Robert Browning

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix by Robert Browning

‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ by Robert Browning depicts three riders’ attempting to gallop from Ghent to Aix. The speaker makes it there, delivering a critical, although unknown, piece of news.

‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ was first published in 1845 in Dramatic Romances and Lyrics. It’s one of Browning’s better-known poems. The poem is fled with allusions to towns in France. It starts with Ghent and ends in Aix-la-Chapelle, as the title suggests. In between, the riders pass through: 

  • Lokeren
  • Boom
  • Düffeld
  • Mecheln
  • Aershot
  • Hasselt
  • Looz
  • Tongres
  • Dalhem

Interestingly, there is a fairly famous recording of Browning attempting to recite this poem in public. It’s the only known recording of the poet’s voice

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix
Robert Browning

I
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
‘Good speed!'’ cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
‘Speed!’ echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

II
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

III
'Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld,'twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, ‘Yet there is time!'’

IV
At Aershot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each hutting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:

V
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence, - ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

VI
By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, ‘Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her,
We'll remember at Aix’ - for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

VII
So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And ‘Gallop,’ gasped Joris, ‘for Aix is in sight!’

VIII
‘How they'll greet us!’ - and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.

IX
Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

X
And all I remember is - friends flocking round
As I sat with his head 'twixt my knees on the ground;

And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.
How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix by Robert Browning


Summary 

‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ by Robert Browning is an unusual poem that describes a long journey on horseback. 

In the first lines of this ten-stanza Browning poem, the poet’s speaker begins by describing how he and his two companions (named Joris and Dirck) were riding their horses from Ghent. They galloped into the night without speaking. They reached town after town, marked by the rising and the setting of the sun. It’s clear that they are in a rush, but it’s not clear why. 

The speaker admires his horse, Roland, and they all stop when another of the three horses can’t run anymore. One of the three stops riding, and the speaker and his companion, Joris, went on until Joris’ horse died. Alone, the speaker continued on into Aix and was celebrated by his friends for bringing the good news. 

Themes 

The main theme of this poem is determination. Specifically, the determination and heroism needed when time is short. The speaker describes his ride to Aix atop his trusted horse, Roland. As the poem progresses, the other two riders’ horses fail in the overnight endurance test that is their ride. But Roland continues on, as strong as ever. It’s Roland, the poem concludes, who is responsible for saving the day. 

Structure and Form 

‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ by Robert Browning is a dramatic monologue told from the perspective of one of three riders. The poet uses a first-person narrative perspective throughout this poem. The poem is divided into ten stanzas that use a rhyme scheme of AABBCC (known as rhyming couplets). 

They work together with a very fast, galloping-like meter that moves the reader through the lines swiftly. The poet uses an unusual metrical pattern known as anapestic tetrameter in these lines. This means that each line contains four anapests or three-syllable feet. The first two beats are unstressed, and the third is stressed. 

Literary Devices

Browning uses a few different literary devices in this poem. They include: 

  • Onomatopoeia: is language that mimics the thing it describes. For example, “sprang to the stirrup.” 
  • Personification: occurs when a poet describes something non-human uses characteristics that are solely human. For example, “Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her.” 
  • Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone.” 
  • Juxtaposition: an intentional comparison between two things that are very different. For example, night and day in this poem and Roland and the other riders’ horses. 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
‘Good speed!’’ cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
‘Speed!’ echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

In the first lines of ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,’ the speaker begins by describing how he and his two friends, Joris and Dirck, got on their horses and rode out into the night. They rode side by side, determined to reach their destination and deliver a critical piece of good news. 

What that good news is, is never revealed to the reader. Instead, the poet focuses on describing the riders’ experiences and the effort they and their horses exert. 

It’s the night when the three left their starting point and different times of day in the following lines mark the passage of time. 

Stanza Two 

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

The three riders do not speak to one another as they focus on their task. Side by side, they plow into the night. The speaker describes how sometimes he would fiddle with the saddle and stirrup but never stopped riding. No matter how he moved, his horse (Roland) continued on proudly. This is the first time that Roland is mentioned in the poem, but his strength and steadfastness are one of the most important parts of the poem as it draws to its conclusion. 

Stanza Three 

‘Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld,’twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, ‘Yet there is time!’’

When the three started out, the moon had just gone down. As they passed through Lokeren, Boom, and Düffeld, the sun (or great yellow star) rose. They knew that although they still had a long way to go, there was “time” to make it to their destination. 

Browning chose not to add any of the details that readers may be interested in as they read the ten stanzas of this poem. It remains unknown what the news is, who the riders are, and why exactly they have to ride so quickly. 

Stanzas Four and Five

At Aershot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each hutting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:


And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence, – ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

The next two stanzas are dedicated to describing the landscape the three are passing through and the speaker’s admiration for his horse, Roland. He admires the horse’s reflection in a river and sees how intelligent the creature appears (in addition to being stout and strong). 

The horse appears to be just as dedicated to getting to Aix as the riders are. He had a similar determined (personified) look on his face. 

Stanza Six 

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, ‘Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her,
We’ll remember at Aix’ – for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

Unfortunately, in the sixth stanza, one of the horses stops galloping. The horse, not as strong as Roland, gave out, and she sank to the ground. Dirck is left behind there while the other two, the speaker and Joris, ride on. They don’t blame him or his horse, for what happened. 

The fact that the two continue on without him makes it seem likely that they knew that this could happen. All three may have embarked on his journey to bring the news together because they knew that all three horses might not make it. 

Stanza Seven

So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
‘Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And ‘Gallop,’ gasped Joris, ‘for Aix is in sight!’

The seventh stanza describes Joris and the speaker continuing past more towns with the full heat and light of the sun beating down on them (symbolizing the fact that they’re on the right path/doing what they’re supposed to be doing), but it also adds to the difficulty of their task. 

Stanza Eight 

‘How they’ll greet us!’ – and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.

When the two are momentarily celebrating the fact that they are almost in Aix, Joris’ horse dies on the ground (“dead as a stone”). Suddenly it was just the speaker and his “Roland” to carry the news. It was a heavy weight to carry, but they knew that they had to carry it in order to “save Aix from her fate.” 

Here, the poet helps clear up how important the news is. In some way, and for some reason, the news the three have to tell is going to save the town of Aix from what is presumably a terrible fate. 

Stanzas Nine and Ten

Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.


And all I remember is – friends flocking round
As I sat with his head ‘twixt my knees on the ground;


And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.

In the final two stanzas, the speaker describes how he cast off all of his heaviest clothing items in an attempt to make it as easy as possible for Roland to carry him to Aix. He praised the horse and whispered to him, laughing and singing, trying to lift the mood and make Roland feel like he was doing really well to continue running so quickly. 

Finally, Roland makes it into Aix with the speaker on his back. There, everyone gathered around him and his horse, each person speaking of nothing else but how brave and strong Roland was to carry the speaker so far. The speaker gives his horse the “wine” they had left and commends Roland as the one who really brought the news from Ghent. 

FAQs 

Who is the hero in ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix?’ 

In ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,’ the hero is the speaker’s horse, Roland. At the end of the poem, it comes down to Roland’s strength and determination to get the news to Aix. 

How did they bring the “good news” from “Ghent to Aix?” 

The good news arrived in Aix via a horse and his rider. It’s only because the horse, Roland, was strong enough to endure riding all night (and the extreme pace at which they were traveling) that the news arrived in time. 

What is Robert Browning’s most famous poem? 

Robert Browning’s most famous poem is The Pied Piper of Hamelin.’ This entertaining poem tells the story of the Pied Piper and emphasizes the importance of always telling the truth and keeping one’s promises. 

What is ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’ about? 

The poem is about three riders who embark on a non-stop overnight journey across France. They need to deliver some critical news to the town of Aix, and it can’t wait. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Browning poems. For example: 

  • A Face’ – explores a speaker’s interest in a lady’s portrait. 
  • Among the Rocks’ – is a unique lyric poem written from the perspective of one of Robert Browning’s characters. 
  • Confessions’ – a dramatic monologue that conveys the truth about a man’s meetings with his lover. 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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