‘I Do Not Love Thee’ by Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton is a five stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each one of these quatrains follows a rhyming pattern of abab, alternating as the poet saw fit from stanza to stanza. The consistent nature of this rhyme scheme provides the poem with the unity it needs to carry a reader from the first verse to the last. It is an element of consistency within a text rife with emotional confusion.
While there is no consistent metrical pattern within ‘I Do Not Love Thee,’ all of the lines are of a similar length. They also all contain around the same number of syllables, in the range of nine-twelve.
Summary of I Do Not Love Thee
The poem begins with the speaker stating that she does not love “you,” the listener. This statement which is utilized in all the stanzas, is followed by a number of features of her life which bother her. Firstly, she is sad when this person is not around. This is an emotion she is uncomfortable with. She is so sad that she becomes jealous of the stars who are able to look down on him.
Additionally, the speaker is entranced by the listener’s deep blue eyes, the way he can do no wrong, and the sound of his voice. All these factors lead a reader to mistrust the speaker. She is confessing her love by attempting to prove she is not in love.
Analysis of I Do Not Love Thee
I do not love thee!—no! I do not love thee!
And yet when thou art absent I am sad;
And envy even the bright blue sky above thee,
Whose quiet stars may see thee and be glad.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by making a strong and eye-catching exclamation. She seems to shout out the line which became the title of the poem, “I do not love thee!” It is clear before one even begins reading that the speaker believes strongly in the placidity of her own emotions towards her intended listener.
The reader will take on the role of the speaker’s intended listener, and the man whom she does not love, due to the narrative perspective of the piece. Norton has chosen to write in the second person, casting the reader as “you.”
The exclamation is repeated immediately after the opening phrase, emphasizing her point. Now that she has gotten that clearly enunciated, she starts to edge into some doubt or at least exclusionary points which do not match up with what she said in the first line.
She does not love this person but when they are gone, or absent, she is “sad.” It is an automatic response on her part. She cannot help but be sad. Her depression is so deep in these moments thatch can’t help but “envy…the bright blue sky above thee.” All she is able to do is think about the listener and where he is at that moment. Anywho are around him, even the sky, are subject to her envy.
The final line of the first quatrain mentions the “quiet stars” of the sky. They are more familiar with the listener than she is, when he is absent. They are able to look down from the sky and “see [him] and be glad.”
I do not love thee!—yet, I know not why,
Whate’er thou dost seems still well done, to me:
And often in my solitude I sigh
That those I do love are not more like thee!
In the second quatrain, she repeats the title phrase again, “I do not love thee!” By this point in the poem, it reads as more of a reminder than a statement with a great deal of truth. This is bolstered by the fact that she immediately says that she does not “know..why” but everything “thou dost,” or that he does, “seems…well done” to her. The listener can do no wrong. He is accomplished at every task he sets himself to.
The next two lines describe how when the speaker is alone she “sigh[s] / That those” she does love are not “more like” the listener is. There is no one in her immediate life who stands up to the man she is speaking of. No one is like him.
I do not love thee!—yet, when thou art gone,
I hate the sound (though those who speak be dear)
Which breaks the lingering echo of the tone
Thy voice of music leaves upon my ear.
The third quatrain repeats the refrain for the third time, immediately followed by another statement that goes against the speaker’s belief in her lack of love. When the listener is “gone” she cannot stand to listen to the voices of anyone else. This is not due to a lack of love for them, as they are “dear” to her, but because they shatter the silence she was relishing.
When the speaker’s clear object of affection is gone, an impression of his voice is left on her ear. Then, as she stated when others speak that impression is ruined.
I do not love thee!—yet thy speaking eyes,
With their deep, bright, and most expressive blue,
Between me and the midnight heaven arise,
Oftener than any eyes I ever knew.
It is in the fourth stanza that the refrain is utilized for the last time. The speaker immediately follows it, as she has in the previous stanzas, with a statement that contradicts the phrase, “I do not love thee!”
In this instance, she describes how the “eyes” of this person seem to speak to her with their “deep, bright, and most expressive blue.” It is clear is she greatly attracted to this person and very taken with the depths of their eyes. They are to her the most beautiful blue that one could see between themselves and “the midnight heaven arise.” She concludes this section by stating that the image of the listener’s eyes comes before her own more often than “any eyes” she “ever knew.”
I know I do not love thee! yet, alas!
Others will scarcely trust my candid heart;
And oft I catch them smiling as they pass,
Because they see me gazing where thou art.
In the last four lines of the poem, the speaker begins with a changed version of the refrain. It is as if she has finally started to doubt her own convictions. This time, she says, “I know I do not love thee!” She is clearly trying to convince herself that this is still the case if it ever was. The speaker also uses the word “alas.” She knows that if she does love this person, as she is secretly starting to believe, then the “others” will be right. They do not trust that her heart is being candid with them when she states her emotions.
The last two lines briefly bring in the perspective of an outsider. Others see her when she is walking through the streets and smile at her manner. They see her “gazing where” her listener “art,” or is, and know she is in love.