WHEN WE TWO PARTED - POEM- LORD BYRON
Updated: Jul 18, 2020
George Gordon Noel Byron was born on 22nd January 1788, London with a clubbed foot. He was a British Romantic poet, satirist whose poetry and personality captured the imagination of Europe and also a politician who became a revolutionary in the Greek war of Independence. He is regarded as one of the greatest English Poets, the leading figure of Romantic-movement. He traveled extensively across Europe, especially in Italy, where he lived for seven years in the cities of Venice, Ravenna and Pisa. During his stay in Italy he frequently visited his friend and fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He is also a Romantic paradox, a leader of the era’s poetic revolution, he named Alexander pope as his master. Byron led such a dissolute lifestyle that he was given the nickname “Our satanic lord”.
Byron’s first published volume of poetry, Hours of Idleness, appeared in 1807. He was renowned as the “gloomy egoist” of his autobiographical poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in the 19th century. He was generally esteemed for the satiric realism of his magnum opus, Don Juan, a poem spanning 17 cantos, ranks as one of the most important long poems published in England since John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He wrote Irish Avatar in connection with the Trip of the King of the United Kingdom George IV to Ireland. He calls on Irish to fight against British tyranny rather than crawling before George as before the new God and speaks of the love for those Irish who are fighting for the freedom of their country. The poem is often called as the epic of its time that has rooted deep in literary tradition. He wrote series of gloomy and remorseful Oriental verse tales such as The Giaour (1813), The Bride of Abydos (1813), The Corsair (1814), which sold 10,000 copies on the day of publication, and Lara (1814). A visit to the Bernese Oberland provided the scenery for the Faustian poetic drama Manfred (1817), also wrote Beppo, a poem in ottava rima that satirically contrasts Italian with English manners.
Byron exercised a marked influence on continental literature and art, and his reputation as a poet is higher in many European countries than in Britain or America. Byron also made efforts to unite various Greek faction. Later in life Byron joined the Greek War of Independence fighting the Ottoman Empire which caused him a disease during that war. He was affected by serious illness in February 1824 that weakened him and in April he contracted the fever from which he died at Missolonghi on April 19, 1824 at the age of 36. Deeply mourned he became a symbol of disinterested patriotism and a Greek national hero. His body was brought back to England and refused burial in Westminster Abbey, was placed in the family vault near Newstead. Ironically, 145 years after his death, a memorial to Byron was finally placed on the floor of the Abbey.
As an untiring champion of liberty, he firmly believed that “Revolution alone can save the earth from hell’s pollution”, a principle he defended with his life. The last word properly belongs to Byron, who captured his essence in Canto IV of Childe Harold:
“But I have live, and have not lived in vain:
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire
And my frame perish even in conquering pain,
But there is that within me which shall tire Torture and Time, and
Breathe when I expire”
“When we two parted” is a short lyric poem written in 1816 by Lord Byron. Many scholars believe that it is an autobiographical poem that reflects Byron’s own life, relating his relationship with Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster. It is rumoured that they had a relationship while she was married to James Webster, a friend of Byron. After the clandestine affair with Byron ended, Lady Frances also supposedly had a secret relationship with Duke of Wellington. On hearing of the supposed affair between the Duke of Wellington and Frances, Byron wrote the poem When We Two Parted with feelings of grief, betrayal and regret. This poem expresses much of melancholy and inner emotions of Byron. As the title indicates a mutuality of their breakup, both knew it wasn’t a suitable relationship and the separation was agreed equally. Despite this, the poet still longs for the woman and expresses his sensitive complexity of his feelings in the poem. He trapped in a state of grieving for lost love. Thus this poem describes the pain and disillusionment followed by a breakup.
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 shrudder comes o'er me- Why wert thou so dear? They know not I knew thee, Who knew thee so well- Long, long I shall 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.
The poem looks back in time, when the affair between poet and his former lover was ended. The poet reflects painfully how he and his former lover got separated; they were in silence and tears. Their heart were half broken as they both tore themselves apart from each other for years to come. The poet remembers a time when they two kissed. Her cheek became cold and pale and her kiss felt cold and devoid of emotions which made him realize what was going to happen (the moment foretold him of their separation). The morning dew that fell on his forehead foreshadowed the emotional coldness which he feels now.
All the promises made were broken. She is famous for being light and flighty .People started scandalizing about her and whenever he hears her name, he feels embarrassed. His friends and acquaintances speak her name and it sounds like a funeral bell ringing in his ear every time he hears it. Despite the scandal and the evident betrayal, the poet still trembles to hear the name of his lover and realizes that he is likely to retain such feeling indefinitely.
Why wert thou so dear?
He knew her too well and no one knows that he loved her. He bitterly regretted for it more deeply than he could express. His relationship with her was secret, so he wept in secret (continued to keep his silence on this matter). He grieved for the fact that she has forgotten him and her soul betrayed him. In future if he would meet her after all this time, how should he greet his former lover (is a question in the poet’s mind as he still has feelings for her), thus the meeting will occur in silence and with tears, he says. The poem ends up where it started- in silence and tears.
‘How should I greet thee? - With silence and tears.’