The Last Ride Together: About the poem
The Last Ride Together is a dramatic monologue written by the English poet and playwright Robert browning, one of the foremost Victorian poets. Though many readers take it as a love poem, actually it shows the philosophical revelation of the poet on love and life, success and failure. Unsuccessful in love, the speaker asks his mistress for one last ride with him. The poet’s thoughts are expressed in the verses as the lovers begin on the ride. It’s a poem of robust optimism.
The poem is full of vibrant imagery with prodigal use of simile and metaphors. It is comparatively long with ten stanzas each containing eleven lines. The rhythm throughout the poem is fractured, but the rhyme hold consistently with a rhyme scheme aabbcddeeec in each stanza. Iambic pentameter lines constitute the poem. The first person narrative, an abrupt beginning, a single speaker and a silent listener – all that a dramatic monologue needs – are present in the poem.
The poem ‘The Last Ride Together’ was published in a two-volume collection of fifty one poems titled “Men and Women” in the year 1855. While it is today regarded as a collection with Browning’s finest pieces, in its time it was not well received and was poorly sold. Browning published the collection after a five year break, when he was still recovering from the failure of his previous book. All the poems in the collection, like the present one are dramatic monologues and are today regarded in high esteem.
The Last Ride Together: Explanation by stanza
The poem The Last Ride Together opens with a situation where the speaker’s ladylove wants to end their relationship. The lover bemoans his state in the lines of the poem. He says that he now knows his feelings are not replicated by his beloved. All of his love has come to nothing. He feels that his life’s purpose has failed. The lover believes that this was destined to happen, that it was already written in his fate, that he would never find love. He knows it was meant to be and nothing could have prevented it from happening.
Since all this has turned out the way it has, the rejected lover, blaming it on fate, is trying to come to normal with the situation. Here you may have noticed that the lover utters the word ‘Since’ five times in consecutive lines. It seems that though he wants to accept his fate rather happily, there is an inner turmoil in his mind. Holding his fate responsible for what has happened, he is actually trying to be optimistic, as there’s no point in moaning with things beyond your control.
The lover says despite what happened, he has no hard feelings for his mistress. On the contrary, he blesses her with all of his heart. He feels both proud and thankful towards her for being in his life. Now he only asks his beloved to “take back the hope” she gave, meaning to end things once and for ever, so that he wouldn’t keep thinking about her. He wants to remember and cherish only the good memories the two of them made and forget everything else.
Saying this he seeks her permission to go on one last ride with her. Here the word ‘more’ in the last line ‘your leave for one more last ride with me’ shows us that the poet have taken her on such rides in the past. Although the primary meaning of the word “Ride” is horse riding, it also has sexual connotations.
In the second stanza, the man is waiting for his mistress’ answer. She is shown to wear an expression of consideration which is highlighted by the words ‘bent that brow’. Her deep dark eyes which are lingering with pride are full of pity for the poet. Her expression fixes him for a moment (breathing-while or two) between life and death as he waits for her answer – metaphorical enough, her acceptance would mean life to him while her refusal would be like death for the lover.
Then comes the moment of happiness. His beloved has accepted his offer to go on a last ride together with him. His strength rushes back to him again. So, his last thought at least has not been in vain. He rejoices in his thought of riding side by side with her. The words ‘breathe and ride’ expresses his ecstasy with a certain erotic flavour. He considers himself blessed (defied) to spend another day with his ladylove.
Now the lover, showing wild optimism, wishes that the world ends that very night – “Who knows but the world may end tonight?” That would be the only way for him to stay with his beloved for ever.
In the third stanza of The Last Ride Together, the speaker goes on describing how the poet feels when his mistress comes close to him. He compares the way his mistress leans and lingers around him to a cloud. He says that she is like a western cloud with a sea waves like pattern – a cloud blessed by the light of the sun, the moon and the evening star – all at once. This suggests his desire to make it sound pure and ethereal. The persona wants to convey the feeling that everything in love feels like blessed.
Just the way loving someone with a true heart makes one awake and conscious of the world, and that passion draws all the wonderful things of nature like clouds, moon, and starlight to make one feel like they are in heaven, so the lover felt when his mistress comes close to him and leans over. He feels a pang of both joy and fear as she lies a moment resting her head on his breast. His mistress has given him more than he asked for and he is thankful for it. The whole stanza is a calming and soothing one.
The fourth stanza of The Last Ride Together reflects on the poet’s philosophy of life. Browning believes that life is ever-changing and that people must not stick to the past, but try to move on. As you can see in the very first line of this stanza, the two lovers finally begin on their ride.
As they ride, the lover feels his soul smooth itself out, meaning that the feelings that were cramped inside him finally give way to thought. He feels fresh like as he goes through the wind, like a long cramped scroll fluttering in the wind (again a metaphor here!).
The lover feels himself escape from his past hope of being with his mistress. He has got over it. He questions the use of sticking to life’s failures and missed opportunities. People often think about what could have happened had they said things differently or done things differently. He argues that he might have cleared some things but missed some other. He wonders what he would do if she hated him, if the worst had happened to him. So, seeing it as what it is and letting go of the past he sticks to the present moment – the present where they are happy riding together.
The philosophical reflection of the poet continues in this stanza. The lover again questions if he is the only one who fails. He has seen all men strive for things they desire, but none who succeeded. As they ride on, he feels his spirit elated. The speaker thinks of the distant regions and cities as they ride on. It shows that he is lost in his own thoughts. Here, we need to focus more on the line ‘the world rushed by on either side’. It may indicate that the world is in a rush, but his status hasn’t changed much in spite of the ladylove’s rejection. He is indeed happy.
The poet argues that everyone ‘labours’ for success, yet most face failures. At the end of work, we often see people achieve much less than what they had hoped for. The vast undone works contrast sharply with the small done. We see people’s ordinary present contrasting with their high-flying hopes in the past.
Thus, the lover justifies his achievement in love. He desired his mistress’ love but has this last ride now. This is not a complete failure; it’s indeed some achievement.
Like the past two stanzas of The Last Ride Together, this one also involves the poet’s expression of philosophical ideas. The lover again argues that the hand and brain never went perfectly paired, meaning action and thought are not necessarily always the same. People think to do something perfect but end up doing the other way. Likewise the poet says he has never heard of anyone expressing the true feelings of the heart. He asks, what will or desire ever took the bodily form of reality?
They are riding and the lover can see her mistress’ bosom heave. As you may have noticed, here the words are consistent with the implied sensual nature of the poem.
The poet then compares his life with that of a statesman and a soldier. A statesman’s life can be summed up in just ten lines. He asks what a soldier’s work achieves if not death and sadness. A soldier is remembered only by a flag on his grave and a small abbey-stone in his name. Compared to that he who loves is remembered forever. He therefore says his life as a lover is by far better than theirs.
Now the lover compares his situation to poets. He poses a question before the poets asking them what all their poems mean. He remarks that the poet’s brain beats into rhythm. The speaker further alleges that the poet merely tells what people already feel. The poet finds the beauty in things the best and uses them in poetry, pacing them in rhyme. This is some, or rather, much achievement – a remarkable trait of the poet. But does the poet apply in his own life all that is best for men? Rather, the poet grows ‘poor, sick and old’ prematurely. Does he enjoy his own beautiful findings a bit more than the others like the lover who never wrote a poem (turn’d a rhyme)?
He concludes riding is a joy for him better than the poet’s musing. And so he rides.
This time the focus shifts to a sculptor and a musician. The speaker says that the sculptor gave twenty (a score) years to art and became art’s slave. The statue the sculptor makes is like Venus, the roman goddess of beauty, art and knowledge to him. But, to common people like the lover, a mortal girl with flesh and blood holds more charm than the sculptor’s creation.
Likewise he says of the music composer that he has spent all his life making notes and nothing else. For his music he receives some praise from his friends. His music hits the deck in the opera. But, we have seen how musical trends grow outdated – how fashions end – making the musician’s success short-lived. The lover considers his life better than them and is content with the ride.
This stanza of The Last Ride Together, with some obscurity, implies a kind of metaphysical reasoning: Achieving everything in this life would leave nothing for the next life. The lover says that it is difficult to know what is best for men. But every man should keep something for the other life.
If the speaker gets his desires all fulfilled and enjoys supreme bliss in this worldly life, he would not find joy in heaven (Earth being so good, would heaven seem best?). By having this ride, he feels he has achieved enough and won the garland of victory for now. His failure in love here means success in the other world. He truly believes that he would reunite with his mistress again in heaven (Now, heaven and she are beyond this ride).
The poet comes out of his own ruminations and observes his mistress. He notes that she has not spoken a word yet. However, her company has been a heavenly bliss for him. Man has always looked upwards in search of heaven in the sky. This heaven is symbolic of the best man can imagine. So, his riding with his mistress is heavenly enough for him on this earth.
The lover feels he need not go to heaven if he continues to ride like this with his beloved. He wishes that this very moment could become an eternity so the last ride together can be for ever and ever. That way, this earth would prove to be a heaven for him.