‘Perfidy’ by D.H. Lawrence is a five stanza poem that is made up of four stanzas of five lines and one final stanza of nine lines. The poem does not conform to a strict rhyme scheme, but it does follow a loose pattern that varies slightly. The first stanza rhymes, abaac while the second, distorting this pattern slightly, rhymes abccd. The third and fourth stanzas conform to the initial rhyme scheme and the fifth is altogether different due to the increased number of lines. It rhymes, abaacdaa.
A reader should take note of the fact that even though the rhyme varies slightly in ‘Perfidy,’ it never changes too much. The repetition of the first end line rhyme is a unifying element in each stanza. This allows the poem to feel consistent and fluid without depending too heavily on rhymes for every line.
It is also important to take note of the title of ‘Perfidy’ before beginning an analysis. The word “perfidy” has been chosen as the title and it refers to someone or something being deceitful or disloyal. The reason for this particular title will become clear as one reads through the entire text.
Summary of Perfidy
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he knocked on the door of a house in which he hopes to meet someone he loves. The only answer he receives is a hollow echoing. It mirrors the feelings in his heart.
The speaker believes that his lover, or perhaps just his object of affection, has betrayed him and he goes wandering through the streets in a depression. By the end of the poem she has returned and he watches as she rushes into the house as if trying to avoid being seen.
Analysis of Perfidy
Hollow rang the house when I knocked on the door,
And I lingered on the threshold with my hand
Upraised to knock and knock once more:
Listening for the sound of her feet across the floor,
Hollow re-echoed my heart.
In the first stanza of ‘Perfidy’, the speaker begins by describing his own actions. He has made his way to the front door of a house and heard a “Hollow” sound when he knocked. Although the speaker has not given any other details, it is clear that this does not bode well. The speaker still feels hopeful that the woman he is hoping to see will come to the door. He lingers there, with his hand “Upraised” ready to knock again.
He has yet to try again though, as he is listening for the sound of footsteps on the floor on the other side of the door. Although the tone is solemn, the speaker is still hopeful.
Unfortunately, there is no sound and the “Hollow” echoing of his knock is reflected back into his heart. It is “re-echoed.” With this mention of the speaker’s heart, it becomes clear that the person who is supposed to be on the other side of the door is someone he loves.
The low-hung lamps stretched down the road
With shadows drifting underneath,
With a music of soft, melodious feet
Quickening my hope as I hastened to meet
The low-hung light of her eyes.
In the second stanza, the speaker turns his eyes from the door to take a look around the street. There are “low-hung lamps” that reach from one end of the road to the other. They do not cast much light and add to the depressing atmosphere of the moment. There are shadows “drifting” beneath these lights and suddenly the sound of footsteps. They are musical and “melodious” and he hopes they belong to the one he loves.
The sound forces up a new wave of hope in his chest and he turns, waiting to see the “low-hung light of her eyes.”
The golden lamps down the street went out,
The last car trailed the night behind;
And I in the darkness wandered about
With a flutter of hope and of dark-shut doubt
In the dying lamp of my love.
The next stanza reveals that it was not his love at all. The lights are going out in the street and everyone is going home. There is only one car left insight and it is “trail[ing]” down the road with the night following along “behind.”
He has now been left in the darkness of the night to wander and consider the position he is left in. His mind is in two different places. On one hand he still feels a “flutter of hope” over his love and a possibility for the future. On the other, is a “dark-shut doubt” that is dragging him deeper into darkness.
All of these emotions are being nursed as he walks the streets in the “dying lamp of [his] love.”
Two brown ponies trotting slowly
Stopped at a dim-lit trough to drink:
The dark van drummed down the distance slowly;
While the city stars so dim and holy
Drew nearer to search through the streets.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Perfidy’, the speaker elaborates further on what the surrounding area looks like and how the elements contribute to his mood. He sees “Two brown ponies” that move slowly along beside him and stop to drink at a “dim-lit trough.”
The city is moving around him at the same slow pace that he walks along the road. The “city stars,” likely a reference to the city lights, are coming closer and closer. He is moving around, looking and searching, perhaps for the woman he loves, or an answer to his many questions. He doesn’t go too far though as he is near enough to see her return in the final stanza.
A hastening car swept shameful past,
I saw her hid in the shadow,
I saw her step to the curb, and fast
Run to the silent door, where last
I had stood with my hand uplifted.
She clung to the door in her haste to enter,
Entered, and quickly cast
It shut behind her, leaving the street aghast.
In the final stanza the woman who the speaker loves returns to her home. It is as if she can sense that he has been there looking for her, and in an effort to avoid him, runs quickly into her house.
He describes how the car quickly and “shameful[ly]” pulls up into the driveway. The woman hides in the shadows as she walks to the door and then enters the house as fast a possible.
The speaker is struck by the image of her standing where he was, knocking on her door only moments ago. She moved into the house and “quickly cast” the door “shut behind her.” Her sudden appearance and even more sudden disappearance leaves the “street aghast.”