(Please note that this essay was an informal assignment for a high school poetry class, so it is undoubtebly sloppy.)
Poem Analysis: When We Two Parted
The poem When We Two Parted has a few potential meanings. The first is that the speaker’s lover died and this is their way of mourning that loss. The first stanza introduces the fact that this poem is about two lovers, using the line “half broken-hearted” to describe how they parted and the addressee’s kiss is described as growing cold in the proceeding line. This word choice leads to the conclusion that there was more than a friendly bond between him and this person. The first stanza also leads to the belief that death forced the two to part with the lines “Pale grew thy cheek and cold, colder thy kiss”. Cheeks usually do not grow cold, nor do the lips except under heavy wind or in death when all warmth leaves the body.
The second stanza, to me, describes the funeral or the feelings after the funeral. The dew of the morning makes me believe that the burial took place in the morning. I feel like the line following the dew, “It felt like the warning Of what I feel now”, means that the speaker is crying because dew on his face in the morning would be like the tears shed later. The last four lines of the stanza seem bitter, as most people feel after a death. The speaker feels that by dying, that person broke all of their future promises, and maybe light is Heaven. The next two lines make me wonder if maybe this dead person was not highly thought of as a person, or if my second idea is more correct.
Continuing my first idea into the third stanza, the speaker ponders over why they loved that passed away person. This entire stanza gives me the feeling that the two were secretly in love because of some circumstance that prevented them from openly being in love; perhaps she was of higher birth or vise versa, maybe one had a bad reputation, or it is even possible that the two were homosexual.
Stanza four confirms this idea of secret loving with it’s very first line, “In silence we met”. The second line, “In silence I grieve”, informs us that the speaker and the addressed person’s relationship cannot be mentioned even after one is gone. The lines “That thy heart could forget, Thy spirit deceive”, tell that the speaker feels that his lover might have forgotten their relationship by dying, and thus maybe deceived themselves by forgetting. The last four lines sum of the feelings of the speaker. He cannot speak about the grief that he feels, and feels that if he ever saw this passed away person again, he would only be able to express himself in this way. It could be that he feels these feelings will not leave him, even after his own death when he will presumably meet with his lover again.
My second idea is that the lover is not dead, but merely turned their back on the speaker. Under this idea, the coldness of the addressed person’s cheeks may mean that this individual “turned cold”, as we often say when someone acts cruelly. In the second stanza, the mentioned chill would be a warning to the chilled feeling left in the gut when introduced to a shock as big as being betrayed by a loved one.
The third stanza begins by saying that the addressed individual’s name is “a knell to” the speaker’s ear, suggesting betrayal further. Most people do not like hearing the name of someone who betrayed them. The speaker asks himself why that person was so dear, and says that they will deeply rue their addressee for a long time to come. This tells the reader that the reader might regret knowing that person, and does not feel that he can forgive this offense.
The fourth stanza sheds a little light onto what this betrayal might have been. It states that they met in secret, and that the speaker will grieve in silence, which goes back to the idea that their relationship was forbidden for one reason or another. The following two lines, “That thy heart could forget, Thy spirit deceive”, shows the betrayal committed by the lover. The spoken to person may have gone off with someone who was not forbidden, which goes back to the line about light in the second stanza and turns light into truth or a non-secretive act. A second possibility rises, but only works if the relationship was forbidden for its sexuality. If their secretiveness came for this reason, then it is possible that the speaker was found out and the addressee abandoned him to deal with the scorn alone and pretended that they had not been involved. This second possibility sheds light on the final line of the poem, and explains why the speaker would great their lover with silence and tears. On April 25th, a national day of silence is held to represent homosexuals who keep their orientation and feelings silent because they cannot face the reactions they would receive. This silence, under this circumstance, is why the speaker would great their addressee without a word, and the tears would be those cried by him for the love that he cherished and lost by force. Those tears might not only sorrowful ones for the loss of their love, but may also hold bitterness toward the lover for not standing beside him.
Whether this poem is a mourning message to a lover lost in death, or the painful emptiness of betrayal, it speaks about love all the same. Either way the poem is viewed, When We Two Parted is a poem detailing a lost love. The difference in the two messages is that one ends only in sorrow, while the other mixes sorrow with bitterness.