This represents one of Browning’s more abstract poems. Returning to some of the themes developed in “Porphyria’s Lover,” albeit in a very different context, “Two in the Campagna” explores the fleeting nature of love and ideas. The speaker regrets that, just as he cannot ever perfectly capture an idea, he cannot achieve total communion with his lover, despite the helpful erotic suggestions of nature. Though our hearts be finite, we yearn infinitely; the resulting pain serves as a reminder of human limitations.


“Two in the Campagna” divides into five-line stanzas, the first four lines in tetrameter and the final line in trimeter. The stanzas rhyme ABABA, although, because the lines are enjambed (sentence breaks do not necessarily coincide with line breaks), the rhyme undergoes a certain weakening. Sections of the poem come in fairly regular iambs, but this often breaks down: just as the poet can’t quite capture either his ideas or his lover, he can’t quite conquer language either.


The “Campagna” refers to the countryside around Rome. Until the middle of the twentieth century it grew fairly wild and unclaimed. Because its swampy areas nurtured mosquitoes carrying malaria, the conventional English tourist largely avoided the Campagna, leaving it to the Italian peasants, who farmed sections of it. However, in nineteenth-century literature the Campagna also symbolized a sort of alternative space, where rules of society did not apply and anything could happen; we see this notion expressed in such works as Henry James’s Italian-set novels and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun. In this poem, the Campagna seems to suggest to the speaker that he can in fact transcend his human limitations to put his subtle ideas into poetry or see the world through his lover’s eyes. However, in suggesting this the wild space merely plays a cruel trick; teased and disappointed, the speaker is left more melancholy than ever.

The comparison between love and art comments on the difficulty of interpersonal communication. Just as the speaker can never really see through his lover’s eyes, so too can he never communicate the subtle shadings of his thoughts through his poetry. Experience lies beyond the grasp of language. Yet—as the existence of this poem itself attests—we can approximate experience, however inaccurately, and these approximations are not without their significance and value. Indeed, it is perhaps our awareness that poetry, like love, is necessarily imperfect that lends it its beauty. Irony, too—one of the most sophisticated forms of communication—results from our human failings, as the poem’s conclusion shows; “The old trick” both thwarts and enables poetry.