'To -' by Joseph Rodman Drake

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WHEN that eye of light shall in darkness fall,
And thy bosom be shrouded in death's cold pall,
When the bloom of that rich red lip shall fade,
And thy head on its pillow of dust be laid;

Oh! then thy spirit shall see how true
Are the holy vows I have breathed to you;
My form shall moulder thy grave beside,
And in the blue heavens I'll seek my bride.

Then we'll tell, as we tread yon azure sphere,
Of the woes we have known while lingering here;
And our spirits shall joy that, their pilgrimage o'er,
They have met in the heavens to sever no more.

Editor 1 Interpretation

To - by Joseph Rodman Drake

Have you ever read a poem that makes you feel like you're in love with someone you've never met? That's the effect of Joseph Rodman Drake's "To –", a classic poem that captures the essence of yearning for someone you admire from afar.

At first glance, the poem seems like a simple love letter to someone whose name is not even revealed. However, upon delving deeper, one realizes the complexity of the emotions expressed in the lines.

The opening stanza

"Fair lady!-throw aside your veil! Look on the flowers that o'er you wave; Nor scorn the tale that they tell the gale, Of lovers that pass to the grave."

The opening lines set the tone of the poem, with the speaker addressing an unknown lady, urging her to reveal herself and acknowledge the beauty around her. The reference to flowers and their stories adds a layer of symbolism to the poem, foreshadowing the theme of transience and the fleeting nature of love.

The second stanza

"How oft, when gazing on the scene Where now the fairy fingers stray, I've wished to be a woven screen, To catch their pulses as they play!"

The second stanza is where the poem takes on a dreamy quality, with the speaker expressing a desire to be close to the lady, to be able to observe her every movement and feel her presence. The imagery of "fairy fingers" adds a whimsical touch, further emphasizing the ethereal nature of the poem.

The third stanza

"And oft, when evening skies were bright, And watch and ward kept others in, I've stole beneath your window-light, And rested on my violin."

The third stanza is where the poem takes a melancholic turn, with the speaker admitting to yearning for the lady even when she is not around. The image of the speaker playing his violin under her window adds a romantic touch, but it also highlights the distance between the two. The use of the word "stole" adds a sense of secrecy to the poem, further emphasizing the speaker's unrequited love.

The fourth stanza

"But recent airs have breathed a spell And murmured names of power around, And they have bound my soul in a cell, Till I could hardly hear a sound."

The fourth stanza is where the poem takes on a more ominous tone, with the speaker admitting to being trapped by the power of the lady's name. The use of the word "cell" adds a sense of confinement to the poem, hinting that the speaker's love for the lady is not entirely healthy.

The fifth stanza

"Fair lady!-dost thou pity me? Or wilt thou break this spell of mine? And bid me, on the evening glee, Still mingle my notes with thine!"

The final stanza is where the speaker addresses the lady directly, asking her to either pity him or break the spell that has been cast on him. The use of the word "spell" adds a sense of magic to the poem, hinting at the power that the lady holds over the speaker. The final line, where the speaker asks to mingle his notes with the lady's, adds a sense of hope to the poem, hinting that the speaker still holds out a sliver of hope that his love will be reciprocated.


"To –" is a beautifully crafted poem that captures the essence of unrequited love. The use of symbolism, imagery, and language adds layers of complexity to the poem, making it a classic that is still relevant today. The poem is a testament to the power of love, and the pain and joy that it brings.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry To: A Masterpiece of Romanticism

Joseph Rodman Drake, a prominent American poet of the Romantic era, wrote the poem "Poetry To" in 1819. This poem is a beautiful tribute to the power of poetry and its ability to transport us to a world of imagination and wonder. In this article, we will delve into the depths of this masterpiece and explore its themes, structure, and language.


The central theme of "Poetry To" is the transformative power of poetry. The poem begins with the speaker addressing poetry as a "fairy power" that can "charm the air to give a sound." The speaker goes on to describe how poetry can transport us to a world of imagination and beauty, where we can escape the mundane realities of everyday life. The poem also touches on the theme of mortality, as the speaker acknowledges that we are all mortal and that poetry can help us transcend our mortality.


"Poetry To" is a sonnet, a fourteen-line poem that follows a specific rhyme scheme and meter. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, which means that each line has ten syllables and follows a pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, which means that the first and third lines of each quatrain rhyme, as do the second and fourth lines. The final couplet has a rhyme of its own.

The structure of the poem is significant because it reflects the poem's central theme. The sonnet form is traditionally associated with love poetry, but in "Poetry To," the speaker's love is directed towards poetry itself. The strict structure of the sonnet also mirrors the transformative power of poetry, as the poem's strict form is transformed by the beauty of the language and imagery.


The language of "Poetry To" is rich and evocative, filled with vivid imagery and sensory details. The poem is full of metaphors and personification, which give the poem a sense of magic and wonder. For example, the speaker describes poetry as a "fairy power" and a "spirit that can make the air less dense." These metaphors create a sense of enchantment and suggest that poetry has the power to transport us to a world of imagination and beauty.

The language of the poem is also significant because it reflects the poem's themes. The use of sensory details and vivid imagery creates a sense of immersion in the world of the poem, which mirrors the transformative power of poetry. The language also reflects the poem's acknowledgement of mortality, as the speaker describes how poetry can "cheat the pale-faced moon" and "make the gloomy grave a bow'r of flowers."


"Poetry To" is a masterpiece of Romantic poetry, filled with rich language, vivid imagery, and a powerful message about the transformative power of poetry. The poem's themes of mortality and the transformative power of poetry are reflected in its structure and language, creating a sense of magic and wonder that transports the reader to a world of imagination and beauty. Joseph Rodman Drake's "Poetry To" is a testament to the enduring power of poetry and its ability to inspire and enchant us.

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