‘Lord Randall’ is a famous seventeenth-century poem that has appeared in multiple English and other language variations. These include Danish, German, Irish, Swedish versions, as well as several more. The basic premise of the story remains the same, a mother and son discussing what happened to him that day and revealing that he was poisoned by his true love.
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Summary of Lord Randall
Through the lines of the poem, which are quite repetitive and circular, the mother asks her son questions, and he replies simply, mostly saying the same thing over and over again. She asks him what he did all day, he tells her he hunted and that he’s ready for bed. She asks what he ate and where his bloodhounds are, and he tells her eels and that his dogs died. This prompts her to suggest that his exhaustion is, in fact, a result of his being poisoned by his true love. He accepts this immediately and reiterates that he’s ready to sleep/die.
In ‘Lord Randall,’ the poet engages with themes of story-telling and relationships. They explore the relationship between the mother and son as well as the distant relationship between the son and his “true love.” The latter is a much less healthy relationship than the former, although depending on the reader, some might take issue with that which exists between the mother and son as well. He lives with her, expects her to make his bed, and she’s just as demanding, ending to know exactly where he was all day and who he was with. But, this question does reveal the truth of his relationship with his “love,” someone who ended up poisoning him.
Structure and Form
‘Lord Randall’ by Anonymous is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a very obvious pattern of ABCD, with the same words used at the ends of every line. Each line also has the same structure, beginning and ending similarly. Depending on the version of the poem, there are also alternate titled such as ‘Henry, My Son’ and the Italian variant, ‘L’avveleato’ or “The Poisoned Man.” Each version follows a loosely similar storyline with a few changes.
The anonymous poet of this version of ‘Lord Randall’ makes use of several literary devices throughout the piece. These include but are not limited to repetition, anaphora, epistrophe, and caesura. The first of these, repetition, occurs whenever the poet repeats something. This might be a word, phrase, image, structure, or another piece of the poem.
Anaphora and epistrophe are two types of repetition. The first is concerned with phrases or words repeated at the beginning of lines, while epistrophe occurs at the end of lines when words or phrases are repeated there. For example, “O where ha’e ye been,” starts the first two lines of the first stanza. The first two lines of all the stanzas are the same, in fact. The same can be said about the last words of every line. Line one of all five stanzas ends with “Lord Randall my son.”
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. These are created through either the use of punctuation or meter. For example, line three of the first stanza reads: “I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon.” Or, another example, line three of the fourth stanza: “O they swelled, and they died: mother, make my bed soon.”
Analysis of Lord Randall
“Oh where ha’e ye been, Lord Randall my son?
O where ha’e ye been, my handsome young man?”
“I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”
In the first stanza of ‘Lord Randall,’ the first speaker, Randall’s mother, begins by asking her son where he’s been. This simple question is followed up by another. It’s asking the same thing, but this time, it ends with “my handsome young man.” These words reveal that Randall lives with his mother, he’s handsome, at least in her eyes, and she cares about his wellbeing.
His answers follow in the next lines. He says that he’s been to “the wild wood” where he’s been hunting. Now, he’s tired, and he’s ready to “lie down.” It’s easy to imagine this as something that happens fairly regularly, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise for the mother to hear this news. Despite this, she’s concerned about him. Perhaps showing a mother’s intuition.
Stanzas Two and Three
“Where gat ye your dinner, Lord Randall my son?
Where gat ye your dinner, my handsome young man?”
“I dined wi’ my true love; mother, make my bed
soon, For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”
“What gat ye to your dinner, Lord Randall my son?
What gat ye to your dinner, my handsome young man?”
“I gat eels boiled in broo: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”
In the second stanza, the speaker asks her son where he got his dinner. The same question is again reiterated twice with different endings (although the same ones that were used in the first stanza and are used in the following stanzas). The young man tells his mother again that he’s tired but that he dined with his “true love.” This young lady doesn’t get a name, but the speaker’s use of “true love” suggests she’s someone the mother is already familiar with.
The mother asks what her son ate for dinner in the following questions, and he answers, “eels boiled in broo.” As if getting irritated with all her questions, he soon again reiterates that he wants his mother to make his bed. The final line of the stanza is the same again, a perfect example of a refrain. With knowledge of what comes next, it’s easy to see how this line should be hinting at the truth of what the son ate.
Stanzas Four and Five
“What became of your bloodhounds, Lord Randall my son?
What became of your bloodhounds, my handsome young man?”
“O they swelled and they died: mother, make my bed soon,
for I’m weary wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”
“O I fear ye are poisoned, Lord Randall my son!
O I fear ye are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie down.”
In the fourth stanza, the mother asks about his “bloodhounds” the dogs that should’ve been out hunting with him and returned with him. Her questioning starts to feel more urgent, as if she understands something that he isn’t. On his end, he’s irritated, one her’s she’s concerned.
The speaker tells her that they “swelled and died,” oddly without expressing any concern over this fact. The mother reveals to her son that she thinks that his “true love” poisoned him in the final stanza. Strangely, it seems that the son was already aware of the fact and is ready to lie down and die. He’s “sick at the heart,” he says. This strange final line might refer to the poison or perhaps to feeling heartbroken, or likely both, considering it was his true love that killed him.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Lord Randall’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Mother to Son’ by Langston Hughes – one of Hughes’s best poems in which a mother uses a staircase to depict the difficulties her son is sure to face in life.
- ‘Mother, Any Distance’ by Simon Armitage – depicts the narrator asking his mother to come and help him build a new house, alluding to their separation from one another.
Readers might also be interested in 10 Incredible Poems about Death.