‘A Woman’s Last Word’ by Robert Browning is a ten stanza poem that has been separated by the poet into four-line stanzas, or quatrains. In the original text, Browning utilized Roman numerals to label each stanza I-X. Browning has chosen to conform his lines to a consistent pattern of abab cdcd, alternating end sounds as he saw fit for the rest of the text.
Additionally, a reader should take note of the alternating metrical pattern. The first and third lines of each stanza are written in trochaic trimeter. They contain three sets of two beats per line. The first of these is stressed and the second is unstressed. In the second and fourth lines of each stanza, there are only three syllables per line. These are simple three-beat trochaic lines. The stress is on the first and last syllables.
Summary of A Woman’s Last Word
The poem begins with the speaker asking that they “contend no more.” The wife hopes her husband is willing to accept their proposal that their argument ceases. They have been fighting for an extended period of time and the woman has had enough. Throughout the following lines, she compares their situation to that of Adam and Eve. They are on the verge of also losing their Eden.
The poem concludes with the wife asking her husband to be a “god” and hold her. She wants them to draw close, ignore their more spiteful natures and sleep.
Analysis of A Woman’s Last Word
Let’s contend no more, Love,
Strive nor weep:
All be as before, Love,
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker, who is a woman, begins by addressing the listener, her husband. The words which follow are designated as being her “last” in that the couple is about to retire for the night. She is attempting to conclude their day on a better note.
These first lines are simple in that they outline the entire purpose behind this piece. The woman is addressing her husband, who she calls, “Love” and asking that they “contend no more.” For some period of time, the two have been fighting and she’s ready to stop. There should be no more “weep[ing]” and all should be as it was “before.” Now they will set aside their differences and “Only sleep!”
What so wild as words are?
I and thou
In debate, as birds are,
Hawk on bough!
In the second quatrain, the woman takes a lighthearted view of the argument the two have been engaged in. She is attempting to lift the mood of the room by speaking of “words” as being the most “wild” things in the world. Much can be done with them, especially when those speaking are “as birds.” The woman and her husband fight with words like a “Hawk.”
Their arguments are strong and dangerous to one another. This is all the more reason to stop fighting, at least for the night.
See the creature stalking
While we speak!
Hush and hide the talking,
Cheek on cheek!
The woman goes on to refer to the “words” of their fight as stalking them. Like a shadow in the room, the “hawk” sits and watches. At any moment it could join into the conversation and throw it into disarray. The hawk is a “creature” without moral bounds or the capacity to reason.
The speaker tells her husband that they should “hide” their speech and “Hush” so that the hawk does not have the opportunity to interfere. They must press their “cheek[s]” together, draw close to one another, and within themselves, and go to bed.
What so false as truth is,
False to thee?
Where the serpent’s tooth is
Shun the tree—
In the fourth quatrain, the speaker addresses the problems associated with truth. She knows that her truth is going to be different from her husband’s. It is going to sound “False to” him and always cause them to fight. They should consider this before speaking to one another.
In the third line, she begins a comparison between seeking the truth in an argument and Eve eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. She sees the tree as playing host to the “serpent’s tooth.” It is a dangerous place that should be “Shun[ned].”
Where the apple reddens
Lest we lose our Edens,
Eve and I.
The fifth stanza concludes the first half of the poem and the comparison to the Garden of Eden. In these lines, the wife refers to the “apple” that “reddens” on the tree. It represents the truth of an argument that no one can win. She tells her husband that no one should attempt to “pry” it from its branches. This refers specifically to her own situation. The speaker has no desire to join Eve in the ranks of women who have lost their “Edens.”
Be a god and hold me
With a charm!
Be a man and fold me
With thine arm!
The second half of the poem begins with the speaker asking a number of different things about her husband. First, she asks that he “Be a god” and take care of her. The arguments should stop and he should “hold” her and “fold” her into his “arm!”
This is the basis of their reconciliation. If these things, and those that follow, happen, then all will be well.
Teach me, only teach, Love
As I ought
I will speak thy speech, Love,
Think thy thought—
The wife also asks that her husband take the time to “Teach…only teach, Love.” His words to her should contain only joy and happiness, none of the strife they did previously. If he does as she requests then from here on out she will “Think” as he does. Her words will also contain only love as she mimics her husband in his “speech.”
Meet, if thou require it,
Laying flesh and spirit
In thy hands.
In the eighth stanza, she states that she will do whatever she needs to make sure the rest of the night passes peacefully. This includes “Both demands” of “flesh and spirit.” They will be together emotionally and physically. Her body and mind are placed into his hands.
These lines can also refer to the argument which could be resumed the next day. They will be happy tonight and then go back to the fighting in the morning, meeting both demands.
That shall be to-morrow
I must bury sorrow
Out of sight:
In the second to last stanza, the speaker once more refers to the argument that “shall be to-morrow.” Tonight is not the time for more fighting. Now, they must “bury sorrow” and find a place to stash it “Out of sight.” She does not want it impacting their moments together for the rest of the evening.
—Must a little weep, Love,
And so fall asleep, Love,
Loved by thee
The poem concludes with the speaker referring to herself. She knows that she must “a little weep” and that this fact will make her look foolish. The speaker states this explicitly in the second line.
The last lines conclude with her asking that they both fall asleep peacefully as he is loved by her, and she by him.