(Poem #1273) Love among the Ruins
Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles, Miles and miles On the solitary pastures where our sheep Half-asleep 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 Ages since Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far Peace or war. 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 Into one) Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires Up like fires O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall Bounding all Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest Twelve abreast. And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass Never was! Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads And embeds Every vestige of the city, guessed alone, Stock or stone-- Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe Long ago; 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. Now--the single little turret that remains On the plains, By the caper overrooted, by the gourd Overscored, While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks Through the chinks-- Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time Sprang sublime, And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced As they raced, And the monarch and his minions and his dames Viewed the games. 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 Melt away-- 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. 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 then All the men! When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand, Either hand On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace Of my face, Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech Each on each. 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! Earth's returns For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin! Shut them in, With their triumphs and their glories and the rest! Love is best.
Note: First published in volume I of Men and Women, 1855, in fourteen six-line stanzas; changed to present seven twelve-line stanzas in 1863. Written in January 1852. There has been much learned and irrelevant argument [nicely put - martin] about the supposed location of the ruins Browning is describing. -- RPO (http://eir.library.utoronto.ca/rpo/display/poem283.html) A charming and somewhat quirky poem, though the quirkiness lies more in the form than in the content. The tripping metre, with its interspersed long and short lines, is a bold but successful experiment; it is in a sense a little too obtrusive, in that it draws attention away from what the poem is actually saying, but once the initial novelty wears off, it fits the tone of the poem nicely, and adds greatly to the reader's pleasure in the pure sound of the words. Apart from the poem's beautiful imagery, I love the way in which Browning weaves the narrator's twin reveries together. In particular, I love the sequence When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb Till I come. But he looked upon the city, every side... with its altogether unexpected segue from love back to history. Indeed, although the narrator wraps up the poem with a very final "love is best", he spends far more time musing about the ruins than about his waiting love, so that when he says "love is best" he is making a passionate choice, not just mouthing an idle platitude. The other thing I love about the poem is its extravagaince - Browning could be a beautifully controlled poet, but he was seldom a restrained one. Of course, extravagance by itself is more likely to produce a bad poem than a good one; it is the mixture of extravagance and perfect control that makes Browning one of the greats. martin