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Short poem

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Love among the Ruins

              1Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
              2      Miles and miles
              3On the solitary pastures where our sheep
              4      Half-asleep
              5Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
              6      As they crop--
              7Was the site once of a city great and gay,
              8      (So they say)
              9Of our country's very capital, its prince
            10      Ages since
            11Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
            12      Peace or war.

            13Now the country does not even boast a tree,
            14      As you see,
            15To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
            16      From the hills
            17Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
            18      Into one)
            19Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
            20      Up like fires
            21O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
            22      Bounding all
            23Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
            24      Twelve abreast.

            25And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
            26      Never was!
            27Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads
            28      And embeds
            29Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
            30      Stock or stone--
            31Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
            32      Long ago;
            33Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
            34      Struck them tame;
            35And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
            36      Bought and sold.

            37Now--the single little turret that remains
            38      On the plains,
            39By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
            40      Overscored,
            41While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks
            42      Through the chinks--
            43Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
            44      Sprang sublime,
            45And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
            46      As they raced,
            47And the monarch and his minions and his dames
            48      Viewed the games.

            49And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
            50      Smiles to leave
            51To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
            52      In such peace,
            53And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
            54      Melt away--
            55That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
            56      Waits me there
            57In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
            58      For the goal,
            59When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
            60        Till I come.

            61But he looked upon the city, every side,
            62      Far and wide,
            63All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
            64      Colonnades,
            65All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,--and then
            66      All the men!
            67When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
            68      Either hand
            69On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
            70      Of my face,
            71Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
            72      Each on each.

            73In one year they sent a million fighters forth
            74      South and North,
            75And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
            76      As the sky
            77Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force--
            78      Gold, of course.
            79O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
            80      Earth's returns
            81For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
            82      Shut them in,
            83With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
            84      Love is best.


1] First published in volume I of Men and Women, 1855, in fourteen six-line stanzas; changed to present seven twelve-line stanzas in 1863. Written in January 1852. There has been much learned and irrelevant argument about the supposed location of the ruins Browning is describing.

15] Before "certain" supply "which" referring to "slopes."

39] caper: a low prickly shrub which in Italy grows commonly over rocks and walls.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Robert Browning, Men and Women, 2 vols. (1855.) Rev. 1863.
First publication date: 1855
RPO poem editor: F. E. L. Priestley
RP edition: 3RP 3.124.
Recent editing: 2:2002/1/10

Composition date: January 1852
Form: couplets

Other poems by Robert Browning