‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne talks about a lady’s passivity towards the lovelorn poet. The poet with the help of his poetic creativity tried to please the lady in every manner. But, the lady, the cold and the passive one, rejected his love with grimace and disdain. However, the repetition in each stanza of the poem makes it clear how much the poet had suffered both mentally and physically. The afflictions that tear the heart also creates havoc on the body. Moreover, the poet’s personified self or his verse was only there to assist him in his loneliness. Now, it’s in front of the readers to feel and to imagine the poet’s heartache.
Summary of A Leave-Taking
‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne is an emotional poem about a lady’s rejection of the poet’s love. In the poem, the poet talks with his verse that was composed of the lady. He tells it to take leave from the lady to whom it was dedicated. The lady is so passive that she can’t hear the pang of the poet. Even if the poet goes elsewhere, she won’t know or weep about it. There is a firm resistance in her heart against the poet’s heartfelt words. The poet also says though the verse he is writing for the lady doesn’t infuse love in her. The reason is she doesn’t care about all the things the poet does after being rejected. In the end, the grief-stricken poet feels that even if “all men seeing had pity on me”, the lady cast her eyes elsewhere and remain constant in not accepting the poet’s proposal.
Structure of A Leave-Taking
‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne is a love-lyric that talks about an egotistical lady who rejected the poet’s love. However, the poet employs the well-known dramatic monologue form in this poem to express his feelings. Moreover, there are a total of six stanzas consisting of seven lines each. The poem follows a regular rhyming pattern that presents the rhyme scheme of a closed couplet. However, the last three lines of each stanza form a rhyming tercet. Apart from that, the whole poem is composed of iambic pentameter with a few variations. As an example, the last line of each stanza is in iambic dimeter.
Literary Devices in A Leave-Taking
‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne is a poem that contains several literary devices that make the poet’s feelings more appealing to the readers. The first and foremost poetic device used in the poem is personification. Employing it the poet directly talks with his verse and this dialogue between a poet and his verse reflects how lonely the poet was at the time of writing this poem. Another device used in the poem is anaphora. As an example, the first two lines of the first and second stanzas, and the fifth and sixth lines of the second stanza contain this device. The poet also uses apostrophe for invoking the poetic spirit of his songs in the poem.
Apart from that, the poet uses some metaphors and similes in the poem. As an example, in the second stanza, “And all the world is bitter as a tear” is an example of a simile. In this line, the poet also uses metonymy in the usage of the word “world”. Metaphors are present in the lines such as “Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep” and “Though all the stars made gold of all the air”. The poet also uses litotes in the poem. Moreover, the line “Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair” contains a synecdoche.
Analysis of A Leave-Taking
Let us go hence, my songs; she will not hear.
Let us go hence together without fear;
Keep silence now, for singing-time is over,
And over all old things and all things dear.
She loves not you nor me as all we love her.
Yea, though we sang as angels in her ear,
She would not hear.
‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne makes it clear, in the first stanza, that the poet is a permanent leave from a lady. It is the end of all the wooing and nagging, the poet did before. Now, along with his verse, he is about to leave the lady’s world. Before leaving, he has to say something to that cruel lady who has caused the poet’s heart so much pain. There is a tone of irony in this section. However, in the first four lines, the poet tells himself not to wait any longer. The “singing-time” is over and the lady, like an old but dear thing, has to be left behind. The poet tried to please her in every manner possible. The lady didn’t give an ear to the songs the poet had composed for her. For such a passive response, the poet takes leave of the lady.
Let us rise up and part; she will not know.
Let us go seaward as the great winds go,
Full of blown sand and foam; what help is here?
There is no help, for all these things are so,
And all the world is bitter as a tear.
And how these things are, though ye strove to show,
She would not know.
In the second stanza of ‘A Leave-Taking’, Swinburne tells himself or his song to rise and take the way to the sea. After the lady’s calm response, the poet has lost the feeling that he had for the earth. Now, earthly joys seem to him a burden. The bitterness for the place the lady inhabits, makes him leave for the sea. The poet thinks there might be something in the sea’s heart that can understand the poet’s pain. However, the lady is so ignorant about the poet’s existence that she can’t even know where he is or is going to.
Let us go home and hence; she will not weep.
We gave love many dreams and days to keep,
Flowers without scent, and fruits that would not grow,
Saying ‘If thou wilt, thrust in thy sickle and reap.’
All is reaped now; no grass is left to mow;
And we that sowed, though all we fell on sleep,
She would not weep.
In the third stanza of ‘A Leave-Taking’, the poet appears somehow puzzled in his thoughts. Previously, he has talked about going to the sea. Now, he is talking about going to his home. Such a conflict reflects how dedicated the poet was to the lady. However, in this section, the poet uses metaphors like sowing, reaping, and sowing not in their literal sense. Here, the poet talks about the seeds of love that the poet had sown in his heart. In the present scenario, everything is mown. What is left is the poet’s reaped mind with some scattered pain rising their heads here and there.
Let us go hence and rest; she will not love.
She shall not hear us if we sing hereof,
Nor see love’s ways, how sore they are and steep.
Come hence, let be, lie still; it is enough.
Love is a barren sea, bitter and deep;
And though she saw all heaven in flower above,
She would not love.
In the fourth stanza of ‘A Leave-Taking’, the poet expresses his laxity about what he did before. Now all he wants is rest from all the emotional turmoil that’s going on in his mind. The “love’s ways” aren’t soft and soothing as the poet has suffered mental pain in this way. Now, there is a realization in the poet’s mind that love is metaphorically a sea that is bitter, barren, and deep. There is no hope left in it. At last, the poet imagines if the lady had ever thought about the poet’s feelings, her egotist mind never allowed her to fall in love with the poet.
Let us give up, go down; she will not care.
Though all the stars made gold of all the air,
And the sea moving saw before it move
One moon-flower making all the foam-flowers fair;
Though all those waves went over us, and drove
Deep down the stifling lips and drowning hair,
She would not care.
In the fifth stanza of ‘A Leave-Taking’, the poet uses the metaphor of the sea for expressing how miserable the poet is without the lady. There are some contrasting images in this stanza that present the poet’s suffering at one hand and the passivity not only of the lady but also of the whole creation. Such a hyperbolic expression only comes from a person in extreme mental pain like the poet is. However, the poet feels like drowning in this symbolic sea and his stifling lips can’t utter a single word. Even if the poet is undergoing all such pains, “she wouldn’t care”.
Let us go hence, go hence; she will not see.
Sing all once more together; surely she,
She too, remembering days and words that were,
Will turn a little toward us, sighing; but we,
We are hence, we are gone, as though we had not been there.
Nay, and though all men seeing had pity on me,
She would not see.
In the sixth stanza of ‘A Leave-Taking’, the poet talks as if he is no more in this world. In this context, he thinks about the attitude of the lady. According to the poet, like the old days, if the poet sings again, she might look at him but “a little” toward them. If she sighs for the loss, the poet won’t be there. At last, the ironic remark about the lady’s passivity heightens the emotional effect the poet has created in the previous sections. He thinks that men might pity after looking at the poet’s pathetic fallacy for loving such a cruel lady. But, the lady, “would not see”.
Historical Context of A Leave-Taking
‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne reflects the artistic sensibility of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. This group was founded in 1848. Christina Georgina Rossetti‘s brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris were also part of the group. They tried to bring up the importance of the pre-Renaissance art forms through their works. In this poem too, the vibrant imagery reflects the influence of this artistic movement on the poet’s mind.
Like ‘A Leave-Taking’ by Algernon Charles Swinburne, here is a list of a few poems that presents a similar kind of theme and subject matter.
- Blame not my Lute! by Sir Thomas Wyatt – Here, Sir Thomas Wyatt talks about the cruelty of the lady whom the poet loved.
- The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell – Here, the speaker of Andrew Marvell‘s poem also goes through a similar kind of mental pain that Swinburne suffered.
- Love’s Growth by John Donne – Here, John Donne talks about the true nature of love.
- After great pain, a formal feeling comes by Emily Dickinson – Here, Emily Dickinson talks about the “pain” that one suffers in any kind of loss.