In his poem "Two In The Compagna," Browning plays upon classically Romantic notions of desire. The poem is set in the voice of a man addressing his lover and asking her to recapture with him a moment that they spent together in the country. The poem highlights the speaker's desperate attempt to make permanent the satisfaction which he finds in love (both for the woman and the external world). "Help me to hold it! [the moment] . . .Hold it fast!" the speaker begs his lover throughout the first four stanzas. However, by the tenth stanza, we know for sure that this feeling of permanence is illusory. The speaker's expressions of content become mere yearnings when he states: " — I pluck the rose / And love it more than tongue can speak — / Then the good minute goes" (lines 48-50). Love and nature, we realize here, cannot be possessed. This picture of ephemeral love evokes a very Keatsian relationship between the desirer and the object of desire in that as soon as the speaker gains the object, whether it be the rose or the woman, the object fades. The emphasis on the timeframe only adds to this sense of longing and dissatisfaction; the experience, the speaker reveals, happens only in the span of a single minute. At this point, we are removed from the speaker's visionary experience as the country setting vanishes ghostlike into the background of the poem. In stanza XI, the speaker loses a sense of scene and begins to float along an undirected path. As he is severed from his object of desire, he becomes disoriented, and he describes himself as stumbling aimlessly after nothing:
Already how am I so far
Out of that minute? Must I go
Still like the thistle-ball, no bar,
Onward, whenever light winds blow,
Fixed by no friendly star? [lines 51-55]
The use of the word "still" in line 53 suggests that the speaker is moving and yet going nowhere. Browning is clever with his use of line breaks in this stanza, for the syntax of line 52 allows us to read the line in two ways. In one sense, the speaker "must go . . .like the thistle," but also the line can be read as "Must I go out of that minute?," implying that the speaker still yearns to remain in this bliss of the moment. An interesting thing then happens in the final stanza, for the poem begins to ground itself solely in the misery of the speaker. Suddenly, the speaker leaves his audience, and we are left wondering what has happened to the woman to whom the speaker is addressing the poem. She too, along with the scene and the rose, seems to have vanished:
Just when I seemed about to learn!
Where is the thread now? Off again!
The old trick! Only I discern —
Infinite passion, and the pain
Of finite hearts that yearn. [lines 56-60]
Up until this point, we may have read this poem as genuine in that it expresses a common sentiment of the loss of both the past and of a desired object. However, the over-dramatization expressed in the final stanza seems to render the poem ironic, for it does not seem possible that the speaker is alone in understanding the pain of lost love. Furthermore, the disappearance of the woman, or the speaker's audience, at the end of the poem seems to add to this irony. The poem's title is "Two In The Compagna," and yet we are left alone simply with the speaker and his self-pity. Is this juxtaposition of the title and the last stanza enough to support an ironic reading of the poem? Can we view this poem in the same category as Browning's "My Last Duchess," "Porphyria's Lover," and "Andrea del Sarto" by seeing it as a mockery of Romanticism? The style of this poem is certainly different from Browning's other dramatic monologues, and it does seem to echo a more Romantic style of poetry. How then do we see the style in relation to the theme of the poem? Finally, does this style affect our sympathy towards the speaker? That is to say does the style pull us (deceptively or otherwise) into a more genuine, or face-value, reading of the poem?
Modified 23 September 2003