‘Never Seek to Tell thy Love’ by William Blake is a short three stanza poem that is made up of sets of four lines, or quatrains. The first stanza of the piece is very regular, as the speaker has found some perspective and is able to look back with less emotion. The following two are more sporadic in their meter and the speaker remembers how he felt in those moments. The quatrains each have their own separate pattern of rhyme, but the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme within that scheme.
Summary of Never Seek to Tell thy Love
“Never Seek to Tell thy Love” by William Blake describes one man’s choice to reveal his true feelings to his “love” and the failure of that effort.
The poem begins with the speaker telling his readers that if one I seeking out an opportunity to confess one’s feelings of affection for another, don’t. It will be a mistake that will lead to nothing good. The speaker compares what would seem to be a simple confession to a “gentle wind.” Just because one cannot see it, does not mean it will not be felt and make an impact.
He then goes on to tell of his own past and what happened when he confessed to his “love.” He told his truth and she turned from him, she did not return his affections, but departed. It was a life changing moment for him, but not a happy one.
In the last stanza he describes his own surprise at this turn of events and the fact that even though his life has changed the world is moving on. The changes that he felt, while invisible, still carry a big impact. He must move on with the world to avoid being frozen in that state for the rest of time.
Analysis of Never Seek to Tell thy Love
Never seek to tell thy love
Love that never told can be
For the gentle wind does move
The first stanza of this succinct, three stanza piece, begins with a statement of finality. One without room for interpretation or doubt. It is a statement, the reader will learn, comes from experience. The speaker knows what he is talking about.
This statement seeks to inform the reader of a simple fact of life, that one should never tell a “love” about that love. He states that one should “Never seek” out the opportunity or possibility, to “tell thy love / Love.” One’s object of affection should not be made aware of the affection in which they are held. It is a “Love that never told can be,” it can never be told. It must remain internalized for all of time.
In the second two lines of this stanza the speaker mentions the “gentle wind” that does not blow as “invisibly” as one might assume. He is making a comparison between the choice to reveal one’s love and the consequences that will follow. It might seem like a small thing, to speak the words of love to another, but that does not mean it will be without consequences, especially when it comes to the narrator’s own experience.
I told my love I told my love
I told her all my heart
Trembling cold in ghastly fears
Ah she doth depart
In the second stanza the narrator provides the reader with information about his own life and how he knows that it is a grave error to speak of one’s love.
He tells of a time in his life, before he came to these conclusions, that he decided to speak of his own love. He told his “love” of the “love” he felt for her. He did this truly, emotionally and with “all my heart.” While from another perspective, one that is more optimistic, it might seem that this situation should turn out alright, it does not. His love is aghast at his confession and “Trembling cold in ghastly fears” she leaves him where he stands. The third line of this stanza can apply to both the object of affection, as well as to the speaker after he realizes his sentiments will not be returned.
Instead of confirming her own love for him, the woman leaves him there and “departs.” He bemoans this turn of fate.
Soon as she was gone from me
A traveller came by
O was no deny
Before the speaker knew what had happened, she was gone“from [him].” Her departure leaves no room for interpretation, just as the first line of the poem did. She will not be coming back. The thing that was supposed to bring them together drove them apart.
The speaker is frozen where he is, unsure of what to do next. As he stands in his stunned state, a traveller passes by him. The “traveller came by” very quietly and invisibly. This undefined person is a representation of the change that has come over the speaker. His past life is moving away from him and he must follow or be stuck there forever. There is “no deny” that his confession was a mistake and that things have changed for good.
About William Blake
William Blake was born in London, England in November of 1757. Blake was raised in humble conditions and had a normal childhood except for the fact that he was consistently subjected to visions. When he called to have seen God’s head in a window sill at four years old and later the Prophet Ezekiel and a tree full of angels. From a young age Blake was noted for his verse and drawing ability and when he was fourteen he began an apprenticeship to an engraver, the career through which he would eventually earn his living.
In 1782, Blake married Catherine Boucher who would become a valuable assistant and loving wife. In 1784, Blake set up his printshop and began to create his famous illuminated etchings. It was through the convergence of his two loves, poetry and art, that Blake published Songs of Innocence in 1789. This work was followed by Songs of Experience in 1794. These works are notable not only for their beautiful illustrations and verse, but for the combination of the two. These piece are generally considered to be Blake’s masterpiece.
The next years of Blake’s life brought new troubles. He was accused of uttering seditious, or treasonous, sentiments against the king, but luckily, was found not guilty. This experience inspired Blake to write the epic poem, Jerusalem.
By 1824, his health had taken a downward turn and he died in 1827, in the midst of creating an illustrated version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.