‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ by Gwyneth Lewis explores an abusive relationship, with Lewis writing an anti-love poem that focuses on the mistreatment and manipulation that can happen in a relationship.
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Lewis moves through situations in which her lover made her feel bad, exploring manipulation, power dynamics and emotional abuse. The focus on pronoun within the poem always syntactically places ‘You’ before ‘me’, signaling Lewis’ own subconscious mentality, putting the happiness of her lover before her own. Around halfway through the poem, Lewis moves to how she feels guilty for this relationship, still clinging on even though it is bad for her. The final two lines focus on possession, Lewis realizing that her lower knows that he ‘owns me’.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ by Gwyneth Lewis is written over 13 lines. Considering this is an anti-love poem, I believe the 13 lines is a clear structural reference to the 14 line sonnet, falling short by one single line. The sonnet often connects with themes of love, with Lewis then deviating and falling short of this form to signal that she is not in a happy, or ideal, relationship. There is a lack of rhyme scheme within the poem, with Lewis writing the poem with frequent metrical disruption from caesura.
The first technique that is important within ‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’, signaled by the title, is the use of pronouns. Consistently throughout the poem, Lewis uses pronouns of ‘you’ and ‘me’ to define the two parities of the relationship. There is a lack of connection between them, never being described in the plural ‘we’. Syntactically, Lewis nearly always puts ‘you’ before ‘me’ in the line, perhaps signaling her subconscious obedience to the abusive lover. The emotional manipulation runs incredibly deep, Lewis exuding a sense of entrapment with her use of the pronoun.
Another technique that Lewis uses when writing ‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ is caesura. Lewis uses caesura within many of the lines of the poem, creating a metrical break when they occur. In doing this, the rhythm of the poem is fractured, the harmonious lines falling apart as Lewis splits and stalls the rhythm. This disharmony in structure could reflect the reality of their relationship, with Lewis using the metrical disruption to demonstrate her unhappiness.
Analysis, Line by Line
You made me cry in cruel stations,(…)Became my boss. You promised me nothing
The opening line of ‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ emphasizes the power dynamic of their relationship, Lewis placing ‘You made me’ as the opening words of the line. The power dynamic suggested within the syntax of this line, ‘you’ before ‘me’, carry on throughout the rest of the poem, this line neatly giving an example that carries forward.
The sterility of ‘cruel stations’, Lewis ‘cry[ing]’ due to her lover’s influence, is an incredibly cold image. The opening idea of the poem being the tears of the poet, causing her to have ‘missed many trains’. The idea of ‘train’ perhaps being a mechanism for escape, or a metaphor for opportunity, suggests that the presence of her lover has caused her to miss out on elements of life, being stuck in one place much like she is stuck in a relationship.
Her lover ‘married others’, leaving her behind with a period of emotional abuse leaving her mentally impacted. The ‘subsequent son’ from one of these marriages eventually ‘became my boss’. This idea of humiliation, Lewis not progressing at all while a ‘son’ of the one that caused her so much pain rises to her level, echoes throughout the poem – Lewis creates a haunting depiction of an abusive relationship.
But blamed me for doubting when who wouldn’t.(…)Kill it. Then, when I’ve lost all hope,
The theme of guilt and ‘blame’ is referenced heavily within ‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’. Lewis concludes that ‘You promised me nothing/but blamed me for doubting’, revealing the emotional abuse that she suffers. The idea of blame links in with guilt, Lewis suggesting that she is made to feel as if she were the person in the wrong.
This is extended into Lewis putting the blame upon herself for the failing relationship. Lewis never discusses the ‘faults’ of her lover, only ever focusing on ‘my faults’, and how she ‘failed to please you’. The subconscious weight of ‘blame’ falls upon Lewis, feeling culpable for all that has gone wrong. The hyphen following ‘please you’ can be understood as a physical break in the poem, the poet using this time to recover from the emotional onslaught that she is narrating.
This idea of breaking up the meter as to give time to recover is channeled consistently through the use of caesura. Within these lines, when narrating guilt, Lewis consistently uses caesura, ‘faults. In dreams, I’m wild with guilt. Have’ furthering the suggestion that she truly feels guilty.
The most fractured line in terms of caesura is the eighth, the brutally short ‘kill it.’ Representing the complete loss of ‘all hope’ that Lewis feels.
Kiss me again, your mouth so open —(…)Exactly what owns me.
The final lines of ‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ focus on how even after all this emotional abuse, Lewis still wants the relationship, she would ‘give anything for one more night’. She knows the danger he poses, asking him not to ‘bite’, the animalism attached to the character reflecting his dangerous quality. Yet, she still wants this suppression, having been emotionally manipulated into feeling subjugated to her lover. This is emphasized through the monosyllabic ‘Mark me’, the constant ‘m’ ringing across the words in a depressing vision of emotional abuse.
The final line summarises the emotional manipulation that Lewis has suffered, the poet knowing ‘Exactly what owns me’. Even after all of this, she cannot escape her lover, being tied to them through layers and layers of emotional abuse. ‘Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns’ creates an image of the destruction of a person, emotional abuse running deep, demonstrating how difficult it is to escape abusive relationships.