The poem is written from the perspective of a heartbroken lover, someone who is separated from the person they love by a great, unknown distance. It’s unclear why the two are not physically together, but it seems likely that the “thee” in the poem ‘Renouncement‘ has passed away and is entirely out of the speaker’s reach.
Renoucement Alice MeynellI must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong,I shun the thought that lurks in all delight— The thought of thee—and in the blue heaven's height,And in the sweetest passage of a song.Oh, just beyond the fairest thoughts that throng This breast, the thought of thee waits hidden yet bright;But it must never, never come in sight;I must stop short of thee the whole day long.But when sleep comes to close each difficult day, When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,Must doff my will as raiment laid away,— With the first dream that comes with the first sleepI run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart.
‘Renouncement’ by Alice Meynell is a deeply sad poem in which a speaker describes fighting to control her thoughts.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how hard it is for her to ignore thoughts of “thee.” Throughout the entire day, she’s forced to cut off any thought of this person she loves for fear of it ruining the rest of the day. She knows she can’t operate with thoughts of this person in mind. It’s only at the end of the day, when she’s going to bed, that she allows herself to give into thoughts of the person she loves and feel as though she is again being embraced by them.
Structure and Form
‘Renouncement’ by Alice Meynell is a fourteen-line sonnet that is written in block form, meaning that all the lines are contained within a single long stanza. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBACDECDE. This is the traditional pattern associated with a Petrarchan sonnet. The poet also chose to use iambic pentameter, the metrical pattern that is most commonly associated with sonnets.
The main theme of this poem is love. Specifically, the poet’s speaker describes how difficult it is for her to ignore the feelings she has for another person during the day. But, she has decided it’s important that she not allow herself to give into daydreaming or longing during the day. She reserves that state of mind for the evening.
Meynell used several literary devices in this poem. For example:
- Caesura: an intentional pause in the middle of a line that’s usually created due to the poet’s use of punctuation. For example, “I must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “heaven’s height” in line three.
- Anaphora: the use of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “I” in lines one and two.
- Repetition: the use of the same literary device more than once. For example, “I run, I run” in the final line of the poem.
I must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong,
I shun the thought that lurks in all delight—
The thought of thee—and in the blue heaven’s height,
And in the sweetest passage of a song.
In the first lines of this sonnet, the poet begins by declaring to herself that she must not think of “the.” It becomes clear quite quickly that the person to whom she is directing these lines is a past lover. This is a person who she cares deeply about, and, for one reason or another, she is not around anymore.
The poet’s speaker struggles because she wants to stop thinking about this person but is unable to. Her mind is filled with memories of their time together that bring her delight and sorrow.
No matter where she goes or what she does, the thought of this person is everywhere. She thinks of them when she considers God and Heaven and when she’s listening to or thinking about music. Their presence is everywhere, and that brings her joy but also makes her sad.
Oh, just beyond the fairest thoughts that throng
This breast, the thought of thee waits hidden yet bright;
But it must never, never come in sight;
I must stop short of thee the whole day long.
In the next four lines, the poet adds that even when she’s not thinking about this person, a thought that concerns them is just around the corner, just beyond that which she is thinking about. It doesn’t take much for thoughts of this person to come into her mind.
She refers to “This breast” in line six, suggesting that the thoughts of this person are part of her heart and body. She’s unable to separate herself from them. It’s important to the speaker that she never give in to the desire to think about “thee” throughout the entire day. She knows that it will be detrimental to the rest of the day.
The repetition of the word “never” emphasizes her determination to stay true to her promise to herself that she’ll never allow thoughts of this person to manifest. It also conveys a desperate tone, suggesting that she really has to try hard to keep her promise to herself.
But when sleep comes to close each difficult day,
When night gives pause to the long watch I keep,
And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,
Must doff my will as raiment laid away,—
With the first dream that comes with the first sleep
I run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart.
The final six lines of the poem describe what happens when the day is coming to a close, and the speaker no longer has to be around anyone else. It’s only when “sleep comes to close each difficult day” that she allows herself to think of “thee.”
It’s already been made clear, but the use of the word “difficult” in line nine makes it very clear that the speaker struggles with her day-to-day life without this person. All she really seems to want to do is to make it to nighttime when she can relax and give in to her thoughts and emotions.
The speaker writes that at this time of night, she can “loose” her bonds, or the restrictions that she places on herself throughout the rest of the day, and which society may place on her as well. The poet compares the way she’s allowed to relax her mind and heart to put her clothes or raiments away. These are symbolic of the rules she places on herself.
The final lines create a separate unrhymed couplet, as many sonnets do. She describes how she can, at this point in her day, allow her thoughts to go where they will sleep to come, and she’s capable of feeling close to “thee,” gathered to this person’s chest.
This deeply sad ending suggests that there is no way for these two people to be reunited, perhaps because the person to whom the speaker is directing her words is deceased. They may also be out of reach for another undiscussed reason. It’s left up to readers to decide what they think is going on in this dynamic.
The poem ‘Renouncement’ is about a speaker’s refusal to allow thoughts of someone she loves to invade her day-to-day life. It’s only after she’s alone and in bed while drifting off to sleep that she thinks about the person she loves.
‘Renouncement’ is a Petrarchan sonnet. It follows the most traditional rhyme scheme associated with this sonnet form: ABBAABBACDECDE. It is also written in iambic pentameter, by far the most common metrical pattern to encounter in sonnets.
The purpose is to describe the difficulty a speaker goes through as she tries to ignore the thoughts of someone she loves. She’s constantly having to fight thinking about this person during the day.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For instance:
- ‘Lovers’ Infiniteness’ by John Donne – explores the infiniteness of true love.
- ‘Two Lovers and a Beachcomber by the Real Sea’ by Sylvia Plath – speaker about imagination and one’s vision of a situation or person may not live up to reality.
- ‘Love is…’ by Adrian Henri – conveys some of the many ways that one might describe love.