Last Ride Together

Last Ride Together

Q. Critically explain the poem Last Ride Together by Robert Browning.

Last Ride Together” is a poem by Robert Browning, published in 1855 as part of his collection “Men and Women.” This collection contains a series of dramatic monologues, a form for which Browning is renowned.

It shows his ability to probe deeply into the psychology of his characters and their situations.

Explanation of Last Ride Together by Robert Browning
Stanza 1

I SAID—Then, dearest, since ’tis so,
Since now at length my fate I know,
Since nothing all my love avails,
Since all, my life seem’d meant for, fails,
Since this was written and needs must be—
My whole heart rises up to bless
Your name in pride and thankfulness!
Take back the hope you gave—I claim
Only a memory of the same,
—And this beside, if you will not blame;
Your leave for one more last ride with me.

In the opening lines of “The Last Ride Together” by Robert Browning, the speaker acknowledges that his love is unrequited and his dreams are shattered. He understands his relationship with his beloved is over, but he is not bitter.

Instead, he thanks her for the joy she brought into his life. He does not ask for her love to continue, only for a memory of it. His final request is for one last ride together, a simple wish he hopes she will not refuse.

This moment is significant because it shows the speaker’s acceptance of his fate and desire to cherish one last experience with his beloved.

Stanza 2

My mistress bent that brow of hers,
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
When pity would be softening through,
Fix’d me a breathing-while or two
With life or death in the balance: right!
The blood replenish’d me again;
My last thought was at least not vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end to-night?

My mistress bent that brow of hers,
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
When pity would be softening through,
Fix’d me a breathing-while or two

In these lines, the speaker describes how his lover looks at him with intensity and complexity. She lowers her eyebrows, a gesture that adds seriousness to her gaze.

Her eyes, ordinarily proud and reserved, show a mix of emotions. A hint of softness or pity breaks through her usual prideful demeanour. This look captures his attention for a short time and significantly impacts him.

With life or death in the balance: right!
The blood replenish’d me again;
My last thought was at least not vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end to-night?

Here, the speaker feels as if the intense gaze of his lover holds the power to decide his fate, like choosing between life and death. This moment reenergizes him, making him feel alive and hopeful again. He realizes his desire for one last experience with her is not pointless.

They will ride together, side by side, elevating his spirit to a divine level for another day. He ends with the thought that today might be the world’s last day.

It suggests that if it were to end, he would be content because he is with her, making this moment the ultimate fulfilment of his desires.

Stanza 3

Hush! if you saw some western cloud
All billowy-bosom’d, over-bow’d
By many benedictions—sun’s
And moon’s and evening-star’s at once—
And so, you, looking and loving best,
Conscious grew, your passion drew
Cloud, sunset, moonrise, star-shine too,
Down on you, near and yet more near,
Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!—
Thus leant she and linger’d—joy and fear!
Thus lay she a moment on my breast.

Hush! if you saw some western cloud
All billowy-bosom’d, over-bow’d
By many benedictions—sun’s
And moon’s and evening-star’s at once—

In these lines, the speaker draws attention to a spectacular scene in the sky with the word “Hush!”—a call for quiet observation.

The “western cloud” described is large and full, creating a visual of something majestic and gently powerful.

The term “billowy-bosom’d” is an older form of English that describes the cloud as complete and rounded, much like billowing fabric or a full bosom. This adds a sense of richness and vitality to its appearance.

“Over-bow’d” suggests the cloud is arched or bent over.

“Benedictions” refers to blessings, specifically those from a religious or solemn context. However, it also describes how the cloud is graced by the light of the sun, the moon, and the evening star simultaneously.

This imagery evokes a sense of harmony and beauty, as it is rare for the sun, moon, and stars to contribute their light together so that it blesses a single cloud.

The scene is depicted as almost divine or celestial, emphasizing the awe-inspiring power of nature to present moments of stunning beauty.

The speaker implies that this natural scene is so serene and perfect that it demands silence and reverence, much like a sacred moment.

And so, you, looking and loving best,
Conscious grew, your passion drew
Cloud, sunset, moonrise, star-shine too,
Down on you, near and yet more near,
Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!—
Thus leant she and linger’d—joy and fear!
Thus lay she a moment on my breast.

The speaker reflects on how his beloved’s deep love and attention heighten her awareness of her feelings. Her strong emotions attract nature’s beauty, such as clouds, the sunset, moonrise, and stars, closer to her.

This shows her passion connects the earthly with the heavenly, intensifying their shared experience.

The line “Till flesh must fade for heaven was here!” highlights a moment where physical reality vanishes in the face of overwhelming beauty and emotion.

It suggests that their love and the beauty around them bring about a heavenly experience on Earth, making the physical world seem less important.

The emotions of “joy and fear” show the complexity of their feelings—happiness for their shared love and beauty, but also fear, possibly due to its fleeting nature or the depth of their emotions.

The phrases “Thus learned she and lingered—joy and fear! Thus lay she a moment on my breast” describe a moment of physical and emotional closeness, capturing their deep connection amidst a mix of happiness and apprehension.

Stanza 4

Then we began to ride. My soul
Smooth’d itself out, a long-cramp’d scroll
Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
Past hopes already lay behind.
What need to strive with a life awry?
Had I said that, had I done this,
So might I gain, so might I miss.
Might she have loved me? just as well
She might have hated, who can tell!
Where had I been now if the worst befell?
And here we are riding, she and I.

Then we began to ride. My soul
Smooth’d itself out, a long cramped scroll
Freshening and fluttering in the wind.
Past hopes already lay behind.

In these lines, the speaker and his beloved start their ride. This ride makes the speaker feel free. He compares his soul to a scroll, which is a roll of paper or parchment.

“Cramp’d” means tightly compressed. His soul was like a scroll that’s been tightly rolled up.

Now, it smooths out. It feels fresh and begins to flutter in the wind. Fluttering means moving lightly and quickly, suggesting a feeling of lightness and renewal.

“Past hopes already lay behind” means he is moving past his old expectations.

He is focusing on the present moment with his beloved. Their ride together symbolizes a journey away from past limitations toward freedom.

Had I said that, had I done this,
So might I gain, so might I miss.
Might she have loved me? just as well
She might have hated, who can tell!
Where had I been now if the worst befell?
And here we are riding, she and I.

In these lines, the speaker questions the value of dwelling on what could have been. He muses on choices he might have made, wondering if they would have led to success or failure in love.

He considers whether different actions might have made his beloved love or hate him, recognizing that it is impossible to know. He asks where he would be if the worst had happened, implying that speculation is pointless.

Despite everything, they are together now, riding side by side. This realization brings him back to the present moment, and he appreciates their ride regardless of past uncertainties and potential outcomes.

Stanza 5

Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds?
We rode; it seem’d my spirit flew,
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rush’d by on either side.
I thought,—All labour, yet no less
Bear up beneath their unsuccess.
Look at the end of work, contrast
The petty done, the undone vast,
This present of theirs with the hopeful past!
I hoped she would love me; here we ride.

Fail I alone, in words and deeds?
Why, all men strive and who succeeds?
We rode; it seem’d my spirit flew,
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rush’d by on either side.

Here, the speaker reflects on the nature of failure and success, questioning if he is the only one who struggles to achieve his goals. He realizes that striving is a common human experience and that success is rare.

While riding with his beloved, he feels a sense of liberation, as if his spirit is soaring beyond their immediate surroundings. He imagines seeing new places and cities as they ride, with the world passing quickly.

As they rode, everything around them seemed to pass by quickly. This moment of escape and imagination highlights a contrast between the reality of their ride and the vast possibilities he envisions in his mind.

I thought,—All labour, yet no less
Bear up beneath their unsuccess.
Look at the end of work, contrast
The petty done, the undone vast,
This present of theirs with the hopeful past!
I hoped she would love me; here we ride.

The speaker reflects on the effort people put into their work and how often they need to achieve what they hope for. He observes that what people manage to accomplish is small compared to what they fail to do.

He compares the present, with its actual achievements, to the past, when there was hope for more. Despite his hopes that his beloved would love him, he concludes by noting that they are currently riding together.

It suggests that some hopes come true, even if not in the way one might expect.

Bear up beneath their unsuccess.

This line speaks to coping with failure or rejection. It reflects the resilience required to endure the disappointment of unmet goals or unreciprocated love, suggesting dignified perseverance in the face of such challenges.

The petty done, the undone vast,

This line means that the small amount of work completed is minor compared to the much more significant amount of unfinished work.

This present of theirs with the hopeful past!

This line compares the current situation, which might not meet expectations, with the past, when hope and anticipation existed for a better outcome. It shows the difference between what was hoped for and what happened.

Stanza 6

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.

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.

These lines question how often our thoughts, actions, desires, and what we actually do perfectly align. The speaker wonders if anyone has ever been able to think something and accomplish precisely that, without any differences between intention and action.

What will but felt the fleshly screen?

It suggests that sometimes, what we want with our minds encounters obstacles in the physical world. In this context, the “fleshly screen” is the body or physical reality that can prevent our will or desires from fully realizing or expressing.

The speaker reflects on how our physical existence constrains our ambitions and feelings. This shows that not all desires can be fulfilled due to the limitations of our physical nature or circumstances.

Then, the poem shifts to a more immediate and personal moment, describing a scene where the speaker rides with his lover and notices her chest moving as she breathes.

It brings attention back to the physical and present experiences they are sharing.

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.

These lines discuss achievements and their costs in different areas of life, like politics and the military.

They suggest that many rewards or positions of honour are available to those who can achieve them.

For example, a politician’s career might be summarized in just a few sentences. It shows how fleeting and condensed such accomplishments can be.

Similarly, a soldier’s achievements might be represented by a flag placed over a pile of bones, indicating the loss of life in military conquests and questioning whether the honour is worth the sacrifice.

This questioning extends to how society honours these individuals, such as carving a soldier’s name into Abbey’s stones to remember their deeds.

The speaker then shifts to a personal reflection, stating that they prefer riding, implying a source of joy and fulfilment.

This comparison highlights the speaker’s view on the value of personal, lived experiences over traditional, expensive forms of honour.

Stanza 7

What does it all mean, poet? Well,
Your brains beat into rhythm, you tell
What we felt only; you expressed
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.

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.

These lines suggest that the poet has a unique ability to capture and articulate what others only feel. The poet’s thoughts and feelings are crafted into a rhythmic form, effectively expressing emotions and ideas many people experience but cannot easily communicate.

The poet is seen as valuing beauty highly, considering it the most important aspect to highlight. By arranging words in rhyme, the poet places these beautiful concepts and feelings together, creating a harmonious and aesthetically pleasing presentation of emotions.

‘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.

These lines reflect on the value of poetry and the poet’s role compared to the experiences and achievements of everyday people.

They acknowledge that creating poetry is significant and valuable, but they raise questions about the practical impact of poetry on the poet’s life and whether poets achieve a higher understanding or quality of life than those who do not write poetry.

Despite their ability to create beautiful works, the speaker questions whether poets are any closer to achieving their ideals or a state of sublime happiness, especially when facing challenges like poverty, illness, or premature aging.

The lines also suggest other forms of joy and fulfilment beyond poetry, as indicated by the speaker’s declaration that riding is a joy and a personal choice.

Stanza 8

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,
But in music we know how fashions end!’
I gave my youth: but we ride, in fine.

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?

This passage addresses a great sculptor who has dedicated many years to art, becoming its servant in the process and has created a Venus (a statue representing beauty and love).

However, despite the sculptor’s efforts and the beauty of the Venus, the speaker and others find themselves more drawn to the natural beauty and vitality of a real girl crossing a stream.

The word “acquiesce” suggests that the sculptor accepts this preference without protest. The speaker then questions why they should feel discontent or unhappy about this preference for natural beauty over crafted art.

It implies a recognition of the value of the sculptor’s dedication and the simple, unadorned beauty of life.

To yonder girl that fords the burn!

Fords means crossing a river or stream at a shallow place, where it is possible to walk or ride through the water without needing a bridge.

“Burn” is often used in Scotland and the north of England to refer to a small stream or river.

So, when it says “yonder girl that fords the burn,” it means a girl crossing a small stream at a shallow point where she can easily walk or ride across.

You acquiesce, and shall I repine?

It means the speaker questions whether to feel unhappy or complain about a situation. The sculptor, who spent many years on his art and quietly accepted the outcome, did not show discontent.

The speaker wonders if he, too, should accept the situation without feeling unhappy or dissatisfied.

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,
But in music we know how fashions end!’
I gave my youth: but we ride, in fine.

These lines address a musician who has aged while focusing solely on creating music.
His life’s work might be summarized merely by a friend’s faint praise.

The friend acknowledges that the musician’s opera had significant intentions but hints at the transient nature of musical trends.

This shows that what is popular today may be forgotten tomorrow. The line “But in music we know how fashions end!” implies that musical styles change, and what was once celebrated can become outdated.

I gave my youth: but we ride, in fine.

This line expresses a personal sacrifice, indicating the speaker has devoted his early years to a cause or passion.

Despite this sacrifice, the phrase “but we ride, in fine” conveys a sense of acceptance and continuation; it suggests that the speaker is moving forward with his life despite the challenges or what has been given up.

Stanza 9

Who knows what ‘s fit for us? Had fate
Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being—had I sign’d the bond—
Still one must lead some life beyond,
Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried.
This foot once planted on the goal,
This glory-garland round my soul,
Could I descry such? Try and test!
I sink back shuddering from the quest.
Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?
Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.

Who knows what ‘s fit for us? Had fate
Proposed bliss here should sublimate
My being—had I sign’d the bond—
Still one must lead some life beyond,
Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried.

This passage reflects on the uncertainty of knowing what is genuinely best for oneself and questions the role of fate in determining our happiness.

The speaker muses whether fate had offered them perfect happiness (“bliss”) in this life, enough to elevate their existence to a higher state (“sublimate my being”), and they had agreed to this plan (“signed the bond”).

There would still be a need for something more beyond this life.

It suggests that regardless of the happiness found in the current life, one should have a form of bliss or hope to carry into the afterlife.

Have a bliss to die with, dim-descried

It means having a kind of happiness or peace to hold onto when dying, even if it is unclear or fully understood.

“Described” means to see or notice something, especially when it is hard to see. So, “dim-descried” means seeing it faintly or not very clearly.

This foot once planted on the goal,
This glory-garland round my soul,
Could I descry such? Try and test!
I sink back shuddering from the quest.
Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?
Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.

This foot once planted on the goal,

This phrase suggests achieving a significant aim or reaching a desired endpoint. It metaphorically describes the moment when one finally arrives at their intended destination or fulfils a long-pursued objective.

This glory-garland round my soul,

This line metaphorically describes a feeling of immense pride and joy enveloping one’s inner being, similar to being awarded a wreath of honour or victory. It suggests a sense of achievement and fulfilment that profoundly satisfies the soul.

Could I descry such? Try and test!

This phrase expresses doubt and challenge. It questions whether the speaker could truly recognize or achieve such profound glory and fulfilment.

“Try and test!” indicates a call to attempt and verify if such an ideal state can be realized, emphasizing the speaker’s uncertainty and the notion of putting this possibility to the test.

I sink back shuddering from the quest.

This line conveys the speaker’s overwhelming fear about pursuing a challenging quest for ultimate fulfilment achievement.

The imagery of “sinking back shuddering” suggests a strong emotional reaction, causing the speaker to recoil  from the effort of seeking this lofty goal.

Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?

This question contemplates the value and beauty of earthly experiences in comparison to the concept of heaven or an afterlife.

If life on Earth can be so fulfilling and prosperous with positive experiences, the idea of heaven as a superior state or place might not seem as appealing.

The speaker is questioning whether heaven’s ultimate promise could offer something better than the joys and satisfactions found in the current, tangible world.

Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride.

This line signifies a realization or acceptance that both the concept of heaven and the companionship of the beloved (referred to as “she”) are unreachable or unattainable within the current journey or experience.

It suggests a sense of resignation to the limits of the present situation, acknowledging that some desires or aspirations, no matter how deeply yearned for, lie beyond what can be achieved or experienced in the immediate reality.

Stanza 10

And yet—she has not spoke so long!
What if heaven be that, fair and strong
At life’s best, with our eyes upturn’d
Whither life’s flower is first discern’d,
We, fix’d so, ever should so abide?
What if we still ride on, we two
With life for ever old yet new,
Changed not in kind but in degree,
The instant made eternity,—
And heaven just prove that and she
Ride, ride together, for ever ride?

And yet—she has not spoke so long!
What if heaven be that, fair and strong
At life’s best, with our eyes upturn’d
Whither life’s flower is first discern’d,
We, fix’d so, ever should so abide?

Reflecting on the beloved’s prolonged silence, the speaker contemplates the nature of heaven, proposing that it might be akin to experiencing life’s utmost beauty and strength.

This heaven is envisioned during moments of peak fulfillment, with individuals looking upward, possibly symbolizing hope or the pursuit of something greater.

Whither life’s flower is first discern’d,

This line suggests looking toward the place or moment where life’s utmost beauty or essence is first recognized. It metaphorically refers to the initial realization or discovery of what is most valuable and beautiful in life.

“Whither” is an archaic or literary term that means “to what place” or “to which location.” It is used to ask about the destination or direction of something.

It asks where or towards what place the essence or beauty of life is first noticed or realized.

“Discerned” means perceived, recognized, or understood through sight or other senses.

It suggests identifying or coming to a realization about the essence or beauty of life, possibly for the first time or in a profound way.

We, fix’d so, ever should so abide?

This line questions whether it is possible to remain in a state of awe or happiness, fixed indefinitely in the moment of experiencing life’s most incredible beauty or realization.

It wonders about the feasibility of permanently sustaining such a peak moment of appreciation or enlightenment.