The Self Banished by Edmund Waller explores the pain of love that doesn’t work out, and the heartache that follows. Waller stays away from his love, knowing that returning to her will only make the pain last longer and hurt deeper.
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Summary of The Self Banished
Edmund Waller has made a promise to his love that he will stay away from her, as to not hurt them both. In keeping this promise, he laments the pain and frustration that staying away causes him. Yet, he knows that he must keep his promise to stay away, because if he breaks that, she might also think the promise to ‘love’ her can be broken just as easily. The poem touches on themes of failed love, and love’s woes.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of The Self Banished
The Self Banished is split by Waller into 5 stanzas, each measuring four lines. There is a continuous ABAB rhyme scheme throughout the poem. This rhyme scheme gives the poem an almost songlike quality, the steady rhythm propelling The Self Banished onwards. We can also understand the rhyme scheme as a representation of the subject matter. Indeed, the two lovers, represented by the A and B, are kept apart, constantly alternating at a tantalizing distance. They never meet, instead of staying apart like the poet promised they would. The very idea of coupled lines rhyming throughout also insinuates love, the pairing of lines mirroring the pairing of the couple.
Alongside the rhyme scheme, Waller uses several structural techniques to emphasize The Self Banished. The first of these is the use of caesura. Indeed, Waller inserts caesura to build emphasis throughout his poem, each comma deliberately elevating the things that come both before and after. He uses this throughout the poem to emphasize ideas of ‘love’, the very final line of the poem using this technique to focus directly on the lover, ‘you, too’.
Another technique that Waller uses in constructing the poem is the use of the semantic field of pain. Throughout The Self Banished he mentions ‘blood’, ‘rage’, ‘bleed’, all contextualizing his ‘hopeless love’ against a sea of painful images. It seems that although love is an emotional pain, Waller even goes as far as to suggest that it is physically breaking him.
Analysis of The Self Banished
It is not that I love you lessThan when before your feet I lay,But to prevent the sad increaseOf hopeless love, I keep away.
The first line of the poem sets out clearly the topic that will follow. The poet will be discussing ‘love’ and he is claiming that ‘it is not that I love you less’, now that they have parted. He tries to ensure that his lover knows this throughout the poem, and starts his reasoning from the very first line.
The use of enjambment on the first line instantly moves towards the second, connecting the current moment in which they are apart to the past in which Waller lay at his lovers ‘feet’. The complete sense of comfort present in this image, Waller casually lounging on the floor, conveys a sense of trust between the lovers – they are both happy to relax around one another.
Yet, knowing that his love cannot truly work, Waller suggests that all they have is ‘hopeless love’. They cannot be together forever, and therefore ‘love’ becomes ‘hopeless’, Waller promising to ‘keep away’ rather than hurt them both.
The caesura before ‘I keep away’, followed by a harsh end stop emphasizes this decision he has made. He will stay away from his love, not wanting to make them any sadder than they already are.
In vain (alas!) for everythingWhich I have known belong to you,Your form does to my fancy bring,And makes my old wounds bleed anew.
The exclamation ‘alas!’ focuses the poem on Waller’s frustration, he cannot believe that he has to stay away from his lover, not being able to stop thinking about her. Indeed, his attempts to not think of her are all ‘in vain’, him saying that almost everything he has ‘known’ ‘belongs’ to his lover, everything reminds him of her.
Waller then uses the semantics of battle and pain, ‘wounds bleed anew’ to describe the feeling he experiences when he thinks of his lover. Emotional pain is manifested into a physical experience, his heartbreaking each time he thinks of her ‘form’.
Stanza Three and Four
Who in the spring from the new sunAlready has a fever got,Too late begins those shafts to shun,Which Phœbus through his veins has shot.Too late he would the pain assuage,And to thick shadows does retire;About with him he bears the rage,And in his tainted blood the fire.
In the third stanza, Waller references ‘Phoebus’, who is god of the sun. He suggests that things are out of order and balance now that he is not with his lover. Although there is a new ‘spring’, there is a sickness on the land, ‘already has a fever got’. There is uncertainty and darkness, even with the presence of the god of the sun, there is something sinister lurking in the world.
Waller wants to ‘assuage’ his ‘wounds’, yet it is too late as the ‘pain’ has seeped deep into his body. The personification of sadness in ‘thick shadows’ seem to never ‘retire’ from Wallers world, the poet wallowing in darkness and pity as he cannot return to his lover.
This sadness turns to frustration and anger, Waller suggesting that he ‘bears the rage’, further explored by the use of ‘fire’, enacting images of fury. The semantics of pain are included within this stanza again, ‘blood’ is a recurring image throughout The Self Banished.
But vow’d I have, and never mustYour banish’d servant trouble you;For if I break, you may distrustThe vow I made to love you, too.
In the fifth stanza, Waller reveals why he cannot return to his love. Indeed, he has ‘vow’d’ not to do so. If he ‘break[s]’ his promise to her, ‘you may distrust’ his intentions and consider him untruthful. He then worries that if she sees he doesn’t keep one promise, she might also think the ‘vow I made to love you’ will also be considered false. Therefore, to ensure that she knows he loves her, he will keep away, keeping one vow to prove the other valid also.
The ideas of comfort that began in the first stanza resurface here, with Waller describing himself as ‘your banish’d servant’, willing to do anything for his lover.
The final line demonstrates another use of caesura, with Waller emphasizing ‘love you, too’, placing focus on both the idea of loving, and also on who this loving is directed at. By finishing the poem on ‘you, too’, Waller encompasses the two main ideas of The Self Banished, showing that there is more than one promise to keep, and also why and for who he will keep these vows.