‘On Monsieur’s Departure’ by Queen Elizabeth I is a three-stanza poem which is made up of sets of six lines, or sestets. The sestets follow the consistent and repeating pattern of rhyme of ababcc dedeff ghghaa. The fact that the first pair of rhyming words, “discontent” and “meant,” rhyme with the last two lines gives the poem a looping feeling. It helps relate the beginning to the end, and provides the reader with an easy way to reaccess the first line.
Additionally, one should note the use of repetition at the beginning of the lines. The poet has chosen to start a number of lines in the same way, with the words, “I,” and “Or.”
Summary of On Monsieur’s Departure
The poem begins with the speaker describing how she is grieving but is unable to show it. She is restricted by her position, whether that be as Queen of England, as the poet was, or as a woman, from showing her true emotions. She is always two things at once: talkative and mute, cold and hot, in love and full of hate. The speaker has an inner self she is unable to acknowledge.
In the second stanza she mourns the fact that even though this person is gone, she is unable to stop feeling for him. She can’t get a hold of the cares in her life enough so that she may control them. They run from her, and continuously haunt her as she tries to find some peace.
In the final stanza, she asks that she no longer be kept in this liminal place between love and hate. She wishes that her lover either scorn her, or act gentler towards her as her current state of being is untenable. By the end, she has come to the conclusion that there is no way her for to rid herself of her cares. They will stay with her until her death.
Analysis of On Monsieur’s Departure
I grieve and dare not show my discontent,
I love and yet am forced to seem to hate,
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant,
I seem stark mute but inwardly do prate.
I am and not, I freeze and yet am burned,
Since from myself another self I turned.
The first stanza of ‘On Monsieur’s Departure’ begins with the speaker stating that there are some emotions she is unable to express. She feels a deep “grief” she cannot acknowledge and is grieving for a poignant loss. To make her emotional situation worse, she also feels discontented over the fact that she “dare not show” her grief. It seems as if whatever is holding this speaker back from expressing herself has become as much of a problem as the original loss.
If this piece is read from the perspective of Queen Elizabeth I, then it would be easy to come to a conclusion about why she is unable to grieve properly. It would have been seen as a great weakness, unbefitting to a monarch entrusted by God with the well-being of the kingdom, to be seen grieving, especially over the departure of a lover.
The next line presents the reader with two more emotions which the speaker is contending with. What she feels is “love,” but she can only express “hate.” Hate is acceptable in her position while love would be seen as a liability.
The third line refers back to the second. She did love, but she is now forced to say that she never meant it. The following two lines present another contrast in her personality. She must seem “stark” and “mute” but “inwardly” she “prates” or talks foolishly about various subjects. She does not always want to be composed. She is caught between her position, whether that be as a queen or simply as a woman, and what kind of life she’d like to live.
This has been so prevalent throughout her days that it is as if “another self” has formed within her.
My care is like my shadow in the sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands and lies by me, doth what I have done.
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
No means I find to rid him from my breast,
Till by the end of things it be supprest.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes what it is like to have her cares to follow her throughout every moment of her life. The problems in her life, whether they be personal, or related to her larger role as Queen of England, are like her “shadow in the sun.” They follow her, “flying” behind her, and then from her when she tries to “pursue” them. She is unable to stop, or truly address her problems. They are always out of her reach.
In the second set of three lines, the speaker finally mentions the “Monsieur” whose departure the poem is titled after. She says that “His too familiar care” made her “rue,” or regret her emotions and cares. She no longer wishes to feel for him or remember when he was there. It is now her goal to “rid him from [her] breast,” but she has been unsuccessful. She has now come to the conclusion that there is no way to be rid of him except through the “end of things.” It is only going to be death that takes her emotions from her.
Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low.
Or let me live with some more sweet content,
Or die and so forget what love ere meant
In the third stanza of ‘On Monsieur’s Departure’ she is pleading with her past lover, and with Love itself, to allow her to feel something different. She asks that a “gentler passion” come into her mind. She is no longer able to sustain the emotions she is experiencing as she is “soft” and fragile like “melting snow.”
On the other hand, she thinks that maybe cruelty will help shake her from the mental state she is in. If this person could scorn her, and make her believe he hated her, it would be a kindness. Perhaps this would change her emotions.
In the final three lines, she asks that she be given some direction, whether high or low. She can not sustain the emotional life she is living between love and hate. She needs to be either with “sweet content” or “forget what love” ever meant to her.