‘The Lost Mistress‘ was written by Robert Browning and is a dramatic monologue that expresses the pain and agony of a bereft lover. The poem depicts the speaker’s struggle to come to terms with the fact that his relationship is never going to be the same. From now on, he’s going to have to content himself with being friends with this person.
The Lost Mistress Robert BrowningAll’s over, then: does truth sound bitterAs one at first believes?Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitterAbout your cottage eaves!And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,I noticed that, today;One day more bursts them open fully– You know the red turns grey.Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?May I take your hand in mine?Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merestKeep much that I resign:For each glance of the eye so bright and black,Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, –Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,Though it stay in my soul for ever! –Yet I will but say what mere friends say,Or only a thought stronger;I will hold your hand but as long as all may,Or so very little longer!
Explore The Lost Mistress
‘The Lost Mistress’ is a dramatic monologue written by Robert Browning that contends with a man’s complicated emotions for his beloved.
The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging that their relationship has come to an end, and they question whether the truth about their separation is as bitter as they initially believed.
Despite the separation, the speaker yearns for another meeting with their beloved. They express a desire to hold hands and maintain a connection, even if only as friends. In the final lines, the speaker resolves to speak and act like mere friends, suppressing their deeper emotions.
Structure and Form
The poem ‘The Lost Mistress‘ is made up of five stanzas with four lines in each stanza with the rhyme ABAB. Besides this pattern, the poem does not use a specific structure of rhythm, such as iambic pentameter or iambic trimeter.
Browning makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Lost Mistress.’ These include but are not limited to:
- Metaphor: this can be seen when the poet compares two things without using “like” or “as.” This is a figure of speech that can be seen in the poet’s comparison between the leaf buds and his speaker’s relationship.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “little longer!”
- Juxtaposition: The poem employs contrasts to highlight the disparity between the speaker’s internal emotional turmoil and the indifference of the world. For example, the contrast between the truth and the chirping of sparrows.
All’s over, then: does truth sound bitter
As one at first believes?
Hark, ’tis the sparrows’ good-night twitter
About your cottage eaves!
The speaker in this poem addresses his mistress, whom he has lost recently, in the first lines of this poem. The first lines convey a sense of finality and acceptance that the relationship between the speaker and their beloved has come to an end.
These initial lines also pose a rhetorical question, asking whether the truth of the situation sounds as bitter as it initially appeared. It also suggests that the speaker is contending with the emotional impact of the truth and questioning their initial perception.
The mention of sparrows chirping at night in the following lines creates an image of a peaceful and ordinary scene outside the cottage, something that contrasts with the speaker’s inner turmoil.
And the leaf-buds on the vine are woolly,
I noticed that, today;
One day more bursts them open fully
– You know the red turns grey.
In the second stanza of the poem, the poet goes on to note the image of leaf buds on a vine and how they, like the speaker’s relationship, have changed. This image captures the early stage of the buds’ development, emphasizing their nascent and delicate nature.
The adjective “woolly” suggests a soft and fuzzy texture, as well, evoking a sense of vulnerability and immaturity. They know that one day, though, they will open more fully, and then the red turns to grey, suggesting the process of aging. Each passing day brings the buds closer to their complete transformation, mirroring the evolution of the speaker’s relationship with their beloved.
Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?
May I take your hand in mine?
Mere friends are we, – well, friends the merest
Keep much that I resign:
In the third stanza, the poet delves into his emotions more deeply. He wants a continued connection with their beloved but has had to accept the shift to a mere friendship. The stanza begins with the anticipation of another meeting, as the speaker asks, “Tomorrow we meet the same then, dearest?” which suggests a desire for an ongoing, personal relationship.
The final line of the stanza, “Keep much that I resign,” reveals the speaker’s knowledge of the sacrifices he has made. It also suggests that the speaker has given up certain emotional aspects of their relationship.
For each glance of the eye so bright and black,
Though I keep with heart’s endeavor, –
Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back,
Though it stay in my soul for ever! –
The fourth stanza of Robert Browning’s poem ‘The Lost Mistress’ delves into the speaker’s recollection of specific aspects of their beloved and the enduring impact these memories have on them.
It explores the lingering presence of their beloved’s gaze and voice, highlighting the deep emotional connection that remains despite the change in their relationship. The stanza continues with the mention of the beloved’s voice, stating, “Your voice, when you wish the snowdrops back.”
This indicates that the beloved’s voice holds significance in connection with a specific memory or desire. The mention of “snowdrops” suggests a longing for something lost or the return of a past experience or feeling.
Yet I will but say what mere friends say,
Or only a thought stronger;
I will hold your hand but as long as all may,
Or so very little longer!
The fifth stanza focuses on the speaker’s resolve to conform to the expectations and boundaries of their new friendship. It expresses the speaker’s determination to suppress their deeper emotions and maintain a restrained approach to their connection.
This also indicates the speaker’s intention to adhere to the conventions and expectations of a platonic friendship. He is consciously choosing to limit their expressions and interactions to what is considered appropriate for friends. He knows that he has to only hold his beloved’s hand for as long as it is socially acceptable and does not exceed the boundaries set by societal expectations.
There are several themes in this poem, but love is the most important. It plays a major role in the poem in both positive and negative ways.
The words “mere friend ” symbolizes the current title for the lover with his lost mistress. He still hopes to regain his lost love with his lover.
The poem ‘The Lost Mistress‘ is a dramatic monologue. The speaker of this specific poem is unknown, something that’s not uncommon in Brownings’ poems. The poem is quite emotional, as well, and feels relatable despite the time period in which it was written.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should consider exploring other Robert Browning poems. For example: