About the author
Lady Mary Wroth holds a significant place in English Renaissance literature. Born into a notable literary family on October 18, 1587, as Mary Sidney, she became Lady Mary Wroth upon her marriage. Her family connections were indeed impressive; being the niece of Mary Herbert (Countess of Pembroke) and Sir Philip Sidney, she inherited a rich literary heritage. Lady Wroth is particularly known for her prose romance titled “Urania” and her sonnet sequence “Pamphilia to Amphilanthus”. This work is considered one of the earliest examples of a full-length prose romance written by an Englishwoman. “Urania” combines elements of pastoral romance, courtly intrigue, and allegory, showcasing Lady Wroth’s skill in navigating various literary genres.
The poem begins with a poignant plea for the return of sweet love, underlining the transient nature of departure and the desire for a swift reunion. The use of terms like “killing mirthe” and “forceing paine” immediately sets the tone, portraying love as a potent force that can bring both joy and sorrow. The speaker implores against a prolonged separation, suggesting an inherent discord between love and absence. The notion that “Love, and absence ne’er agree” reinforces the age-old theme of lovers being at odds with physical distance. However, the poet introduces a sense of inevitability, acknowledging the necessity of parting, a recurring motif in many Renaissance works. The poem is a reply to John Donne’s poem ‘Sweetest love I do not go’. Mary makes her poetic persona reply to Donne’s poem.
Line by line analysis
Sweetest love return again Make not too long stay. Killing mirth, and forcing pain Sorrow leading way: Let us not thus parted be Love, and absence ne'er agree;
This opening line is an earnest plea for the return of the beloved. The use of “Sweetest love” suggests a deep affection, and the repetition of “return again” underscores the speaker’s longing for the reunion. The speaker implores the beloved not to prolong their absence. The plea for the beloved not to “make too long stay” reveals the emotional urgency and desire for a swift return. “killing mirthe, and forceing paine”: This line contrasts the impact of the beloved’s absence, portraying it as both destructive and painful. “Killing mirthe” suggests that the absence is harmful to joy, while “forceing paine” emphasizes the emotional toll of separation. The words “leading way” suggest that sadness is at the forefront, guiding and influencing the emotions during this time of being apart. loue, and abſence ne’re agree;”: This line encapsulates a universal theme of love literature— the inherent discord between love and physical separation. The assertion that “love and absence ne’er agree” highlights the challenges posed by distance in romantic relationships.
But since you must needs depart, And me hapless leave, In your journey take my heart Which will not deceive Yours it is, to you it flies Joying in those loved eyes,”
The speaker acknowledges the inevitability of the beloved’s departure. The use of “must needs” conveys a sense of necessity or obligation, recognizing that the departure is unavoidable. The speaker describes themselves as “hapless,” meaning unfortunate or unlucky. This phrase expresses the sorrow and a sense of helplessness in being left behind by the departing beloved. Next the speaker metaphorically offers their heart to the departing beloved. It symbolizes a deep emotional connection, suggesting that a part of the speaker will be with the beloved even in their physical absence. The speaker assures that the heart offered is trustworthy and will remain faithful. This emphasizes the sincerity and constancy of the emotions shared between the speaker and the beloved. The imagery of the heart flying to the beloved suggests a symbolic journey of emotions and affections towards the one who is leaving. The speaker finds joy in the thought of the beloved’s eyes. This could imply that memories of the beloved’s gaze bring happiness even in their absence, emphasizing the emotional connection beyond physical presence. In summary, these lines convey a poignant farewell where the speaker accepts the necessity of the beloved’s departure, expresses sorrow at being left behind, and metaphorically offers their heart as a constant and trustworthy connection. The imagery used enriches the emotional depth of the speaker’s sentiments.
So in part, we shall not part Though we absent be; Time, nor place, nor greatest smart Shall my bands make free Tied I am, yet think it gain; In such knots I feel no pain.
The speaker suggests that even though physically separated, a part of them remains connected to the beloved. The use of “in part” implies a continued shared existence despite the physical distance. The word “absent” emphasizes the distance between the speaker and the beloved. The term “bands” here likely refers to emotional or metaphorical ties. The speaker expresses the conviction that nothing—neither time nor place nor suffering—will break or loosen these emotional ties. The speaker acknowledges being tied emotionally to the beloved but considers it a gain rather than a burden. This suggests that the emotional connection, despite its binding nature, is viewed positively by the speaker. The concluding line metaphorically describes the emotional ties as “knots.” Despite being tied or connected, the speaker claims to feel no pain, indicating a sense of comfort or even joy in the emotional bonds with the beloved.
But can I live having lost
Chiefest part of me
Heart is fled, and sight is crossed
These my fortunes be
Yet dear heart go, soon return
As good there, as here to burn.
The speaker questions the possibility of continuing to live after experiencing a loss. The use of “having lost” sets the tone for a profound emotional struggle. The “chiefest part” refers to the most significant or essential part of the speaker, likely symbolizing the heart or a deep emotional connection. Losing this crucial aspect is a source of intense emotional distress. The heart, a symbol of emotions, is described as having “fled,” suggesting a departure or loss. The mention of “sight is crossed” indicates a disruption or obstruction in the speaker’s vision, possibly metaphorical for a loss of clarity or direction. The speaker reflects on their current circumstances, referring to them as “fortunes.” This term suggests that the speaker sees their situation as a matter of fate or destiny. Despite the emotional turmoil expressed in the previous lines, the speaker addresses the departed beloved with affection, urging them to leave but also to return swiftly. This reflects a desire for the beloved’s presence despite the painful circumstances. The speaker concludes with a poignant acceptance or resignation. The phrase “as good there, as here to burn” suggests that the pain of separation is comparable whether the beloved is present or absent. It conveys a sense of enduring emotional suffering regardless of the physical proximity. The speaker acknowledges that the suffering, represented metaphorically as burning, is consistent whether the beloved is physically present or absent. This acceptance reflects a deep understanding that the emotional anguish persists, highlighting the enduring nature of the speaker’s pain irrespective of the geographical distance.
The central theme revolves around love and separation. The speaker grapples with the emotional challenges of being apart from the beloved and expresses the profound impact of such separation on their emotional well-being. Wroth employs rich metaphorical language to convey the depth of emotions. The metaphor of offering the heart during the journey, the knots representing emotional ties, and the burning as a metaphor for emotional pain contribute to the vivid and expressive imagery in the poem. The tone of the poem is bittersweet, combining elements of longing and acceptance. While there is a sense of sorrow and loss in the separation, the speaker also expresses a willingness to endure and a certain understanding of the unavoidable nature of parting. The poem highlights the resilience of emotional ties. Despite physical distance and the pain of separation, the speaker expresses a belief that their connection will endure, emphasizing the strength of emotional bonds.