Sonnet 61

 Overview

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.


ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

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.

 

 Themes

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.

 Content

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.

 

 Language and techniques

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.

 

 Structure

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.

 

 Tone

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.

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

16 thoughts on “Sonnet 61”

  1. Am in the opinion that when analysing its not possible to say the poem is about lust since the choice of words does not even depict that …or on what grounds can i say is a poem about lust

  2. Hello,
    So I’ve read through this and it is great help. However, I have a question: can we link the lovers love to nature? How everything is born, the lives, then dies. The last art of the poem from: Now at the last gasp of Love’s latest breath, kind of shows us the ending. The first quatrain shows how he is ending it an after that he is telling us of how vibrant the emotions were, and maybe still are, in their love affair. So basically, like the rule of life, everything has a beginning and an end.

    Hope my question makes sense. Thank You.

    1. Hi Amina,

      Yeah, I think understand what you are saying, but I don’t see it. That doesn’t mean I am right though, as you may be able to explain your interpretation perfectly.

      I think he uses death and the image of someone on their sick bed to emphasise exactly how powerful the impact of his heartbreak is. He has tried to put on a brave face and present the end of this love as a necessary thing at the beginning of the poem, but admits that even though he feels like a part of him is dying he is desperate for her to come and save him.

      In terms of linking to nature because everything dies, I feel that is a tenuous link at best. Maybe you can justify your interpretation a bit further?

      Cheers,

      Mr Sir

  3. Dear Sir,

    I am self studying my Alevel lit and these notes have been a huge help. So thank you.

    As you said, I could not find who this poem was about but I had a thought, and wanted to run it past you.

    The poem is about the betrayal of a ‘loved one’.
    In the context it is said that he raised his station through his poetry. However, after King James can into power he fell out of favour.

    So, my question is-
    Can we link this poem to the betrayal that he felt when he was ‘let go’?

    Love can be linked to love for his social station- which I assume would drop, once he was out of royal favor.

    He is asking for an amicable breakup, as he doesn’t want any trouble to come from being out of royal favour.

    Passion, faith and innocence can be linked to the love for his job and station.
    He was Passionate ( enthusiasm) about writing poetry for them
    He had faith in the fact that they would keep allowing him to continue with his job
    His innocence was betrayed because he wasn’t

    The end couplet could be linked to the fact that he would like to perform for them again,

    What do you think??? Would this analysis be acceptable?
    Also, is there any way that I can improve it?

    Thank you in advance

    1. I think you could certainly argue it, but there are a few assumptions that I’m not sure I’d personally agree with (but this doesn’t mean you’re not right or can’t argue it).

      My biggest issue with your interpretation is whether you’d really feel that depth of emotion just because the monarch changes. Does that make sense?

      Let me know if not and I will explain in a bit more depth when I get the chance.

      1. Yeah that makes sense. Thank you.
        I think I’ll stick with the interpretation about it being directed at a lover

        If you don’t mind me asking, I have another question.

        Personal responses are a big part of the Cambridge syllabus- but what exactly are they? How do you show that you are giving a personal response?

        Also, how is it different from analysis? Or are they both the same thing

        My exam is next week and I want to make sure I’m doing everything right.

        Thank you!

      2. Basically the same thing as analysis. Personal response is just actually developing an interpretation of a poem rather than just responding to it mechanically and pointing out the techniques or structure.

        If you want any last minute tips, submit a bit of writing or an essay and I will try my best to give you some helpful direction.

      3. Dear Sir,

        Thank you for the offer.
        I have added a excerpt from my essay ” Does a man for all seasons show the triumph of pragmatism over idealism?” This is the introduction and first two paragraphs of my answer

        In a man for all seasons, the author pits two opposite principles, idealism and pragmatism, against eachother, to show their effects and value in society at that time. Idealism is a principle in which people practice the formation and pursuance of ideals, even unrealistically. While pragmatism is a principle in which people make their decisions based on the reality that life presents, even at the expense of their ideals. This principle values self benefit.

        In the play, pragmatism is shown to be the dominant principle, followed by most of the characters in the play. While the pragmatists respect ‘idealism’ they refuse to allow it to stand in the way of what they want. King Henrys decision to divorce Queen Catherine, was a decision that affected the whole of England, forcing the people to choose sides. Would they be idealists, standing up against the King, even if this decision was detrimental. Or would they be pragmatists, ignoring their religious ideals, and choosing self benefit while justifying their actions. The Kings decision led to a war with the church. This not only affected the people personal ideals but also their religious ones. At the time in which the play was set, England was a strict Catholic country. They saw the Pope as their spiritual link to God. He was to obeyed by all, even the King who was believed to have divine right of rule.

        Bolt uses the key people in the Kings government, to show how the kings decision pitted pragmatism against idealism. The main character in a man for all seasons is shown to be a strict idealist. While he does not openly speak against the King, his silence is believed to show his disapproval of the Kings actions. Thomas More is a politician and a lawyer. He is known as an honest man throughout England and is respected for this. “He is the only judge since Cato who doesn’t take bribes!” Norfolk was defending More, during a conversation with Cromwell in Act 2?. Cromwell was trying to prove that he accepted a bribe during a trial in which…. This was not true; he had disposed of the bribe as soon as he realized what it was. The King is shown to value Mores opinion, this is shown on several occasions. First, Example of him beginning. More is also shown to be a strict catholic… examples. In the play, he refuses to give his opinion on the topic of the Kings divorce, using clever language to avoid it. Examples… However, towards the second half of the play this becomes harder, as the King becomes determined have his approval.

        Any tips you have would be appreciated
        Also, do you have any advice for the exam itself?

      4. I’ll have a little look over this and email you when I am done. Expect a comment either before the end of the day or by the end of the week.

        Thanks for contributing,

        Mr Sir

  4. Firstly, I would like to ask if you don’t think that this is a Petrachan sonnet that should be analysed paying attention to the volt after the octave.
    If not, in the third quatrain, i feel as though the pronoun ‘his’ is not referring to the personified ‘Passion’, ‘Faith’ and ‘Innocence’, rather ‘his’ may be referring to love. I say so because initially this quatrain is dealing with ‘love’ at ‘last gasp’ of his ‘latest breath’, hence, these three emotions are the last witnesses of him (love) at his death bed. Therefore passion will be the helpless enthusiast who can do nothing but watch as love dies, Faith is the ‘prayer position’ but realizes that its ultimately in vain, and innocence plays the part of the brave individual who closes the open eyes of a dead person.
    what do you think???

    1. Well, yes, but you don’t need to do it specifically using the terminology necessarily. As long as you deal with the key ideas in the poem you don’t need to make the divide explicit in your analysis – of course, you can do this if you want to.

      I think your comment on who is being addressed is basically the same as mine, just a slightly different spin on it. Are the emotions at the bed of love or are they all dying themselves? It equates to the same thing, but feel free to develop your own ideas and not take mine as golden. The good news is that you have a strong and well developed interpretation that I imagine you’ll be able to integrate into your analysis easily.

      Good luck, sorry for the delay!

    2. I really like the way you’ve interpreted it. I initially thought the pronouns referred to love as well, however, I failed to implore such depths.

  5. Hi I think he is addressing Anne Goodere later knon as Lady Rainsford , which I read in a journal article from Jstore.

    1. Oh, that’s a good bit of info. Could you possibly post a link so I can check it out? Thanks!

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