Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?

 Overview

The poetic voice is questioning the point of his friend’s love sickness. This lover is making himself sick and going into his shell, which is causing all of his friends embarrassment and the poetic voice is pointing out the pointlessness of his misery and telling him, rather aggressively, to get over this girl and move on with his life.

Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee, why so pale?

Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can’t win her,
Saying nothing do’t?
Prithee, why so mute?

Quit, quit, for shame; this will not move,
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her;
The devil take her!

 Sir John Suckling (1609-42) 

Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.


ContextThemesContentLanguage and techniquesStructureTone

Context

Well, first of all, this is a song from a play Suckling wrote called ‘Aglaura’ in 1637. It is immediately introduced by Orsames who says it is: ‘A little foolish counsel… I gave to a friend of mine… when he was falling into a consumption’. So, it is advice to a friend who is feeling lovesick.

Suckling lived between 1609-42 and was a Cavalier poet (basically one of Charles I’s fanboys)  who were associated with carefree gallantry. As such he had an interesting life, which he filled with his share of womanising and gambling. This could possibly explain his attitude to women in this poem.

 

Themes

Love, love, love. Unrequited love. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a romantic poem; it is not in anyway. This poem tells us a lot about the poetic voice (which seems pretty similar to what you might expect of Suckling as a Cavalier poet) thinks about love and women: don’t get soppy about it, just move on if she won’t have you.

Content

The first stanza uses rhetorical questions to make the lover consider why he is making himself sick. ‘Pale’ and ‘wan’ both suggest a face without colour, so someone suffering from physical sickness. Lines 3-4 are used by the poetic voice to suggest that if this girl does not want him ‘when looking well’ (healthy) then why would she want him when he looks sickly.

In a similar manner the second stanza deals with the change in this lover’s personality. If the poetic voice is friends with the lover you would think that he usually finds him interesting and engaging, but in the open lines he questions why the lover is ‘dull’ and ‘mute’ suggesting that he has stopped talking or being involved and is becoming a bit of a bore to all around him. Again the middle lines of the stanza, 8-9, emphasise how futile the lover’s reaction to rejection is, as he is never going to win the girl round through his silent sobriety if she didn’t want him when he is ‘speaking well’. Both these stanzas highlight the ridiculous nonsense that is love sickness – if she doesn’t like you at your best, she’s not going to be interested when you’re a blubbering mess.

The final stanza is a bit of a change and is possibly the first supportive comment from the poetic voice to the lover. The first line is a plea for the lover to snap out of it with the repetition of ‘quit’ emphasising the voice’s frustration with him and ‘shame’ tells the lover he is embarrassing himself and his friends. However, it then becomes quite abusive towards the object of the lover’s desire as the voice says that if she won’t love him then ‘the devil take her’, which is a sixteenth-seventeenth century equivalent for ‘sod her’. He is slagging her off to make the lover feel a bit better about himself and hopeful to get him to move on.

 

Language and techniques

The main techniques to comment on is the poet’s use of rhetorical questions and repetition. Once you’ve explored the way the poem creates an image of love sickness affecting both physical appearance and social behaviour, the consistent use of rhetorical questions is pretty important.

The poet knows exactly why the lover is looking so ‘pale and wan’ and why he is ‘so dull and mute’ (he’s love sick), but asks the questions and then repeats the questions three time in stanza one and two to really drive home how absurd the lover is being. It has the same effect as someone say ‘What’s the point?’ three times, which emphasises the pointlessness. The use of the word ‘Prithee’ on both repetitions is overly polite and sarcastic as the poetic voice clearly thinks his friend is being foolish. The rhetorical questions in the middle of stanza one or two are both dripping with sarcasm as they are clearly ridiculous questions designed to highlight the lover’s idiotic position.

It might also be worth mentioning the change in language in the final stanza. We have the first mention of ‘her’ (as in the love interest) and she is immediately cursed with the phrase ‘the devil take her’, which is used as a way of telling his friend that she is no good and can go to hell and telling the lover to move on from her.

If you feel confident, you could even talk about the alliterative use of ‘w’ (‘why’, ‘wan’)and ‘p’ (‘pale’, ‘prithee’) sounds in the first stanza and ‘m’ in the second stanza, which are harsh sounding when read aloud and contribute to mood of aggression or deep sarcasm in a rebuking manner.

 

Structure

Remember: there is no point talking about structure unless you can link it to some sensible analysis. Examiners don’t care about ABABCC rhymes schemes and couplets unless you can explain why they have been used and to what effect.

The key thing here is that the poem is structured like a logical argument. You could comment on two aspects of the poem that help to give it a calm and logical feel. Firstly, the first two stanzas establish the problem and the futility of the current situation, while the final stanza delivers a logical solution: ‘forget her!’. Secondly, look at the regularity of the construction of each stanza – 5 lines, ABABB rhyme scheme, regular metre with 85855 syllables. This isn’t the irregularity of someone wild with emotion, but is focused, organised… logical… as it was intended to be as it is guidance to try to get the lover to see sense.

 

Tone

We’ve partially covered this above, but let’s just make it clear.

You might expect a poem about a love sick somebody to be sympathetic, but this is really not sympathetic. It drips with sarcasm and is repetitive to the point where the lover could only possibly be embarrassed, not consoled (‘Quit, quit, for shame). The way some of the alliteration forces you to spit the letters out gives us the impression that the poetic voice is frustrated with his friend and wants him to snap out of it. However, the final stanza’s frustration almost fizzles to sympathy for his friend and trying to make his friend hate himself out of his melancholy with the malice directed towards this innocent non-reciprocating woman.

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.

27 thoughts on “Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?”

  1. why does the persona refer to his friend as young sinner?
    Is it that his infatuation is religious punishment?
    or was it considered a sin to be in love before marriage at the time the poem was written?

    1. Anosh! It is you isn’t it? I used to be your form teacher 😉

      I’m super happy you’ve decided to study Literature!

      Anyway, to answer your question. Imagine this poem as a conversation between two good friends and as such being quite playful. He is not really a sinner, but it is implied that this love sickness may feel like some sort of divine punishment. It is definitely not a sin to love someone before marrying them and it never has been.

      Hope all is well,

      Mr Sir

      1. Thanks!
        nope its a different anosh, this ones from Tajikistan.
        you still got that blue ladies’ watch?
        yup am doing lit this year AS.

      2. Oh I see 😉

        No idea what happened to the watch, but I’m alarmed to know that it was thought to be a ladies’ watch. Twas very fetching and much more comfortable than my current one!

        Good to hear from you,

        Mr Sir

      3. Mr. Sir, sinner in this case mean signor.

        As in young signor

        In those times, if i’m not wrong, sinner is supposed to be signor

        Right?

      4. No, I don’t thin you are right. I think it retains the same meaning today, i.e. someone who has sinned. Signor is not and has never been an English word.

        Cheers,

        Mr Sir

    1. It is basically a way of saying ‘screw her’ or ‘f**k her’. It’s like when someone won’t do something you want them to do and you eventually lose patient and just slag them off while walking away and giving up on them. Very unfair on the poor girl in question, but when have men been fair?

  2. Poetry is one of the most difficult masterpiece in literature. It is an art functioned by the brain from the heart of a writer(poet). Poetry is not to be taken literally, but I for one say that when it comes to interpretation of poems, all opinions is widely accepted, because poetry itself is an opinionated masterpiece. We shouldn’t take word by word literally, maybe some are, but not all.
    Well based on my analysis this poem is about an advice for the gents. SIR JOHN SUCKLING made this poem to make the gents realize when a woman is not into them. I can say so because based on my research about SIR JOHN SUCKLING, he is well known because of his wittiness. Okay, so lets start the analysis of this poem.

    The word “Pale” from the title means “sickly”, and “Wan” means “weak”, and of course “Fond” here is used as “silly.”
    So the translation of the title is “Why so sickly and weak, silly lover?”
    The word “prithee” here means ” oh do tell me.”
    The third and fourth line is considered as one, “Will, when looking well can’t move her, Looking ill prevail?” this stanza means,” when you were at your best but still you can’t win her, then what now, when your at your worst.”

    The third and fourth line in the second paragraph is also considered as one, “Will, when speaking well can’t win her, Saying nothing do’t?” means, “when at the beginning you used every word that could woo a woman (in other term “flowery words”), but still you can’t make her love you, then what could your silence do?”

    The first and second line from the third paragraph is also one stanza, “Quit, quit for shame, this will not move, This cannot take her” means, “stop, stop embarrassing yourself, just accept the fact that she can’t and will never love you”
    And the third and fourth stanza, “If of herself she will not love, Nothing can make her” means, “if she already decided that she can’t and will not love you, then nothing can change her decision.”

    Just comment if you have questions, i would be pleased to answer them.

    thank you for reading.

    1. Line 11 is a lovely one.

      Imagine you’re really frustrated with your friend who is doing something stupid. He repeats ‘Quit, quit’ to emphasise how frustrated he is with his friend and to tell him to stop being a lovesick puppy. Furthermore, he tells him that he needs to stop ‘for shame’ or in other words he is bringing shame on himself and his friends/associates.

      The last little bit (‘this will not move’) is basically telling him that this lovesick moping isn’t going to make the object of his affections any more likely to love him, so he needs to quit being a soppy so and so.

      Hope this helps,

      Mr Sir

    1. Well, I think it’d be reasonable to take it either way. I took it as a playful piece of mockery at his lovesickness – i.e. ‘you idiot!’, but your alternative is equally valid. The poetic voice certainly seems to think this reaction to love is not socially acceptable, so perhaps the lover is sinning towards his friends and his role as a man in the world.

  3. I’m just curious on the fact of how you immediately could nominate “fond lover” as the poet’s friend. I would also be grateful if you could tell me why the author referred to him as such.

    1. Good point. I suppose it could be focused on his own actions or just a general comment on the foolish actions of the lovesick. However, with poetry I always go with what makes sense to me. What do you think?

      Why does the poet refer to him as ‘fond lover’? Well, it’s a bit of a patronising, but supportive comment in my opinion. The word ‘fond’ here means foolish rather than the modern day meaning of liking something; thus the poet is chastising the lover for his actions and answers his own question: i.e the lover is pale and wan because of his foolish attitude towards love.

      Hope this helps! Sorry about the delay, I’ve been holidaying.

      1. Just to add, after rereading my context section, that the poem was actually a song from a play and the character singing it actually tells the audience that it was composed for a lovesick friend.

        However, it could still be interpreted as in my above comment and I find it quite an interesting idea.

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