The Last Ride Together

by Robert Browning

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Discussion Topic

The poet-lover's message and meaning in various stanzas and lines of Robert Browning's "The Last Ride Together."

Summary:

In Robert Browning's "The Last Ride Together," the poet-lover conveys a mix of hope, resignation, and reflection. Throughout the stanzas, he cherishes the brief moment of togetherness with his lover, despite their failed relationship. He reflects on the fleeting nature of happiness and the value of seizing the present moment, ultimately finding solace in the beauty of their shared experience.

Expert Answers

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What message does the poet-lover convey in stanza X, lines 100–110 of Browning's "The Last Ride Together"?

In this final stanza, the speaker of the poem, who loves a woman that no longer loves him in return, notices that this beloved woman has not yet spoken to him during their last ride together. He considers how we often turn our eyes upward, as if to look up at heaven, the best thing that we might hope to experience one day. However, the speaker feels that he would be just as happy riding like this, with his beloved, for “eternity” and his idea of heaven would be just the two of them riding together forever. He does not aspire to the traditional idea of heaven; rather, he would alter it, if he could, to make it an eternity of just this moment. Despite the fact that he has been dumped, rejected by this woman for whom he clearly still has very strong feelings, he really does not allow any sadness or dejection to affect his enjoyment of this last ride with his now former lover. Truthfully, the speaker makes the most of his last few moments with her, even using them as a springboard to dream about the possibility of the beautiful minutes lasting forever. He does not choose to dwell on what he is losing but simply enjoys the last few moments he has with his beloved.

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What is the poet-lover saying in stanza III, lines 23–33 of Browning's "The Last Ride Together"?

In the third stanza, the speaker of the poem compares his now former lover to a “billowy-bosom’d” cloud that reflects the light of sun and moon and stars all at one time. When one looks at such a cloud, one might be inspired to think of heaven and be moved by the thought, and this is just how the speaker feels when he looks at his beloved, so physically near to him. Just as one might grow aware of and be surprised by the nearness and beauty of such a lovely, illuminated cloud in the sky, so does the speaker grow aware of his beloved’s nearness when she is next to him in this bittersweet moment. She is, essentially, dumping him; however, she has made him so very happy by agreeing to one final ride with him. In this moment, just after she has agreed to take this last ride together, she actually approaches him and lays her head down on his chest. To him, the nearness of her is like the nearness of such a beautiful cloud. He is struck, moved, by her beauty and her softness, and she makes him feel both passionate (or lustful) and loving all at once.

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What do stanzas 6-8 mean in Robert Browning's poem "The Last Ride Together"?

Robert Browning's poem “The Last Ride Together” is the monologue of a dejected lover as he contemplates the end of a relationship. The title of the poem comes from the setting in which the poem takes place—on a final ride that the speaker and his ex-lover share. Stanzas six, seven, and eight (lines 56-88) strongly develop the character of the speaker and reveal the speaker's attitudes about the end of his relationship. These three stanzas are explained below. 

Stanza VI

What hand and brain went ever pair’d?
What heart alike conceived and dared?
What act proved all its thought had been?
What will but felt the fleshly screen?
  We ride and I see her bosom heave.        
There’s many a crown for who can reach.
Ten lines, a statesman’s life in each!
The flag stuck on a heap of bones,
A soldier’s doing! what atones?
They scratch his name on the Abbey-stones.        
My riding is better, by their leave.


In the sixth stanza, the speaker becomes philosophical about the end of his relationship, considering the nature of love, reality vs. dream, and the nature of failure. The speaker considers that all men fail. In mentioning statesmen and soldiers in this stanza, the speaker justifies his failure, explaining that all men—even those held in high regard—do fail. 

Stanza VII
What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell
What we felt only; you express’d
You hold things beautiful the best,        
  And pace them in rhyme so, side by side.
’Tis something, nay ’tis much: but then,
Have you yourself what’s best for men?
Are you—poor, sick, old ere your time—
Nearer one whit your own sublime        
Than we who never have turn’d a rhyme?
Sing, riding’s a joy! For me, I ride.
In this stanza, the speaker continues his philosophical musings with false optimism. The speaker compares himself to a poet, who has only words, whereas the speaker at least has his final ride. The speaker's long thoughts on the poet (an entire stanza) serve as a distraction from his loss, while at the very end, he consoles himself, saying, "For me, I ride," as he accepts the reality that this is the final ride with his lover.

Stanza VIII
And you, great sculptor—so, you gave
A score of years to Art, her slave,
And that’s your Venus, whence we turn        
To yonder girl that fords the burn!
  You acquiesce, and shall I repine?
What, man of music, you grown gray
With notes and nothing else to say,
Is this your sole praise from a friend,       
‘Greatly his opera’s strains intend,
Put in music we know how fashions end!’
  I gave my youth: but we ride, in fine.
Stanza eight is a continuation of the speaker's justification in the seventh stanza. In the seventh stanza, the speaker compared his relationship to the labors of a poet, and decided he preferred the in-the-flesh experience of love over the intangible beauty of poetry. In the eighth stanza, that line of thought is continued, but this time the speaker compares his ended relationship to the work of sculptors and musicians, which he claims is also intangible. Although the speaker appreciates the labors of both of these artists, he still decides that he prefers the love he had, even though it is at its end. Again, the stanza ends with his decision, "I gave my youth: but we ride, in fine."

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