A Song by Helen Maria Williams

In 1786, Helen Maria Williams published a two-volume poetry collection. The collection was titled Poems and A Song is featured there. A Song has six sections. Each section consists of one stanza that has four lines and an ABAB rhyme scheme. The metre is similar to that of an iambic trimeter. Moreover, there is a great use of punctuation. The poem’s central theme is love and how a particular emotional relationship affects the lyrical voice.

Helen Maria Williams’s best known works are her several volumes of letters and sketches. They narrate the French Revolution, the Age of Bonaparte, and the restoration of the French Monarchy. She was a supporter of the revolution and she wrote these letters to her countrymen in England. Nevertheless, Williams wrote a number of antiwar poems during the 1780s, like Edwin and Eltruda and An Ode to the Peace.

 

A Song Analysis

First Stanza

No riches from his scanty store

My lover could impart;

He gave a boon I valued more —

He gave me all his heart!

The first stanza foregrounds the importance of love to the lyrical voice. Throughout the stanzas, the lyrical voice will express his/her particular feelings about something that occurred particularly to him/her. A Song begins by saying that this lover has no riches and, consequently, couldn’t share them with the lyrical voice (“No riches from his scanty store/ My lover could impart”). Notice the alliteration on “scanty store”, which gives a soft feel to the first part of the stanza. Then, the lyrical voice states that this lover gave him/her something that he/she values more (“He gave a boon I valued more”): his heart (“He gave me all his heart!”). Notice the emphasis made on the last line and how the lyrical voice accentuates it by using a final dash and creating a pause at the end of the previous line.

 

Second Stanza

His soul sincere, his generous worth,

Might well this bosom move;

And when I asked for bliss on earth,

I only meant his love.

The second stanza describes the lover. The lyrical voice says about the lover: “His soul sincere, his generous worth”. And, more importantly, the lyrical voice says he/she is touched by this generosity and sincerity that the lover has (“Might well this bosom move”). It is clear, in the next two lines, that this relationship is extremely passionate and personal for the lyrical voice. When he/she asks for joy (“And when I asked for bliss on earth”) he/she means love, but not any love: “I only meant his love”.

 

Third Stanza

But now for me, in search of gain

From shore to shore he flies;

Why wander riches to obtain,

When love is all I prize?

The third stanza centres on the lyrical voice’s thoughts about his/her present situation. The first line starts with a “But”, creating a different tone from the two previous stanzas. The lyrical voice says that he/she is searching to earn something everywhere (“But now for me, in search of gain/ From shore to shore he flies”). The second part introduces a question that relates to the vision of love that the lyrical voice presents in the previous stanzas. The lyrical voice already mentioned that the love of his/her lover was more valuable and more important than any other “boon”. In this stanza, the lyrical voice asks: “Why wander riches to obtain,/ When love is all I prize?. The need for riches is questioned again, and the vision of love as the ultimate prize is emphasized. Notice that, throughout the stanzas, the crucial statements of the stanzas are made on the last line, always referring to love and how the lyrical voice feels about it.

 

Fourth Stanza

The frugal meal, the lowly cot

If blest my love with thee!

That simple fare, that humble lot,

Were more than wealth to me.

The fourth stanza continues with the theme of the fifth stanza. The lyrical voice says that he/she only needs simple things, and that he/she doesn’t want more in life that his/her lover’s love. The longing for simplicity is described when he/she says: “The frugal meal, the lowly cot”. Love is enough (“If blest my love with thee!”) to have the life that the lyrical voice wants. Moreover, this idea is accentuated in the last two lines, as the lyrical voice suggests that love is a simple and humble fare that represents the ultimate wealth (“That simple fare, that humble lot,/ Were more than wealth to me”).

 

Fifth Stanza

While he the dangerous ocean braves,

My tears but vainly flow:

Is pity in the faithless waves

To which I pour my woe?

In the fifth stanza the tone dramatically shifts. So far, the lyrical voice depicted all the positive aspects of his/her love and how it was the only necessary thing in his/her life. However, this stanza presents a negative side of this much yearned love. The lyrical voice mentions the travelling of his/her lover in the “dangerous ocean” and how his/her “tears but vainly flow” because of this situation. The lyrical voice constructs a sense of pity that differs from the romantic tone of the previous stanzas. The stanza ends with a question that interrogates all of the beliefs already expressed about love: “To which I pour my woe?”.

 

Sixth Stanza

The night is dark, the waters deep,

Yet soft the billows roll;

Alas! at every breeze I weep —

The storm is in my soul.

The final stanza presents powerful emotion. The lyrical voice portrays a scene, representing a different mood from the first stanzas (“The night is dark, the waters deep,/Yet soft the billows roll”). The lyrical voice furthers on his/her feeling saying that with “every breeze I weep”. The last line builds a powerful and dramatic image by comparing a storm with the soul of the lyrical voice (“Alas! at every breeze I weep — / The storm is in my soul”). Once again, there is a final dash in the third line to introduce a pause before the final statement. The “storm” indicates that the lyrical voice has agitation in his/her heart. The love that the lyrical voice feels is not corresponded, and this leads to negativity, unfulfilled passion, and frustration.

 

About Helen Maria Williams

Helen Maria Williams was born in 1759 and died in 1827. She was an English poet, novelist, and translator. Helen Maria Williams was a controversial figure at her time. She was a religious dissenter, a supporter of abolitionism and the ideas of the French Revolution. Helen Maria Williams lived in France most of her life and she was portrayed in a poem by William Wordsworth in 1787. Helen Maria Williams published some poems in the 1780s, and in 1790 she wrote her only novel, titled Julia. During her lifetime, Williams’s poetry appealed to the liberal sentimentalists and had a list of admirers, including William Wordsworth.

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