The Lost Mistress

Robert Browning

‘The Lost Mistress’ is a poem written by Robert Browning, it is a dramatic monologue that expresses the pain and agony of a lover.


Robert Browning

Nationality: English

Robert Browning was an English poet born in 1812.

He is considered one of the preeminent Victorian poets of the period.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Love can cause a great deal of pain

Speaker: A bereft lover

Poetic Form: Dramatic Monologue

Time Period: 19th Century

This is a heartbreakingly realistic poem in which a lover expresses his suffering when dealing with his beloved.

The Lost Mistress‘ was written by Robert Browning and is a dramatic monologue that expresses the pain and agony of a bereft lover. The poem depicts the speaker’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that his relationship is never going to be the same. From now on, he’s going to have to content himself with being friends with this person.

The Lost Mistress
Robert Browning

All’s over, then: does truth sound bitterAs one at first believes?Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitterAbout your cottage eaves!

And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,I noticed that, today;One day more bursts them open fully– You know the red turns grey.

Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?May I take your hand in mine?Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merestKeep much that I resign:

For each glance of the eye so bright and black,Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, –Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,Though it stay in my soul for ever! –

Yet I will but say what mere friends say,Or only a thought stronger;I will hold your hand but as long as all may,Or so very little longer!


The Lost Mistress’ is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning that contends with a man’s complicated emotions for his beloved.

The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging that their relationship has come to an end, and they question whether the truth about their separation is as bitter as they initially believed.

Despite the separation, the speaker yearns for another meeting with their beloved. They express a desire to hold hands and maintain a connection, even if only as friends. In the final lines, the speaker resolves to speak and act like mere friends, suppressing their deeper emotions.

Structure and Form

The poem ‘The Lost Mistress‘ is made up of five stanzas with four lines in each stanza with the rhyme ABAB. Besides this pattern, the poem does not use a specific structure of rhythm, such as iambic pentameter or iambic trimeter.

Quatrain poems, as this one is, are very common in Brownings’ oeuvre, and while this isn’t perhaps his best, it is a good example of the kind of poetry he enjoyed writing.

Literary Devices

Browning makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Lost Mistress.’ These include but are not limited to:

  • Metaphor: this can be seen when the poet compares two things without using “like” or “as.” This is a figure of speech that can be seen in the poet’s comparison between the leaf buds and his speaker’s relationship.
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “little longer!”
  • Juxtaposition: The poem employs contrasts to highlight the disparity between the speaker’s internal emotional turmoil and the indifference of the world. For example, the contrast between the truth and the chirping of sparrows.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

All’s over, then: does truth sound bitter

As one at first believes?

Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter

About your cottage eaves!

The speaker in this poem addresses his mistress, whom he has lost recently, in the first lines of this poem. The first lines convey a sense of finality and acceptance that the relationship between the speaker and their beloved has come to an end.

These initial lines also pose a rhetorical question, asking whether the truth of the situation sounds as bitter as it initially appeared. It also suggests that the speaker is contending with the emotional impact of the truth and questioning their initial perception.

The mention of sparrows chirping at night in the following lines creates an image of a peaceful and ordinary scene outside the cottage, something that contrasts with the speaker’s inner turmoil.

Stanza Two

And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,

I noticed that, today;

One day more bursts them open fully

– You know the red turns grey.

In the second stanza of the poem, the poet goes on to note the image of leaf buds on a vine and how they, like the speaker’s relationship, have changed. This image captures the early stage of the buds’ development, emphasizing their nascent and delicate nature.

The adjective “woolly” suggests a soft and fuzzy texture, as well, evoking a sense of vulnerability and immaturity. They know that one day, though, they will open more fully, and then the red turns to grey, suggesting the process of aging. Each passing day brings the buds closer to their complete transformation, mirroring the evolution of the speaker’s relationship with their beloved.

Stanza Three

Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?

May I take your hand in mine?

Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merest

Keep much that I resign:

In the third stanza, the poet delves into his emotions more deeply. He wants a continued connection with their beloved but has had to accept the shift to a mere friendship. The stanza begins with the anticipation of another meeting, as the speaker asks, “Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?” which suggests a desire for an ongoing, personal relationship.

The final line of the stanza, “Keep much that I resign,” reveals the speaker’s knowledge of the sacrifices he has made. It also suggests that the speaker has given up certain emotional aspects of their relationship.

Stanza Four

For each glance of the eye so bright and black,

Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, –

Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,

Though it stay in my soul for ever! –

The fourth stanza of Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Lost Mistress’ delves into the speaker’s recollection of specific aspects of their beloved and the enduring impact these memories have on them.

It explores the lingering presence of their beloved’s gaze and voice, highlighting the deep emotional connection that remains despite the change in their relationship. The stanza continues with the mention of the beloved’s voice, stating, “Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back.”

This indicates that the beloved’s voice holds significance in connection with a specific memory or desire. The mention of “snowdrops” suggests a longing for something lost or the return of a past experience or feeling.

Stanza Five

Yet I will but say what mere friends say,

Or only a thought stronger;

I will hold your hand but as long as all may,

Or so very little longer!

The fifth stanza focuses on the speaker’s resolve to conform to the expectations and boundaries of their new friendship. It expresses the speaker’s determination to suppress their deeper emotions and maintain a restrained approach to their connection.

This also indicates the speaker’s intention to adhere to the conventions and expectations of a platonic friendship. He is consciously choosing to limit their expressions and interactions to what is considered appropriate for friends. He knows that he has to only hold his beloved’s hand for as long as it is socially acceptable and does not exceed the boundaries set by societal expectations.


What is the main theme in the poem ‘The Lost Mistress?’

There are several themes in this poem, but love is the most important. It plays a major role in the poem in both positive and negative ways.

What does the “mere friend” symbolize in the poem ‘The Lost Mistress?’

The words “mere friend ” symbolizes the current title for the lover with his lost mistress. He still hopes to regain his lost love with his lover.

What kind of poem is The Lost Mistress?’

The poem ‘The Lost Mistress‘ is a dramatic monologue. The speaker of this specific poem is unknown, something that’s not uncommon in Brownings’ poems. The poem is quite emotional, as well, and feels relatable despite the time period in which it was written.

What is the overall tone in The Lost Mistress?’

The tone is one of melancholy and yearning. The speaker aches to regain his lost relationship throughout this poem and struggles to accept the fact that things will never be the same again between them.

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this piece should consider exploring other Robert Browning poems. For example:

  • My Last Duchess– is an incredibly famous dramatic monologue that discusses a very complicated and dark relationship.
  • Prospice’ – speaks of facing death bravely and being reunited with his soulmate. 
  • Andrea Del Sarto‘ –  tells the story of the largely unremarkable career of Andrea del Sarto.

Poetry+ Review Corner

The Lost Mistress

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Robert Browning

Robert Browning, a prominent figure in Victorian poetry, is known for his dramatic monologues that delve into the complexities of human emotions and relationships. 'The Lost Mistress' showcases Browning's skill in capturing the nuances of love and the power of his verse His poetic style, characterized by introspection and psychological depth, is on full display in this poem.
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19th Century

As a 19th-century poem, 'The Lost Mistress' reflects the poetic trends and sensibilities of the Victorian era. It explores themes of love, loss, and the changing dynamics of relationships, which were prevalent concerns during that period, and is a good example of this period's style.
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This is a poem by the English poet Robert Browning. It exemplifies the poetic traditions and styles of English literature, particularly the Victorian era. The poem reflects Browning's skill in capturing the complexities of human emotions and relationships, showcasing his mastery of language, form, and introspective exploration. It is a great example of English verse.
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Disappointment fills this poem as the speaker acknowledges the end of his romantic relationship and the necessary transition to a mere friendship. The poem reflects the speaker's acceptance of this disappointment. It portrays the emotional weight of loss and the internal struggle to reconcile expectations with reality.
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Love is a central theme in this piece. The poem delves into the speaker's lingering affection for their beloved, despite the dissolution of their romantic relationship. It portrays the complexities and emotional turmoil associated with love as the speaker grapples with the shifting dynamics and attempts to navigate their feelings within the confines of friendship.
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This poem delves into the complexities of relationships and their evolution over time. It explores the shift from a passionate romantic connection to a more subdued friendship, highlighting the challenges of maintaining emotional boundaries and adjusting expectations. The poem delves into the intricacies of human connections, as well.
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Love for Her

The poem explores the speaker's enduring love for his beloved, even though he is unable to have a romantic relationship with her. The poem suggests the bittersweet nature of such love as well, where the speaker contends with his emotions.
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Loving Someone You Can't Have

The poem portrays the internal conflict and emotional turmoil that comes with loving someone who is unattainable or who no longer reciprocates the same level of affection. The speaker used to have a romantic, intimate relationship with this person but all that is lost now.
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While this poem primarily focuses on themes of disappointment and loss, it does suggest that the speaker is still, to a degree, hoping things will change for the better. It highlights the speaker's attempts to find solace and maintain a semblance of connection within the confines of friendship, as well.
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Adversity is key to this poem as the poet explores the challenges faced by the speaker as he navigates the end of his romantic relationship and the subsequent need to redefine their connection. The transition from romance to friendship is very difficult for him.
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Breaking Up

This poem explores the emotional struggle of letting go and accepting the limitations of a new relationship dynamic. The poem captures the struggles and emotional resilience required when faced with the dissolution of a significant relationship and how hard it can be to really accept that things have changed permanently.
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The poem portrays the inevitable nature of change, especially when it comes to rocky relationships and the emotional impact it has on individuals. Browning is able to capture the complexities and challenges of navigating through life's transitionary periods, such as when a romantic relationship ends.
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The poem explores the loss of a romantic relationship. It considers the acceptance of these losses and the need to adapt to new circumstances. The speaker is incredibly pained by the loss they've suffered but is trying, to a degree, to move on.
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Dramatic Monologue

This poem is a dramatic monologue, a form Browning frequently employed in his verse. The poem's form allows the speaker's voice to take center stage, presenting their thoughts, emotions, and experiences directly to the reader, something that really makes the poem what it is.
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Sneka Sagayam Poetry Expert
Sneka is an expert in literature and poetry, having completed a BA in English Literature at PSG College of Arts & Science and a MA in English Language and Literature at Bharathiar University. She thoroughly enjoys literature and poetry, where every human emotion is expressed in unique words.

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