Sounds a bit relationship-y…
A painful reality of illicit love?
What does it all mean?
When we two parted
In silence and tears,
To sever for years,
Now. Is this a straightforward break up, or a forced split for outside influences such as working away implied by the sever for years, like it’s fixed and an end to the break is on the horizon, however far away? Maybe this is merely acknowledgement that they’ll run into one another in the future whether they like it or not.
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.
Has the partner started to turn cold before the break, knowing that they were going to say goodbye? Or were they just trying to withdraw themselves, turn themselves to stone, to ease the pain of parting? In hindsight, the author says, that hour foretold, the could see what was coming. It could be that wounded animal thing where we lash out – pale grew thy cheek and cold, colder they kiss – you are dead to me? We’re all irrational when a relationship breaks down and we don’t expect it.
The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow–
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Everything is an ominous repressive, maudlin landscape. You know what it’s like. That sense of foreboding, that something is wrong, or that sense that you know the end is nigh for a relationship. That feeling. All the more validated by hindsight. It’s almost like you collect anything bad and that somehow is a ‘sign’ or is in some way tied to the break up. It’s almost like the author is saying he was ‘haunted’ by the signs he ‘should’ have seen and can only see now from a distance.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.
All your promises meant nothing? I like this stanza. It’s like the author is saying, yes, you might not be famous but everyone knows about you, and so everyone knows about you, so when I hear your name, I know we’re the subject of gossip or at least that people know about us and are talking about us. It’s like when people change their status on Facebook now, queue the flood of fake-sympathy messages. Or perhaps it is all innocent and people are not aware of the connection between the author and their subject? Like when you really don’t to hear or see something but you can’t help but?
They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me–
Why wert thou so dear?
Again, you can understand the sentiment. When someone says your name it’s like a bell going of in my ear – or a punch to the gut – and I tremble, thinking to myself, again, why were you so important to me?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well–
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.
People might not even mean to be cruel by mentioning the subject – they don’t know the author even knew them. And the author is saying, I knew you better than anyone and I won’t be able to forget you any time soon. I’ll regret knowing you – or perhaps I’ll regret feeling that you were so important to me.
In secret we met–
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
Ah. So that clears things up a bit, doesn’t it? This was a clandestine relationship! No one knew they were together, and now that they’ve split, the author has no one to turn to for comfort about it. It makes me reread the first stanza and then wonder about the almost-certainty that they’ll see each other in the future. Was this a secret relationship between colleagues, or friends in a circle of friends perhaps?
He’s upset that his lover’s heart could forget him and that their ‘spirit’ – the things that make them whoever they are, their nature, could what, fool/deceive the author? Or deceive the lover themselves into not loving him any more?
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?–
With silence and tears.
Now it feels like the author is acknowledging how important this person is to them, so important that if they bump into each other in years to come, he won’t know what to say or how to act, so he’ll say nothing and be upset alone. They’ll be like strangers to one another.
Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
4 stanzas/octets. We see the author looking back at a fresh break up, using hindsight to justify what he saw just before it happened. We see the aftermath, where he feels like he’s hearing his lover’s name everywhere. We find out that the relationship was a secret one so know he has no one to turn to. And by the end, whilst the author is still grieving, he’s saying that he doesn’t know how he’ll cope if or when he sees them again.
Mourning for the loss of a lover, pity for himself, anger? perhaps that he should have seen it coming, moping that he won’t know how to cope if they meet by chance in the future.
Suggested rhyme scheme
Similes and metaphors
I liked the use of the word knell. Normally in this situation you’d say something along the lines of ‘it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach’, but knell suggests just how deeply the author is effected by this loss – it’s not just a fleeting pain he’s dealing with but the end of life/a way of life he’s grown used to.
Author’s relationship with their subject
Bitter, at least the bitterness of the kind where the person you love suddenly doesn’t love you back.
Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
This poem is said to be very autobiographical and written for Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, with whom the author allegedly had an affair despite her being married.
This poem is an ode to anyone who has had a bitter-ending to a relationship, especially a secret one. It embodies all the pain, embarrassment, torment, loss, everything. In truth, it’s a lot more eloquently-worded than the usual diatribe that comes out of our mouths when we’re hurting. But where it is flowery, it is truthful, and does a fantastic job of putting down into words what this is like to go through.
It would be easy to wax lyrical about how a secret relationship is no relationship at all, but I don’t think there should be judgement of any kind. It isn’t a matter of condoning adultery or deceit, it’s more like not giving a blanket response to a situation that we recognise but know nothing about.
I have been speaking to a friend today about relationships and I made a point that I didn’t think I felt so strongly about. Just because a relationship has gone a certain way, it doesn’t mean the next one has to do the same. In the same theme, just because a person treats you badly does not mean a) you’ll only ever meet people that will treat you the same or b) that the person who’s the ‘villain’ in this scenario will treat the next person they’re with exactly the same. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, the point is, we don’t know. We don’t know why other people do the things they do – half the time we’re not even sure why WE do the things we do. Life’s complicated like that.
I feel I’ve gone off on a tangent (just for a change), however, this poem speaks for all of us in the aftermath of a relationship falling apart. I feel it is a kind of comfort knowing that it will resonate with other people in the same way, even if it is not exactly in the same way. I think that was my point initially!
When I read this I think of the song… Ever Fallen In Love