“When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron

Lord Byron

Lord Byron

I realized that I had not covered much of Lord Byron’s poetry on my blog, so I figured I’d read one of his early poems today.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.               

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow—
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.              

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o’er me—
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.         

 In secret we met—
In silence I grieve,
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?
With silence and tears.

My impression of this poem is that Byron is writing about the end of a clandestine love affair, likely with a married woman. For a romantic poet, there is nothing quite as enticing as the forbidden fruit. An intimate relationship of this nature certainly would have stirred Byron’s passion.

This poem reminds me a lot of Goethe’s early romantic work, The Sorrows of Young Werther. In fact, I would not be surprised if Goethe’s book influenced Lord Byron when he composed this piece. There are definite similarities.

In the poem, there is an emphasis on silence and things not spoken, which is the nature of an adulterous relationship. Byron is unable to speak and express his inner feelings. He must love and suffer in silence.

It appears that after the two lovers part, that Byron’s acquaintances talk about her. It seems probable that the two had the same circle of friends. Each time he hears her name, it stirs emotions—shame, longing, sadness, love. But he must remain silent and keep his feelings hidden inside. He suffers alone.

Finally, I get the sense that Byron feels he will never experience a love as intense and passionate as this one again. This was the pinnacle of romance. He will live the rest of his life unable to achieve the level of intimacy that he experienced then had to let go.

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