Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.
'The Last Ride Together' Summary
'The Last Ride Together' is one of Robert Browning's most notable dramatic monologues. It focuses on the wishes of a man for a last ride together with his lover, and this journey is both passionate and evocative.
First published in 1855 in the book Men and Women, it has received much attention over the years, especially with regard to the possible psycho-sexual content. Some critics see Freudian symbols within the poem, the title in particular interpreted as a metaphor for the sexual act.
- This is debatable but does open up discussion which could lead to a greater understanding of this classical poem. Suffice to say, as the poem progresses it does become clear that this is no ordinary horse ride through gentle countryside.
- This is a journey that takes place in the heart and mind. Browning taps into the mindset of the modern man.
In the end, the speaker wishes for the journey to never end, to carry on in some eternal instant. For Victorian readers, this was cutting-edge romantic material - how could a rejected lover carry on so, and be such a complicated soul?
Robert Browning and his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning were the most famous poetic couple of the age. Their publications became very popular and their life as lover-poets was well known.
They also traveled a lot and it was on one of these journeys that Robert Browning perhaps echoed the sentiments of 'The Last Ride Together'.
In a letter of 1858 Elizabeth wrote to one Isa Blagden following their pleasant journey from Florence to Paris 'I was nearly sorry to arrive, & Robert suggested the facility of travelling on for ever so.'
'The Last Ride Together' encapsulates Browning's principal philosophies - life is always greater than art and love is the best thing life can bring. The experience here on earth is the ultimate and one doesn't have to wait for heaven to have a blissful life in the here and now.
Literary Devices Used
Although the majority of the poem is in first-person mode, starting with I said, watch out for subtle changes as the stanzas progress. The second person pronoun enters the scene, you, then again moving onto we, a natural progression as the couple unite.
This is a demanding poem to read because of:
- The mysterious rhyming fifth and eleventh lines in each stanza.
- A complex rhyme scheme that confuses matters, the 8, 9 and 10 lines all rhyming.
- The subtle change in metrics with lines 10 and 11.
- The syntax, which needs careful negotiation.
- The use of dashes here and there, together with more formal punctuation, help keep the syntax challenging.
- Each stanza has its own character but watch out in particular for stanzas II, VII and VIII, which require extra work with rhythm and meaning.
And note the use of enjambment - when a line has no punctuation at the end and flows into the next - which together with the iambic tetrameter, help keep the poem moving forward whilst the odd line with an extra beat, a ninth syllable, remind the reader that this is no clockwork relationship, but is in flux.
Whilst helping to bond and bind certain sections of the poem, both rhyme and rhythm reflect a complex mindset - the man is torn between accepting his fate as a failed lover, yet wishes for that eternal moment of continuous union with her.
To help put his plight into context he thinks about art and work and how men strive for some kind of perfection, never quite attaining the heights. And then there is fate - no one can know what lies ahead, so best to live life and love in the here and now, hoping it can last forever.
Metaphor For Sex?
'The Last Ride Together is an obviously suggestive title for the modern reader, conscious of Freudian psychology, but was not back in Victorian times. Victorian people rode horses and going riding together was seen as a romantic and appropriate thing for lovers to do.
- So how come there is not one mention of an actual horse in this poem? There is no specific reference to anything equine. The nearest we get to the idea of people out riding is in the fifth stanza:
We rode; it seemed my spirit flew,
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rushed by on either side.
But ambiguity rules! These lines convey far more than a simple physical journey on horseback.
Browning explored the relationship between men and women, the tensions within their love lives being a particular speciality. It is said of him:
'..he dramatised every kind of love from the spiritual to the sensual...love was for him the crisis and test of a man's life.' (Robert Lynd)
- Whilst the layout of the poem and its neo-classical look might suggest nothing more than a couple out riding on horses, side by side, in steady rhythmic riding, the temptation is to treat the whole work as a metaphor for blissful, timeless, sexual union.
In the end, it is up to the reader to decide whether or not the poem is successful as a sexual metaphor. If there any doubts then perhaps it is best to treat this work as a complex and unusual major romantic love poem.
Rhyme Scheme of 'The Last Ride Together'
'The Last Ride Together' is a dramatic monologue of ten stanzas in length, each with eleven lines. It is formal in structure.
The rhyme scheme is unusual - aabbcddeeec. All the end rhymes are full except for sun's/once and wind/behind. Full rhyme brings a familiar closure to most lines but the sequence is a rare one, starting with two couplets and finishing with three rhymes in a row concluded by the last, which rhymes with the fifth.
- The all-important fifth line often rounds off the previous four and forms a question or part conclusion. The fact that the fifth rhymes with the eleventh makes the reader look back - the rhyming is lost between lines six and ten - only a faint echo remaining. This distant coupling reflects the relationship: together but apart.
Structure And Metrical Analysis
The structure of this poem appears to be classical, that is, there is a balance to the layout, and the order of ideas within the stanzas is straightforward - the man has accepted his fate within the first two lines - and follows this path of resignation to the end.
This is a monologue based on wishful thinking, the man clearly disappointed within, yet ecstatic at the thought of this one last journey together.
Whilst the rhyme scheme suggests familiarity and interrupted reflection (the 5th and 11th rhyming lines), the dominant iambic tetrameter reveals a calm and regular rhythm to the poem.
However, note that the last two lines of each stanza have an extra beat, nine syllables, and a slightly altered metrical rhythm, with anapaest and amphibrach. This from the last stanza:
And hea / ven just prove / that I / and she
Ride, ride / together, / for ev / er ride?
The spondee (stress on Ride, ride) in the last line emphasises the stress placed on this final journey.
And again in stanza nine:
Earth be / ing so / good, would / heaven / seem best?
Now hea / ven and / she are / beyond / this ride.
Here we have pentameter with iamb, spondee and pyrrhic mixing. Whilst tetrameter prevails, reflecting steady rhythm, these variations show the rhythm changing from time to time near the end of the stanza.
The Poetry Handbook, John Lennard, OUP, 2005
© 2017 Andrew Spacey