‘This girl is sad about a guy’ – a response from one of my Year 12s on initial reading of the poem. I responded with some form of abusive shouting, I really should have gone further and resorted to some form of medieval torture. Understatement of all understatements. The poetic voice is distraught and on the verge of suicide as feels tortured by the loss of her love. She is blaming a personified ‘Love’ for her woes and pleading for an end to her heartache and otherwise threatening to end it all herself. Lady Mary Wroth (1583-c.1653)
How long will you delight in my sad pain?
Will never Love your favour more express?
Shall I still live, and ever feel disdain?
Alas, now stay, and let my grief obtain
Some end; feed not my heart with sharp distress.
Let me once see my cruel fortunes gain
At least release, and long-felt woes redress.
Let not the blame of cruelty disgrace
The honoured title of your godhead Love;
Give not just cause for me to say a place
Is found for rage alone on me to move.
O quickly end, and do not long debate
My needful aid, lest help do come too late.
‘This girl is sad about a guy’ – a response from one of my Year 12s on initial reading of the poem. I responded with some form of abusive shouting, I really should have gone further and resorted to some form of medieval torture. Understatement of all understatements.
The poetic voice is distraught and on the verge of suicide as feels tortured by the loss of her love. She is blaming a personified ‘Love’ for her woes and pleading for an end to her heartache and otherwise threatening to end it all herself.
Lady Mary Wroth (1583-c.1653)
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
I love Lady Mary Wroth and I think there is a pretty clear link between her life and the poem, but I’ll get to that in a second.
She lived between 1587-1651/3 (hard to tell in those days) and was from a distinguished literary family and was one of the first women to be recognised as a literary talent. Her reputation was a bit hard for her husband to take and apparently the marriage wasn’t the happiest. However, he died – thankfully – and she did find love with her cousin, Earl William Herbert (quite a powerful and rich guy). It wasn’t easy for her though, as Herbert was also one of the favourites of Queen Anne and she moved him around court to be with her in a tussle with Wroth.
This poem is from a sonnet sequence in her book Countess of Montgomery’s Urania called Pamphilia to Amphilanthus. The sequence is about a girl expressing her feelings after her lover has been unfaithful. However, I think the strength of the expression of these extreme emotions indicate that she has experienced this kind of emotional destruction personally.
I think this poem is directly about her anger and misery at Queen Anne making her love impossible, depriving her of her man. You are perfectly free to disagree with me though!
Again we’re looking at love, but very specifically at the dark side of the emotion and how it can rip someone apart and appear merciless and cruel.
It’s easy to be put off by this type of poem – extreme depression breeds extreme depression, so why bother. However, this is one of the richest and there is a huge amount to comment on.
Divided into four sections within a sonnet (see structure below), we are taken through the poetic voice’s evolving emotions. It opens with an expression of a state of torture (‘endless torments’) that she feels now she can’t have her lover and quickly descended to bitter rhetorical questioning to her torturer – again, a kind of personified Love – about why he ‘delight[s]‘ in her suffering. She even questions whether she can live with the pain in the fourth line as she feels that this pain with last forever.
I see the second four lines as her anger subsiding into pathetic sobs. She actually begs her love to ‘now stay’ and wants to avoid the ‘sharp distress’ of a sudden and unexpected ending. It’s a little odd, as if she is asking for a gradual break-up just so it doesn’t feel like a sudden wounding. She wants to avoid that sting of hearing “it’s over”.
Next, she seems to be threatening ‘Love’ with ruining his reputation by associating him with ‘cruelty’ and blaming him/the emotion for her ‘rage’.
In the final two lines, it is open to interpretation whether she is pleading to Love or to the reader to help her. ‘O quickly end’ means she is begging for immediate help and the last phrase – ‘lest help do come too late’ – implies that if she is not helped soon she will die; this sounds like a threat that she will commit suicide to rid her of the pain if no one can help.
Throughout your discussion of the content of this poem, you should be referring to the powerful vocabulary used to express the poetic voice’s suffering.
Wroth uses ‘endless torments’, ‘sharp distress’, ‘cruelty’ and ‘rage’ to associate the emotions of the poem with acute suffering and torture brought on by the loss of love. She contrasts this with the feeling of ‘delight’ from Love as if the emotion enjoys its power to destroy its victims.
I’d also refer to the initial use of rhetorical questions. Repeated, bitter questioning of Love’s motives and actions show her anger and an almost helpless lashing out. The third of these contains the implied threat of suicide if she continues to have to deal with these feelings.
You could also bring in the fact that the poetic voice still seems to respect Love, as having an ‘honoured title’, which could indicate that she appreciates the happiness of being in love alongside the devastation of being deprived of love. Her suffering throughout the poem could be a tribute to the power and magnitude of the emotion.
Okay, so I’ve mentioned already that this is divided into four distinction sections of the poetic voice’s emotional state.
5-8 Plea for relief
13-14 Plea for help/Suicide note
Each quatrain acting as an exploration of one emotional response to the loss of love and the final couplet… well, that’s just miserable. Poor Wroth, if this was about her and Herbert.
It is also significant that this is written in the sonnet form. Traditionally sonnets are associated with expressions of love/infatuation/longing, but this completely turns the form on its head by showing the darker side of love.
If you really want to impress and you can articulate the idea clearly, you could talk about how she uses vocabulary with harsh/stressed sounding consonant opening syllables to mirror the suffering – ‘pain’, ‘disdain’, ‘distress’, ‘disgrace’. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t talk about it because you’ll sound unconvincing.
It’s fairly scathing or aggressive at most points, with the poetic voice blaming and threatening Love. However, there is also an undertone of depression as this anger is based on utter heartbreak and misery, which is captured by her expressions of longing to go back in the second quatrain.