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Analysis of Poem "The Last Ride Together" by Robert Browning

Updated on August 1, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Robert Browning
Robert Browning | Source

Robert Browning and The Last Ride Together

The Last Ride Together is one of Robert Browning's most notable dramatic monologues. It focuses on the wishes of a man for a last ride together with his lover and this journey is both passionate and evocative.

First published in 1855 in the book Men and Women, it has received much attention over the years, especially with the regards to the possible psycho-sexual content. Some critics see Freudian symbols within the poem, the title in particular interpreted as a metaphor for the sexual act.

  • This is debateable but does open up discussion which could lead to a greater understanding of this classical poem. Suffice to say, as the poem progresses it does become clear that this is no ordinary horse ride through gentle countryside. This is a journey that takes place in heart and mind. Browning taps into the mindset of the modern man.

In the end the speaker wishes for the journey to never end, to carry on in some eternal instant. For Victorian readers this was cutting edge romantic material - how could a rejected lover carry on so, and be such a complicated soul?

Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning were the most famous poetic couple of the age. Their publications became very popular and their life as lover-poets was well known.

They also traveled a lot and it was on one of these journeys that Robert Browning perhaps echoed the sentiments of The Last Ride Together.

In a letter of 1858 Elizabeth wrote to one Isa Blagden following their pleasant journey from Florence to Paris 'I was nearly sorry to arrive, & Robert suggested the facility of travelling on for ever so.'

The Last Ride Together encapsulates Browning's principal philosophies - life is always greater than art and love is the best thing life can bring. Experience here on earth is the ultimate and one doesn't have to wait for heaven to have a blissful life in the here and now.

The Last Ride Together - Read Through

Although the majority of the poem is in first person mode, starting with I said, watch out for subtle changes as the stanzas progress. The second person pronoun enters the scene, you, then again moving onto we, a natural progression as the couple unite.

Enjambment - when a line has no punctuation at the end and flows into the next - and the iambic tetrameter, help keep the poem moving forward whilst the odd line with an extra beat, a ninth syllable, remind the reader that this is no clockwork relationship, but can change.

The use of dashes here and there, together with more formal punctuation, help keep the syntax challenging. Each stanza has its own character but watch out in particular for stanzas II, VII and VIII, which require extra work with rhythm and meaning.

This is a demanding poem to read, what with that mysterious fifth and eleventh line rhyme confusing matters, the 8,9 and 10 lines all rhyming, and the subtle change in metrics with lines 10 and 11.

Whilst helping to bond and bind certain sections of the poem, these rhymes reflect a complex mindset - the man is torn between accepting his fate as a failed lover, yet wishes for that eternal moment of continuous union with his her.

To help put his plight into context he thinks about art and work and how men strive for some kind of perfection, never quite attaining the heights. And fate - no one can know what lies ahead, so best to live life and love in the here and now, hoping it can last forever.

The Last Ride Together

I

I said–Then, dearest, since ’tis so,

Since now at length my fate I know,

Since nothing all my love avails,

Since all, my life seemed meant for,fails,

Since this was written and needs must be–

My whole heart rises up to bless

Your name in pride and thankfulness!

Take back the hope you gave,–I claim

Only a memory of the same,

–And this beside, if you will not blame,

Your leave for one more last ride with me.


II

My mistress bent that brow of hers;

Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs

When pity would be softening through,

Fixed me a breathing-while or two

With life or death in the balance: right!

The blood replenished me again;

My last thought was at least not vain:

I and my mistress, side by side

Shall be together, breathe and ride,

So, one day more am I deified.

Who knows but the world may end to-night?


III

Hush! if you saw some western cloud

All billowy-bosomed, over-bowed

By many benedictions–sun’s

And moon’s and evening-star’s at once–

And so, you, looking and loving best,

Conscious grew, your passion drew

Cloud, sunset, moonrise, star-shine too,

Down on you, near and yet more near,

Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!–

Thus leant she and lingered–joy and fear!

Thus lay she a moment on my breast.


IV

Then we began to ride. My soul

Smoothed itself out, a long-cramped scroll

Freshening and fluttering in the wind.

Past hopes already lay behind.

What need to strive with a life awry?

Had I said that, had I done this,

So might I gain, so might I miss.

Might she have loved me? just as well

She might have hated, who can tell!

Where had I been now if the worst befell?

And here we are riding, she and I.

V

Fail I alone, in words and deeds?

Why, all men strive and who succeeds?

We rode; it seemed my spirit flew,

Saw other regions, cities new.

As the world rushed by on either side.

I thought,–All labour, yet no less

Bear up beneath their unsuccess.

Look at the end of work, contrast

The petty done, the undone vast,

This present of theirs with the hopeful past!

I hoped she would love me; here we ride.

VI

What hand and brain went ever paired?

What heart alike conceived and dared?

What act proved all its thought had been?

What will but felt the fleshly screen?

We ride and I see her bosom heave.

There’s many a crown for who can reach.

Ten lines, a statesman’s life in each!

The flag stuck on a heap of bones,

A soldier’s doing! what atones?

They scratch his name on the Abbey-stones.

My riding is better, by their leave.

VII

What does it all mean, poet? Well,

Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell

What we felt only; you expressed

You hold things beautiful the best,

And pace them in rhyme so, side by side.

’Tis something, nay ’tis much: but then,

Have you yourself what’s best for men?

Are you–poor, sick, old ere your time–

Nearer one whit your own sublime

Than we who never have turned a rhyme?

Sing, riding’s a joy! For me, I ride.

VIII

And you, great sculptor–so, you gave

A score of years to Art, her slave,

And that’s your Venus, whence we turn

To yonder girl that fords the burn!

You acquiesce, and shall I repine?

What, man of music, you grown grey

With notes and nothing else to say,

Is this your sole praise from a friend,

”Greatly his opera’s strains intend,

Put in music we know how fashions end!”

I gave my youth; but we ride, in fine.

IX

Who knows what’s fit for us? Had fate

Proposed bliss here should sublimate

My being–had I signed the bond–

Still one must lead some life beyond,

Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried.

This foot once planted on the goal,

This glory-garland round my soul,

Could I descry such? Try and test!

I sink back shuddering from the quest.

Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?

Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.

X

And yet–she has not spoke so long!

What if heaven be that, fair and strong

At life’s best, with our eyes upturned

Whither life’s flower is first discerned,

We, fixed so, ever should so abide?

What if we still ride on, we two

With life for ever old yet new,

Changed not in kind but in degree,

The instant made eternity,–

And heaven just prove that I and she

Ride, ride together, for ever ride?

Summary of Each Stanza in The Last Ride Together

1. Fated speaker requests lover for one last ride.

2. Anticipation, life and death outcome awaiting her decision.

3. Euphoria as romantic energy builds.

4. Little use thinking about what could have been.

5. Accepts failure, love's labours lost.

6. Experiencing love far outweighs the rewards of war and work.

7. Do poets know what is best in life? Live love.

8. Sculptors and musicians have no definitive answers.

9. Aim high in love while you can.

10. Live and love in the moment.

Analysis of The Last Ride Together

The Last Ride Together is a dramatic monologue of ten stanzas in length, each with eleven lines. It is formal in structure.

Rhyme Scheme

The rhyme scheme is unusual - aabbcddeeec. All the end rhymes are full except for sun's/once and wind/behind. Full rhyme brings a familiar closure to most lines but the sequence is a rare one, starting with two couplets and finishing with three rhymes in a row concluded by the last, which rhymes with the fifth.

  • The all important fifth line often rounds off the previous four, and forms a question or part conclusion. The fact that the fifth rhymes with the eleventh makes the reader look back - the rhyming is lost between lines six and ten - only a faint echo remaining. This distant coupling reflects the relationship: together but apart.


Metrical Analysis

The structure of this poem appears to be classical, that is, there is a balance to the lay-out, the order of ideas within the stanzas is straightforward - the man has accepted his fate within the first two lines - and follows this path of resignation to the end.

This is a monologue based on wishful thinking, the man clearly disappointed within, yet ecstatic at the thought of this one last journey together. Whilst the rhyme scheme suggests familiarity and interrupted reflection (the 5th and 11th rhyming lines), the dominant iambic tetrameter reveals a calm and regular rhythm to the poem.

  • However, note that the last two lines of each stanza have an extra beat, nine syllables, and a slightly altered metrical rhythm. This from the last stanza:

And heaven just prove that I and she

Ride, ride together, for ever ride?

  • The spondee (stress on Ride, ride) in the last line emphasises the stress placed on this final journey.

And again in stanza nine:

Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?

Now heaven and she are beyond this ride.

  • Here we have pentameter with iamb, spondee and pyrrhic mixing. Whilst tetrameter prevails, reflecting steady rhythm, these variations show the rhythm changing from time to time near the end of the stanza.

More Analysis - Metaphor For Sex?

The Last Ride Together is an obviously suggestive title for the modern reader, conscious of Freudian psychology, but was not back in Victorian times. Victorian people rode horses and to go riding together was seen as a romantic and appropriate thing for lovers to do.

  • So how come there is not one mention of an actual horse in this poem? There is no specific reference to anything equine. The nearest we get to the idea of people out riding is in the fifth stanza:

We rode; it seemed my spirit flew,

Saw other regions,cities new,

As the world rushed by on either side.

But ambiguity rules! These lines convey far more than a simple physical journey on horseback.

Browning explored the relationship between men and women, the tensions within their love lives being a particular speciality. It is said of him:

'..he dramatised every kind of love from the spiritual to the sensual...love was for him the crisis and test of a man's life.' (Robert Lynd)

  • Whilst the lay out of the poem and its neo-classical look might suggest nothing more than a couple out riding on horses, side by side, in steady rhythmic riding, the temptation is to treat the whole work as a metaphor for blissful, timeless, sexual union.

In the end, it is up to the reader to decide whether or not the poem is successful as a sexual metaphor. If there any doubts then perhaps it is best to treat this work as a complex and unusual major love poem.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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