“When We Two Parted” by George Gordon Byron was published in 1813 in The Poetical Works of Lord Byron. The moment the poet had to part from his beloved was colored with intense sorrow connoted by the word ‘tears’. The word ‘silence’ suggests that their silence spoke volumes. The silence could be attributed to an inexplicable reason for their separation. It may also point to a reason well-known to them that could not stand the ravages of time. Therefore, both of them are resigned to their fate, and separate in ‘silence’. The phrase ‘Half broken-hearted “ may suggest that they are not fully heart broken(that only the poet is heart-broken). It may also signify that the heart is broken into two equal halves representative of the lovers. In the attempt to reconcile these broken parts, to his perception, her cheek had grown pale with the onset of misery. The warmth of their love had diminished and therefore:” Colder thy kiss.” It lacked the genuine feeling of love. That hour precisely foretold the sorrow that was to come in the succeeding years.
Mornings are supposed to usher in new promises. However, the dew seems to sink in his brows with a chilling effect, benumbing his feeling and vision. This benumbing was a warning, and a pointer to the depression the poet felt right now. All vows are conveniently broken, and therefore no one has anything to lose. Her fame is ‘light’ as compared to the ‘shame’ that she brought upon herself. The poet shares in this ‘shame’ of having affair with her. It becomes evident here that the woman in question is a married woman. Critics point it out to be Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, the wife of Byron’s friend. They had a brief platonic affair in 1813.
People often coupled their name together. It rang a knell in his ear, of remorse. The poet asserts that little did people know that he was acquainted with her true colour(He refers to her subsequent tryst wit the Duke of Wellington).Nobody could really understand her. Here, ‘rue ‘ means ‘sorrow’, as well as ‘regret’.
Long, long I shall rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.
Because they met in secret, their affair was a hushed-up one; and he could never express his sorrow openly, or give vent to his woes. He was forced to grieve in silence. She, on the contrary, could effortlessly forget, and deceive without any remorse. When they meet each other after a long gap, the moment will be coloured with silence and tears yet again. However, at this juncture, the silence will possess a different meaning and the tears will be of no significance.
Rather than emphasizing on love, separation.etc, the poet focuses on the moment they separated with the title “When We tTwo parted.” Separation comes only after meeting. He juxtaposes the meeting at the beginning of the poem, with the envisaged meeting at the end. He claims that though the people were the same, the distance in time and experience, had wholly transformed the emotion shared between the two. Though this meeting will also be accompanied with tears and silence, the intention and attitude will never be the same again.
Critics point out that the last stanza was deliberately kept behind from being published to shroud the identity of the woman in question. The stanza was eventually discovered in a letter from Byron to his cousin Lady Hardy:
Then — fare thee well — Fanny —
Now doubly undone —
To prove false unto many —
As faithless to One —
Thou art past all recalling
Even would I recall —
For the woman once falling
Forever must fall.
© Rukhaya MK 2010
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