On Monsieur's Departure

I grieve and dare not show my discontent;
I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate.
   I am, and not; I freeze and yet am burned,
   Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun—
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands, and lies by me, doth what I have done;
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
   No means I find to rid him from my breast,
   Till by the end of things it be suppressed.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, Love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low;
   Or let me live with some more sweet content,
   Or die, and so forget what love e’er meant.

Footnotes

  1. The poem concludes with an intricate branch of possibilities, bound together by that magic word, or. The dualities and contradictions that launched the poem at the outset remain as it reaches its end. As it develops, the poem does not reach for clarity so much as a more perfect expression of confusion.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The poem’s first rhyme is between “discontent” and ”meant” in lines 1 and 3. Here we have the final rhyme pair: “content”/ “meant.” The rhyme pairs are nearly the same. The repetition of these words gives the poem’s progression a cyclical quality. We arrive back at the beginning, leaving us to wonder whether the speaker got anywhere at all.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. “Content” serves as a double entendre here. The word refers to both a contained object as well as a state of contentment. Also, the word creates a sharp contrast with the first line with its admittance of her “discontent.” The speaker hopes to move away the state of “discontent” that defines the poem’s emotional landscape.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. This line may bear sexual undertones. The idea of the speaker’s “mind” as a receptive vessel is underscored in the next line with its description of “soft[ness].” The “passion” spoken of here is, after all, of an expressly romantic character.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The word “lies” is central to the poem’s structure and style. On the physical plane, “lies” gives the image of the shadow self lying down alongside the speaker. Yet the second self also “lies” in the sense of telling untruths. Indeed, the speaker’s two selves have different senses of the truth. The tension of dual truths gives life to the poem, full as it is of starts and stops, negations, antonyms, and words with multiple meanings—including “lies” itself. The only truth the speaker can pin down is the existence of that tense feeling of multiplicity.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The queen employs a deft metrical trick here, straying from the typical iambic pentameter. This line opens with a dactyl, a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables. The rest of the line is composed of trochees, which are the opposite of iambs. The result is a line with a feverish pace, an urgent chase-like tone that fits the subject matter.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The word “care” is multifaceted. While “care” suggests an act of affection, the word comes from the Germanic “kar,” meaning grief, illness, and suffering. The word “care” contains the duality introduced in the poem’s first two lines: the inseparable nature of love and grief. “My care” is the speaker’s love for the beloved as well as the unavoidable suffering that accompanies love.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The word “turned” entertains several interpretations. On a fundamental level, the line describes a multiplication from one self to two selves. The verb “turn” allows for that multiplication to occur in various manners. First, “turn” may refer to a rotating movement, a turning away from the first self to embrace the second self. Second, “turn” may refer to transformation, a changing from one self into a new self. Finally, “to turn” is “to create,” suggesting that the speaker is building her second self through an act of volition. Taking a step back, the poem itself is an act of “turning”: Queen Elizabeth has “turned”—created—both the poem and the selves that appear in its lines.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. By ending on the idea of what “love e’er meant” rather than on how the love felt, the speaker focuses on the external implications of her feelings rather than her internal experience. If we read this claim through the historical lens of Elizabeth’s persona, this “meaning” reflects the speaker’s identity crisis. As a queen, she should not have ardent passions that disrupt her countenance. The fact that she experiences this love challenges her persona as the “Virgin Queen.” If the love-stricken version of herself dies and is forgotten, she will not have to think about what the emotion “means” to her fragile, constructed outward identity.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The phrase “stark mute” is intriguing. “Stark” here takes the adjectival form, calling into question whether it is an adverb modifying “mute.” “Stark” means “strong,” which seems to be her stated exterior state. Pursuant to the poem’s antonymic structure, with its dense framework of contradictions, “stark” finds its antonym in “soft” in stanza 3.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. This line begins with “or die,” which suggests the end of this speaker’s body and consciousness. However, she continues the line and claims that this death will allow her to “forget” her love. This continuation suggests that the “death” she longs for is not a physical death but the metaphorical death of her second self. She wants the secret part of her that loves this man to die.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The lack of decision and resolution at the end of this poem could be read through the historical situation in which Elizabeth lived. As Queen, Elizabeth ironically had supreme power and a lack of power to make decisions on her own. All of her decisions, personal and political, had to be approved and managed by her advisors. This abundance of options and lack of decision suggests that Elizabeth cannot conclusively decide her fate: it will be decided for her.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. There is a rich relationship between “grieve” and “love.” The two words represent counterparts in the parallel structure of the opening lines. The words align metrically as well, falling on the second syllable and first beat of their respective lines. The words also share a subtle rhyme. The r and l in the beginning of each are connected through the paired relationship of the letters: r and l are known as the liquid consonants. Thus “grieve” and “love” form a rim rhyme, in which the first and last sounds of the rhymed syllable align. The underlying idea is that grieving and loving are inseparable, a theme that plays itself out as the poem unfolds.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. In the first stanza, the speaker cannot make distinct statements without contradicting herself and ending her line of thought. In a sense she is closing off her possibilities. In this final stanza, the repetition of “or” opens up many possibilities. “Or” suggests that there are many available solutions to her problem. However, notice also that the poem does not end with the speaker choosing one of these options. Instead, the speaker is paralyzed and does not take decisive action.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. Here, the speaker personifies love as Cupid, the god of desire, erotic love, and attraction. In Roman mythology, Cupid wielded magic arrows that could cause uncontrollable desire in whomever they struck. Passion and lust were conceptualized as external influences that caused an internal emotion. In this allusion, the speaker once again characterizes her own feelings as an external entity. She has no control over these feelings and must plead with Love to remove them.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. Love’s “cruelty” has two meanings in this line. It could signify Love’s ability to take away her feelings and “kindly” leave her without her passion. It could also signify Love’s ability to “cruelly” shoot her with a new arrow and infect her with another passion. This would be “kind” in the sense that any new passion would be less intense than the one that she feels now. The paradox in this line, that cruelty is kindness, suggests the desperate state in which the speaker finds herself. She is so wretchedly in love that even the cruelty of losing her love or falling in love with something else would be relief.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  17. “Melting snow” recalls the metaphor of “freezing and burning” in line 5. Again, passion or love takes on the ability to do harm by adding heat. She is made of “snow” which will melt under the heat of this desire. This metaphor emphasizes the danger love and passion pose to her.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  18. One could read the “melting snow” as a metaphor for the kingly reputation that Elizabeth built. Her persona as a strong ruler depended on her maidenhood and the suppression of her feminine qualities. In this metaphor, she calls this aspect of herself weak and subject to melting. Part of her is still subject to the passions that melt mere mortals, the passions a queen should be impervious to.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  19. In her famous speech to the troops at Tilbury before the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth said: “I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king.” As the sole ruler of England in a time in which patriarchal social conventions discredited female abilities, Elizabeth carefully balanced her queenly persona. She had the mind and strength of a king trapped in the body of a “weak” woman. She vigorously maintained this persona in portraits, public appearances, and speeches made to the populous. However, here she characterizes herself as “soft,” an adjective that would threaten the entire image on which she had built her monarchical presence. The presence of this word further suggests that this poem was created for private use and reflection rather than for circulation.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  20. “Suppressed,” from the verb “to suppress”—to forcibly put to an end or prevent expression of—has strong political connotations. Governments suppress uprisings, dissention, and actions that will “harm” the nation. In using this word to describe the eradication of her feelings, the speaker suggests that there is something politically threatening about her feelings. The passive construction of this line furthers the political connotations of the suppression: she has little direct control over the restraint of these feelings, they simply “will be suppressed” by an unnamed source.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  21. The repeated masculine pronoun in this stanza points back to the historical context that ties this poem to Queen Elizabeth’s failed engagement. This “him” could refer to the French Duke of Anjou, a suitor to whom Elizabeth was engaged in 1579 and again in 1581. Both engagements were broken off at the behest of her advisors who saw the match unsuitable due to the man’s young age, French nationality, and Catholic religion.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  22. “Him” in this context once again takes on a double meaning. It could point to her love object or it could suggest the personification of her “care.” This dual meaning once again suggests that the subject of this poem is more about the speaker’s intimate feelings than a love object.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  23. “Rue” is a verb that means to bitterly regret something, to show sorrow, distress, or repentance over something. “Rue” carries a very strong, even violent connotation: the speaker is angry about these feelings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  24. Noting “His too familiar care” contradicts the conventions of traditional Petrarchan love poetry. In these poems, the love object is depicted as completely indifferent to the narrator’s feelings so that the narrator can poetically express his pain over his unrequited desire. Bringing in the feelings of this “him”—whether “him” refers to the love object or the speaker’s personified feelings—suggests that this poem is not about traditional unrequited love. Instead, the tension revolves around this speaker’s inability to fulfill her desire because she is forced to reject of her own feelings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  25. In this line the referent of “it” is unclear. “It” could refer to his care, her pretended indifference to the relationship, her own care, or her actions (“what I have done”). In this way, she is either resenting his love, the actions she committed that made him express his love, or the circumstances that make her unable to receive that love. This line suggests tension between the speaker’s actions and thoughts about those actions and further emphasizes her divided nature.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  26. As Queen of England, Elizabeth represented her country before herself. She did not have a private life. Her private affairs—marriage, image, feelings, urges, etc.—were dictated by political decisions, formal etiquette, and a team of advisors. She was able to have “familiar care” and wed if it was in the best interest of her country’s politics. However, ardent passions, overt sexual desire, or “too familiar care” would have been seen as violating the mask of etiquette through which relations with the queen had to go. Here, “his” refers either to her lover or her own feelings. Therefore, she is seeing her own passions or the actions of her lover as forbidden intimacy, a violation of the etiquette meant to protect the country from human failings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  27. Notice that lines 8 and 10 share the same end word in order to complete the rhyme scheme of this sestet. This suggests that there is a connection between the ideas in these two lines. Line 8 describes her care like a shadow, following her until she tries to chase it. Line 10 describes her feeling of regret or resentment over his “too familiar care.” This connection could suggest that the “it” in line 10 is her care. Thus she rues her care because it causes him to be “too familiar” with the queen.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  28. “Doth” is the archaic third person singular form of “to do.” Essentially she is saying that her “care” which behaves like a shadow does “what I have done.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  29. The manner in which the speaker phrases “what I have done” prompts the reader to pose it as a question: what has she done? The lack of clarity and specificity suggests that the speaker cannot admit her own actions to herself.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  30. Using this extended metaphor, the speaker compares her feelings to her own shadow: when she ignores it it follows her everywhere, but when she attempts to pursue it, it eludes her. This metaphor is apt for the themes of this poem because a shadow is inextricably linked to one’s person while still being a consequence of an external source. Like a shadow, the speaker’s love is tied to her body. However, she does not see it as emanating from her; it is the result of an external source acting on her body.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  31. While the first stanza focused mostly on her two selves, the second stanza revolves around the personification of her “care.” This personification figures her emotions as an external party and further suggests the theme of the speaker’s divided self.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  32. The speaker constructs her poem in the style of traditional unrequited love poetry. The ABABCC sestet rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter mimic the Petrarchan sonnet which was popular at this time. However, while Queen Elizabeth’s form takes on the popular style, her theme is more complicated than simple subject of unrequited love that dominates the sonnet tradition.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  33. Notice that in this line the speaker highlights her divided nature. There is a distinction between “myself” and “another self.” From the context of the rest of the poem, it seems that the “myself” is the grounded, frozen, Queenly identity that suppresses her romantic feelings. The “other” self seems to be the passionate romantic who is suffering over the loss of her lover. In this way, the speaker makes her romantic feelings, or care, an external entity, dangerous in its ability to “burn.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  34. Due to its complicated syntax, this line has two potential meanings. If we read “since” as because this line explains why she both “freezes” and “burns” in the previous line. The speaker could mean that she has fragmented herself and “turned” another self from her person. She could also mean that because she turned away from herself, she has created another self.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  35. Notice that in this line the burning is passive: I “am burned.” This suggests that she is injured by an external force, something is done to her. In this way, the speaker places her love outside of her body: it is something that affects her rather than comes from her.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  36. Here, “freezing” can be interpreted as a metaphor for one’s demeanor and composure. It could also signal the speaker’s lack of action: she “freezes” before she acts on any of her desires. “Burns” then comes to signify her passion, desire, or love. In this sense the speaker is remarking that her efforts to protect herself, to maintain composure and freeze before acting, are burned away by her intense internal feelings.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  37. The repetition of “I” throughout the first stanza shows the narrator’s obsession with her own thoughts and feelings. Rather than focusing on the love object, as most Petrarchan sonnets do, the speaker of this poem is concerned with her own feelings and the presentation of those feelings. In a way, the version of herself that experiences love becomes her object of obsession. Just as a Petrarchan speaker becomes obsessed with his love object, this speaker becomes obsessed with the external “I” that embodies her feelings. This rhetorical move once again shows that the speaker is divided: there is the rational self and the emotional self.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  38. “Prate” is a verb that means to chatter or talk foolishly or with little purpose, to prattle. Prate has a negative connotation that makes the speaker appear as foolish as their chatter. In this context, the narrator speaks about her inner feelings as ridiculous, useless chatter.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  39. “I seem stark mute” can be read as the narrator’s commentary on the first three lines of this poem. She believes she has become “mute” because she is unable to express how she feels without contradicting herself.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  40. In this line the narrator once again reveals the theme of the poem. There is a disconnection between her external “mute” appearance and here “prattling” inner monologue. The narrator possesses two selves; this love has divided her into two people.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  41. Because of the syntax of these lines, “I do” could refer to either of the feelings mentioned in the previous line—“I do” love or “I do” hate. When she contradicts this action in the secondary clause of this line, she asserts that she cannot say she ever meant her love or her hate. This contradiction reinforces the presentation of this narrator as having two selves: she is both the person who loves and appears to hate. She therefore cannot feel either purely.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  42. This line follows the same structure of line two: the narrator begins to assert that she “does” something and then immediately contradicts this action by claiming that she could never say she meant it. Like line two, this line shows that the narrator is uncertain. “Dare not” highlights the threat in this uncertainty that “forced” touched on in the previous line: the narrator is not only uncertain but restrained from asserting certainty.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  43. When read autobiographically, “forced” suggests the historical context of Queen Elizabeth I’s broken engagement to the French Duke of Anjou in 1579. At the time of the engagement, the Queen was 46 and the Duke was 24. The Queen’s advisers objected to the union because the Duke was Catholic and foreign, and because the Queen was too old to bear heirs to the throne. Plans for a union fell through in 1581 when she sent the duke away, “forced” either by political advice or duty to her subjects.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  44. The narrator interrupts her active statement “I love” with an immediate contradiction: “and yet.” She cannot fully finish the thought or focus on the love, she must qualify it with the outward appearance of that feeling.This self-contradiction demonstrates the narrator’s uncertainty: she wants to claim that she “loves” purely, but must recognize this antagonistic component of that love.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  45. In the opening line to her poem, the speaker characterizes her emotional experience as the tension between two competing desires: her need to grieve a loss and her need to keep that feeling concealed. This line introduces the theme of the internal self vs. the external self that the rest of the poem will address.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff