Critical Analysis of the Poem, “The Last Ride Together” by Robert Browning : “The Last Ride Together” is an unique poem by English poet Robert Browning, first published in his 1855 collection “Men and Women”, his first important work released after his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett. It comprised of fiftyone poems, each by a singular narrator. It is considered one of the most important works of poetry in the Victorian era. “The Last Ride Together” is a ten-stanza poem primarily focused on themes of love and loss. It takes the form of a monologue by a rejected lover reflecting on the end of a love affair. The title represents the last time the former couple takes a carriage ride together. Although the narrator does grieve the end of his romance, he wishes to reflect his appreciation for the time they had together and the love he experienced. The poem has an overall bittersweet tone, balancing sadness and optimism.
This poem is witness to the fact that the outstanding thing about Browning as an artist the variety and originality of his poetic forms. Browning may be described as “the father of modern experimental verse.” It is Browning’s love of realism which makes him give a hearing even to a rascal as the lover is. Prisoners, cheats, murderers are all given a hearing. But these characters are never given any name. So that they could be generalised. As Chesterton says, Browning does not take up ordinary situations or obvious morals. He rather shows us the crisis of a life of the individual may depend on his reaction to it. Again and again, Browning selects and holds out into clear relief the important moment which decides the spiritual basis of the soul involved and settles the pattern of its future existence. In The Last Ride Together Browning selected the ‘moment’ which is the result of quick thought or sudden passion and results in some action breaking the common place course of life.
The Last Ride Together is one of the finest dramatic monologues of Browning. There is a perfect fusion of language, thought and mood to the complete exclusion of the objective world. The speaker, a lover, is rejected by his sweetheart who simply does not love him. But the rejection, instead of filling him with bitterness or despair, leaves him with an ideal of love which sublimates his feeling and elevates the human in him into almost the divine. For this transfiguration of his failure in love which makes him feel superior to the statesman, the soldier, the poet, the sculptor and the musician, he blesses the woman, but asks for only a memory of the hope she gave and her ‘leave for one more last ride’ with him. In a moment of exultation, he dreams of the world suddenly coming to an end so that he may find himself riding into eternity in the company of the woman he loves.
As a love poem it tells the story of a rejected lover’s last ride with his beloved. The lover, on his failure to win his lady’s love, neither pines and languishes nor fumes and frets like the conventional lovers in literature under similar circumstances, but he asks for a last ride whose memory will sustain him throughout his life. The lover is an idealist and the great shock of painful disappointment will do no damage to his idealism.
The Last Ride Together is remarkable for dramatic intensity and power Browning’s tremendous concentration of his power in exceeding the worldly objects and its relations, is certainly unequalled elsewhere. It is a poem of unrequited love in which there is nothing but the noblest resignation, a compliance with the decrees of fate.
Browning’s conception of love is neither the airy persiflage of Suckling, nor the Platonic abstraction of Shelley. It is a passion that ennobles character, transmutes passion, and renders life radiant with a divine glow. He surrenders himself to the ecstasy of the passion in one divine moment. To eternize that moment would be the happiness and the achievement of heaven.
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Though it is a poem of despair in love, the philosophy of life expressed in the poem is that of optimism and hope. The lover having failed, neither complains nor grumbles, but gathers manliness and courage. “He weaves the experience”, says W.T. Young, “into the fabric of character, and imbues its resignation with new thought and resolve for new ventures.” Failure does not daunt the lover, for he knows that none gets complete success in life. What we achieve in the world is nothing as compared to the undone vast. The lover consoles himself in a bold and daring manner, and his words breathe an air of optimism :
“Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds?…
Look at the end of work contrast
The petty done the undone vast.”
The Last Ride Together deals with a love situation: the lover is forced to realize that relationship with his mistress is hopelessly flawed and therefore cannot last, and the two of them go out for a last ride before parting forever. But the dominant interest in the poem is not in the exploration of love relationship (though Browning can explore the relationship between lovers superbly when he wishes to) but in the question posed by the failure of the lover’s suit, a failure which is taken as the type of unsuccessful striving towards a goal :
“Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds?”
Unsuccessful striving is the common human lot, but this is no reason for despair:
“I thought, All labour, yet no less
Bear up beneath their unsuccess.” (L-50-51)
On the contrary, the striving is in a sense an end in itself. Man needs something to strive for :
“Who knows what’s fit for us?
Had fate proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being : had I signed the bondStill 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 questEarth being so good, would Heaven seem best? Now
Heaven and she are beyond this ride.”
For Browning a state, in which all our desires are satisfied, would be intolerable, and so the lover consoles himself with the thought that though he failed to win his mistress, she, like Heaven itself, remains an object of unfulfilled longings which draw a person ever onward throughout life. So important indeed, it is to Browning that a man should always be striving after something, growing in soul, developing, moving onwards, that the last stanza of the poem suggests that Heaven itself may be like this last ride crystallized into an eternal moment’, not a final resting from labour but the highest point of striving caught and held for ever. We know that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive here Heaven becomes an eternity of hopeful travelling.
The poet has presented in The Last Ride Together the hollowness of success in life. Failure with a degree of hope, is better than laurels of victory, with no hope of future remembrance. The statesman and the soldier achieve success in life, but that is in no way better than failure, for :
“Ten lines, a statesman’s life in each!
The flag stuck on a heap of bones,
A soldier’s doing what atones?”
The poet composes beautiful poems, and the sculptor makes fine statues, but they cannot claim permanent glory. Their life is not greater than the hopeful failure of the lover. Thus failure must not be denounced. It is greater than all the worldly achievements.
The style and metre of the poem are in conformity with its dignified theme. There is a majestic flow, a lyrical intensity, and force in the utterances of the lover. The iambic decasyllables arranged in an unusual pattern-a bbcd de ec of which the most distinctive feature is the rhyming triplet in lines 8-10 of the stanzas. In fact, the poem is full of lofty idealism, a lyric intensity of feeling a dramatic power, and above all a tremendous concentration of power.
Much praise has been accorded to The Last Ride Together as a love poem. It deals with love was an aspiration which was not to be realized here at all, but must have its completion in the other life,” says John T. Nettleship. According to Herford, the poem reflects Browning’s own “supple optimism, his analytic, dissipating fancy, infused into his portrayal of the grief pangs of his own sex.” Further, Professor Herford adds: “The glory of failure is, with Browning a familiar and inexhaustible theme, but its spiritual abstraction here flushes with the human glory of possession, the ethereal light and dew are mingled with breath and blood, and in the wonderful long drawn rhythm, we hear the steady stride of the horses as they bear their riders farther and farther into the visionary land of Romance.”
W.L Phelps expresses the view that The Last Ride Together is one of the greatest love poems in English literature. Berdoc calls it the noblest of all Browning’s love poems, for dramatic intensity, for power, for its exhibition of what Prof. Raleigh has aptly termed Browning’s ‘tremendous concentration of his power’ in excluding the outside world and all its relations. It is a poem of un-requited love in which there is nothing but the noblest resignation; a compliance with the decrees of fate, but with neither a shadow of disloyalty to the ideal, nor despair of the result of the dismissal to the lover’s own soul development.
The woman may reject him- there is no wounded pride; she does not love him-he is not angry with her, nor annoyed that she fails to estimate him as highly as he estimates himself. He has the ideal in heart; it shall be cherished as the occupant of his heart’s throne for ever-of the ideal, he, at least, can never be deprived. This ideal shall be used to evaluate and sublimate his desires, to expand his soul to the fruition of his boundless aspiration for human love; used till it transfigures the human in the man, till it almost becomes divine, a discordant not amidst all this praise is struck by S.A. Brooke who says that the lover in the poem thinks more of his own thoughts than of the woman by his side, who must have been somewhat wearied by so silent a companion.
Summing-up, we can say that it is one of the noblest of Browning’s love poems. The execution, apart from the beauty of the sentiment expressed, is remarkable for its precise, almost crystallized language, its dramatic intensity, and, above all, for the skill with which the man and the woman are seen to ride together, untouched by the outside world and all its relations. The lover is an idealist who has failed to win her love, but who is so noble in his resignation as to face the inevitable with a cheerful heart. He wants only the memory of a brief but intoxicating experience to last him through eternity.
Even if love is denied to him, it is not in his nature to let even the shadow of disloyalty to his ideal cross in his mind. But having actually experienced this momentary joy of possession, he feels his youth is worthily spent in the pursuit of it. His gain is greater in its intrinsic worth than that of statesman or an artist. And then there is always the possibility that while he is in that spiritually exalted mood, the world may come to an end, and they may pass into eternity side by side.