The poem titled “When We Two Parted,” by the British poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), describes the speaker’s growing distance from, and disillusionment with, a person (presumably a woman) whom he once loved. The poem seems to have been inspired by Byron’s own erstwhile affection for Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, who eventually had an affair with the Duke of Wellington and who thus became the subject of unfriendly gossip. Ironically, it is easy to imagine Byron himself as the focus of the kind of gossip to which this poem alludes, and it is also easy to imagine him as the source of a speaker’s disappointment and disillusionment.
Part of the poem’s effectiveness, in fact, is that the attitudes and feelings it expresses seem universal rather than merely private. In other words, the poem deals with a situation and with emotions to which most people can relate. It is a poem about lost love—one of the most archetypal of all topics. The poem is effective whether or not one knows about the autobiographical connection with Lady Webster.
The opening stanza is especially well constructed. Each of the first four lines has five syllables, leading us to expect a continuation of that pattern. However, the pattern suddenly and unpredictably breaks down in line 5, when the speaker abruptly shifts from five syllables to six, so that the crucial word “cold” receives very strong metrical emphasis. The last words in each of the first five lines are all rich with implications, but the last word of the fifth line receives special stress.
The reason(s) for the lovers’ parting is never made explicit, and thus we cannot be sure precisely why the woman’s cheek grew “cold.” Was she upset by the parting, as her tears might suggest? Or had she begun to lose her affection for the speaker? The fact that her kiss became “Colder” (6) suggests as much, but we cannot be entirely sure. The nature of the relationship is as mysterious as the reasons for its ending. Equally ambiguous are the final two lines of stanza one. Do they mean that the hour of separation “foretold” merely the sorrow of the present moment, or do they mean that the hour of parting foretold sorrow during every moment from then until now?
Stanza two begins in an equally intriguing fashion. Is the “morning” mentioned in line 9 the morning of the day they parted, or is it the morning of the present day—the day on which the speaker is speaking? A case can be made for either interpretation, and the latter case is strengthened by the emphasis on the present tense in lines 12-16. In any case, the second stanza is definitely bleaker than the first. In the first stanza, the two lovers were at least together; now they are clearly...
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In the entire history of world literature, millions of love poems have been written. When We Two Parted by George Gordon Byron (which is more commonly referred to as Lord Byron) is one of them. So how does this poem differ from all the others? How does it stand out? In When We Two Parted, Lord Byron reveals a gamut of emotions that a person feels when a separation from a loved one occurs, and after it has occurred (Schroeder 1). This is the gist of the poem. It is a fact that separation from a loved one is painful and agonizing.
However, Lord Byron does not illustrate only this in his poem. He explores the other emotions attached to a lovers’ split. He writes in the first stanza: When we two parted In silence and tears, Half broken-hearted To sever for years, Pale grew thy cheek and cold, Colder thy kiss; Truly that hour foretold Sorrow to this. (Byron 1) The first two lines clearly express the despair of the separation. The two people involved find themselves crying over love now lost, at the same time they are at a loss of words at the moment of parting.
The third and fourth line, however, hints of something much emotionally difficult. The line To sever for years refers to the long period of estrangement, but it is odd to note how such a sorrowful moment can only be spoken of as half broken- hearted. This is because persona’s lover might not be feeling the same way as the persona. With the first two lines, the feeling of loss is mutual. By the next two lines, the lover stops sharing the persona’s pain. In Schroeder’s words, the lines speak of the “woman’s loss of affection (1),” assuming that the speaker is male and thus, his lover female.
The evidence for this is in the fourth and fifth lines, which describe how the physical aspect of their parting may have given away the woman’s real emotions (Schroeder 1). This is when the persona notes how the lover loses the color of her cheeks, or how her kiss suddenly became cold. Byron continues with the second stanza: The dew of the morning Sunk chill on my brow— It felt like the warning Of what I feel now. Thy vows are all broken, And light is thy fame: I hear thy name spoken, And share in its shame. (Byron 1)
The second stanza opens with a reference to the time after the lovers’ separation. The word morning refers to a new beginning, an opportunity for a brand new start after the lover left (Schroeder 1). In the second line, it is revealed that there is still anguish after the break up. The word chill indicates the coldness of being alone. In addition, the term brow was used, since it is the part of the body wherein “thoughts and ideas are formed (Schroeder 1). ” The third line exhibits how the morning served as a sign of his feelings at present (Schroeder 1).
Initially, he is greeted by the coldness of the morning. This very same coldness is felt by the poem’s persona. The depression after the separation then becomes apparent. Therefore, the state of the morning becomes the signifier of the persona’s feelings. By the fifth line, the speaker admits to the broken promises of the relationship (Schroder 1), while the sixth line implies something else. According to Schroeder, this might insinuate that the woman the persona is involved with may not actually be of good character (1).
This is probably the reason for the seventh and eighth lines of the stanza. It is implied that whenever the lover’s name is mentioned, the speaker of the poem is embarrassed to hear it. This shame may be associated with the line that refers to the woman’s fame as light. In the words of Schroeder, “this seems to allude to immoral behaviour (1). ” The third stanza is written as such: They name thee before me, A knell to mine ear: A shudder come o’er me— Why wert thou so dear? They know not I knew thee, Who knew thee two well:
Long, long shall I rue thee, To deeply to tell. (Byron 1) The first two stanzas has revealed a continuous shift in emotion of the speaker. The poem begins with speaker’s agony over the loss, which turned into depression. This depression then changed into humiliation, and as the third stanza denotes, regret is the next thing the speaker had felt. The first two lines show how painful it is for the persona to hear the lover’s name. The word knell in the second line refers to “a bell rung at a funeral (Schroeder 1).
” Therefore, the speaker is so unpleased with hearing the former lover’s name he compares it to a sound reminiscent of a death. In the fourth line, regret begins to show as the persona begins to question the reason for loving that person. The fifth and sixth lines unmask that the relationship spoken of is secretive in nature. Moreover, in the fifth line, the term they refers to the family and friends of the speaker, and they are not aware that the speaker and his lover is actually involved.
In the sixth line, Who knew thee too well shows that the speaker did become intimate with the lover, in which he had the opportunity to know her better. The seventh line expresses his regret for knowing her, since rue here means regret The speaker may have regretted having a secret affair with her. The last stanza of the poem is as follows: In secret we met— In silence I grieve, That thy heart could forget, Thy spirit deceive. If I should meet thee After long years, How should I greet thee? With silence and tears. (Byron 1) The first two lines denote yet again the secret character of the relationship (Schroeder 1).
The two lovers had a secret affair, and since nobody knows about, the speaker can only mourn the end of this relation in private. In the third and fourth lines, the persona also mourns for the lover’s forgetfulness, as she started losing her feelings early on as implied in the first stanza. The poem ends with an after thought. If the speaker met the lover again after several years, how would the encounter be? The answer lies in the last line, as it is apparent that the speaker comes full circle and feels pain yet again, as the emotional sting of the separation continues.
Therefore, in a four stanza poem, Lord Byron was able to thoroughly elucidate the range of emotions that a person can feel at the onset of break up from a secret relationship, and after the separation has occurred.
Byron, George Gordon. “When We Two Parted. ” The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900. Ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch. 17 Dec. 2007 <http://www. bartleby. com/101/597. html>. Schroeder, Juergen Matthias. Poems by Blake and Other Romantics. 7 Jan. 2002. 17 Dec. 2007 <http://www. englishromantics. com/rom_analyses4. htm>.