This is a really sad poem about heartbreak. Here you have a man who, on the face of it, is asking for an amicable/friendly, but clean breakup with his partner; however, there is a clear suggestion that this is the result of something the other party has done.
Very quickly though you should be able to see that he is deeply affected and hurt by this breakup and feels desperately betrayed. In spite of this betrayal, the only thing he wants in the world is for his love to rekindle their relationship and make promises to him all over again.
Since there’s no help, come let us kiss and part;
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of love’s latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies,
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes;
Now if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou mightst him yet recover.
Michael Drayton (1563-1631)
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
I’ve not found much background of use to understanding this poem, but I’ll give you a run down nevertheless.
There is a bit of a disagreement academically about Drayton’s exact background, but what is clear is that he started off pretty low and managed to drag himself up in terms of social status thanks to his poetry. Drayton was a pretty popular chap during Elizabeth I reign, but by all accounts took for granted that his royal patronage would last forever; however, when James I took over he was out of favour and took a while to get back to his best.
A lot of his poems were dedicated to various patrons through his career and a few were literary assaults on lapsed patrons. I was desperately trying to find out who this poem is about, but the internet doesn’t seem to contain any hints at all. If you have any inkling, please let me know.
It’s another one focused on love, but it’s on the Lady Mary Wroth scale, but for a bloke. This is a depiction of the darker side of love and how much pain it can cause, but notice the pride of the poet who is struggling to hide his feelings and not show weakness and his injuries.
The whole poem is a one sided conversation between two lovers. Our poet opens with a quiet statement suggesting that they should go their separate way as friends. However, the second line tells us that he is frustrated or angry with the way the relationship has gone as he is unwilling to give her any more – by this I’d presume that he means emotionally, he’s invested so much love and doesn’t feel like he’s got anything back.
The opening quatrain continues with the poet claiming he will not be emotionally effected by the breakup as he says ‘cleanly I myself can free’ – which means that he’s not going to be a messy with lots of crying and misery (a clean break means there is no going back and no lingering emotion on either side). However, there is a sense that he is trying to convince himself of this, as it doesn’t ring true in many respects.
In the next quatrain, the poets continues this idea. Shaking hands and not raising eyebrows are signs that they are friendly towards each other and in the last line he says there with not be ‘one jot’ or one bit of love between them. However, again we have that hint of pain when he mentions the vows that have been broken. In relationships a vow is usually associated with marriage, but alternatively with promises and if someone breaks either types of vows you are left hurt and feeling betrayed.
It is an interesting commentary on love. On the one side we can see how devastating it can be to be betrayed and how the power of affection contributes to the height of misery achieved at this point. However, it is also uplifting in a way, when we consider that despite the depth of this depression and misery, love is still there ready to restore this man and his emotions back to their previous buoyancy.
Lots of things to comment on.
The main thing is the duplicity of the language. It says one thing, but means another. When he says ‘glad with all my heart’ he is trying to convince himself, but is clearly not at all glad about what is happening. Similarly he talks about being ‘free’, but really is desperate to be with her.
I’ll mention the use of repetition in the next section, it is used in a similar way to the word ‘Nay’. This suggests he is arguing with his lover, he is not going to change his mind and she will ‘get no more’ of him… however, he is really arguing with himself, trying to convince himself that he cannot give any more.
My favourite phrase in the poem is the fifth line – ‘Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows’ – as it contains such contrasting ideas. If we shake hands we are friends or are making an amicable agreement, but vows must refer to a wedding and the promises a couple makes to each other. This suggest that his lover has broken these wedding vows in some way, with the most obvious interpretation being through cheating! Shock horror!
Also, make sure to mention the personification of his emotions. The capital letters signify Passion, Faith and Innocence are being treated as human and they represent his true feelings. Passion is ‘speechless’ indicating it is stunned by the recent events of the relationship and so weak it cannot fight back, Faith is ‘kneeling by his bed of death’ so on the point of disappearing as his belief in his love evaporates and Innocence also seems to be on his way out as he is ‘closing up his eyes’ – does this signify the poets naivety?
You might have missed love also being personified with ‘his pulse failing’, but he is not given a capital letter – is this a deliberate move to suggest reciprocal love was never really present in the same way that the poet’s Passion, Faith and Innocence were. His emotions are all linked to death or near death, which shows the powerful impact of the darker side of love. This association shows the depth of his misery and shock at the relationship ending, which again might link us to the discovery of unfaithfulness as it is so sudden and soul destroying.
In the opening two quatrains we can see the poet is struggling to convincingly hide the depth of his feelings for his lover. He is trying to convince himself that this breakup is for the best and contained within his calm words are those that suggest his pain.
Notice how he repeats himself in the third line saying ‘glad, yea, glad’ as if he doesn’t think anyone will believe him and is trying to force the belief into himself that he is actually happy this is happening. Also notice how he races through the last two lines of the second quatrain when talking about how their love will have disappeared before they meet again… he’s racing as he can’t bear to think about or dwell on the idea.
The final quatrain is completely contrary to the others. Now he admits to the intensity of his feelings and reveals that although he has still been hurt all of his emotions are hanging on in there. The couplet completes this revelation of truth by admitting that he is desperate for his lover to swear to him again and rekindle their affection.
I’m not sure how best to describe this. Sombre-serious is the best phrase I can come up with. This is a man who is having to make an extremely difficult decision and is trying his best to demonstrate his calmness, but the power of his affection means that the thought of breaking up with his lover brings him to the brink of collapse. The last lines I imagine would be delivered in full sob as his façade falls down.