‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas is firm in its arguments and permanent in its artistic beauty. It’s not a confessional poem that confesses a wife’s fault. Rather voices her self-dignity and confidence about her virtues. The poetic persona is rejected by a man; a mere man who failed to acknowledge her feelings. And, through this poem, she asserts her womanhood and purity of dedication for a person who failed in his duties towards his better half.
‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas talks about a mindless husband who abandoned the speaker. He even abstained from saying a kind word while parting. Thus, the poetic persona who has remained faithful in her duties is compelled to call him a “Cruel man”. For his infidelity, he has forsaken a person who is even true at heart even after his departure. The speaker strongly proclaims that she will forever remain the same. Such one-sided love, she knows, will pain her deep. But, the pain makes her stronger as no other man dares to suffer what the poet happily accepts. At last, the poet claims that she is superior to him not in magnanimity rather in magnificence!
‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas is divided into three stanzas. The first stanza introduces the cause for writing this poem briefly and the following stanzas proclaim the wife’s dignity. Moreover, the first four-line stanza makes use of a regular rhyme scheme with a closed rhythm. However, the poet uses this scheme throughout the poem. The rhyme scheme of the poem is AABB and it goes on like this. Apart from that, there are more or less eight syllables in every line of the poem. Thus, the major meter of the poem is iambic tetrameter with a few variations. As an example, the first line of the second stanza is in iambic meter with a hypermetrical foot at the end. There is also a spondee in the first foot of this line.
‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas beautifully uses literary devices that make the poet’s arguments more appealing and forceful to the readers. Likewise, in the first stanza, the poet uses a metaphor in the first two lines. Here, the poet compares “pitying look” and “parting word” to the items that can be bought by wealth. The metaphor rather presents another literary device called irony in these lines. In using the word “humanity” the poet refers to human beings. It is an example of synecdoche. The second stanza begins with an apostrophe. Moreover, there is a personification in the third line. And, the following line presents an antithesis.
In the third stanza, there is anaphora in the second and third lines. There is a climax in the line, “To love, to honour, and to fame”. At last, the poet again uses irony to say she is superior to the husband in every respect.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Methinks, ’tis strange you can’t afford
One pitying look, one parting word;
Humanity claims this as due,
But what’s humanity to you?
‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas begins in an ironic manner. Using “Methinks” at the beginning is really interesting. It heightens the irony present in the upcoming lines. In the poem, the speaker refers to her husband’s mental poverty in the first two lines. The husband lacks all gentlemanly qualities. He didn’t have enough time to take pity on his wife and even utter some sweet words before parting. The poet takes this behavior as a due. But, such a humanitarian response best suits the crown of a gentleman. The poet can’t expect it from the husband, lacking humility and dedication.
Cruel man! I am not blind,
Your infidelity I find;
Your want of love my ruin shows,
My broken heart, your broken vows.
Yet maugre all your rigid hate,
I will be true in spite of fate;
And one preeminence I’ll claim,
To be for ever still the same.
The second stanza of ‘The Forsaken Wife’ talks about why the husband has left the poetic persona. The poet has come to know about the extramarital affair he is having with another lady. His want of love or the passion of getting another woman’s hands is the cause of the poet’s ruinous condition. Here, the poet employs personification and invests desire with the ability to break one’s heart. Moreover, in the fourth line, the poet refers to the sacred marital vows. The husband has also maligned this pure bond that can only be broken by the Almighty.
In the last four lines, the poet refers to her husband’s “rigid hate”. Here, the poet uses a hypallage or transferred epithet and personifies hate metaphorically. The poet uses the archaic form of “in spite of”, “maugre” in the first line. However, in this section, the poet says that she will remain forever true to herself and never fail in protecting the sacred bond to which the husband caused irrevocable damage. At last, the poet claims her “preeminence” or greatness as she is determined to remain constant in her devotion not for the person but for the belief that binds two souls in the institution called marriage.
Show me a man that dare be true,
That dares to suffer what I do;
That can for ever sigh unheard,
And ever love without regard:
I then will own your prior claim
To love, to honour, and to fame;
But till that time, my dear, adieu,
I yet superior am to you.
In the third and last stanza of ‘The Forsaken Wife’, the argument of the previous stanza continues. Here, the poet addresses the absent persona of the husband like a dramatic monologue. She asks him to show a man who dares to be true even if the wife has deserted him. However, the poet uses hyperbole in the following not for mere exaggeration but for highlighting her mental pain. It heightens the emotional flow of the poem.
Moreover, in the following lines, the poet refers to her present state. After the husband’s mindless decision, the speaker has nothing to do despite sighing. She boldly says that she still loves him “without regard”. In the last four lines, she refers to the husband’s claims “To love, to honour, and to fame”. After such an unfaithful attitude towards the devoted wife, he can’t claim such tags anymore. For her constancy and purity, the speaker has become superior in her eyes. For this reason, despite having a broken heart, she can calmly say, “But till that time, my dear, adieu”.
‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas seems a subjective poem that refers to the poet’s husband Richard Gwinnett (1675-1717). Elizabeth Thomas (1675-1731) was engaged to Richard for sixteen years. However, they couldn’t get married until 1716 for their pecuniary stringency. Thomas later postponed the marriage with the poet to nurse his ill mother. In the next year, he died. However, the tone of the poem reflects a mental pain that has transformed into agitation. So, the poet might have written this poem after or before Richard’s death. Moreover, the poet’s nome de plume “Corrina” was given to her by John Dryden. Much of her works got published after her death under this pen-name.
Like ‘The Forsaken Wife’ by Elizabeth Thomas, the following poems also reflect a similar kind of theme and subject matter.
- A Letter to her Husband, absent upon Publick employment by Anne Bradstreet – Here, Anne Bradstreet muses on her husband’s absence in the last few days of her life.
- Soeur Louise De La Misericorde 1674 by Christina Rossetti – The historical story that Christina Rossetti presented in this poem, is parallel with the subject matter of Corrina’s poem.
- Love, I’m Done with You by Ross Gay – Here, Ross Gay shares her realization of her unhappy relationship.
- Love Letter (Clouds) by Sarah Manguso – Here, Sarah Manguso shares her feelings after coming out of a relationship.