‘Two in Campagna’ refers to an area in the countryside around Rome. It was swampy and unclaimed up until the middle of the twentieth century. It was often used in the literature of the time to symbolize freedom and a place where the rules were less structured or didn’t exist at all. There is much more to the piece that these fairly basic ideas, though, Browning taps into a relationship, one that he has difficulty expressing as a means of conveying the limitations of poetry.
Explore Two in Campagna
‘Two in Campagna’ is a memorable love poem that takes place in Campagna, a region of Italy outside of Rome. There, the speaker addresses his lover, asking her questions about their mural passion and the possibility, or impossibility, of them becoming one person and sharing that bliss forever. He uses the natural sights around them to emphasize how hard it is to concentrate it into an accurate expression of his emotion. He moves from one natural sight to another, alluding to their changeability. It’s impossible to grasp these elements as it’s impossible to grasp the right words for his poem.
As the poem goes on, it becomes clear that the speaker is also seeking out a perfect connection to his partner, one that’s just as unattainable as the perfect words. He wants it badly, but in the last stanzas, it’s quite obvious that this is not going to happen. He has to be satisfied with his limited heart.
In ‘Two in Campagna,’ Browning engages with themes of love, human limits, and nature. Throughout, he uses natural images to emphasize his speaker’s love for his partner. Together, the two are sitting in a very idealistic setting, one that should be ideal for experiencing the perfect joy of their relationship. Despite this, the speaker is very aware of his own limitations. He loves this person deeply, but he is fundamentally flawed, as are all humans. His heart is limited, and he’s incapable of loving as he’d like to. He can’t fully commit his being to her as he would like. While the speaker is talking about the possibilities and impossibilities of love, the poet is also alluding to the limits of poetry. There is only so much that can be said, just as there’s only so much that can be felt.
Structure and Form
‘Two in Campagna’ by Robert Browning is a twelve-stanza poem that is separated into quintains or five-line stanzas. These stanzas follow a consistent rhyme scheme of ABABA, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The meter is less structured, sometimes using iambs and sometimes appearing to be written completely in free verse. The first four lines are written in tetrameter and the final line in trimeter. Meaning that they have four and three sets of beats per line. It is influenced by the regular use of enjambment throughout the poem.
Browning makes use of several literary devices in ‘Two in Campagna.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, imagery, and anaphora. The latter is a kind of repetition, one that’s concerned with the use and reuse of words at the beginning of multiple lines. This might be one word or several. For example, “Such” in stanza six starts the first four lines of the stanza.
Alliteration is another form of repetition, one that focuses on consonant sounds at the start of words. For example, “hand in hand” in line two of the first stanza and “green” and “grope” in line two of the fourth stanza.
Imagery is another quite important technique at work in ‘Two in Campagna.’ It can be seen throughout the poem, as the poet depicts his speaker’s surroundings and his emotional connection to his lover. For example, these lines from the fourth stanza: Where one small orange cup amassed / Five beetles,—blind and green they grope / Among the honey-meal.” Here, as in other instances, the poet engages multiple senses, creatively depicting an experience the reader should connect to. Another good example comes at the end of the poem with these lines from stanza eleven, “Still like the thistle-ball, no bar, / Onward, whenever light winds blow, / Fixed by no friendly star?”
Enjambment is a formal device, one that’s used throughout ‘Two in Campagna.’ It refers to the moments in which the poet cuts off a line before the end of a sentence or phrase—for example, the transition between lines three and four of stanza two.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I wonder do you feel to-day
As I have felt since, hand in hand,
We sat down on the grass, to stray
In spirit better through the land,
This morn of Rome and May?
In the first stanza of ‘Two in Campagna,’ the speaker begins by addressing “you,” his lover, and the intended listener of the poem. He wonders if his lover feels now what he has felt for a long time. He sets the scene, describing the two sitting in the grass in the Campagna outside of Rome on a Mayday. He wonders if she is as overcome with emotion as he is. From the start, the lines of ‘Two in Campagna’ are quite poetic and beautiful. They are filled with romantic images of nature and love.
For me, I touched a thought, I know,
Has tantalized me many times,
(Like turns of thread the spiders throw
Mocking across our path) for rhymes
To catch at and let go.
He turns o acknowledge his own thoughts in the second stanza. He thinks that he has “touched a thought” about his relationship that he’d like to put into words. It has “tantalized” him, or evaded and tempted him, for a long time. The poet uses a simile in these lines to describe how very possible it is that the emotions and words to describe them are going to continue to slip through his fingers. He depicts the experience as the ever-changing face of nature. It is comparable to spider webs, ever-changing, and always been rebuilt in his path.
Help me to hold it! First it left
The yellowing fennel, run to seed
There, branching from the brickwork’s cleft,
Some old tomb’s ruin: yonder weed
Took up the floating weft,
In the third stanza of ‘Two in Campagna’, he begs his lover to help him look for these words and hold onto them. He depicts the process through an extended metaphor of nature. Seeking out the proper words to describe his emotions is like running through a natural landscape, looking at all the twisting, changing elements. There’s “yellow fennel,” ruins, and more.
Where one small orange cup amassed
Five beetles,—blind and green they grope
Among the honey-meal: and last,
Everywhere on the grassy slope
I traced it. Hold it fast!
Just as these moments of nature are escaping the speaker’s grasp, so too do his words. This is an allusion to the difficulty of accurately writing about something so powerful. But, readers also have to acknowledge that the poet has created something. There are words on the page, suggesting that it’s possible to allude to the nature of such emotion but impossible to completely describe it in words that anyone could understand. The exclamation after the caesura in the fifth line of this stanza brings the reader back to the start and the poet’s desire to hold onto something that’s always eluding him.
The champaign with its endless fleece
Of feathery grasses everywhere!
Silence and passion, joy and peace,
An everlasting wash of air—
Rome’s ghost since her decease.
He describes in the following lines the beautiful landscape of the area and how there, passion and joy should feel every moment. They’re sitting in “Rome’s ghost,” a clever way of describing this area that’s fallen into disrepair and become overgrown. It’s quite obvious that the history of the landscape and the beautiful natural sights are inspiring this speaker to profess his love and attempt this impossible poem.
Such life here, through such lengths of hours,
Such miracles performed in play,
Such primal naked forms of flowers,
Such letting nature have her way
While heaven looks from its towers!
The sixth stanza of ‘Two in Campagna’ contains a great example of anaphora as the poet repeats the word “Such” at the start of the first four lines. He emphasizes the “life” that resides “here.” It’s a miraculous place, one that is in the direct sight of heaven. It seems to him that if he’s going to be able to compose his love poem anywhere, this would be the place to find the words. Plus, since he’s there with his lover, he should be further inspired to do so.
How say you? Let us, O my dove,
Let us be unashamed of soul,
As earth lies bare to heaven above!
How is it under our control
To love or not to love?
The same emphasis on passion continues in the next lines. He’s very aware of the atmosphere that this area outside of Rome has. He feels it and wants to embrace it. He encourages his lover to do the same. They should, he thinks, feel unashamed “of soul” and not try to control their love. These exclamations and questions are leading up to an ultimatum, will they be able to embrace their passion fully as the speaker wants? It seems unlikely considering his inability to even put that passion into words. He has unavoidably human.
I would that you were all to me,
You that are just so much, no more.
Nor yours nor mine, nor slave nor free!
Where does the fault lie? What the core
O’ the wound, since wound must be?
In the eighth stanza, he’s reiterating his thoughts, building up to revelation in regards to how well they’re going to be able to be fully themselves. He wishes that his lover were “all to” him, but she is “so much, no more.” There is a limit to how much they’re able to come together. There’s something blocking them from becoming one being. He thinks there must be something specific at fault, something that’s not attributable to him or her. Perhaps a “wound” of some kind that’s hindering them.
Stanzas Nine and Ten
I would I could adopt your will,
See with your eyes, and set my heart
Beating by yours, and drink my fill
At your soul’s springs,—your part my part
In life, for good and ill.
No. I yearn upward, touch you close,
Then stand away. I kiss your cheek,
Catch your soul’s warmth,—I pluck the rose
And love it more than tongue can speak—
Then the good minute goes.
The following stanzas reiterate much of what Browning has already expressed in regards to this speaker’s relationship. He would, if he could, do anything and everything to be as close to his lover as possible. He would drink at his lover’s “soul’s spring” and draw close to her.
Unfortunately, these moments of passion and complete devotion are fleeting. The “good minute” passes, as the following stanza explains.
Stanzas Eleven and Twelve
Already how am I so far
Out of that minute? Must I go
Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
Onward, whenever light winds blow,
Fixed by no friendly star?
Just when I seemed about to learn!
Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern—
Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn.
He wonders in the following lines if this is how it’s going to be forever, him alone, wandering “whenever light winds blow, / Fixed by no friendly star.” He has a “finite heart,” one that is incapable of reaching a level of devotion that he has in his mind. The “thread” of his love and passion moves from place to place, “Off again!” just when he’d located it. The bliss he’d like to experience with his lover is out of reach. If he ever got there, it would be the ultimate realization of his love. It would also complete his life in a way he has yet to experience. But this is not possible.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Two in Campagna’ should also consider reading some of Browning’s other best-known poems. For example, ‘Fra Lippo Lippi,’ ‘A Woman’s Last Word,’ and ‘Love in a Life.’ The first is a dramatic monologue that’s 376 lines long. In it, Robert Browning details the difficult, tumultuous, and sometimes scandalous life of the painter Fra Lippo Lippi. In ‘A Woman’s Last Word,’ Browning depicts an imagined woman’s request to her husband that they go to bed without arguing. In ‘Love in a Life,’ the poet tells of a speaker’s seemingly endless quest to find his lover within the numerous rooms of their shared home.