Explain the theme of Robert Browning's poem "Love Among the Ruins."

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Burns’ poem, “Love Among the Ruins,” sets up a contrast between the lust for wealth and power and the love between two people. The former results in a ruin, while the latter is portrayed with tenderness and optimism as what is best. 

The poem begins with a bucolic scene:

On the solitary pastures where our sheep
         Half-asleep
Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
         As they crop— (3-6).
 
He then explains this was the capital of a kingdom with a great prince, using imagery of fire and war: 
 
 
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 (19-24).
 
The inhabitants of this kingdom are now long gone, because, the narrator suggests, of their "lust" (33) for glory and gold.   Now all that remains is “the single little turret” (37) that marks the basement of an imposing tower. And this is where the narrator awaits his love, “a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair” (55).  She will greet him with,
 
         Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
         Of my face, (68-70)
 
This is a simple touch of love, as opposed to the grandeur of the powerful kingdom now gone. 
 
In the final verse, the narrator once again shows us the greed for power and wealth contrasted with his final line, that all of that power and wealth cannot compete with love:
 
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 (73-84).
 
The entire poem sets up these contrasting images of power, grandeur, and wealth with images of the quiet, simple, beautiful countryside, a contrast of lust for what has not lasted with love, which does last. 
 
 
 
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