese — because it’s such a perfect, visual, memorable way to show what words dominate. Not surprisingly, for EBB, the word that wins is love, followed by pronouns to address her beloved (thee, thy, thou):

wordle for sonnets from the portuguese

By contrast, when we plug in popular poems written by husband Robert Browning, the words are much more distributed. While students might expect that a piece like “My Last Duchess,” with its self-centered and possibly murderous speaker, might be dominated by me, my, and I, it’s not.

wordle of my last duchess by robert browning

When Wordled, another dramatic monologue, “The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed’s,” in which the speaker instructs his illegitimate sons on the exact, costly details of his burial, shows some distinct concerns: God and Gandolf, a rival both in the Church and in the secret love life of the dying cleric. Given how much the Bishop goes on about the marble and jewels for his tomb, students may be surprised that God figures so prominently in the poem!

wordle for Browning's poem the bishop orders his tomb

A possible project…

Have students plug a chapter of a novel into Wordle, play with the look and colors to satisfy the need for customizing, and then write an analysis.

  • What, if anything, is surprising about the results?
  • What word(s) dominate?
  • Why did you choose this layout and this color scheme? How do they reflect the mood or style of the novel?
  • How do the results show themes or character traits in the larger text?
  • How has this Wordle changed your understanding of the novel?

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