In this 18th-century poem, Tollett’s speaker declares her devotion to her lover and lists the many ways she’d prove it. She’d do anything to remain by this person’s side and would not resent him for the suffering the two endured together.
Winter Song Elizabeth TollettAsk me no more, my truth to prove,What I would suffer for my love.With thee I would in exile goTo regions of eternal snow,O'er floods by solid ice confined,Through forest bare with northern wind:While all around my eyes I cast,Where all is wild and all is waste.If there the tim rous stag you chase,Or rouse to fight a fiercer race,Undaunted I thy arms would bear,And give thy hand the hunter's spear.When the low sun withdraws his light,And menaces an half-year's night,The conscious moon and stars aboveShall guide me with my wand'ring love.Beneath the mountain's hollow brow,Or in its rocky cells below,Thy rural feast I would provide.Nor envy palaces their pride.The softest moss should dress thy bed,With savage spoils about thee spread:While faithful love the watch should keep,To banish danger from thy sleep.
Explore Winter Song
‘Winter Song’ by Elizabeth Tollett is a poem in which a speaker declares their unending dedication to their lover.
In the first of this poem, the speaker begins by telling her lover that she is tired of being challenged in her commitment to him. She uses the rest of the poem to suggest a variety of difficult scenarios and how she would contend with them. She would support him in fights against powerful enemies, join him in the darkest of night, and live with him in the wild world, sleeping on a bed of moss and protecting him from harm.
The main theme of this poem is love. The speaker’s commitment to their lover is clear in the first lines. They are willing to do whatever it takes to prove that, no matter what happens or how bad their situation gets, they’d never leave. The speaker tells her lover that they’d even prefer a life of suffering to one of riches and palaces as long as they are together.
Structure and Form
‘Winter Song’ by Elizabeth Tollett is a twenty-four-line poem in block form. This means that the lines are contained within one big stanza. The poem follows a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCCDD and so on, contained within two-line couplets.
The poet also chose to use iambic tetrameter. Each line contains four sets of two beats, the first of which is stressed and the second of which is unstressed.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when a poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four and lines fifteen and sixteen.
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions that should inspire the reader to imagine a scene, feeling, etc. in great detail. For example, “O’er floods by solid ice confined, / Through forest bare with northern wind.”
- Internal Rhyme: using the same end sound in the middle of lines. For example, “hollow” and “below” in lines seventeen and eighteen.
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Where,” “wild,” and “waste” in line eight.
Ask me no more, my truth to prove,
What I would suffer for my love.
With thee I would in exile go
To regions of eternal snow,
O’er floods by solid ice confined,
Through forest bare with northern wind:
While all around my eyes I cast,
Where all is wild and all is waste.
In the first lines of ‘Winter Song,’ the speaker begins by telling her lover that she no longer wants to be asked about the lengths she’d go to in order to prove her commitment. She’s entirely dedicated to her lover and would “suffer” greatly in the name of love.
She tells her lover in the first lines that she would “in exile go / To regions of eternal snow” to stay with this person. She’s willing to live in misery as long as it means the two can be together.
She’d willingly go with him to regions free of sun and joy where she’d be confined by “solid ice” or “Through forest bare with northern wind.” The first eight lines conclude with the speaker imagining being in such a world and looking around or “cast[ing]” her eyes around and seeing no vestige of civilization. All around her would be “wild” and “waste,” and she’d be happy.
If there the tim rous stag you chase,
Or rouse to fight a fiercer race,
Undaunted I thy arms would bear,
And give thy hand the hunter’s spear.
When the low sun withdraws his light,
And menaces an half-year’s night,
The conscious moon and stars above
Shall guide me with my wand’ring love.
In the next few lines, the speaker suggests a few different situations that her lover might find himself in. If he needed to hunt a deer or stag or needed to fight against a powerful adversary, she’d be there. She’d stand beside him and hand him his weapons, willingly putting herself in danger for him.
She also tells him that in the winter, the darkest and most desolate season of the year, she’d stay with him after the sun went down, even though she knows it’s soon to be dark for months. She wouldn’t run from impending darkness; she tells him (metaphorical or physical).
She knows that if she stands beside him in the dark that the moon and stars are on their side and that they will guide the two of them on their journey through life. By saying that they are on her side, the poet is demonstrating an example of personification. She suggests that the moon and stars have feelings and can protect two lovers amid a “half-years’s night.”
Beneath the mountain’s hollow brow,
Or in its rocky cells below,
Thy rural feast I would provide.
Nor envy palaces their pride.
The softest moss should dress thy bed,
With savage spoils about thee spread:
While faithful love the watch should keep,
To banish danger from thy sleep.
In the final eight lines of the poem, the speaker tells her love that no matter where they live or end up (even if it’s in a cave or on the edge of a mountain cliff), she’d be there and cook him “rural” feasts that he can enjoy. Unlike some people, she’d enjoy her life (even if it was tough). She wouldn’t complain about their meager possessions, the cold, the heat, or general suffering.
The speaker tells her lover that she’d be happy to live with him this way and wouldn’t “envy palaces” or those who live within them. She’d make them a perfectly suitable home outside with moss and “savage spoils,” or beautiful treasures she’s found in the natural world.
While he slept, she’d watch over him with love and make sure to “banish danger” from his sleep.
The tone is determined and passionate. The speaker is filled with love for the intended listener and uses the twenty-four lines of the poem to drive home how dedicated they truly are. They’re willing to go to any length to prove their love.
The purpose is to explore the strength of one person’s love and the capacity that true love has to endure even the most difficult of situations. The speaker makes it very clear that she’d do anything that was needed to remain by her lover’s side.
Love and commitment are the main themes of this poem. The speaker is fully committed to their lover. So much so that to prove their love, they’re willing to walk through frozen wastelands and live their life in the wild.
‘Winter Song’ is about one speaker’s devotion to her lover and the lengths she’d go to ensure she stayed by their side. She is unwilling to allow anything to come between them. Or to even suggest that there’s anywhere she wouldn’t go or anything she wouldn’t do to be with them.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘The Darling Letters’ by Carol Ann Duffy – describes the way love letters transition from being full of devotion to containing nothing by recriminations.
- ‘Sonnet 26’ by William Shakespeare – addresses the speaker’s inability to put his love and devotion into clear and worthy words.
- ‘Here I Love You’ by Pablo Neruda – explores long-distance lovers, with Neruda undulating between love and fearing losing her.