"The Unlit Lamp And The Ungirt Loin"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Robert Browning chose as his primary interest in his poetry the Renaissance, its people, and its customs. In "The Statue and the Bust," he relates the story of a futile love in Renaissance Florence. Duke Ferdinand falls in love with the new bride of the head of the Riccardi family, and she with him. As he rides below her window, he admires her. She, from the security of her window, watches for him as he rides through the town square. Time passes, and the lady grows older. To prevent the aging process, she has an unaging bust made for the window from which she has watched. The duke has a bronze equestrian statue cast of himself and placed in the town square where he has ridden. At the end of the poem, the poet delivers his preachment–in this case, an indictment of the lovers for not having striven for their love, for having accepted a passive, an inactive love:

If you choose to play!–is my principle.
Let a man contend to the uttermost
For his life's set prize, be it what it will!
The counter our lovers staked was lost
As surely as if it were lawful coin;
And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost
Is–the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin,
Though the end in sight was a vice, I say.
You of the virtue (we issue join)
How strive you? De te fabula!