A Song of Faith Forsworn

John Warren

‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’ by Lord De Tabley details the love lost between the speaker and her lover who attempted to control her through lies and false vows.


John Warren

Nationality: American

John Warren also known as John Byrne Leicester Warren, 3rd Baron de Tabley, was an English poet and botanist.

He wrote two novels and published A Guide to the Study of Book Plates.

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‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’ by Lord De Tabley is a nine stanza poem that is separated into sets of six lines, or sestets. Each of these stanzas follows a rhyming pattern of abbcca, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit from sestet to sestet. A reader will also notice the repetition of the refrain, “Take back…” that appears at the beginning and end of each stanza. These statements frame the stanza, introducing it and concluding it. They also speak to the narrator’s determination to rid herself of her past association with the listener. 

It is not until the end of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’ that De Tabley makes clear that the speaker of this piece is in fact a woman. At the end, she states that other, “fairer” women have worn the same “wreath” that she was given. The speaker refuses to remain in her current situation and asks that the wreath be taken away. Up until this point, there has been no clear gender assignment. 

A Song of Faith Forsworn by Lord De Tabley (John Warren)


Summary of A Song of Faith Forsworn

A Song of Faith Forsworn’ by Lord De Tabley (John Warren) details the love lost between the speaker and her lover who attempted to control her through lies and false vows.

The poem begins with the speaker asking that her ex-lover take back his “suit” or proposal of his affections. She was “weary” when he first came to her and unable to see him for what he is. He is not the person she wanted in her life but she was so “hungry” she would’ve eaten anything. It turned out though the food he gave her was not “good.” 

The following stanzas outline a number of other factors of their relationship she would like to get rid of. She wants to cast off his “love,” “lies,” “gifts,” and “vows.” The love he claimed to have for her resembles “Death’s raven” and his “vows” were crafted to suit and sway her. She does not want to be a weak person and therefore needs to be strong in her assertions. 

In the final lines, she asks that he take from her the childish “delight” she once felt. There is nothing true about what they experienced together and she has no need for it. This is emphasized by the fact that there is another woman in the listener’s life who is sharing his fake love. The speaker will not be a second choice, or a backup, to a woman with a “snow[y]” or white, “bosom.” 


Analysis of A Song of Faith Forsworn 

Stanza One 

Take back your suit. 

It came when I was weary and distraught 

With hunger. Could I guess the fruit you brought ? 

I ate in mere desire of any food, 

Nibbled its edge and nowhere found it good. 

Take back your suit. 

In the first stanza of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’, the speaker begins with a phrase that, while altered, will become a refrain in the following eight stanzas. The speaker repeatedly asks the as yet unknown listener to “Take back…” something. This occurs at the beginning and end of each six line section. In this first sestet, the speaker asks that the listener “Take back your suit.” Here the speaker is using the word “suit” to mean a request for a woman’s affections. The listener presented his “suit” to her and she is giving it back. 

She is looking back over her life and seeing the relationship they had in a clearer light. The “suit” came to her when she was “weary and distraught.” She was not in a good state of mind to process his statements and proposed affections. The speaker states that at that time she was hungry for something and because he was there she “ate in mere desire of any food.” She took what he was offering because he was the only one offering anything. 

Since then she has been “Nibbl[ing]” at his food, or processing his presentation of love and found that it was “nowhere…good.” With this new understanding, she asks that he take back any offers made to her. 


Stanza Two 

Take back your love, 

It is a bird poached from my neighbour’s wood : 

Its wings are wet with tears, its beak with blood. 

‘Tis a strange fowl with feathers like a crow : 

Death’s raven, it may be, for all we know. 

Take back your love. 

In the second stanza of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’, the speaker moves on to more precisely ask that he take back the “love” he claimed to have for her. It is described as being a “bird poached from [her] neighbour’s wood.” Its details and claims belong to another. From this line, it is clear the speaker believes the listener has made up everything he told her. She does not think he is being true. 

The “love” he showed her is like a bird whose wings are “wet with tears.” It is drenched in its own tears and blood, with black wings like a raven. It is not a good symbol of what love should be. It might be, “for all we know…/  “Death’s raven.” It portends the only disaster in the future. This section concludes with the speaker repeating the refrain once more, asking that he “take back [his] love.” 


Stanza Three 

Take back your gifts. 

False is the hand that gave them ; and the mind 

That planned them, as a hawk spread in the wind 

To poise and snatch the trembling mouse below. 

To ruin where it dares — and then to go. 

Take back your gifts. 

In the third stanza of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’, the speaker is asking that the listener take back his “gifts.” It is not the gifts themselves that are distasteful to the speaker but the “hand that gave them.” The listener was “False” in his giving.

Here again, De Tabley chooses to utilize a bird related metaphor. His speaker states that the gifts were planned in the same way a “hawk” plans to catch a “mouse” from the ground below. The speaker sees herself as being this mouse that was so carefully sought out and captured. This is not something that sits well with her.

The gifts were planned to “ruin” her and then to let her go. This one line might lead one to the interpretation that the listener in this narrative wanted to grow close to the speaker, to use her for his own purposes. Then carelessly abandon her to her fate. During the period that this was written, the mid to late 1800s, a woman’s life would’ve been ruined by any rumour of impropriety. 


Stanza Four 

Take back your vows. 

Elsewhere you trimmed and taught these lamps to burn ; 

You bring them stale and dim to serve my turn. 

You lit those candles in another shrine. 

Guttered and cold you offer them on mine. 

Take back your vows. 

In the fourth stanza of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’, the speaker is addressing the “vows” that the listener made to her. These were likely promises rather than traditional wedding vows. The situation would’ve been much different and more complicated if that was the case. He might’ve pledged to stay with her, love her, marry her, if only she would do as he asked. 

The speaker sees these “vows” in a very different light now. Wherever the listener went to he carried with him the light of his passions, words, and decisions. When he came to her though, these “lamps” were “stale and dim.” They did not serve her well and offered her nothing, especially in comparison to how he acts with others. This is the first reference to another person coming between the speaker and her listener. There are a few more references to what might’ve happened between them in the following sestets. 


Stanza Five 

Take back your words. 

What is your love ? Leaves on a woodland plain, 

Where some are running and where some remain : 

What is your faith ? Straws on a mountain height, 

Dancing like demons on Walpurgis night. 

Take back your words.

The speaker asks that the listener take back with him all the “words” he gave to her. She sees his love as being worth nothing. It is like “Leaves on a woodland plain.” Some of them stay, some go; there is no way to tell which leaf will go where. It is in this same manner that the listener operates around the speaker. 

She goes on to question the listener’s “faith.” She compares it to “Straws on a mountain height.” In the second to last line the speaker references “Walpurgis night.” This is the eve of a Christian feast day, celebrated on April 30th.

The tradition comes out of German folklore in which on that night it is said witches meet in the mountains. The “Straws” mentioned previously are representing the sticks of bonfires and how they dance in the firelight. They are random and sporadic in their movements. The speaker knows her ex-partner’s love is as fluid as a “demon” dancing on the same night. 


Stanza Six 

Take back your lies. 

Have them again: they wore a rainbow face, 

Hollow with sin and sprout with disgrace: 

Their tongue was like a mellow turret bell 

To toll hearts burning into wide-lipp’d hell 

Take back your lies. 

It is clear by this point that the speaker deeply dislikes the man she might once have loved. He has “lied” to her and now she is asking that he take all that back. She wants him to “Have them again” as she has no use for the lies. Their faces were “rainbow” and changeable. One could not trust the things he said. His words are “Hollow” and are filled only with “sin” and “disgrace.” 

The speaker is personifying the lies the listener told. They take on the agency of their own and animal characteristics. She describes them as having a “tongue…like a mellow turret bell.” They sound off like a bell and call hearts into “hell.” Once more the speaker uses the first line of the stanza as the sixth, “Take back your lies.”


Stanza Seven 

Take back your kiss

Shall I be meek, and lend my lips again 

To let this adder daub them with his stain? 

Shall I turn cheek to answer, when I hate? 

You kiss like judas in the garden gate!
Take back your kiss. 

The seventh stanza of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’ progresses in a similar manner to those which came before it. Here, the speaker asks that the listener takes from her the “kiss” he previously gave her. In a rhetorical question aimed mostly at herself, she asks if she is going to continue to be weak enough to allow him to “daub” her lips with “his stain?”

 She is of course not going to do this. There will be no more acquiescing to his requests. He is a “judas,” or traitor, at the gate of the “garden” or heaven. He positioned himself in a realm she desired: love, and then betrayed her as Judas did Christ. 


Stanza Eight 

Take back delight, 

A paper boat launch’d on a heaving pool 

To please a child, and folded by a fool;

The wild elm roar’d: it sail’d— a yard or more. 

Out went our ship, but never came to shore. 

Take back delight. 

The eighth stanza asks that the listener take back “delight.” She is not a child who can be pleased so simply. Her pleasures are not to be crafted like a paper boat and sent out on a pool. This is how she sees the relationship the two had with one another. It was brief, only traveling “a yard or more” and never returning. It sunk there in the water and delight was over. 

The speaker is deeply troubled by his perception of her as being weak. It is something she is trying hard to shake off. She does not want to look, act, or be interpreted as childish. 


Stanza Nine 

Take back your wreath. 

Has it done service on a fairer brow? 

Fresh, was it folded round her bosom snow? 

Her cast-off weed my breast will never wear: 

Your word is ‘love me;’ my reply, ‘despair!’ 

Take back your wreath. 

In the final stanza of ‘A Song of Faith Forsworn’, the speaker refers again to another woman the man turned his affections towards. First, though, she asks that he take “back [his] wreath.” She is ridding herself of his choice of her. She does not want to be placed on a false pedestal or recognized as being important to him. 

In fact, she knows that the “wreath” she was given was “folded round” another woman’s white “bosom.” She does not want to be his second choice, or stand in for her when the other woman is not around. With the concluding lines the speaker recognizes that the man will continue to say “‘love [her]’” and she will “reply, ‘despair!’” There are no more lies he can tell to make her believe him. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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