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Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) was one of the most popular writers of Victorian era. He was best known for his dramatic monologues. He perfected this genre through his poems such as My Last Duchess, Fra Lippo Lippi, and Porphiria’s Lover etc. Browning is best known for optimism in his poetry. Even though he belonged to an era of uncertainty and doubt his poems reflected staunch faith, hope and happiness. Most of his poems are based on love. He believed that love can unite all beings. Some of his works are obscure and this was pointed out by many critics. Browning was an undefiled romantic. The romantic traits are visible in his poems. He was highly influenced by the Italian writers. This influence can be seen in his poems like Sordello, The Ring and the Book etc.
The Last Ride Together is a beautiful love poem by Robert Browning. It is in the form of a dramatic monologue. This poem focuses on the complete surrendering to love. The speaker brings in a tragic note regarding his lost love life. He is pleading to his beloved for a last ride together. She agrees to his plea and they set off for a ride with him. The title The Last Ride Together itself is problematic. Some critics had interpreted it as The Last Ride ‘To Get Her’. Besides being a love poem, some sexual implications can be seen in this poem. Browning is pointing towards many connotative meaning through the brilliant use of certain words like ‘ride’ since such sexual connotations were considered as a taboo according to the Victorian morality.
The poem, The Last Ride Together is all about a travel. Therefore it can be considered as a travel poem. The great anthropologist says that travel literature “preserve the illusion of something that no longer exists”. In travel literature the borders between fact and fiction will be dimmed. Travel writing has the capacity to take the reader along with the writer to the places which the reader had never visited. Travel writing usually follows a third person narrative but there are some exceptions in which the travel narrative will start with “I”. While analysing a travel literature, the reader should have knowledge about the speaker, his intention, the time of the travel and his situation. Description of landscape is yet another feature of travel writing. The poems which usually talks about travels and journeys are known as travel poems. The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop, Food in Travel by Goethe, Swallows Travel To and Fro by R.L. Stevenson etc. are some of the examples of travel poems.
Apart from the usual travel, many other forms of travel can be seen in this poem like the psychological travel, spiritual travel, travel of emotions, implication of death as a travel, act of sex making as a travel, travel through the thoughts of the speaker, travel to the past and then to the future etc. The speaker is describing his ride with his beloved. On the way he is seeing many new places and towns and he is reporting the things he see:
Saw other regions, cities new,
As the world rushed by on either side.(49-50)
He also describes the beauty of landscape, sun, moon, evening star etc. in the lines:
If you saw some western cloud
All billowy- bosomed, over bowed
By many benedictions- sun’s
And moon’s and evening star’s at once……..(24-27)
The poet also mentions the travelling of time. He is thinking about the death. He is not certain that when the world will end. He is enjoying extremes happiness with his beloved and he doubts whether this itself is the paradise or will it be better than this. He is not sure whether the world will end in that night. This symbolizes death and this journey can be interpreted as a travel towards death. In stanza nine the speaker thinks about a journey towards heaven which actually signifies death. When the speaker rides with his beloved he feels as if the world is moving on their either side. This expression shows the freezing of the moment by the lovers. He also says about the travelling of life where dreams become reality.
Psychological travel can be seen in this poem. The poet in the fourth stanza says that his soul is moving towards freedom from a more circumscribed situation. He is considering his ride as a psychological travel and says that his spirit is flying. The poet is travelling to his own mind. This is shown in the lines:
Had I said that, had I done this
So might I gain so might I miss.(40-41)
The speaker is travelling from past hopes to present reality. The speaker is travelling to the future. He is thinking about his fate. He also compares his ride with poetry, sculpture and music. He says that poet only sings about the joy of riding but the speaker is experiencing the ride. The speaker says that the poets had spent years and years to create their piece of poetry and he wishes to create something great at the end of this ride. He also considers his travel as an achievement which is more valuable than the achievements of statesmen and soldiers. The speaker is also travelling into the mind of his lady love. Thus he understands the passions in the mind of his beloved. He is also thinking that his beloved would have loved or hated him and finally he reaches at a conclusion that nobody can tell about it.
Along with the characters their emotions are also travelling. This travelling of emotions can also be seen in this poem. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker is so desperate and he desires for a last ride with his beloved. When he is riding with her he is so happy and he is in an ecstasy. This shows his mind’s journey from one emotion to the other. In the first stanza, the change of emotion in the eyes of the beloved is described when he asks for a last ride. He says that pity enters the dark eyes where pride stays. This is another instance of travelling of emotion in the poem.
The entire poem The Last Ride Together can be analysed in a sexual context. The term ‘ride’ can be given the meaning of sexual act. The speaker is inviting his beloved for a last ‘ride’. He is enjoying the ride with her. In this point of view this poem has many sexual connotations. In that aspect the travel can be considered as a travel through the body of his lover and there he finds new towns and cities. The same form of comparison can be seen in John Donne’s poem To His Mistress Going To Bed where the speaker calls his beloved’s body as “my America , my Newfoundland”(27) The landscape and beautiful scenes explained in the poem can be considered as the description of his beloved’s body. During the act of sex both the lovers feel that they are pausing the time and only the world around them moves forth. In the tenth stanza, the speaker considers the sexual pleasure as a journey to eternity:
The instant made eternity (109)
The poem also brings out a notion of travel to spirituality. The term ‘benediction’ used in the third stanza symbolizes a journey to the spirituality. The western cloud is blessed with beauty by the sun, moon and the evening star. This cloud can be compared with the speaker’s lady love, who is blessed with the natural elements of beauty. This line can also be considered as a spiritual travel. Travel from a state of worldly pleasure to a spiritual pleasure.
Victorian era was an age of voyages and travels. Britain travelled all around the world and colonised many countries. They reached even to the unexplored places of the world. The lines “Saw other regions, cities new” suggest the colonial perspective of the poem, which is another aspect of travelling.
By the end of this poem the ride does not end but the speaker is worried that it will end soon and he will be left behind only with the good memories of their last ride. Thus the poem ends in a tragic note. Even though the poem ends, the journey does not end. The speaker is sad but the poem ends with a hope. He wishes for a ride which will continue forever and ever. Thus this poem can be considered as a travel poem which passes through different aspects of travel. It can also be considered as “one of the greatest love poems in all literature” as William Lyon Phelps comments.
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