‘The Scrutiny’ by Richard Lovelace is a four stanza poem that is divided into sets of five lines or quintains. Each of these quintains follows a specific rhyming pattern of ababb, with alternating end sounds from stanza to stanza. The poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue. This means that there is one speaker who is in charge of the entire narrative. In this form, there is also often an intended listener, whether that is one person or an entire crowd varies from piece to piece.
The poem begins with the speaker telling his lover that although he swore to love her twelve hours ago, he no longer does. This commitment was not a real one. It was only something he said in passing, on a whim. Clearly, the lover did not feel the same way. She believed he was genuine and he spends the rest of the poem trying to explain his position.
He is choosing to leave her, not because she isn’t beautiful, but because he wants to seek out more gems, or women, like a “minerallist.” By the time the speaker gets to the end of the poem, he has informed the listener that he might return to her if he gets bored with the variety the world has to offer.
Lovelace wrote during the 17th century in England and is categorized as a Cavalier poet. This is due to his membership within a class that supposed King Charles I in the English Civil War and his various artistic pursuits. Their dedication to the king led to their grouping into his service. The name was often used diminutively rather than complimentary. Other Cavalier poets include Thomas Carew and Robert Herrick.
These poets focused on pleasure much more single-mindedly than their predecessors. They were interested in writing works that conveyed joy and spoke on happiness, but also pleased their king. There were often references to ancient writers and their works, such as Cicero and Ovid. Lovelace’s focus on pleasure comes through in the selfish way his narrator outlines the love he wants and the passive position he expects his lover to conform to.
Analysis of The Scrutiny
Why should you sweare I am forsworn,
Since thine I vow’d to be?
Lady it is already Morn,
And ’twas last night I swore to thee
That fond impossibility.
The first two lines of ‘The Scrutiny’ make up a rhetorical question. The reader is thrust into the middle of what is likely an argument and is introduced to the narrator through his cruel address to his lover. Neither character is given a name in this piece but it is especially noteworthy that the speaker only refers to the intended listener as “Lady.” She is not important enough to maintain her individuality in the speaker’s mind. She is just one of many women he is involved with.
His opening line to the lady is cruel. He asks her why she thinks he is bound to her. He might have sworn himself to her, or “vow’d” that they would be together, but what does that even mean? The speaker brushes aside any promises he might’ve made in the past and addresses the woman as if the anger and sadness she is feeling over his behavior is her fault.
In the next three lines, he makes the situation worse for her and proves that his promises are baseless. He told her “last night” that they could be together, but now it is morning. It is an entirely different situation in the light of day. Although it could be nice for the two of them to be together, it is an “impossibility.” It is only due to his own inability to be faithful that this is the case.
Have I not lov’d thee much and long,
A tedious twelve houres space?
I must all other Beauties wrong,
And rob thee of a new imbrace;
Could I still dote upon thy Face.
In the next five lines, the speaker asks another question. He is trying, halfheartedly to appease the woman by reminding her of how faithful he was over the previous twelve hours. That should be enough for her, he thinks. To this kind of speaker, who embodies the principles of the Cavalier poet, twelve hours of monogamy is substantial.
The next lines of ‘The Scrutiny’ are clearly spoken from a place of pride. He sees himself as being the ultimate prize for any woman. In fact, he tells the speaker he would be doing the world a disservice if he remained loyal to one person. The other women, or “Beauties” would be left wanting. If this doesn’t convince the listener completely, he adds that she wouldn’t be able to embrace other men if she was stuck with him. He sees the listener as nothing more than an extension of himself. She must really want the same things he does, even if she seems upset at this moment.
The speaker’s condescending tone is on full display in the second stanza. He seems to be unable to consider anyone other than himself and his own pleasures.
Not, but all joy in thy browne haire,
By others may be found;
But I must search the blank and faire
Like skilfull Minerallist’s that sound
For Treasure in un-plow’d-up ground.
In the third stanza of ‘The Scrutiny’ the speaker tries to make his past lover feel better by telling her that she is beautiful. Her Browne hair” is filled with the joy he is looking for in life but, there are many others like her. His quest now is to move among all the women of the world, like a “Minerallist” trying to find the most beautiful gems. He is especially interested in searching “un-plow’d-up ground.” This is a likely reference to women who have never been with another man. They are the greatest finds in his mind. This hints at one of the reasons he is willing to push off his current lover— she is no longer the virgin “gem” he found originally.
Then, if when I have lov’d my round,
Thou prov’st the pleasant she;
With spoyles of meaner Beauties crown’d,
I laden will returne to thee,
Ev’d sated with Varietie.
In the final stanza of ‘The Scrutiny’ the speaker informs his lover that if at the end of all his explorations and “rounds” of love, he still cares for her, he will “returne.” When he looks into the future he knows the only way he’ll ever enter willingly into a monogamous relationship will be when he has been “sated with Varietie,” or variety.
Although the speaker’s argument is a rakish one, it is well set out. He makes his points clearly and precisely and to one already predisposed to this way of thinking (perhaps another Cavalier poet) the text would make perfect sense.