Verse written on her Death-bed

Verse written on her Death-bed
 Overview

This is a beautiful and moving poem filled with the romance of a woman who feels she has truly found her soul mate.

She addresses a final farewell to her husband, the only person she cares about. After suffering for a long time she welcomes death as a release from her pain. However, she is torn between longing for this release and her love. She fears that her death could leave her husband distraught and in deep mourning.

The poem ends with her gently persuading him that her death is for the best and that he should not mourn, but rejoice her death while he will still remember her as his faithful wife.

Thou who dost all my worldly thoughts employ,
Thou pleasing source of all my earthly joy,
Thou tenderest husband and thou dearest friend,
To thee this first, this last adieu I send!
At length the conqueror death asserts his right,
And will for ever veil me from thy sight;
He wooes me to him with a cheerful grace,
And not one terror clouds his meagre face;
He promises a lasting rest from pain,
And shews that all life’s fleeting joys are vain;
Th’ eternal scenes of heaven he sets in view,
And tells me that no other joys are true.
But love, fond love, would yet resist his power,
Would fain awhile defer the parting hour;
He brings thy mourning image to my eyes,
And would obstruct my journey to the skies.
But say, thou dearest, thou unwearied friend!
Say, should’st thou grieve to see my sorrows end?
Thou know’st a painful pilgrimage I’ve past;
And should’st thou grieve that rest is come at last?
Rather rejoice to see me shake off life,
And die as I have liv’d, thy faithful wife.

Mary Monck (?-1715)

Analysis
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Not a great deal to say here as there is not much out there.

The second daughter of a wealthy British aristocrat (with strong Irish connections) who married a chap called George Monck in Ireland and then died in 1715 (we don’t know when she was born). We also have no clear indication of what killed her, but the implications of this poem is it was some sort of long standing condition rather than a motorbike accident…

Only after her death was any of her poetry published, as presumably it was composed for pleasure rather than with any professional aspirations. This poem was part of a body of written on her death bed to her husband that was later published in a collection of Poems of Eminent Ladies.

 

 Themes

This poem is all about what I would term as true love, based on companionship and friendship rather than lust and passion. Through the poem we are forced to examine the impact of aging and mortality on love.

Content

Although the poem is a single stanza, we can divide it into clear sections.

‘Only You!’ Lines 1-4 – Monck addresses the poem to her husband and tells him that he is her everything;
‘Sweet, sweet death’ Lines 5-12 – She explains that death is approaching, but that she sees it as a comforting release from her pain. She embraces this idea and speaks of the eternal bliss of heaven that awaits her;
‘Poor chap :(‘ Lines 13-16 – Despite this feeling, she explains that she feels a sense of guilt or fear about what her death will do to her husband. Her love for him and worry about him suffering as a result of her death cause her to resist the release of death;
‘Chin up old man’ Lines 17-22 – She tries to convince her hubby not to be sad, but to see the good in her death.

Neatly summed up with my four subheadings!

Language and techniques

I’ll need to be careful as I could write all day about this one. I even bothered the wife by reading it to her, until I saw her eyes clouding over as I tried to break down exactly why she should be crying!

In the first stanza you need to focus on the use of superlatives and the way she describes her husband as being of singular importance to her. Not only is he the ‘tenderest husband’ and ‘dearest friend’, he is also the subject of ‘all [her] worldly thoughts’ and the ‘source of all [her] earthly joy’. He is also her ‘first’ and ‘last’ focus. This is love being presented as something based on companionship, where two people complete and become each other’s world.

This might be a little difficult to comprehend for you youngsters with your constantly shifting affections, friendships and love affairs. However, when you reach old age (which by my reckoning is about 31 🙁 ) you will probably have grown away from many of your friends and have a very limited social circle. When this happens your mini family unit becomes the only important thing in your life.

Anyway, the repetition of ‘all’ emphasises the fact that he is the only person in her life. The superlatives serve to demonstrate how highly she regards him and the way he has loved her and treated her is seen as perfection – no one could have loved her better or been a better companion.

You should also comment on the choice of these two words. She does not focus on lust or passion at all, but instead highlights his qualities of tenderness and friendship. We could speculate this is because she died when she was too old for all that sort of stuff, but that can’ be confirmed and also it is clear that her love is based on companionship, security and comfort.

In the second part of the poem (as divided by me in the Content section), we have an analogy presenting her struggle with illness as a war with death personified as a ‘conqueror’. Although it is not much of a war as she submits easily as she sees him as a having ‘cheerful grace’ and his rule ‘promises a lasting rest from pain’. This imagery is contradictory and defies traditional expectations of both Death and warfare. You don’t get many people welcoming invaders or embracing their own death. However, this reflects the extent of her suffering as she is beyond struggling and would rather die than continue in her current straight. While she presents this as death ‘woo[ing]’ her in the poem, in reality this must reflect life actively pissing her off with what she has to contend with.

In the last three lines of this section she refers to belief in an afterlife in heaven. She contrasts the ‘fleeting joys’ of life with the ‘eternal scenes of heaven’ in an attempt to convince herself and her husband that death should hold no fear and thus be welcomed. However, death’s suggestion that ‘no other joys are true’ other than those of heaven is quite clearly false based on the extent of her affection for her husband and the struggle the next section reveals.

We don’t know anything of Monck’s religious beliefs, but given the focus of this poem and depth of love demonstrated, I think you could make a point about heaven merely being used here as a way of soothing the pain of loss and through the struggle between the appeal of heaven and her husband emphasise the strength of her love further.

This brings us smoothly onto the third section of the poem. Here the persuasive imagery presented by death is clearly not enough to make her give up on life. Her love, again personified, makes her ‘resist’ and ‘obstruct[s]’ her inevitable death. The fact that love can be so powerful to fight off the divine draw of death and heaven demonstrates just how strong her feelings are. Love prevents her from submitting to death by making her picture the misery her death would bring to her husband.

Notice the use of enjambment on lines 13, repeated again at the beginning of my final section (line 17), where she stumbles when considering the love and the man she is leaving behind. ‘But love, fond love’ has a pause that suggests an emotional spike as she contemplates it and addresses it. She also pauses to address him twice as both ‘thou dearest’ and ‘thou unwearied friend’ demonstrating an emotional disruption from the message she is trying to present to him.

In the final section, rhetorical questions are used to convince her husband that her death is for the best. These are gentle prompts and how can he deny her death when it is presented as ‘rest’ and contrasted with her current ‘painful pilgrimage’.  She concludes this persuasive argument in the final couplet by asking him to ‘rather rejoice’ in allowing her to die as his ‘faithful wife’. This conflictory presentation of death as a positive is used to sooth his potential mourning and this final image of her wishing to maintain the image of herself as his wife rather than a frail, suffering victim is really sweet.

Structure

You are fine to talk about the different sections of this poem, but make sure you clarify to your examiner what these sections are, as they ones I have talked about are personally defined. However, they follow the full pauses in the poem.

I would also mention that the simple rhyming couplets with either mono or disyllabic words throughout supports the soothing and gentle tone of the poem. Despite the difficult subject of death, it is presented as a release and thus this poem is seen as a celebration.

You could also demonstrate the peaks of emotion that interrupt the soothing message with the two exclamation marks. The first of these comes when she verbalises the fact this is her final message, thus placing the pain of their parting at the front of her mind. Towards the end of the poem as she tries to console his grief, we see her sadness when she once more considers what her husband represents to her.

Tone

This is an emotionally charged poem, but Monck tries to masquerade as someone in control of her emotions and calm with her passing. The tone is generally soothing and gentle, with occasional emotional outbursts.

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.

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