My favorite chapter of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13. I think about it so often that it may have filtered my reading of Robert Browning’s poem, “Love among the ruins”. Perhaps my passion for what love is in the Bible influenced my overall impression of what love is in this poem. In both, I see and I believe that love is valuable. 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as worth more than all other capacities. Verse 2 declares, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”. Browning upholds this idea of love as valuable in the way he portrays it outlasting the glory of man. He depicts “a multitude of men” and “their triumphs and their glories and all the rest!” however, like 1 Corinthians 13, he ends with a sharp conclusion about love; that despite all powerful feats, “love is the best”. Browning thoroughly describes an ancient city and its past glory as ephemeral. He compares material victories to “gold bought and sold” suggesting that, unlike the power of love; the powers of men are transient.
If Browning compares the glories of men with gold, I want to know what love looks like…and this is what complicates my initial sentiment. The only image I find of love in this poem is “a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair”. Here, I wonder, why does Browning focus on her physical appearance? And what is there to be said about her “yellow” hair? Is this a subtle reference to gold? But then, how can this agree with my initial supposition that gold and love are of two different and unequal natures? My sentimental resolution is that yellow is an analogy not to gold but to light. As for the eager eyes, I confide in Audrey Hepburn to make sense of this comparison: “the beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides”.