A Quoi Bon Dire by Charlotte Mew

A Quoi Bon Dire is featured in The Farmer’s Bride, a volume of poetry published in 1916. The Farmer’s Bride was Charlotte Mew’s first poetry collection and it was printed in chapbook format by the Poetry Bookshop. The title of the poem, A Quoi Bon Dire, is in French and it can be translated as “What’s the good” or “What’s the point”.

A Quoi Bon Dire has three stanzas with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The verses’ constant and stable pace suggest harmony both in the lyrical voice and in what he/she is saying. This harmony is extremely important as it goes along with the tone of the poem. The lyrical voice seems to understand the passing of time clearly and calmly while others don’t. Moreover, the sibilance in the stanzas creates a slow and calm rhythm. Thus, the poem, although talking about death and aging, introduces a positive remembrance.

A Quoi Bon Dire explores the process of aging and deals with topics such as loss and death. Hence, the main theme in the poem is the effects of time and everlasting love.

A Quoi Bon Dire by Charlotte Mew

 

A Quoi Bon Dire Analysis

First Stanza

Seventeen years ago you said

Something that sounded like Good-bye:

And everybody thinks you are dead

But I.

The first stanza portrays an event in the past. The lyrical voice describes something that took place seventeen years ago. He/She addresses someone, as he/she talks about a “you” (“Seventeen years ago you said”). This message that the other person said is mentioned as a goodbye (“Something that sounded like Good-bye”), which means that this person died. Nevertheless, the lyrical voice says that everyone thinks that this person passed away (“And everybody thinks you are dead”), but he/she doesn’t feel the same way about it (“But I”). The love between the lyrical voice and this person transcended death itself, as the lyrical voice has him/her present in his/her memories and talks to him/her throughout A Quoi Bon Dire. The stable pace of the stanza functions as a solid base in which the lyrical voice can express his/her feelings towards time and love. The sharp end of the final line emphasizes how the lyrical voice contrasts with “everybody” else, as he/she believes in their love and makes it more powerful. Moreover, this abrupt ending can represent the sudden death of this loved one.

 

Second Stanza

So I, as I grow stiff and cold

To this and that say Good-bye too;

And everybody sees that I am old

But you.

The second stanza depicts the lyrical voice’s present situation. The previous stanza focused on the lyrical voice’s loved one, but this stanza narrates what happens to the voice of the poem. The lyrical voice starts the stanza by saying that he/she is close to death (“So I, as I grow stiff and cold”). The expression “stiff and cold” reveals that the lyrical voice is old and has lost the tenderness and warmness of life. The lyrical voice says that he/she is saying goodbye to things, meaning that he/she is preparing to die (“To this and that say Good-bye too”). There is alliteration in the second line (“this” and “that”) that expresses how things in life don’t mean much as his/her loved one is already dead.

Like in the first stanza, “Good-bye” is written with a capital “C” to express the final and ultimate goodbye (death). Moreover, the lyrical voice expresses that everybody sees him/her as an old person (“And everybody sees that I am old”), but not his/her loved one (“But you”). This second stanza constructs a parallel structure of the first stanza, as they mirror each other with syntax and meaning. Notice how both the loved one and the lyrical voice intend to say “Good-bye” and everyone else doesn’t understand them, as they have a powerful bond that unites them after death. Moreover, both stanzas have abrupt endings to emphasize their meanings and the strength of the lover’s love. These two stanzas build a strong connection between the lyrical voice and the loved one.

 

Third Stanza

And one fine morning in a sunny lane

Some boy and girl will meet and kiss and swear

That nobody can love their way again

While over there

You will have smiled, and I shall have tossed your hair

The third stanza of A Quoi Bon Dire talks about the future. The lyrical voice talks about some lovers in a happy scene (“one fine morning in a sunny lane”) where they “meet and kiss and swear”. These lovers swear true love to each other, a love in which “nobody can love their way again”. This image corresponds to a future meeting that these lovers might have. Notice the future tense in the stanza and how the lyrical voice projects his/her love in the future and after death. This meeting presents the joy of reuniting with the loved one and has universal relevance, as it refers to “Some boy and girl”. Finally, the lyrical voice refers to his/her loved one (“While over there/ You will have smiled”) to express his/her wish to meet again. This final line brings both the lyrical voice and the loved one together in order to close the lyrical voice’s remembrance of his/her loved one.

 

About Charlotte Mew

Charlotte Mew was born in 1869 and died in 1928. She was an English poet. Charlotte Mew had a traumatic childhood, facing mental illnesses, death, loneliness, and disillusionment. All these became themes in her poetry. Charlotte Mew published her first work in 1894, while she was in her mid-twenties. Her first text was Passed, a short story that was included in Yellow Book. Although Charlotte Mew is best remembered for her poetry, she wrote many short stories.

In 1912, with the publication of The Farmer’s Bride in the Nation, she gained a lot of attention. Between 1894 and 1912, Charlotte Mew published seven pieces of poetry and various short stories in different journals, but with The Farmer’s Bride she established her literary reputation. During that time, she also wrote Madelain in Church and Fin de Fête. These poems were included in Mew’s first poetry collection The Farmer’s Bride, published in 1916. She was praised by the literary community for that work, although the books took years to sell.

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