Love Among The Ruins Analysis by Robert Browning

Love Among The Ruins Analysis: Robert Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins” is my idea of a perfect sixth poem to complete our semester set. Written in 1855, the rhythmic poem details a speaker walking up to the turret of an ancient city, in which his lover waits for him – and all the way up he ruminates on the great metropolis that once stood where he stands.

Browning, like Keats, was part of the movement of second-generation romanticists, who benefited from the forms set by those before them (such as Wordsworth) as well as from some key world events like the fall of the French Revolution.

Unlike Keats, Browning specialized in and arguably mastered the dramatic monologue as a poetic form. His pursuit of the dramatic monologue led to an intense knowledge and awareness of character, to the extent that the words plot and characterization became interchangeable in some of his works.

His characters are often based on real people or well-known societal archetypes – full of idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and flaws. Central characters in works “Fra Lippo Lippi” and “My Last Dutchess” draw distinct similarities to Tennyson’s “Ulysses”.

Although “Love Among the Ruins” is an internal monologue, like that of Keats and Wordsworth, the thought was given to characterization still lies at the foundation.

One of the most distinct themes of “Love Among the Ruins” is the contrast between the city of the past and the rural landscape that surrounds the speaker now.

This is not unlike Wordsworth’s fascination with a place in “Tintern Abbey”. Both find peace and tranquility in nature, as Wordsworth would reflect back to the “sylvan Wye” in times of distress and Browning describes the pastoral setting as “solitary” and “quiet colored”.

In both works, this serene quality is juxtaposed heavily by the bustling nature of a city.

Wordsworth reflects back to London and his work while Browning had a much more tangible experience with the ruins of a city directly in front of him – though no doubt his restructuring of the ruins had been influenced by his time living in London.

The speaker’s rebuilding of the ruins in his own imagination brings forth several similarities to other works we examined this semester.

The first being Keats’ use of the Nightingale as an imaginative vessel through time in “Ode to a Nightingale”. Keats reflects on the bird’s song and how it has stayed the same over centuries and generations.

His following ecstatic experience of timelessness and (near) immortality draws close with the ecstatic experience Browning’s speaker has among the ruins.

The turret specifically serves as a bridge between his own experience and the one he envisions in the past. Both speakers lose themselves in exploring their relationship with the past, and in doing so reach a heightened state of thought.

Additionally, the speaker’s description of the ancient city’s King in “Love Among the Ruins” seems reminiscent of Ulysses' internal sentiment in Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. Browning does little to characterize the King, only to describe his actions and his choices.

In doing so, the King character feels vapid and unfulfilled. Just as Ulysses did, one gets the sense that Browning’s despot would describe himself as an “idle King”. One with superfluous power and legend but no satisfaction in his work.

The real secondary character in the work, however, is not the King but the speaker’s lover. She, like Dickinson’s gun, is silent and dependable.

Just as Dickinson’s gun waited for its “master” so too does Browning’s lover wait patiently for the speaker.

Love Among The Ruins Analysis

The speaker in “Ruins” can speak to the future actions of his lover with such accuracy that it becomes easy to question her identity as human and replace it instead as an object.

They are not mutual lovers, the speaker is the hunter and his lover is the gun. Just like Wordsworth’s silent apostrophe in Dorothy, the speaker’s “beloved” is more of a poetic tool than a mutual benefactor, used to contrast the power of a kingdom with love – just as Dorothy was used to contrast Wordsworth’s young self with his older one.

In the end, after ruminating on the victories and failures that would have taken place in this ancient empire, he decides to forgo his daydream into the world of power and rejoin reality and his love.

This decision seems odd as the majority of the poem is spent fascinating over the ruins of the city and with little mention of his lover.

Browning means to imply the amount of thought the speaker has put into his choice and the idea that the love he pursues is done so consciously. The conscious move to choose love is indicative of Lizzie’s actions in Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” – where she makes the physical and mental sacrifice to face the goblins with the intent to save her sister.

All Lizzie’s actions are done conscientiously as an act of sisterly love, a fact Rossetti repeats in the last stanza’s of the poem with the phrase “for there is no friend like a sister”.

In addition, the speaker's detailed and extensive description of the city, whose lust pulls him away from his lover for a time, draws parallels with Rossetti’s beautiful imagery of the goblin fruit.

In the final line of the poem, the speaker's emphatic statement of “love is best”, is contrasted by the plea for the escape of Ulysses.

Ulysses, who for a decade had sought the shores of Ithaca to reconnect with his wife, now ages and antagonizes her as an “aged wife”. And by the end of his dramatic monologue, is fully convinced of his need to seek adventure, not love.

Overall, the connections between Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins” and each of the five poems seem deep and substantial.

In detailing each similarity and difference, I found myself able to go deeper and deeper into the larger meanings of each work as well as smaller and smaller into the finite details of the poetics.

The poem stands out as both a love poem and an internal monologue, set in the present and the past, in the city and the country.

It is a poem about love and contemplation and mortality and encompasses much of what made our five poems so special.
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