Robert Browning: Poems Summary and Analysis
"Two in the Campagna"
The speaker of this poem addresses his beloved as they relax together in the campagna, an area outside Rome that was once an agricultural boon in the Roman Empire but that had grown unwieldy by Browning's time.
The speaker asks his lover whether she feels as overcome with emotion as he does and admits he has "touched a thought" about her that he would like to express in a poem but is unable to quite capture. He begs her to help him grab hold of the feeling but acknowledges that it continues to elude him, escaping just as moments in nature constantly change and therefore escape us.
The speaker reflects on how, sitting on the landscape of "Rome's ghost," they ought to be "unashamed of soul" and love one another. Yet he recognizes that they cannot fully join – though he would like her to be "all," she is "just so much, no more." They cannot fully join as one being. Even when he is fortunate enough to "catch [her] soul's warmth," the "good minute" eventually passes. He must accept that though he has "infinite passion," he is possessed of a "finite heart" and can never reach the level he yearns to reach.
Though superficially a love poem, "Two in the Campagna," originally published in Men and Women in 1855, is more a meditation on the transience of time and the limits of poetic transcendence.
The poem's basic dilemma is that the speaker intuits the possibility of pure bliss with his lover. He wants to join together with her, to not only become one being with her but also to "adopt [her] will," to disappear into her. For him, such a union would be a realization of the heavenly love he feels and he assumes it will bring him "upward" to a heavenly realm. However, he is unable to do this. The most obvious reason is that he is confined to a "finite" body and hence is always separated from her by that boundary. But there is a more interesting reason given: he is unable to fully disappear into her because he cannot stay forever committed to his moment of dedication. When he says "the good minute goes," it does not necessarily mean that fate and time have removed the union about to be fulfilled, but also that his mind wanders and he loses his focus. As he notes, it is not "under our control/To love or not to love." What the speaker wants is to be able to will himself into an unceasing dedication, but as a poet, his mind wanders and he cannot ever fully exist in one moment.
The tragedy is that he glimpses the possibility of such a union, and so the inability to realize the union is painful. If he did not have this poetic sense of its possibility, then the loss of it would not be so great.
The poem also makes a subtle comment on the limits of art, which parallel the limits of the body as mentioned above. In the early stanzas, the speaker mentions he would like to immortalize his perfect moment through "rhymes," but even this possibility escapes him. In the same way that the body and the passage of time prohibit him from living forever in a moment, so is his language incapable of fully capturing the profundity of any moment.
The central image of the campagna helps to reinforce the poem's themes. As mentioned in the summary, the campagna was an overgrown area outside Rome that had once been a flourishing agricultural landscape. To sit there with his lover brings the speaker unavoidable proof that time passes, that what once saw "such miracles performed in play" will sooner or later fall prey to nature, time, and change. The only constant is change, and so will the spekaer always find his own perfect moment eventually turned into an overgrown, deserted landscape.
The poem's meter somewhat reflects these themes as well. The enjambment of the mostly tetrameter lines gives the regular rhyme scheme a somewhat jerky rhythm, which suggests the inability of language to capture the moment, as mentioned above.
Lastly, it is interesting to think of this poem in terms of Browning's other work, which often links possibility with failure and freedom with limitations. Consider "Childe Roland" or "Love Among the Ruins" as other examples of poems where a character or speaker glimpses a wonderful possibility that is nevertheless impossible to fully capture.
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