‘Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!‘ was featured in John Dryden’s “The Spanish Friar.” It takes a bitter tone towards love, with the speaker swearing off men and refusing to ever be drawn into a heartbreaking and frustrating situation again. Despite the broader tone, ’Farewell, Ungrateful, Traitor!’ and the play in which it appears are great examples of the dramatic comedy of the Restoration period.
Explore Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!
‘Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!’ by John Dryden is an over-the-top dismissal of men, sex, and love.
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker addresses a “traitor” and “perjur’d swain.” These are poetic and over-the-top ways of describing her lover. He’s a liar and traitor, someone who clearly mistreated her. Next, she makes a proclamation, suggesting her hope that no “injur’d woman” ever “Believe a man again.” It’s clear she’s counting herself among this number. There’s something this person did that’s turned her off men and romance entirely. Love isn’t worth the pain, she adds, and sex is over too quickly.
Continuing to address the same person, the speaker tells him that he and all other men are too capable of tricking women and then dumping them as soon as they can. Women who have experienced this heartbreak know love better than anyone else. They see love for the trickery it is. No one should be longing for it. The suffering after heartbreak is all that’s left for women after men have tricked them.
Throughout this poem, the poet engages with themes of heartbreak, betrayal, and relationships. The speaker ties all three of these themes together, suggesting that all relationships between men and women are going to end in betrayal on the man’s part. The woman is going to end up suffering alone. It’s not worth it, in the speaker’s mind, to pursue relationships any longer. It’s better to stay alone and safe than to put oneself in danger of being lied to and manipulated once more. There are also a few allusions to sex in this piece. The speaker seems to be suggesting that a man used her for sex and then left her as soon as he got what he wanted.
Structure and Form
‘Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!’ by John Dryden is a three-stanza poem that is divided into octaves or sets of eight lines. These are further divided into two parts. The first four lines focus on what the man did, and the next four on how it affects the woman. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABABCCCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. There is a clear separation between the first four lines and the second four. The final line, the “B” line, always rhymes. The words are “pain,” “again,” and “pain.”
The poem is written in iambic trimeter. This means that each line, mostly, contains three sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. The second line is a great example. There are a few instances in which the pattern is altered. This is usually through the addition of an unstressed syllable onto the end. The first line is an example of this.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. They included but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: seen through the use of the same word or words at the beginning of lines. For example, “Farewell,” which starts lines one and two of the first stanza.
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “pleasure of possessing” in stanza one and “And love too long a pain” at the end of the same stanza.
- Caesura: seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line. For example, “But when we love, you leave us” in stanza two and “And love too long a pain.” It can occur when the poet uses punctuation or when there is a natural pause in the meter, such as in the second example.
Farewell, ungrateful traitor!
Farewell, my perjur’d swain!
But ’tis too short a blessing,
And love too long a pain.
In the first stanza of ‘Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!’ the speaker begins by addressing a man who has betrayed her. He’s done her wrong in some fundamental way, and she’s furious about it. She calls him a liar and suggests that she is never going to trust a man again. The speaker feels so passionately about this that she wants all women to follow her. The perfect rhymes in this stanza help drive home the speaker’s point with conviction. There is no room for doubt in the speaker’s tone.
The line “The pleasure of possessing” alludes to sex. The pleasure of a relationship is great, she says, but it’s “too short a blessing.” It’s too short to make up for the long “pain” it also brings.
‘Tis easy to deceive us
In pity of your pain,
But she that once has tried it
Will never love again.
The second stanza follows the same tone and themes as the first. The speaker says that she thinks it’s easy for men to trick women. They suggest they love a woman so much they’re in pain. This makes the woman fall for them and easily leads to betrayal down the line. The woman is forgotten and left to complain about the man’s actions.
The speaker goes on, suggesting that only women who haven’t experienced love long for it. Once she has “tried it,” she will “never love again.” This extremely cynical view of love brings an element of comedy to the poem. The speaker is so determined that she’s making over-the-top, broad and sweeping generalizations about relationships.
The passion you pretended
Was only to obtain,
But dying is a pleasure
When living is a pain.
The final eight lines follow the same pattern as the previous. The first four assert what the man has done wrong, while the second four describe the impact it has on a woman. The speaker tells the listener that he faked his passion or adoration. It lasted only long enough for him to get what he wanted. Unfortunately, she concludes, a woman’s love for a man is stronger than a man’s love for a woman. Women are willing to sacrifice for love, giving up their “treasure” or virginity for it. Then, they are left wishing they were dead.
The mood is concerned with a bit of humor thrown in. Readers should assess the song for the truths it contains while at the same time finding humor in the over-the-top dismissal of men, sex, and love.
Dryden wrote this song as a comedic break in the middle of his play, “The Spanish Friar.” It was meant to lighten the reader’s experience of the play and perhaps make them laugh.
Dryden’s character, Queen Leonora, describes the song as having been sung by Olympia when Bireno left her (an allusion to Greek mythology). In the play, it’s related to her feelings in regard to Torrismond.
The poem is set in Spain and attributed to a character from Italy during the crusades. But, the content can apply to any place or time. It only needs a man and a woman in a relationship to be relevant.
It was published in 1681 within “The Spanish Friar.” It’s an example of Restoration comedy.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Farewell, Ungrateful Traitor!’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘The Wife’s Lament’ by Anonymous – a multi-layered poem in which a speaker expresses her deep sorrow over her husband’s departure.
- ‘Sonnet 42’ by William Shakespeare – the final poem in the series of “betrayal sonnets” that dresses the youth’s misdeed, sleeping with the speaker’s mistress. Read more William Shakespeare poems.
- ‘If, my Darling’ by Philip Larkin – explores the mind. The speaker presents an interesting picture of life from the outside and the inside. Explore more Philip Larkin poems.