Love among the Ruins

Original Text: 
Robert Browning, Men and Women, 2 vols. (1855.) Rev. 1863.
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,
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,
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. Back to Line
15] Before "certain" supply "which" referring to "slopes." Back to Line
39] caper: a low prickly shrub which in Italy grows commonly over rocks and walls. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
F. E. L. Priestley
RPO Edition: 
3RP 3.124.