‘If I were loved, as I desire to be’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a variation of an Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. Traditionally these sonnets are split into an octave, a set of eight lines, and a sestet or set of six lines. They usually rhyme, ABBA ABBA CDECDE. In this case, although Tennyson has persevered the distinctive split in the poem, the rhyme scheme varies.”If I were loved, as I desire to be” rhymes, ABBA CDDC AEFEFA.
Summary of If I were loved, as I desire to be
“If I were loved, as I desire to be” by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a sonnet that describes how the speaker’s life would be different if he was loved the way he wants to be.
The poem beings with the speaker stating that he does not have the amount, or type, of love that he desires. He wants to be loved without reserve or stipulation. He believes that if he can acquire the love of one particular unnamed person, that he will be without fear. The evil of the world will be unable to reach him.
The speaker describes how all the pain that exists, whether within or without, could not touch him. He would be impervious to hurt of any kind. Love would provide him with an indestructible hope that would rise past any depression or darkness.
The poem concludes with the speaker describing how even if the world was to completely come to an end, and alone with her he faced his death, he would not be afraid. As long as they have their hands clasped and are able to reassure one another with their presence, they could face an oncoming torrent of destruction. Unfortunately for the speaker this is only a dream. From this piece the reader cannot infer whether there is any possibility of this love becoming real.
Analysis of If I were loved, as I desire to be
If I were loved, as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear,–if I were loved by thee?
Tennyson’s sonnet, “If I were loved, as I desire to be,” begins with the speaker making use of the title line. Often times in sonnet writing, the first line of the poem becomes the title, as happens with this piece. The speaker is saying, very straightforward and simply, that he is not loved as he wishes he was. He knows that there is more out there than he is receiving.
He believes that if this were to be the case, if he was indeed loved to someone’s full capacity, there would be nothing “in the great sphere of the earth” for him to fear. Although there is “evil” in the world that can do damage to one’s life between “death and birth” he will pay it no regard; if only he was to be “loved by thee.”
The reader knows at this point that he is not speaking metaphorically about an unnamed or unplaced love, but about one person he desires in particular. This unknown person has his full affection but does not return it to the extent that he wishes.
All the inner, all the outer world of pain
Clear Love would pierce and cleave, if thou wert mine
As I have heard that, somewhere in the main,
Fresh-water springs come up through bitter brine.
The speaker continues on in the second quatrain, or the second half to the octave, to describe how if he was to be loved as he desires, all the pain in the world, whether it exists within the mind or in the physical world, would be “pierc[ed] and cleav[ed].” It would be irreparably severed and destroyed. He would not be within it’s reach. This though, will only be the case it “thou wert mine,” he says. Only if she becomes his forever will his life be free of all pain.
He has not experienced the next lines himself but he has “heard that” when one is in loved and is loved in return, that “Fresh-water,” representing a new outlook on life and renewed optimism, will emerge from any depression one might have felt. The darkness of the speaker’s life before this love is represented by “bitter brine.” Hope breaks through evil, darkness and depression.
The speaker is taking a very idealized view of what love is and what it can actually accomplish. This is normal, and expected, for someone who has yet to experience the truth of a relationship. He is not preparing for any negatives to their consummated love, only unending happiness and feelings of positivity.
‘T were joy, not fear, claspt hand-in-hand with thee,
To wait for death–mute–careless of all ills,
Apart upon a mountain, tho’ the surge
Of some new deluge from a thousand hills
Flung leagues of roaring foam into the gorge
Below us, as far on as eye could see.
In the last six lines of the poem, or sestet, the speaker is imagining himself, along with his love, alone on top of a mountain and the world is destroyed below them. It begins by describing how if he was to face death with this unnamed person, instead of feeling “fear” he would only see “joy.” Their hands clasped together would comfort and reassure him as they “wait for death” together. The water could be climbing up the mountain, moments from consuming them, and they would pay it no mind.
There would be no words spoken between the two, nor any need for them, as the presence of one another would be enough. They would disregard their “ills,” or their problems, big and small. They have no need for anyone else here at the end. They are content with being “Apart” from the rest of the world “upon a mountain.” They are looking out at “some new deluge” or rush of water, that is throwing “leagues of roaring foam,” or waves, across the “thousand hills” they can see below them. It is death incarnate coming for them. This force of destruction stretches as far as the eye can see. It has no end and has provided no possibility of escape. Still, they do not fear.
While this section of the poem can be taken at face value, it can also be interpreted as depicting a less cataclysmic event. Perhaps just a major change in their lives or some lesser catastrophe that does not mean the end of all life, just a paradigm shift. They will face it all together without hesitation, but only if he has her love. This is still and idealized version of the future that at the moment has no basis in reality. The speaker is only hoping.
About Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in 1809 in Somersby, Lincolnshire, England. He was one of twelve children and had, by the age of twelve, written his first epic poem that consisted of 6,000 lines.
In 1827 Tennyson left his home to attend Trinity College, Cambridge. It was there the he and his brother, Charles, co published a book of poems titled, Poems by Two Brothers. This book put Tennyson on the radar of other prolific college writers and he made friends with another student, Arthur Hallam. After a brief but intense friendship Hallam died, leaving a bereft Tennyson to devoted a number of poems to his memory.
From 1830 to 1832, Tennyson published two more books of poetry. These were not met with outstanding reviews and the poet was greatly disappointment. His naturally shy disposition would keep him from publishing again for another nine years. Tennyson finally met with some success in 1842 after the publication of this book, Poems in two volumes. When Tennyson published In Memoriam, one of the pieces dedicated to his college friend, Hallam, his reputation was solidified throughout Britain. That same year he married Emily Sellwood, with whom he would have two sons.
Tennyson’s popularity and success allowed him to continue writing full time and purchase a home for his family in the country. Tennyson died in 1892 and remains one of the most popular Victorian poets.