‘The Sorrow of True Love’ by Edward Thomas is a one-stanza work with a rhyme scheme that pairs successional lines, one that uses fanciful language and figurative ideas to paint a specific image of love. Though Thomas begins by expressing an opinion on love that leans toward negative in consequence to the pain of losing the person for whom the love exists, the later lines in the poem make it clear that the overall opinion in the work is that deeper unhappiness is known through a life that never knows strong love. According to Thomas, while love does indeed come with grief and pain, that pain does not compare to the suffering in a life that passes without the embracing of love in its deepest form.
The Sorrow of True Love Analysis
The sorrow of true love is a great sorrow
And true love parting blackens a bright morrow:
These beginning lines of ‘The Sorrow of True Love’ dive into the hardships of “true love” without revealing any of the emotion’s pleasant qualities. There is no backstory of happy times before this loss, but rather a quick examination behind the “great sorrow” from the “parting” element of the relationship. This is an interesting approach, given that theme of ‘The Sorrow of True Love’ will later be revealed as commentary that a loveless life is a worse circumstance than the grief brought on by losing someone loved, but the effect is strong since it focuses the reader directly on the idea of loss. Thomas is not comparing happiness with happiness, after all. He is comparing loss with loss, and placing the pain of “true love parting” into the introductory elements draws attention directly to the pain that is so vast and empty that it “blackens a bright tomorrow.”
Yet almost they equal joys, since their despair
Is but hope blinded by its tears, and clear
Above the storm the heavens wait to be seen.
Only after the theme of loss is cemented into the reader’s mind does Thomas move away from the bleakness of the scenario to express comfort and happiness that can be linked to having “true love.” In his estimation, even losing someone loved can be considered “joys” since there is “hope” of seeing them again “[a]bove the storm [and] in the heavens.” In addition to past memories of happiness and affection that are linked to that person lost, ones tainted with grief and “blinded by [despair’s] tears,” there is also “hope” in the knowledge that the one who is departed will be a part of the future. Thinking back on the good times or forward to the post-life reunion would be a comfort against the “despair,” one strong enough to keep certain “joys” in the heart in spite of the mourning. In this notion, the happiness of love is too great for sadness to overthrow.
But greater sorrow from less love has been
That can mistake lack of despair for hope
These lines shift the focus from those who have experienced “true love” to those who have yet to know something so strong. To Thomas, these people endure “great sorrow” since “less love has been” known of them, and that “sorrow” is because they have no understanding of the grand emotion. The circumstance is made even more distressing to Thomas since those who have yet to know that affection is actually in a position to think that they fare better than those who do love.
Specifically, Thomas states that those who do not know significant love “can mistake a lack of despair for hope.” People who do not love, or love very little, can assume that they are safe from the kind of heartache that comes with losing love, as if escaping that grief is “hope” and goodness. Thomas disagrees with that idea, rather calling the rationalization a “mistake.” To him, forsaking that heartache is not “hope,” though he references earlier that “hope” can come in the midst of grief for someone who has loved. Again, then, Thomas shows how loving is better than being safe from losing love since only those with love seem to have access to “hope.”
And knows not tempest and the perfect scope
Of summer, but a frozen drizzle perpetual
Within these lines of ‘The Sorrow of True Love’, further evidence is given that those who do not love significantly are in a more miserable condition than someone who must lose the person they care for, though this pair of lines expresses a difference between the two categories of people. For those who never experience love, their lives are “but a frozen drizzle” in contrast to the lives of those who love and are familiar with “tempest and the perfect scope [o]f summer.”
There is definite variation between the two groups in that those with love endure a series of elements—storms and “perfect[ion]” alike. This concept expresses a variety of feelings and experiences that love would bring to the table, ones that showcase passion and energy that reveal a vivacity so strong that it can be argued to express life at its fullest. Those who do not know love, however, do not see that variation. Instead, they live a cold existence—void of the warmth of affection—that never changes. It is “perpetual,” and to Thomas, living in such a state is more mournful than encountering the highs and lows of life’s possibilities and losing the person most loved.
Of drops that from remorse and pity fall
And cannot ever shine in the sun or thaw,
Removed eternally from the sun’s law.
The “drizzle perpetual” that is referenced in the previous lines finishes in thought by being labeled as “drops that from remorse and pity fall.” What this concept adds to the circumstance is the idea that the person who has never known love is crying “perpetual” teardrops for two reasons: “remorse and pity.” The “remorse” can be linked to regret that a life has been lived that never had an encounter with love, and the “pity” is also a connectable factor since the person might “pity” their own life because they never knew love. It is unclear if these are actual tears being shed or a representation of internal mourning, but whatever the circumstance, this is a “sorrow” that will linger forever because what remained out of grasp, “true love,” can never find a place in this person’s life at this point.
The reason for this end of the opportunity, again, is not clarified. Perhaps the person who has never known love is at the end of life and will have no other chance to try a hand at the emotion. Regardless, whereas the one who knew “true love” had “hope” of a reunion in “the heavens,” this person is forever in their “sorrow” and “frozen drizzle,” like love no longer shines their way to “thaw” their frigid situation like “the sun” soothing the earth after a harsh winter. Rather, the loveless person is “[r]emoved eternally” from any “hope” of the vivid happiness that comes with “true love.”
What this means, essentially, is that the coldness of life must linger because love never came by to offer the warmth of affection and care. Like a freezing person wanting a fire that is not possible, this person can never find a place of comfort and happiness against the constant loneliness they have experienced.
While certain elements go unaddressed in ‘The Sorrow of True Love’, the theme remains strong: Loving true, even in grief, is better than sparing oneself grief by surrendering a chance at love.
About Edward Thomas
Born in the 19th century and living into the 20th, Edward Thomas was a poet whose name is still significant in the writing world. His works are often built on the language of beauty and reason, and significant credit has been given to this English poet for his influence on 20th-century poetry. Beyond poetry, his works extend into the world of non-fiction writing. The ideas expressed in his poetry can be viewed as timeless, making his name still relevant.