Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

On the surface, “Love Among the Ruins” appears to have a very simple message. It is the same message that would be voiced a century later by antiwar activists during the late 1960’s, whose slogan was “Make love, not war.” When Browning wrote his poem, Great Britain under Queen Victoria was nearing its zenith as a military and mercantile power. In the words of the jingoistic English poet Rudyard Kipling in his poem “Recessional,” his nation had established “dominion over palm and pine.” The British Empire included huge portions of Asia, Africa, North America, and Australia. The British boasted that “Britannia rules the waves” and “The sun never sets on British soil.” In geographical area, it was by far the largest empire the world had ever seen.

There were Englishmen, however, who were questioning the wisdom of such extensive conquest and exploitation. Browning’s poem can be read as a warning that Great Britain could go the way of Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome and end up losing all her territorial possessions. This was what actually began to happen a hundred years later in the aftermath of World War II.

“Love Among the Ruins” can also be read as a self-revealing rationalization on the part of the poet. Browning’s love affair with Elizabeth Barrett, who became his wife in 1846, is perhaps the most famous love relationship that has ever existed between two such prominent literary personalities. The marriage...

(The entire section is 436 words.)