‘The Last Ride Together’ by Robert Browning is an excellent dramatic monologue that deals with a lover’s last wish to his beloved.
What is going to happen with the lovers at the end of the ride, is an important question to ask oneself after reading the poem.
In this poem, Browning presents an innovative subject matter. It’s not a usual love lyric that follows the stock ideas. The speaker of the poem doesn’t only praise his mistress. He goes beyond that usual boundary of love poetry. The main idea of this poem revolves around the “last ride”. In this particular context, the poet weaves his thoughts. The happiness and woes of the lover and his thoughtful provocations of physicality make this poem more interesting to read and think upon.
Summary of The Last Ride Together
In this dramatic monologue, the speaker, first of all, presents a background of the story. The speaker is taking leave from his beloved. Before parting, he just requests his beloved to go on a ride with him for the last time. The lady accepts the invitation. It seems that she is also interested in passing a few more moments with the person for whom her hearts leaped up in joy at once. Being the last chapter of their journey, both the speaker and the lady want to make that moment precious. However, throughout the poem, she doesn’t speak a word. Only the speaker muses on his feelings only and presents several comparisons to prove the fact that they are, in fact, in a better position. Their love is momentary but sublime. They won’t be meeting in near future yet they can look back to this episode forever and ever.
‘The Last Ride Together’ is a love lyric and told from the perspective of the lover. It is also a dramatic monologue as there is only a single speaker who describes the “last ride” with his beloved. There are a total of 10 stanzas in this poem and each stanza contains 11 lines in it. The rhyme scheme of the text is AABBCDDEEEC. This scheme is not a conventional one. However, using such a rhyming scheme, the poet creates an internal rhyming between the lines. Apart from that, Browning wrote this poem in iambic tetrameter. Hence, each line consists of four iambs. It means there are four beats per line and the stress falls on the second syllable of each foot. However, there are a few metrical variations in the text.
Being a long poem of 110 lines, one can find numerous literary devices here. Likewise, the first stanza contains anaphora in the four consecutive lines after the first one. The poet uses hyperbole by using the word “dearest” in the first line. There is a personification in the line, “My whole heart rises up to bless”. Thereafter, in the second stanza, the poet uses alliteration in the phrase “deep dark eyes”. This stanza ends with a rhetorical question. An oxymoron is there in “joy and fear”. In the fourth stanza, the last line contains irony. Here, the poet indirectly refers that the worst befell on him as he is with his beloved for the last time. The poet also uses a transferred epithet in “hopeful past”. Here, the adjective rightly belongs to “theirs” or the people.
Thereafter, “fleshly screen” is a metaphor for the human body. The poet uses sarcasm in the last two lines of the sixth stanza. However, the last line of the poem contains a repetition of the word “ride”. This device is called palilogy.
There are several themes present in Browning’s poem ‘The Last Ride Together’. The poet makes use of themes such as love, eternity, time, physicality, spirituality, and life. The major theme of the poem love. Here, the poet touches on different aspects of love. The poet presents physical love, eternal love, and selfless love through the attitude of the speaker that changes according to the pace of the poem. Firstly, it’s about physical love that makes the speaker rejuvenated. Thereafter, the speaker talks about a selfless kind of love that doesn’t lie in the past or future. It lies in the present moment. Moreover, as the poem progresses, the concept of love reaches an eternal level. In the end, the speaker wishes for riding eternally with his beloved by crossing the limitations of time and death.
Analysis of The Last Ride Together
I SAID—Then, dearest, since ’tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seem’d meant for, fails,
Since this was written and needs must be—
My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness!
Take back the hope you gave,—I claim
Only a memory of the same,
—And this beside, if you will not blame;
Your leave for one more last ride with me.
In the first stanza of ‘The Last Ride Together’, Browning presents the plot and characters. Here, the speaker is a person who is proposing to his beloved for the last ride with him. The speaker knows what is going to happen to him. His love avails nothing as their relationship is about to end. Moreover, he thinks it was already written in his “fate” and his life is only meant for failures. In this way, the poet briefly presents the pretext of the speaker’s love story.
Thereafter, the speaker says his heart rises to bless the lady’s name in pride and thankfulness. He requests her to take back the hope she gave to him. His only wish is to preserve only a mere memory of their love. It’s an indirect invitation to the lady for having a ride with him. At last, the speaker implores his beloved not to blame him for the request. He at least deserves a moment with her after having a relationship with her for a certain time.
My mistress bent that brow of hers,
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
When pity would be softening through,
Fix’d me a breathing-while or two
With life or death in the balance: right!
The blood replenish’d me again;
My last thought was at least not vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end to-night?
In the second stanza, the speaker describes the appearance of his lady love. After hearing the speaker’s request she bent her brows. It seems the lady was not ready for that. However, she accepts the request somehow as she has also loved him once. The speaker says her eyes are dark and deep. Her eyes portray the sense of pride that she takes in herself. Thereafter, the speaker says if she takes pity on him and her heart softens with this emotion, he demands only her breathing that one feels on his chest. Here, he requests her to hug him. In between her arms, he can feel life and death at the same time. Such a mixed kind of emotion is natural for a person like him who is on the verge of ending a relationship.
The lady has accepted his request. Love has replenished his heart. He can feel the same emotions that once drive him mad. Hence, he says, “My last thought was not vain.” Now, they are side by side, breathing and riding together. In this way, for one more day, he feels deified. Love has made him feel like a deity. And after this last ride with his beloved, he doesn’t mind if the world ends on that night. What he had got, is more than he ever thought of.
Hush! if you saw some western cloud
All billowy-bosom’d, over-bow’d
By many benedictions—sun’s
And moon’s and evening-star’s at once—
And so, you, looking and loving best,
Conscious grew, your passion drew
Cloud, sunset, moonrise, star-shine too,
Down on you, near and yet more near,
Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!—
Thus leant she and linger’d—joy and fear!
Thus lay she a moment on my breast.
In the third stanza of ‘The Last Ride Together’, the speaker tells the lady to keep quiet if she comes across some western cloud. Here, the western cloud is a symbol of hopelessness. However, he says the western cloud is “billowy-bosom’d” and “over-bow’d” by many benedictions. On this cloud, the sun, moon, and the evening star shower blessings like angels.
In this ambiance, the lady grows conscious of the upsurge of passion in her heart. While they are riding for the last time, it seems the cloud, sunset, moonrise, and star-shine are coming nearer to her. So, the image shows them rising to heaven as if they have attained salvation. But, in the next line, the speaker says their togetherness making this journey heavenly and together they create heaven on earth. At some point in this journey, she leaned in his breast in both joy and fear. It’s a joy of having him and the fear is, no doubt, for the unforeseen.
Then we began to ride. My soul
Smooth’d itself out, a long-cramp’d scroll
Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
Past hopes already lay behind.
What need to strive with a life awry?
Had I said that, had I done this,
So might I gain, so might I miss.
Might she have loved me? just as well
She might have hated, who can tell!
Where had I been now if the worst befell?
And here we are riding, she and I.
The fourth stanza of ‘The Last Ride Together’ presents the state of the speaker’s mind. He says when they began to ride again, his soul smoothed itself out. For the “long-cramp’d scroll” with his lover was a freshening and fluttering experience. Past hopes of having her for a lifetime already lay behind. What remains in his heart, is the present joy of fulfillment. There is no need to strive for a life full of dilemmas and problems. If he can enjoy the present moment, there never remains any amount of fear in his heart.
The speaker wonders if he had said something else or done something differently, it might not happen with him now. He might gain her love or miss her forever, nothing is sure. None has seen the future. So does the speaker. The speaker says she might have loved him or hated him if he had done something else. As someone’s act has several outcomes. What would have been the outcome of this lover’s pursuit, only time can tell. In this way, the speaker wants to say that nobody can say what is going to happen after this journey. She can fall in love with him again or the rest will remain beneath the ashes of history.
At last, he sarcastically remarks if the worst had befallen, he might not be having this beautiful time with her. He says, “And here we are riding, she and I.” One can understand the sense of humor of the speaker from these lines.
Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds?
We rode; it seem’d my spirit flew,
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rush’d by on either side.
I thought,—All labour, yet no less
Bear up beneath their unsuccess.
Look at the end of work, contrast
The petty done, the undone vast,
This present of theirs with the hopeful past!
I hoped she would love me; here we ride.
Thereafter, in the fifth stanza of ‘The Last Ride Together’, he says that he is not the only one who has failed in words as well as in deeds. People strive on earth yet only a few succeed. In the speaker’s case, he has apparently failed in his relationship. At this moment, it will be unwise to say, the speaker is a failure. The rest is yet to come. However, they rode and it seemed his spirit flew. They saw other regions and new cities as the world rushed by on either side.
He thought that all labor bear up beneath their unsuccess. As he is having a wonderful time with his lover, there might be something that he has rightly done in the past. His labors are bearing fruits but not in the actual sense. The lady is with him but not for a lifetime. Hence, his pursuit was unsuccessful yet there is still love in their hearts. Thereafter, the poet compares their love story to a piece of art or work.
Moreover, by using this metaphor, the poet tells readers to “look at the end of work” and contrast it with “the petty done.” In comparison to the primary intention before starting the work, an artist can see “the undone” vastness in his work after its completion. The speaker ironically says, “This present of theirs with the hopeful past!” He hoped she would love him. And now they are having their “last ride together”.
What hand and brain went ever pair’d?
What heart alike conceived and dared?
What act proved all its thought had been?
What will but felt the fleshly screen?
We ride and I see her bosom heave.
There’s many a crown for who can reach.
Ten lines, a statesman’s life in each!
The flag stuck on a heap of bones,
A soldier’s doing! what atones?
They scratch his name on the Abbey-stones.
My riding is better, by their leave.
In the sixth stanza, the speaker asks what hand and brain ever went in pair. It means there are a few couples who have stayed together till their death. Moreover, he says the urges he has conceived in his heart and dared to do are quite uncommon. But he thinks whether his acts proved fruitful in the end. He can’t feel anything in his “fleshly screen”, a metaphor for the body. While riding, he can only see her bosom heaving and take satisfaction in the sight.
The speaker thinks upon her breast in the last few lines of this stanza. He will give many crowns as a prize to them who can reach her bosom. The price is comparable to “Ten lines” or “a statesman’s life.” In this way, he emphasizes how precious the lady is. Whatsoever, she is like “the flag stuck on a heap of bones.” It seems that those who have wished to get her have ended up in this pile of bones. He thinks it might be “a soldier’s doing”. And nobody atones their loss of lives in the pursuit of this lady. Moreover, he ironically says they scratch their names on the Abbey stones. Whereas, he is riding with the lady. So, he is far better than them in dignity and importance.
What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell
What we felt only; you express’d
You hold things beautiful the best,
And pace them in rhyme so, side by side.
’Tis something, nay ’tis much: but then,
Have you yourself what’s best for men?
Are you—poor, sick, old ere your time—
Nearer one whit your own sublime
Than we who never have turn’d a rhyme?
Sing, riding’s a joy! For me, I ride.
In the seventh stanza of the poem, ‘The Last Ride Together’, the speaker refers to a poet and his works. He asks poets what it all means to them regarding this relationship. Their brains beat into a rhythm and they can express what mortals feel only. The expression of their emotion is beautiful and best. Moreover, they can arrange their thoughts in rhythm.
Whereas the speaker admits it’s a special ability but it’s not something in which they can take pride in. As they don’t have for themselves what is best for men. They are also like the speaker. Poets also become poor, sick, and old before their time. He asks them whether they are nearer to reach the sublime. Those who never have turned a rhyme are also like poets who can express their emotions through poetry. For him, riding with his beloved for the last time means a lot. Unlike poetry, his song is comparable to the last ride.
And you, great sculptor—so, you gave
A score of years to Art, her slave,
And that’s your Venus, whence we turn
To yonder girl that fords the burn!
You acquiesce, and shall I repine?
What, man of music, you grown gray
With notes and nothing else to say,
Is this your sole praise from a friend,
‘Greatly his opera’s strains intend,
Put in music we know how fashions end!’
I gave my youth: but we ride, in fine.
In this stanza of ‘The Last Ride Together’, the speaker compares himself to a great sculptor. The sculptor gave a score of years “Art”. Here, the poet personifies art and compares it to a lady. Whatsoever the person is the art’s slave and that’s his Venus. Venus is the goddess of love. However, his artistic abilities also fade away at a certain point of time. Here, the speaker sarcastically says at this situation an artist “acquiesce” and he repines. Their state is similar but the expression is different in both of the cases.
Thereafter, the speaker refers to a “man of music” who has grown gray in his notes and there is nothing else to say about him. Here, “gray” is a metonym of old-age. One of the friends of this musician might have said in praise that his opera’s strains were great. Yet one knows how fashions end. In this way, the poet presents the theme of impermanence. At last, the speaker says he gave his youth to the lady. But she is about to leave him. So, the musician’s life is similar to that of the speaker. They haven’t gotten much than what they have invested.
Who knows what’s fit for us? Had fate
Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being—had I sign’d the bond—
Still 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 quest
Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?
Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.
In this stanza, the speaker says no one knows what is going to them. If fate proposed, he will get heavenly bliss on that day and fade into sublimity. But he hasn’t signed the pact with death yet. He must lead some life beyond this journey and have the bliss to die with, “dim-descried”. Here, having this ride with the lady is compared to bliss.
Thereafter, he says that once he had set his foot on this goal of winning the lady’s heart. He imagined himself wearing the “glory-garland round his soul.” But he failed to foresee such an ending. If it’s not so, one can try and test himself. He is sure that the person will end up with a broken heart.
However, he gradually sinks back from this quest shuddering. Now earth seems good to him as he has shot for heaven without sensing the reality. While he is riding with this lady, he can feel heaven and she is beyond this ride. It means they are both unattainable and unreachable as well.
And yet—she has not spoke so long!
What if heaven be that, fair and strong
At life’s best, with our eyes upturn’d
Whither life’s flower is first discern’d,
We, fix’d so, ever should so abide?
What if we still ride on, we two
With life for ever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity,—
And heaven just prove that I and she
Ride, ride together, for ever ride?
In the last stanza of this dramatic monologue, ‘The Last Ride Together’, the speaker notices that the lady has not spoken a word after the beginning of the ride. He was so busy in his thoughts that he could not decode the lady’s silence. There can be two meanings of this silence. The lady might be silent as she is also sad about such an ending. Secondly, past passions might be rising in her heart again. However, the speaker asks himself what if heaven is fairer and stronger than life’s best moments. The life’s flower, a metaphorical reference to the lady, to which the speaker has fixed his love can again become his lifelong partner. Who knows?
What if they still ride on forgetting about the past. He is ready to be old with the lady yet life will seem new every day if she is with him. Life will change not in kind but degree. It means that they can reach a certain height for their love of which mere mortals haven’t thought of. Their “last ride” can last up to eternity. And in heaven, they will prove the fact that their journey has never come to an end. In this way, the speaker leaves the ending of their love story up to the readers. They can anticipate what might have happened with them in the later phase of this ride.
The Last Ride Together as a Dramatic Monologue
Robert Browning’s ‘The Last Ride Together’ is an ideal example of the dramatic monologue. The poet wrote this poem in the form of a speech of an individual. Here, the poetic person is the sole speaker throughout the piece. The poem begins in capitals, “I SAID”. So the utterance of the speaker makes up the whole of the poem in a specific situation. Here, the context is the parting of two lovers. Secondly, in this poem, the persona addresses and interacts directly with the lady. In some cases, he indulges in mental conversations with a poet, a sculptor, and a musician. Readers are aware of the auditor’s presence, and what they say and do, only from the clues present in the discourse of the single speaker.
Last but not least, the main principle controlling the poet’s choice and formulation of what the lyric speaker says is to reveal to the reader, in a way that enhances its interest, the lover’s temperament and character.
The poet utilizes the form of dramatic monologue while illustrating a lover’s state of mind during the last ride with his beloved. Concerning the subject matter of the poem, it is innovative yet some motifs appeared in the poems written before ‘The Last Ride Together’. Whatsoever, it was written in the Victorian period that represented the high point of the dramatic monologue in English poetry.
Whereas in the romantic period, there are very few poems written using this form. Poems such as ‘Tintern Abbey’ by William Wordsworth and ‘Mont Blanc’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley closely resemble the form. The conversational poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge are a better example of the dramatic monologue form. Felicia Hemans and Letitia Elizabeth Landon developed this genre, beginning in Landon’s case with her long poem ‘The Imrpovisatrice’.
Later in the Victorian era, poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and Robert Browning took this form to new heights. Poems such as ‘Ulysses’ by Tennyson, ‘Dover Beach’ by Arnold, and ‘My Last Duchess’ by Browning are taken as some best-known dramatic monologues.
Browning produced his most famous works in this form. His famous dramatic monologues include:
- ‘The Ring and the Book’
- ‘Caliban upon Setebos’
- ‘Men and Women’
Here is a list of a few poems that are similar to the themes present in Browning’s ‘The Last Ride Together’.
- The Sorrow of True Love by Edward Thomas – It’s one of the best Edward Thomas poems. Here, the poet opines on the love that leans toward a negative in consequence to the pain of losing the person for whom love exists.
- A Dream within a Dream by Edgar Allan Poe – In this poem, the poet presents the theme of transience of time and it’s similar to the overall idea of Browning’s poem. However, it’s one of the best-known poems by Edgar Allan Poe.
- The Forsaken Wife by Elizabeth Thomas – One should refer to this poem for understanding the perspective of a female speaker who is forsaken by his husband. The poem records her parting words for her husband.
- When We Two Parted by Lord Byron – It’s one of the best Lord Byron poems. Here, the poet indicates a different aspect of the relationships he had and his feelings about them throughout his life.