O that ’twere possible

Alfred Lord Tennyson


Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson is an influential poet of Romanticism.

Notable works include 'Break, Break, Breakand 'Tears, Idle Tears.' 

O that ’twere possible’ is a two stanza excerpt from the longer work, ’Maud’. The poem was published in Maud and Other Poems in 1855. Within ‘Maud,’ a larger story is told of the speaker’s father’s suicide, the speaker’s relationship with his neighbor’s daughter, Maud, and the series of disturbing events that follow. 


Summary of O that ’twere possible 

‘O that ’twere possible’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is one section of ‘Maud’ that depicts the speaker’s desire to see his deceased lover once more. 

The poem takes the reader through the speaker’s process of mourning. He expresses his deep need to feel the arms of his lover around him and knows, even vaguely, where they are. An hour, he adds towards the end, in their presence would greatly improve him. 


Structure of the Poem

O that ’twere possible’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a two stanza excerpt from the longer poem ‘Maud’. The first stanza of this section contains four lines and the second: six. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB DDADED. The repetition of the long “e” sound at the ends of lines one, two, four, and six of the second stanza creates an interesting rhythm and adds extra emphasis on the deep, powerful subject matter the poet is engaging with.


Poetic Techniques

Within ‘O that ’twere possible’ Tennyson makes use of several poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, epistrophe, and caesura. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “possible” and “pain” at the ends of lines one and two of stanza one and “What” and “where” in line six of the second stanza. 

Caesura occurs when a line is split in half, sometimes with punctuation, sometimes not. The use of punctuation in these moments creates a very intentional pause in the text. A reader should consider how the pause influences the rhythm of one’s reading and how it might come before an important turn or transition in the text. The third line of the second stanza is a perfect example of how effective this technique can be. It reads: “Ah, Christ! that it were possible”. 

Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. Due to the brevity of this particular poem, the repetition of certain words is all the more impactful. For example, the word “possible” ends the first line of the first stanza and the third line of the second stanza. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines one and two of the first stanza and three and four of the second. 


Analysis of O that ’twere possible

Stanza One 

O that ’twere possible 

After long grief and pain 

To find the arms of my true love 

Round me once again!… 

In the first lines of ‘O that ’twere possible’ the speaker begins by making use of the line that later came to be used as the title of this particular excerpt. The line mourns the impossibility of finding the “arms of…true love” around oneself once more. Tennyson’s speaker, who goes through much in ‘Maud,’ finds himself wishing that his deceased lover would come back to him once more. He has gone through the “grief and pain” of loss and this is now his deepest wish. 


Stanza Two 

A shadow flits before me, 

Not thou, but like to thee: 

Ah, Christ! that it were possible 

For one short hour to see 

The souls we loved, that they might tell us 

What and where they be! 

In the second stanza of ‘O that ’twere possible’ the speaker explains in more detail how powerful this experience would be. He adds on an additional wish, that even if it isn’t possible for the dead to return, he’d like to know “What and where they be!” The absence of this person from his life is painful. It might soothe him some to know they are at peace somewhere else. Exclamation points are used in these lines to increase the desperation a reader can interpret from the speaker’s words. If he could only see his lover for an hour he’d be happy. 

Also in these lines, he speaks of a shadow that moves quickly, flitting before his eyes. But, this is just a trick of the light. It is not “thou,” his deceased lover. The poet makes use of apostrophe in the third line when he addresses Christ. Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone who does not exist or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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