Tag Archives: Werther

“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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“Artemis” by Gerard de Nerval

DeNervalMany years ago, I was in a bookstore on Miami Beach and I got into a discussion with a woman working there about writers. She mentioned that Gerard de Nerval was one of her favorite poets. I made a mental note, but up until today I had not read anything by him. Feeling the need to branch out and read something different, I did a little web-searching and came across “Artemis,” which I am including here to ensure we are reading the same translation.

The thirteenth returns … She’s forever the first;
And always the sole one – or the sole instant;
For are you queen, O you, the first or the last?
Are you king, you the sole or the last lover?…
Love him who loved you from cradle to hearse;
She I alone loved still loves me tenderly:
She is death – or the dead one…O joy! O torment!
The rose she holds is the Rose trémiere [hollyhock].
Neapolitan saint with your hands full of fire,
Rose with violet heart, Saint Gudula’s flower:
Have you found your cross in the desert of heaven?
White roses: fall! You insult our gods,
Fall, white phantoms, from your burning skies:
— She, the saint of the pit, is holier to my eyes!

On my first read of this poem, I didn’t quite grasp it. There is a lot of symbolism here and I wasn’t sure how it all related to the Greek goddess Artemis, who represents virginity and hunting, similar to Diana. I decided to do a little research.

I discovered that de Nerval was a romantic poet who had some serious issues in the area of love. He ended up hanging himself in 1855. He immediately struck me as a real-life version of Goethe’s tormented artist depicted in The Sorrows of Young Werther. Now the poem began to make sense to me. I could see de Nerval as a lonely, suffering artist, feeling himself a virgin because he was unable to find love and longing for the solace of death.

TarotDeathI searched a little more and came across a great analysis of the poem and this clarified the other aspects of the poem which still didn’t make sense. The author of this article asserts that, in this poem, de Nerval was drawing on symbolism from the tarot, particularly the Death card (click here to read the entire article). The Death card is number XIII in the deck, or “The thirteenth” referenced in the poem’s opening line. So the thought of death keeps returning to the poet. He has a romantic longing for death, feeling that upon his death his soul will finally be united with some divine, unattainable love.

I wish I was able to read French so I could read this poem in its original language. I’m sure that some of the symbolism is lost in translation. But still, I find this poem deeply moving, and I recall what my World Lit professor told me in college, that French literature translates well to English. I can say that I certainly get a sense of the writer’s suffering and longing. I suspect that I will be reading more of Gerard de Nerval’s works in the future.

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