‘Fate’ by Carolyn Wells is a love poem that emphasizes the idea of true love, something that transcends distance, time, or language – but could also be a mockery of romantic tropes.
‘Fate’ by Carolyn Wells explores two people born on different sides of the world. Although they grow up in different places, speak different languages, use different money, and have different cultures, Wells suggests that they are perfect for each other. The idea of fate, with it being fate that they will one day meet, is an iconic trope of love poetry – with the idea of star-crossed lovers being famous from all avenues of literature. The poem could be understood as somewhat critical, or mocking, this trope, with the final line of the poem perhaps moving towards tropes of Hollywood in order to suggest that fated love is only something from movies.
You can read the full poem Fate here.
Wells writes ‘Fate’ in 14 lines, with the number of lines clearly being a reference to the sonnet form. The sonnet form is perhaps the most iconic poetic form that is associated with love, poets writing love sonnets to their loves throughout history. In using this amount of lines, Wells directly engages with this historic tradition of poem, emphasizing the beauty of love through this connection. Yet, the rhyme scheme does not match that of a sonnet, this perhaps being an insinuation on Wells’ part that this form of love is unrealistic.
Alongside using the structure of her poem to both connect with the theme of love, and simultaneously detract from the realism of the relationship depicted, Wells also uses alliteration. This alliteration, particularly within the first line stresses the distance between the lovers, the cycling aural quality of the language creating an elongated sound which reflects the ‘wide apart’ between the lovers.
Another technique that Wells uses in constructing ‘Fate’ is the manipulation of pronouns. Wells binds the lovers together by placing them under a singular umbrella pronoun of ‘they’, connecting the two individuals into one ‘couple’. The selection of pronoun insinuates the close connection between the lovers, and furthers the concept of ‘Fate’ explored within the poem.
Two shall be born the whole world wide apart,
Each to the other’s being. And know not
The opening word of the poem is ‘two’, instantly alerting the reader to the idea of a couple, setting the poem on a trajectory to explore the title, ‘Fate’. The connection between these individuals, both displayed through the singular ‘two’ compounds the love between them.
The grandeur of ‘shall’ gives the poem a sense of gravity when discussing the couple. Indeed, the language that Wells has chosen makes it seem like these ‘two’ lovers are destined to be together – it is their fate and the ‘Shall’ eventually meet.
The consonance across ‘whole world wide’ compounds the distance between the lovers. Although they are supposedly meant to be together, they are born on opposite sides of the world, with the elongated sound structure of this sentence furthering the sense of distance.
It is within the first four lines of the poem in which Wells could either be idolizing, or mocking, this form of love – depending on how the reader would like to analyze the poem. On one hand, the sheer impossibility of ‘different tongues’ and ‘pay their debts in different kinds of coins’, indeed being ‘whole world wide apart’, suggests a sense of romantic attraction, these lovers drawn against all odds to each other. Yet, Wells could also be laughing at this concept, the sheer impossibility of these barriers more so meaning that it is unlikely that they are ever on the same continent, not to mention in the same room.
That each might suit the other to a T,
Albeit they know it not. Until at last
Although so far apart, Wells stresses the idea that they ‘might suit the other to a T’, the phrase here meaning that they are romantically perfect for each other. The use of ‘might’ furthers the sense of Wells subtly mocking the couple, the impossibility insinuated by the conditional tense further the difficulty in actually meeting. It seems Wells is constantly battling between blind optimism and romanticism, or realism and cynicism. The extends in the following phrase, the use of ‘if’ playing into the conditional impossibility of meeting.
The focus on ‘, unconsciously,’ grammatically isolated due to two forms of caesura demonstrates the almost other worldly attraction between the two individuals. It is their ‘Fate’ to be together, stressed by the subconscious turning of one to another, both making their way together unbeknownst to the other. The caesura again is polysemous in meaning. On one hand, Wells could be enforcing a metrical break in order to place emphasis on the odds they are overcoming, the idea of Fate being central here. Yet, this could also be a slight hint of mockery, Wells laughing at the impossible odds that they supposedly are to subconsciously overcome.
For love, they manage to do such grand feats such as ‘defying war’, completely surpassing whole global events simply because they must find each other. I think the longer this poem goes on, the more fate seems like a mockery of the romantic trope. But of course, the poem is up for personal interpretation!
They enter the same door, and suddenly
The Broadway cable car – and this is Fate!
The triple repetition in the form of anaphora across the 11th, 12th, and 13th lines of the poem compound a sense of grandeur. This poem is, after all, completely about these two lovers, and therefore Wells is putting their collective pronoun, ‘they’ at the forefront of these impactful lines.
The sentence structure at this point in the poem becomes simple, moving towards shorter sentences. This could be showing the idea of fate always working, coming together against all odds in a simple and purposeful fashion. It could also be pointing to the oversimplification of life, all these odds actually being realistically insurmountable. We must remember that Wells has already pointed out that they ‘speak in different tongues’, so even if they did meet, it seems slightly difficult to transcend the linguistic barrier between them.
The first moment of connection between the lovers is seemingly mocked by Wells, they finally ‘fall into each other’s arms’, and then Wells collocates this with ‘Broadway’. The link to theatricality undermines the realism of the moment, Wells concluding that the odds are simply too high, the situation is not realistic and this isn’t something that could just happen.
The final line, the hyphen emphasizing the final few words, ‘this is fate!’, compounds the sense of unreality, the exclamation mark being hyperbole and mocking the encounter. Perhaps it is only my reading, by Wells seems to undermine the concept of Fate, pointing instead to the unrealistic tendency of romantic poetry to surpass odds that would actually be insurmountable.