An Analysis of Robert Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins”
A reading of the poem “Love Among the Ruins” by Robert Browning draws the reader into a visual of a city in ruins and the contrast that can be found in the land where the city used to be. Though a majestic city existed then, the speaker clearly prefers the love found on the site compared the earlier glories that were found in the city. Browning manages to use imaginative language to conjure up the fallen city and the heart that drove the city. In addition the current landscape before the speaker’s eyes and the potential expressed in the love the speaker shares with a girl is brought out well.
The poem is a closed poem where the Browning effectively uses twelve lines in each stanza to bring the contrasts to life. This type of form works well in giving the poem a moderate pace that allows the speaker to narrate. The stanzas are then divided into long and short lines alternating giving the poem a rhythm and beat that allows the narration to flow freely and create a meditative feel.
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The short lines are made up of three syllables while long lines are made up of eleven syllables. The poem reveals a pastoral style in the informal reflective style Browning uses as it gives contemplations from the speaker’s view. The poem is set on the vast hills amid the ruins of a former city as the speaker clearly tells of the sight in the evening as the day comes to a close and the night beckons. There in the ruins he contemplates the past of the area in the face of its present.
The poem expresses the contrast between the historical past of the area in which the speaker finds himself and its present condition. Then it was lively with men who sacrificed so much for glory and war “Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe” (31). Now it is none the less lively with sheep that graze in peace “ On the solitary pastures where our sheep/Half asleep/ Tinkle homeward thro the twilight, stray or stop/As they crop” (3,4,5 and 6).
In looking to its past the speaker expresses how much better it is now than it was in the past. That is because before, the city that rose in the area was filled with “folly, noise and sin” (81). Now the area is filled with love and innocence which is infinitely better and has the power to endure “ With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!/Love is best.” (83 and 84). Browning thus introduces the main theme of the poem which is a comparison of the contrast of the fallen city and the serene, pure productive landscape.
One of the interesting elements of the poem is the very informal voice that Browning writes in. The words of the speaker introduce an element of conversation which draws the reader as he contemplates. This can be shown by the conversational words he chooses to use in “(so they say)” (8) and “And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass” (25). Browning uses words that give negative connotation to the “glory and shame” (33) of the former city”s men which he terms as “gold” corrupting them because they were up for sale (35). On the other hand he employs positive connotation when associates the comfort of the grass with a spread carpet.
The words Browning chooses convey rhythm by repetition as seen in lines 2 “miles and miles”. Other phrases repeated are “glory and shame” which bring out the key contrast between the old city and the new land. The glorified city is contrasted with dignified habitation among the ruins, the shame of the men in the former city is contrasted with the purity of the love the speaker finds in the girl with “eager eyes and yellow hair” (55). The rhythm is also enhanced by the interchange between the long lines and the short lines give the poem a constant beat. The shorter lines that Browning uses create a break from the longer lines and gives the words of the speaker almost a quality of an after thought underscoring the meditative narrative style of the poem. The closed stanzas work quite well for the poem.
There is a rhyme in every stanza with couplets line sharing syllables line one and two, three and four, five and six, seven and eight, nine and ten, eleven and twelve. This enhances the rhythm of the poem. In several lines Browning uses alliteration as in “Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight, stray or stop” (5). “Made of marble, men might march on nor bepressed” (23). There is repetition which communicates Browning’s emphasis “Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame/struck them tame. “And that glory and that shame alike, the gold” (33-35).
The use of the voice in the poem from a speaker is effective in giving the poem an interesting view. The speaker in the poem narrates the way the city was before and the current land where the city once lay. This is even as the speaker infers that what he says is not first hand information or his experience “(so they say)” (8). This makes the poem flow as ordinary narration would with an aside. The city was reduced to ruins but another quiet life exists that is peaceful and love the better than material glory exists. This information is in contrast to line eight as the speaker shares his experience of love form a girl and as such the speaker attests to the validity of his claim that “love is best” (84).
Browning does not use extensively use similes except in line 19 and 20 “Where the domed and daring palace shot itsspires/up like fires” (19-20) and “And they build their gods a brazen pillar high/as the sky” (75 and 76). For the most part Browning instead employs quite a number of metaphors in the poem making the poem vivid. Some examples are the grass that he calls a carpet (27), the men breathing “joy and woe” (31), the “blood that freezes, blood that burns” (79). Personification in poem where Browning refers to the capital city as the prince (9), the city is also given the character of being gay (7).