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The Laboratory

The Laboratory

by Robert Browning

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 5

He is with her, and they know that I know

  • A great poet can boil down a lot of feelings to a few words. In this case "He is with her" tells you everything you need to know about this speaker's problem.
  • It would seem that the speaker is a woman. Her man is with another woman.
  • Think of her as Jennifer to their Brangelina—you know, if Jennifer Aniston was a scheming poisoner, hell-bent on deadly revenge. 
  • The fact that "they know that I know" makes it even worse—anyone who's ever been jealous knows that feeling.

Line 6

Where they are, what they do: they believe my tears flow 

  • She's watching her ex- and his new girlfriend. She's tracking their every move and every last thing they do, and she knows that they know it. 
  • They don't know everything though. They "believe" she's crying over the whole thing, but the truth looks like it could be way darker.
  • Also, even though it might not jump out at you right away, be sure to check out the meter of the poem. For the most part, it's made up of three beat units that go da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM. Like in this line: "Where they are, what they do." Hear that? For a full explanation of all this rhythmic excitement, be sure to check out the "Form and Meter" section.

Line 7-8

While they laugh, laugh at me, at me fled to the drear
Empty church, to pray God in, for them!—I am here. 

  • The speaker imagines the new couple laughing at her, making fun of the way she has run off to a "drear" (we would say "dreary") old church. 
  • She imagines that they think she's gone there to pray, but we already know she's got bigger, darker plans. 
  • Check out the way this line ends: "—I am here." We think there's something really confident and final about the way those words stand out. This lady knows exactly what she wants, and she plans to get it.
  • Now that we're at the end of the first two stanzas (that's like a poetic paragraph) we can figure out the rhyme scheme in this poem, too. Maybe you've noticed that the lines come in rhyming pairs. For example, line 7 ends with the word "drear" and line 8 ends with "here." That's called a rhyming couplet, and every stanza in this poem has two of them. For the full break-down on the rhyme, see our spiffy "Form and Meter" section.
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