The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The design of this poem is similar to that of Robert Browning’s powerful dramatic romance, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” (1855). In each poem a solitary youth, absorbed in his own reflections, is walking through a desolate landscape late in the day and eventually comes to a tower. In “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” however, a sense of ominous foreboding is relentlessly intensified until the very last line, whereas in “Love Among the Ruins” the scene is one of pastoral serenity with no sound but the tinkling of bells as drowsy sheep browse on lush green hills. As the title of the poem suggests, there are some traces of the ruins of a former civilization to be seen; nature is gradually reclaiming and healing the desecrated land.

According to the speaker, there had once been an awe-inspiring city on this site, dominated by an imposing palace, which was the residence of a king who could command an army of a million soldiers. No specific locale is named, but the repeated references to charioteers suggest that this was the site of an ancient civilization such as Troy, Babylon, or Persia. All of this was so long ago that the whole enormous complex with its palace and its hundred-gated marble wall is only a legend among the pastoral people who now inhabit the region.

The shepherd finally comes in sight of a little turret which is gradually being undermined and covered over by wild vegetation. This is...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The most striking thing about this work is the unusual juxtaposition of long and short lines. Browning wrote many of his most famous poems, such as the frequently anthologized “My Last Duchess,” in blank verse; however, he was also a tireless experimenter with rhymes and meters. He seemed anxious to demonstrate his technical versatility and perhaps to compete in this respect with his famous contemporary Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was better educated than the autodidactic Browning and was a master of all aspects of poetic composition.

The combination of one long line, which could be construed as trochaic pentameter with an extra syllable, or feminine ending, with a line of only three syllables, has several functions. The short line, which always rhymes with the preceding long line, is intended to suggest the sound of the sheep’s bells as they “tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight.” The alternation of the long and short lines suggests the rolling hills that are an essential feature of the landscape. Since the long line is deliberately made to seem too long, the short line by contrast also suggests the remnant of a structure that has toppled because it became too lofty, like the Tower of Babel. The mismatched couplets suggest a contrast between the proud and overbearing ruler of the vanished empire and the rustic simplicity of the present inhabitants.

Some critics have complained that the ongoing contrast between such long and short...

(The entire section is 492 words.)