The poem "Love Among the Ruins" by Robert Browning starts like this in its third verse:

And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads
And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
Stock or stone—

My teacher says that the sentence goes like 'such a carpet as stock or stone', so the carpet does not mean 'grass'. But I really feel like it means grass, only I can't handle the 'such as' part.

Does the carpet means grass, and where should I link the 'such as'?

2 Answers 2


This sentence is quite difficult, but we can untangle it by putting the subclause into a parenthesis instead of setting it off with a comma as Browning did:

Such a carpet (as, this summer-time, o'erspreads and embeds every vestige of the city) guessed alone, stock or stone—

In other words, only the “carpet” was able to guess whether it covered stock or stone. This is a figure of personification, meaning that the carpet hides what lies beneath, so that if we imagine it as a person, it alone would know.

The word “stock” is used in one of these senses:

stock, n. 1.a. A tree-trunk deprived of its branches; the lower part of a tree-trunk left standing, a stump. Obsolete or archaic.

d. Applied contemptuously to an idol or a sacred image. Chiefly in the phrase stocks and stones = ‘gods of wood and stone’.

Oxford English Dictionary.

The poem has told us that the ancient civilization deforested the landscape:

Now,—the country does not even boast a tree,

so that the “carpet” now covers both wood (the stumps of the felled trees, or the idols carved from the logs) and stone (“the hundred-gated circuit of a wall bounding all, made of marble”). Therefore the “carpet” must be the earth and grass that now covers these remains.

The other answer asks rhetorically whether grass can really cover ancient remains? But when a city is abandoned, the ruins are often plundered for building materials, especially valuable materials like marble, leaving only foundation-stones and middens, which can then be covered by soil and vegetation. The poem says that only one building of the city remains standing, and only partially so:

the single little turret that remains on the plains […] marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time sprang sublime.

  • 1
    P.S. You can sing "Love Among the Ruins" to the tune of "A policeman's lot is not a happy one" from Pirates of Penzance. Nov 13, 2022 at 8:56

I am not familiar with the poem, but the sentence is clear:

Such a carpet ... spreads ... And embeds ... Stock or stone ...

So the carpet goes over the city, over stock and over stones.

I guess that the city is "dead", so nature reclaims it - the grass covering it gradually, more and more. At the time of "writing", the grass was already dense enough to look like a carpet.

Considering that grass is the happiest during summer time, this explanation makes more sense.

Rhetoric question: when do "vestiges" of cities look like "carpets"? The only situation when that would be true is when the city was leveled to the ground - and that is clearly not the situation.

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