Robert Browning was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of the dramatic monologue made him one of the foremost Victorian poets. His poems are known for their irony, characterization, dark humour, social commentary, historical settings, and challenging vocabulary and syntax. Browning’s early career began promisingly, but was not a success. The long poem Pauline brought him to the attention of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and was followed by Paracelsus, which was praised by Wordsworth and Dickens, but in 1840 the difficult Sordello, which was seen as wilfuly obscure, brought his poetry into disrepute. “The Last Ride Together” by Robert Browning is a monologue of a rejected lover exploring the end of a love affair. The title suggests the last ride that the lover has spent with his love. However, the poet wants to convey through the narrator that rather than feeling sad about the end, he should be happy for the love that he underwent and which remains in his memory.
Summary of The Last Ride Together by Robert Browning
The first stanza presents a self-consolation. It’s based on the underlying theory of ‘blame it all on fate’. Of course the poem talks about love and its attendant failures. The speaker thinks that failure is inevitable as he himself has failed. He is attempting to reduce his pain by trying to curtail his desires. Words are so chosen to convey the feeling of polite resignation and acceptance of defeat. The word ‘since’ is used five times in the same paragraph which in one hand may indicate to the fact that Browning got involved in an emotional flow and lost control over his poetic polish of words.
Moreover, the diction is superficial, and of superhuman psychology because a man who has been ditched can’t have too many good things to say about the former flame unless of course he is ironical about it. Generally, browning though a Dramatic Monologist is one of the profoundest lyricists which can be determined by the rhyme scheme – aa, bb, caa, bb, c and the predominant rhythm i.e. iambic pentameter. In fact the whole paragraph is rhetorical.
The second stanza deals with the anticipation of a response by the speaker from the mistress. It is this dilemma and wait for the answer that contributes to the dramatic effect of the poem. The stanza progresses thus – from spine chilling excitement and anticipation to joy to relief and finally to ecstasy. The images of the mistress bending her brow, her “deep dark eyes”, her breathing and consequent heaving of the bosom and her blush conveys an almost erotic charm to the poem. In a superb metaphor – “With life or death in the balance”. The speaker compares yes with life and no with death. Rhythm and rhyme adds a lyrical charm to the dramatic poem.
The diction provides a picture of the action in the man with which Browning was more concerned. It clearly brings out the anxiety and the emotional turmoil in the speaker’s brain. Words like – ‘bent that brow’ refers to the brooding of the lady over the proposal. ‘Fixed’ and ‘breathing’ clearly brings out the anxiety of the speaker. The condition of ‘yes and ‘no’ has been beautifully painted as ‘life’ and ‘death’ respectively. The stanza could also be memorable for the line – “Who knows but the world may end tonight”. This line affirms the stupid optimism of the speaker who becomes as a much a butt of ridicule as the people he satirizes for their failures.
The third stanza deals with the beautiful feeling that follows after being with one’s beloved the feeling of being on the top of the world after achieving one’s goal. It also deals with the more physical part of love. The tone is of being overwhelmed in love in which everything is blessed – “. . . benediction. . . /and . . . at once”. Towards the end, however, the tone becomes sensual in aspect. The sky of the first four lines is studded with the stars of imageries. The ‘billowy bosomed benediction’ not only brings out a crisp alliteration but also a half personification. The image of a sort of physical if not sexual love comes to our minds by few lines and words like: “Conscious . . . drew”, “down on you . . . near”, “. . . learnt she. . .“, “Thus . . . breast”. The mistress has provided him with more than asked for. The words chosen have created or the words were deliberately chosen to create a calming effect like ‘hush!’, ‘passion drew’, ’fade’, ‘lingered’ which are in tune with theme and tone of the paragraph. Yet the rhythm is itself uncertain which gives the poem its characteristic dramtic tinge.
The next stanza provides us with a touch of Browning’s philosophy. Dealing with the present and stop being bothered about the past. The tone of the poem presents a mix of consolatory and philosophical musings. With the “fluttering in the wind” metaphor, the speaker compares the soul with a long-cramped scroll. In itself it is a fresh metaphor unparalleled in literature. Though the paragraph is simply composed, the line numbers 35 and 36 express the poet’s genius of moulding ideas into words, and thoughts into language:
“. . ., my soul
Smoothed . . . scroll
Freshening . . . wind.”
Again the stanza doesn’t give us a proper rhythm which acts similar to the last stanza.
Next stanza contains little of artistic or dramatic techniques but more of philosophical elements. The theory of failure is introduced. In order to hide his agony he deliberately compares himself with those people who had failed in their lives but not with these who have achieved the zenith. It’s a mere acceptance of defeat and on untrue optimism of better chance in future life (heaven). The word ‘hope’ used twice which adds up to the three ‘hopes’ used before; this suggests the disappointment behind the hope cause we speak of a truth only once but we keep on repeating the lie to make it true.
Next stanza presents the philosophical idea that the life of contemplation in love is far greater than material world. The words to look for in the stanza are – ‘fleshly’, ‘screen’, ‘bosom heave’, ‘many a crown’, ‘heap of bones’. These words do signify the sensuous markers of the poem. The humour is brought back into the poem by the line – “Ten lines . . . “. The stanza deals with the continuity of dreams into reality. The gulf between imagination and creation is shortened. It also deals with the comparison of the life of a statesman and soldier with the life and achievement of a lover and puts the lover and his momentary triumph over the achievements of the statesman and soldier.
The speaker’s tone is self congratulatory because nobody else congratulates him for having a last ride witht her beloved. The tone is that of the justification of one’s failure, the tone is of giving a lame excuse. The first four lines are rhetorically interrogational, with a zeugma in line number 56(economising the poem hence making it compact), and a synecdoche in line number 61. The diction is very much pregnant with ideas and suggestions.
The words in the beginning of the stanza marches ahead with swords and banners of questions but suddenly halts for the poet to synchronised this stanza with the other ones rhythmically inserts a line that doesn’t seem to be in line with the marching tone of the four previous lines, however, after further scrutinizing we can see that the idea which the line suggests is that the speaker has united his thought and action but the line certainly breaks the rhythm of the stanza and which adds to the disadvantage of the poem. The diction is otherwise straight forward and clearly brings out the idea which the speaker wants to convey.
The next two stanzas both love and life are painstakingly proven to be better than art, poetry. The last two stanzas waxes metaphysical and almost borders on obscurity.
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