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English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Robert Browning

665. The Last Ride Together

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

’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.

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,

Put in music we know how fashions end!’

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

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.

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 I and she

Ride, ride together, for ever ride?