This well-known Browning poem was published in 1855 and included in his collection Men and Women. Also in this collection are the equally well-known ‘Fra Lippo Lippi,’ ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,’ and ‘Andrea del Sarto.’ Since it was published, ‘Love Among the Ruins’ has been included in movies and television shows and even adapted into songs.
Love Among the Ruins Robert BrowningWhere the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,Miles and milesOn the solitary pastures where our sheepHalf-asleepTinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stopAs they crop—Was the site once of a city great and gay,(So they say)Of our country's very capital, its princeAges sinceHeld his court in, gathered councils, wielding farPeace or war.Now the country does not even boast a tree,As you see,To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rillsFrom the hillsIntersect and give a name to, (else they runInto one)Where the domed and daring palace shot its spiresUp like firesO'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wallBounding allMade of marble, men might march on nor be prestTwelve abreast.And such plenty and perfection, see, of grassNever was!Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreadsAnd embedsEvery vestige of the city, guessed alone,Stock or stone—Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woeLong ago;Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shameStruck them tame;And that glory and that shame alike, the goldBought and sold.Now—the single little turret that remainsOn the plains,By the caper overrooted, by the gourdOverscored,While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winksThrough the chinks—Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient timeSprang sublime,And a burning ring, all round, the chariots tracedAs they raced,And the monarch and his minions and his damesViewed the games.And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eveSmiles to leaveTo their folding, all our many-tinkling fleeceIn such peace,And the slopes and rills in undistinguished greyMelt away—That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hairWaits me thereIn the turret whence the charioteers caught soulFor the goal,When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumbTill I come.But he looked upon the city, every side,Far and wide,All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'Colonnades,All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,—and thenAll the men!When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,Either handOn my shoulder, give her eyes the first embraceOf my face,Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speechEach on each.In one year they sent a million fighters forthSouth and North,And they built their gods a brazen pillar highAs the skyYet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—Gold, of course.O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!Earth's returnsFor whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!Shut them in,With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!Love is best.
Explore Love Among the Ruins
‘Love Among the Ruins’ by Robert Browning is a complicated Victorian poem that uses an extended metaphor to discuss love.
In the first lines of ‘Love Among the Ruins,’ the speaker describes walking in a field and how in that field, sheep roam where a great city used to stand. It’s all collapsed now, with nothing remaining but a single turret. This one turret comes to symbolize the city (which the speaker imagines in detail) throughout the poem.
The city was filled with sin, greed, lust, and the desire to attain power at any cost. It’s gone now, something the speaker sees as a good thing, and has been replaced by a natural, quiet landscape. He imagines a woman in the turret waiting for him and contracts their quiet love against what used to take place in the tower. The poem concludes with the speaker determining that “Love is best.”
Structure and Form
‘Love Among the Ruins’ by Robert Browning is a seven-stanza dramatic monologue poem that is divided into sets of twelve lines. These long stanzas use lines of alternating lengths. The stanzas are paired in rhyming couplets with the even-numbered lines containing around three syllables and the longer, odd-numbered lines written in trochaic meter, usually around 10 syllables long.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include:
- Simile: a comparison between two things that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires / Up like fires.”
- Extended Metaphor: a drawn-out metaphor that lasts more than a line. In this case, the poet compares the peace of nature to love and contrasts the two against the power-hungry empire that used to have a city on the same land he’s on today.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions that help readers visualize a scene clearly. For example, “Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o’er-spreads / And embeds / Every vestige of the city.”
- Symbolism: the poet uses the turret to symbolize the lost city and the negative traits it embodies.
Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight, stray or stop
As they crop—
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
(So they say)
Of our country’s very capital, its prince
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
Peace or war.
In the first lines of ‘Love Among the Ruins,’ Browning’s speaker describes a ruined city. It was once “great and gay” but is now somewhere that “sheep / Half-asleep / Tinkle Howard thro’ the twilight.”
It’s a place of peace and memory, the speaker suggests. In fact, he adds, the memories of the city are not his own. He adds the line “So they say” to indicate that he didn’t see the city himself.
The speaker contemplates how in the past, it was thought that there were princes that held court there and “wield[ed] far / Peace or war.” It was a place of meaning and purpose in the past. Great decisions were made in the ruined city by strong and powerful leaders.
Now the country does not even boast a tree,
As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
Up like fires
O’er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
The country landscape is very different from what the speaker speculates it used to be. There is “not” even a “tree” in the land to make one section of it stand apart from the next.
The hills run together and show nothing of what used to stand there. The only indication of the past, as stanza four adds, is “the single little turret that remains.”
The poet uses a simile in these lines, describing the old spires of palaces shooting up “like fires” (or filled with life, intensity, and potential). This is how the speaker thinks it might have been in the past. But all he can do is speculate.
And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o’er-spreads
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
Stock or stone—
Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
Bought and sold.
In the past, the land didn’t have the same carpet of grass that it does now. It covers every “vestige of the city” that was “Stock or stone.” Where all these men of the past, the “multitude” breathed, lived, and suffered, have been consumed by the natural world.
The speaker elevates nature’s power in these lines by reiterating how strong and brave the men were. They were filled with glory and the desire to earn more. In these lines, there is also something negative growing. Pride and glory are not entirely good character traits.
The speaker adds that this glory was “Bought and sold” by gold. There was a certain lust for success and wealth in the city. This is something that stands in stark contrast to the landscape that sits before the speaker today.
Now—the single little turret that remains
On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
While the patching houseleek’s head of blossom winks
Through the chinks—
Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
Viewed the games.
Of all the palaces and city streets, all that remains is a single turret. This is the last vestige of the city’s defenses. The speaker knows, by looking at the flowers and the way that the grass is growing, that this could’ve been somewhere that ancient kings and their “minions and …dames” watched “the games” (or chariot races). These lines start to hint at the strength but also the destructive power of those who used to live on the land. The speaker suggests that they may have destroyed themselves.
And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
Smiles to leave
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
For the goal,
When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
Till I come.
In the fifth stanza, there is a turn that shifts the poem’s narrative away from the speaker’s imagined image of the land’s previous inhabitants and to a focus on a woman in the turret.
She’s his lover and is now part of the ruins where she waits for him. She’s in the same place where kings used to stand to look down on their armies. The woman is waiting for him to come to her.
He uses the next stanza to compare what the ancient king once saw with what he’s going to see when he gets there.
But he looked upon the city, every side,
Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades’
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,—and then
All the men!
When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
Each on each.
The speaker says that in the past, the king used to look down on the landscape and see the city spreading out around him. There was evidence of wealth and success in everyone that one could see. But, as the poem has already revealed, this wealth is very temporary. Time has erased it, leaving the landscape as it is today.
The speaker describes what’s going to happen in the tower between the two, suggesting that neither will speak. Instead, they’ll embrace quietly (in contrast with the noisy, ever-boisterous city of the past).
In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best.
In the final stanza of the poem, Robert Browning’s speaker contemplates the power of the past empire and the simple beauty and joy of love. He answers his own questions and considerations and the present state of the land and the past, saying that how things are now, a state of natural peace (symbolized through a woman he loves) is far better.
He ends with the line, “Love is best.” Meaning that in comparison, love is far better than empire-building, greed, and power that the past city symbolizes. He imagines the entire history of the past, the power-mad empire destroyed along with the physical city and is soothed by the idea.
The main theme of the poem is love. Browning gets to the main theme in a slightly complicated way, but when the poem concludes, it’s very clear.
The message is that a quiet love or natural landscape is preferable to living a life in which one strives to attain power at any cost.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Browning poems. For example: