‘Love in a Life’ by Robert Browning is a short two stanza poem that is separated into two sets of eight lines, or octaves. The lines are structured with a consistent rhyme scheme that follows the pattern of ABCDDABC, alternating end sounds in the second stanza. The repetition used in the arrangement of the lines mimics the circular actions of the speaker himself. As he searches he goes in one door and out the other, always close behind, but not quite catching, his lover. By the end of the poem he still hasn’t found her, this alludes to the possibility that his “quest” will go on for some time to come.
The most important theme of the piece is separation. Browning’s speaker, who might be the poet himself, spends the text looking for his lover. She has disappeared somewhere in their home and he is determined, no matter how long it takes, to find her.
The meter of the pome is also well structured. The lines are grouped together, with two tercets and one couplet making up each stanza. Browning formatted the first tercet in dimeter, the second in tetrameter, and the couplet in pentameter. This means that the lines contained either two, four or five sets of two beats.
‘Love in a Life’ was originally published in his volume, Men and Women, in 1855. The book included a number of other poems written on similar themes, all of which were dedicated to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, his wife.
Summary of Love in Life
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is on a journey to find his lover in their house. He is going from room to room, “hunt[ing]” for “her.” He speaks to his heart, telling it not to worry, as they will soon find her. The speaker constantly feels as if he’s about to catch up to his lover. He can smell her on the curtains and sense her presence on the furniture.
In the second stanza he states that although he has not yet succeeded, he plans to. He is going to continue to search and as it is only “twilight” there are still many doors to open and rooms to enter.
Analysis of Love in Life
Room after room,
I hunt the house through
We inhabit together.
Heart, fear nothing, for, heart, thou shalt find her—
Next time, herself!—not the trouble behind her
Left in the curtain, the couch’s perfume!
As she brushed it, the cornice-wreath blossomed anew:
Yon looking-glass gleamed at the wave of her feather.
In the first stanza of ‘Love in a Life’ the speaker begins by describing how he hunts for his lover throughout the rooms of their house. The first three lines are quite short, but extremely powerful and assertive. The speaker’s tone in these lines is determined and confident. He knows he’s going to find the person he’s looking for.
In line four the speaker turns to address his own heart. It is as if he started to worry about the search and needed a moment to calm himself down. He tells his heart that “thou shalt find her.” There is nothing to fear in this situation as long as they remain strong. So far, while the speaker and his heart have been searching, they’ve only come across “the trouble behind her.” They have only seen the remnants of her presence. Whether that is the smell of the couch or the wave of a curtain. “Next time,” the speaker declares, he and his heart will find “herself!”
Everything they pass, from the curtains to the glass, holds something of the speaker in them. There are remnants of her passing presence. These descriptions are used to better describe the impact she has on the speaker’s mind. He is able to see her everywhere because they are so close and “inhabit together” the house he is searching.
Yet the day wears,
And door succeeds door;
I try the fresh fortune—
Range the wide house from the wing to the centre.
Still the same chance! she goes out as I enter.
Spend my whole day in the quest,—who cares?
But ’tis twilight, you see,—with such suites to explore,
Such closets to search, such alcoves to importune!
In the second set of lines the speaker explains how while he searches, doors open, and there are only more doors behind them. As “door succeeds door” the day “wears,” or drags on painfully. Each time he opens a door he hopes that something will change, but it has yet to. His fortune is in the balance.
His travels through the house ranging from “the wing to the centre.” There is nowhere he is ignoring but he still can’t seem to catch up to her or find her. The speaker is clearly frustrated at this point and exclaims over the apparent fact that when “she goes out” he enters. He describes the search he is participating in as a “quest.” This increases his own feelings of nobility in what he is doing. The speaker also knows that this search is likely going to take his “whole day” and professes not to care.
In fact, in the following lines of ‘Love in a Life’, he alludes to his intention to search all night. He states that it is only “twilight” and there is plenty of time left to search the “closets…and alcoves.” There are “suites to explore” and any number of other places she could be hiding.