'Lord Walter's Wife' by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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'But where do you go?' said the lady, while both sat under the yew,
And her eyes were alive in their depth, as the kraken beneath the sea-blue.
'Because I fear you,' he answered;--'because you are far too fair,
And able to strangle my soul in a mesh of your golfd-coloured hair.'
'Oh that,' she said, 'is no reason! Such knots are quickly undone,
And too much beauty, I reckon, is nothing but too much sun.'
'Yet farewell so,' he answered; --'the sunstroke's fatal at times.
I value your husband, Lord Walter, whose gallop rings still from the limes.
'Oh that,' she said, 'is no reason. You smell a rose through a fence:
If two should smell it what matter? who grumbles, and where's the pretense?
'But I,' he replied, 'have promised another, when love was free,
To love her alone, alone, who alone from afar loves me.'
'Why, that,' she said, 'is no reason. Love's always free I am told.
Will you vow to be safe from the headache on Tuesday, and think it will hold?
'But you,' he replied, 'have a daughter, a young child, who was laid
In your lap to be pure; so I leave you: the angels would make me afraid."
'Oh that,' she said, 'is no reason. The angels keep out of the way;
And Dora, the child, observes nothing, although you should please me and stay.'
At which he rose up in his anger,--'Why now, you no longer are fair!
Why, now, you no longer are fatal, but ugly and hateful, I swear.'
At which she laughed out in her scorn: 'These men! Oh these men overnice,
Who are shocked if a colour not virtuous is frankly put on by a vice.'
Her eyes blazed upon him--'And you! You bring us your vices so near
That we smell them! You think in our presence a thought 'twould defame us to hear!
'What reason had you, and what right,--I appel to your soul from my life,--
To find me so fair as a woman? Why, sir, I am pure, and a wife.
'Is the day-star too fair up above you? It burns you not. Dare you imply
I brushed you more close than the star does, when Walter had set me as high?
'If a man finds a woman too fair, he means simply adapted too much
To use unlawful and fatal. The praise! --shall I thank you for such?
'Too fair?--not unless you misuse us! and surely if, once in a while,
You attain to it, straightaway you call us no longer too fair, but too vile.
'A moment,--I pray your attention!--I have a poor word in my head
I must utter, though womanly custom would set it down better unsaid.
'You grew, sir, pale to impertinence, once when I showed you a ring.
You kissed my fan when I dropped it. No matter! I've broken the thing.
'You did me the honour, perhaps, to be moved at my side now and then
In the senses--a vice, I have heard, which is common to beasts and some men.
'Love's a virtue for heroes!--as white as the snow on high hills,
And immortal as every great soul is that struggles, endures, and fulfils.
'I love my Walter profoundly,--you, Maude, though you faltered a week,
For the sake of . . . what is it--an eyebrow? or, less still, a mole on the cheek?
'And since, when all's said, you're too noble to stoop to the frivolous cant
About crimes irresistable, virtues that swindle, betray and supplant.
'I determined to prove to yourself that, whate'er you might dream or avow
By illusion, you wanted precisely no more of me than you have now.
'There! Look me full in the face!--in the face. Understand, if you can,
That the eyes of such women as I am are clean as the palm of a man.
'Drop his hand, you insult him. Avoid us for fear we should cost you a scar--
You take us for harlots, I tell you, and not for the women we are.
'You wronged me: but then I considered . . . there's Walter! And so at the end
I vowed that he should not be mulcted, by me, in the hand of a friend.
'Have I hurt you indeed? We are quits then. Nay, friend of my Walter, be mine!
Come, Dora, my darling, my angel, and help me to ask him to dine.'
Editor 1 Interpretation
In Praise of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Lord Walter's Wife"
Oh, what a masterpiece of poetry is "Lord Walter's Wife" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning! Here is a work that distills the essence of human experience - love, betrayal, jealousy, regret, and redemption - into a few dozen lines of haunting verse that linger in the heart and mind long after the last word has been read. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will endeavor to do justice to the richness and complexity of Browning's poem, exploring its themes, symbols, imagery, language, and structure, and uncovering the hidden depths and nuances that make it a timeless classic.
At the heart of "Lord Walter's Wife" is a tragic love triangle that unfolds over three stanzas. The speaker, who remains unnamed and ambiguous in gender, tells the story of Lord Walter, a knight of high rank and reputation, who falls in love with a beautiful and cunning woman, the eponymous wife. This woman is described as being both "fair and false", with "eyes as bright as summer skies" but also "a heart as false as women's are". Despite her deceitful nature, Lord Walter is smitten with her and lavishes her with gifts and attention, much to the chagrin of his former lover, the speaker.
In a dramatic turn of events, Lord Walter's wife betrays him by having an affair with a man of lower station, whom she claims to love more than her husband. Lord Walter, consumed with rage and grief, confronts her and the man and slays them both. The speaker, who witnesses the murder from afar, laments the tragic outcome of the love triangle and warns the reader against the dangers of passion and deceit.
One of the most prominent themes of "Lord Walter's Wife" is the destructive power of love and jealousy. The poem portrays love as a force that blinds and consumes its victims, leading them to act impulsively and recklessly, often with fatal consequences. Lord Walter's obsession with his wife, for example, blinds him to her true nature and makes him vulnerable to her deceit. Similarly, the speaker's jealousy of Lord Walter's wife, and her desire to reclaim his affection, leads her to plot against her rival and ultimately to witness a tragedy that leaves her heartbroken and disillusioned.
Another theme that runs through the poem is the role of gender and power in relationships. Lord Walter's wife is portrayed as a woman who uses her beauty and charm to manipulate and control men, while Lord Walter himself is depicted as a powerful and self-assured knight who commands respect and admiration. The speaker, meanwhile, is a figure of ambiguous gender and social status, who seems to be caught between the worlds of men and women, and who struggles to assert their own identity and agency in the face of societal norms and expectations.
A third theme that emerges from the poem is the idea of fate and destiny. The speaker suggests that the tragic events of the love triangle were preordained and inevitable, and that Lord Walter and his wife were fated to suffer the consequences of their actions. This fatalistic view of human existence is reflected in the use of images of stars and skies, which suggest the presence of a higher power or cosmic order that governs the affairs of mortals.
The Symbols and Imagery
One of the most striking features of "Lord Walter's Wife" is the vivid and evocative imagery that Browning employs to convey the emotions and themes of the poem. The use of contrasting images of light and darkness, for example, is a recurring motif that reflects the conflicting emotions of love and hate, passion and despair, that the characters experience. Lord Walter's wife is described as having "eyes as bright as summer skies", which suggest her beauty and allure, but also as having a "heart as false as women's are", which suggests her deceitful and treacherous nature. Similarly, the speaker's jealousy is described as a "black shadow" that follows her everywhere, and which symbolizes the dark and destructive side of love.
Another powerful image in the poem is that of the stars and skies. The speaker uses this image to suggest the idea of fate and destiny, as well as the vast and impersonal forces of nature that govern human affairs. The stars are described as "pale and large and quiet", and as "looking down on earth from overhead", which creates a sense of awe and wonder, but also of detachment and indifference. The use of this image emphasizes the idea that human existence is fleeting and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and that the tragedies and triumphs of individuals are ultimately insignificant in the face of cosmic forces.
The Language and Structure
Browning's use of language and structure in "Lord Walter's Wife" is masterful and effective, conveying the emotions and themes of the poem with precision and subtlety. The poem is written in a tight and controlled form, with three stanzas of equal length and rhyme scheme, which creates a sense of symmetry and balance. The use of iambic tetrameter, which consists of four stressed and four unstressed syllables per line, creates a steady and rhythmic pace, which contributes to the poem's sense of inevitability and fatalism.
The language of the poem is rich and evocative, with a blend of archaic and modern elements that creates a sense of timelessness and universality. The use of alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme, for example, creates a musical and lyrical quality to the lines, which enhances their emotional impact. The use of repetition, particularly of the phrase "fair and false", reinforces the contrast between appearance and reality, and emphasizes the central irony of the poem - that love can lead to both beauty and betrayal.
In conclusion, "Lord Walter's Wife" is a masterpiece of poetry that deserves to be celebrated and appreciated for its rich and complex themes, symbols, imagery, language, and structure. Browning's skillful use of these elements creates a work of art that transcends time and location, and speaks to the universal human experience of love, betrayal, and redemption. Whether read in a classroom, a library, or a park bench, this poem can touch the heart and mind of any reader who is willing to be moved by its beauty and its truth.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Lord Walter's Wife: An Analysis of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Classic Poetry
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Lord Walter's Wife" is a classic poem that explores the themes of love, betrayal, and the consequences of one's actions. The poem tells the story of a woman who is married to a powerful lord but falls in love with another man. The poem is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, with the woman speaking directly to the reader. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of the poem to gain a deeper understanding of its meaning.
The central theme of "Lord Walter's Wife" is the consequences of infidelity. The woman in the poem is married to a powerful lord but falls in love with another man. She describes her feelings for the other man in vivid detail, saying that she loves him more than anything in the world. However, she also acknowledges that her actions have consequences. She knows that if she leaves her husband for the other man, she will be shunned by society and her children will be taken away from her. She is torn between her love for the other man and her duty to her family.
Another theme that is explored in the poem is the power dynamics between men and women. The woman in the poem is trapped in a loveless marriage to a powerful lord. She is not allowed to express her feelings or desires, and she is expected to be obedient to her husband. However, she finds a sense of freedom and power in her love for the other man. She is able to express herself and be true to her own desires, even though it comes at a great cost.
The poem is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, with the woman speaking directly to the reader. The use of the first-person perspective allows the reader to get inside the woman's head and understand her thoughts and feelings. The poem is divided into six stanzas, each with six lines. The rhyme scheme is ABABCC, which gives the poem a sense of structure and rhythm.
The first stanza sets the scene and introduces the main characters. The woman describes her husband as a powerful lord who is "rich and old." She also introduces the other man, whom she describes as "young and bold." The second stanza describes the woman's feelings for the other man. She says that she loves him more than anything in the world and that he is the only thing that brings her happiness.
The third stanza is where the woman begins to acknowledge the consequences of her actions. She knows that if she leaves her husband for the other man, she will be shunned by society and her children will be taken away from her. The fourth stanza is where the woman begins to question her own desires. She wonders if her love for the other man is worth the pain and suffering that it will cause.
The fifth stanza is where the woman makes her decision. She decides to stay with her husband, even though it means giving up her love for the other man. She acknowledges that her decision will bring her pain and suffering, but she also knows that it is the right thing to do. The final stanza is where the woman reflects on her decision. She says that she will always love the other man, but she knows that she cannot be with him. She accepts her fate and resigns herself to a life of unhappiness.
The language of the poem is rich and evocative, with vivid imagery and powerful metaphors. The woman describes her love for the other man in terms of fire and passion, saying that it burns within her like a "flame unquenchable." She also uses metaphors of light and darkness to describe her emotions, saying that her love for the other man is like a "sunbeam in a darkened room."
The language of the poem also reflects the power dynamics between men and women. The woman describes her husband as a "tyrant" who controls her every move. She also describes herself as a "slave" who is trapped in a loveless marriage. However, she finds a sense of power and freedom in her love for the other man. She describes him as a "king" who has the power to make her happy.
In conclusion, "Lord Walter's Wife" is a powerful poem that explores the themes of love, betrayal, and the consequences of one's actions. The poem is written in the form of a dramatic monologue, with the woman speaking directly to the reader. The language of the poem is rich and evocative, with vivid imagery and powerful metaphors. The poem is a reflection of the power dynamics between men and women, and it explores the consequences of infidelity. Overall, "Lord Walter's Wife" is a classic poem that continues to resonate with readers today.
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