C Charles Lamb

The Old Familiar Faces by Charles Lamb

‘The Old Familiar Faces’ is a poem written by the great essayist of the Romantic period, Charles Lamb. This poem features the theme of remembrance of the old days.

Charles Lamb wrote this poem, ‘The Old Familiar Faces’ when he was struggling with loneliness. As the title of the poem reflects, this poem is about the “faces” or the persons whom the poet missed the most. Moreover, in this poem, one can find how one struggles for human companionship. This emotionally intense poem makes a reader think about the past days, the old faces, familiar places, or scenes. These memories are like treasure troves that one often visits when the hour becomes too morose to bear.

The Old Familiar Faces by Charles Lamb

 

Summary

In ‘The Old Familiar Faces’, Charles Lamb talks about his old friends, family members, and his only “love” of life.

In this poem, Lamb presents a list of “old familiar faces” whom he misses the most. Firstly, he misses his childhood days. His playmates and “joyful school-days” all are gone. Secondly, he talks about the friends he spent his days, carousing. Thereafter, the poet goes on to talk about his first love, best friend, and family. All that is dear to him, are no more. He tries to remember their faces. Sadly, he can imagine only blurry images of his dearest ones. Lastly, the poet says some of his familiar companions have died and others marooned him.

 

Structure

This poem consists of seven tercets. A tercet is a stanza having three lines. In each stanza, one cannot find any specific rhyme scheme. The poet follows the form of romantic poetry. Likewise, this poem is in the free verse having an emotionally intense flow. The movement from one line to another depends on either the internal rhythm or the repetitions. Moreover, the lines are long, depicting the poet’s longing for the old days. Apart from that, each line of this poem contains twelve syllables. And the poem is written by using both the iambic and trochaic meter. In some instances, the poet uses anapestic meter too.

 

Literary Devices

Lamb’s lyric, ‘The Old Familiar Faces’ begins with a repetition of the phrase, “I have had.” This repetition is also called palilogy. It is important to note here that each tercet ends with a similar idea. The poet uses the phrase, “the old familiar faces” as a refrain in this poem. To maintain the flow of the poem, the poet uses alliteration throughout the text. Hence, one can find the use of consonance and assonance. There is a personification in the line, “I loved a Love once… ” Here, the poet is referring to a lady whom he loved. The same line contains hyperbole. Thereafter, the poet uses a metaphor in “her doors are closed on me.” The line, “Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly” contains a simile.

 

Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

I have had playmates, I have had companions,

In my days of childhood, in my joyful school-days,

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

The poem, ‘The Old Familiar Faces’ begins with Lamb’s emotional statement, “I have had playmates, I have had companions.” This line sets the tone and mood of the poem. The poetic persona of this piece is sad with the happenings of his life. Now, he is thinking of his old days. The days of his childhood especially appear in his mind. Besides, the “joyful school-days” reminds him of his present age and how time passes by quickly. The days, his school friends, and the happy memories, all are gone. He cannot even remember the faces, familiar to him at once.

 

Stanza Two

I have been laughing, I have been carousing,

Drinking late, sitting late, with my bosom cronies,

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

While the speaker is thinking about his childhood days, suddenly he remembers his youthful days. During that time, the speaker of the poem has been laughing and carousing with his friends. He drank with them. Staying awake late at night, he enjoyed his hours with his “bosom cronies.” Here, “cronies” means close friends. Lastly, the disheartened speaker remarks all are gone and reiterates the similar idea present in the last line of the previous stanza.

 

Stanza Three

I loved a love once, fairest among women;

Closed are her doors on me, I must not see her —

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

In this stanza of ‘The Old Familiar Faces’, Lamb refers to a lady whom he loved the most. It seems here the poet is referring to Ann Simmons. He spent years wooing her. However, the lady, “fairest among women,” rejected him. Here, the poet uses a beautiful metaphor for “heart”. The comparison is made between rejection and closing the doors. For this reason, the speaker cannot see her more. Therefore, in the last line, the speaker again presents the same idea, “All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.”

 

Stanza Four

I have a friend, a kinder friend has no man;

Like an ingrate, I left my friend abruptly;

Left him, to muse on the old familiar faces.

The speaker has a friend. Using an epigram he says, the friend was kinder than any other man. However, like an ungrateful person, he left his friend. It resulted in the ending of the friendship abruptly, without any specific reason. In the last line, the poet says he left his kind friend alone to muse on the familiar faces. Now he can connect with this friend as he is facing a similar kind of emotional crisis.

 

Stanza Five

Ghost-like, I paced round the haunts of my childhood.

Earth seemed a desert I was bound to traverse,

Seeking to find the old familiar faces.

In the fifth stanza, Lamb uses imagery to bring home the idea of loneliness. The speaker says he paced around the “haunts” of his childhood like a ghost. In this section, the poem becomes a bit personal. However, the objectivity of the line does not fade away. As several others have similar haunting episodes of childhood. Whatsoever, for him, the earth seemed a desert. It was a desert as he had no friends. He is bound to traverse there. In the last line, the poet gives the reason for his traversing through the desert of life. The reason is that he is still seeking to find the old familiar faces.

 

Stanza Six

Friend of my bosom, thou more than a brother,

Why wert not thou born in my father’s dwelling?

So might we talk of the old familiar faces —

Thereafter, in the sixth stanza of the poem, ‘The Old Familiar Faces’, Lamb refers to his best friend. Here, the poet is referring to Samuel Taylor Coleridge. If one has ever read Coleridge’s, ‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’, one can understand the strength of their friendship and how close they were. According to the speaker, he was more than a brother. Thereafter, the poet rhetorically asks him why he was not born in his family. They were so close to one another that it made him feel as if they were from the same family. Thereafter, the poet if he was born in his father’s dwelling, might talk of the old familiar faces.

 

Stanza Seven

How some they have died, and some they have left me,

And some are taken from me; all are departed;

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

The last stanza of the poem reveals the reason for the poet’s sadness at the very first line. The poet clarifies that some of the old acquaintances have died. Others have left him. It can also be possible that due to some unprecedented reasons he lost touch with his old companions. Moreover, some of his closed ones are taken from him and others departed. For this reason, the poet uses the refrain in the last line of this stanza. The old familiar faces, in this way, lingers throughout the poem, even if their faces seem blurry to the poet!

 

Historical Context of The Old Familiar Faces

‘The Old Familiar Faces’ is the most famous poem of Charles Lamb, though he has written a few poems. His imagination finds its best fruiting, in the alleys of prose. However, his poems are undoubtedly great. But his prose is even greater than his verses. Lamb wrote this poem in the late 18the century. The opening verse of the original version of the poem is of particular interest. However, in the later version, this tercet was excluded and the stanza on childhood days was included. However, the excluded stanza concerns Lamb’s mother, whom Mary Lamb killed. The poet removed this verse from his “Collected Work” published in 1818. The stanza reads:

I had a mother, but she died, and left me,

Died prematurely in a day of horrors

All, all are gone, the old familiar faces.

Lamb was one of the lake poets and expressed in his poetry the essence of romanticism.

 

Similar Poetry

Here is a list of a few poems that similarly concern the theme of old memories, present in Charles Lamb’s emotionally intense lyric, ‘The Old Familiar Faces’.

You can also read about these emotional childhood poems and the poems on missing dear ones.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
>

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Ad blocker detected

To create the home of poetry, we fund this through advertising

Please help us help you by disabling your ad blocker

 

We appreciate your support

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Send this to a friend