The Last Ride Together

by Robert Browning

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Can you provide a critical analysis of "The Last Ride Together"?

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The speaker reflects on his love for his mistress, and how he has been feeling lately ("My days have dwindled to a precious few"). He thinks about how he feels before and after he sees her. He wonders if she loves him ("If that be love, I know not what it is; / If this be love, I know not why it is"), but then concludes that if she doesn't love him anymore, it's "only because she cannot." He mentions the last time they rode together, and how wonderful it was. The poem ends with the speaker wishing that he could "ride together for ever ride", but realizing that this is impossible.

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"The Last Ride Together" is a dramatic monologue in which the speaker takes one final ride with his lover, reflecting on the relationship they have had and pondering what he could have done to make her reciprocate his love. Browning was a Victorian poet, but in this poem the speaker is a typical Romantic hero: he is sensitive, noble, and a martyr for love. In this way, Browning draws on an archetypal character from Romantic literature—popularized by Romantic writers like John Keats, Lord Byron, and Johann Wolfgang Goethe.

In the first half of the poem, the speaker reflects on how his lover (or, more precisely, his ex-lover) makes him feel "deified" and as if he can fly. On this final ride with his lover, he describes his soul as once again "fluttering in the wind," and he repeats the sentiment later: "it seemed my spirit flew." This repeating motif seems to signal that the poem is about how love can set one free and make one feel almost more than human.

Another possible interpretation of the poem is that the speaker's last ride with his lover is actually a metaphor, alluding to their final sexual encounter together. In this interpretation, the freedom that he feels—as suggested by the motif of flight noted above—is really an allusion to the ecstasy he experienced during that encounter. There are lines throughout the poem which lend credence to this interpretation. For example, there are multiple innuendos; in stanza three, "Down on you, near and yet more near"; in stanza six, "We ride and I see her bosom heave"; and in stanza nine (after the sexual encounter has reached its climax), "I sink back shuddering from the quest."

In the second half of the poem, the speaker questions imaginary artists and musicians and asks if their creations can possibly be as beautiful or as fine as this final "ride" that he is taking with his lover. He eventually concludes that their sculptures and their symphonies are made crude in comparison to his final ride. Yet, as beautiful as this final ride might be, the poem concludes with a moment of pathos as the speaker wishes, in vain, that he might "ride together, for ever ride" with his lover.

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Browning's dramatic monologue 'The Last Ride Together' is an exploration of the end of a love affair. The affair has been ended by the woman, however Browning is suggesting, through his narrator, that rather than feeling sad about this he should feel happy and proud and 'bless/ Your name in pride and thankfulness' about the love that was.

Browning is suggesting that this last ride together is like a moment of perfection that can be remembered for all time with fondness and without regret. Love is difficult and Browning writes that 'all men strive and who suceeds?' but striving is important to Browning in this and other poems. Love is being regarded as man's supreme achievement even more important then deeds done during a war for which a soldier may only expect that 'They scratch his name on the Abbey-stones.' Love is also seen as more important than art and Browning is again looking at the relationhip between life and art as he does in Fra Lippo Lippi, for example.        

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