The speaker spends the lines using simple images and vague details to describe a love affair. Because Bridges’ details are so vague, it allows readers the opportunity to relate the lines to their own life if they do apply in some way.
Triolet Robert Bridges When first we met we did not guess That Love would prove so hard a master; Of more than common friendliness When first we met we did not guess. Who could foretell this sore distress, This irretrievable disaster When first we met — We did not guess That Love would prove so hard a master.
‘Triolet’ by Robert Bridges is a short, effective poem about love and the power it has to damage one’s life.
The eight lines of this poem start off with the speaker noting, as he does again at the end of the poem, that love is a hard master. It can cause a great deal of pain when one is focusing on it or experiencing it. The speaker is talking to their romantic partner throughout this poem, acknowledging that things have turned out differently than they ever would’ve imagined.
Structure and Form
‘Triolet’ by Robert Bridges is an eight-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a rhymes scheme of ABAAABAB. The “C” word, “friendliness,” is an example of a half-rhyme. It partially rhymes with “guess” and “distress” but isn’t perfect. The majority of the lines have either eight or nine syllables, creating the feeling of a rhyme that helps give the poem structure.
This structure is known as a “triolet.” It also repeats the first line in place of the fourth and seventh and the second as the eighth. Although these rules are not steadfastly followed.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: canoe seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “When” and “we” in line four and “distress” and “disaster” in lines five and six.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines three and four.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “Who could foretell this sore distress.”
- Repetition: occurs when an element in a poem is repeated. This could be an image, word, phrase, structure, or device. In this case, the poet repeats “When first we met” as a refrain.
When first we met we did not guess
That Love would prove so hard a master;
Of more than common friendliness
When first we met we did not guess.
In the first four lines of ‘Triolet,’ the speaker begins by not in that when “we first met,” it was unclear “That Love would prove so hard a master.” From these first two lines alone, it’s clear that the speaker is talking to someone they are in a relationship with, an important relationship. They’ve tried to maintain it and express their love for one another the best they can. But, love isn’t always that easy. It can be a “hard master” or a hard emotional state to work in/under. It can punish you in various ways, the poem alludes.
The speaker also notes that when they first met, they didn’t know that they were getting into anything that was “more than common friendliness.” But, things changed. Readers may take note of the poet’s use of syntax in these lines. He’s flipping the traditional arrangement of sentences to make them sound more poetic and also ensure that “guess” ends up at the end of lines.
Who could foretell this sore distress,
This irretrievable disaster
When first we met — We did not guess
That Love would prove so hard a master.
In the fifth and sixth lines, the speaker notes that when they first met one another, there was no way for them to “foretell this sore distress.” The words “sore distress” suggest a bodily soreness or pain as a result of their love affair. It was impossible for them to know that their love was going to result in so much pain, an “irretrievable disaster,” in the end.
This poem has very few details. This means that it’s up to readers to fill in the blanks. Perhaps one person cheated on the other. Maybe they had different goals in life or were unable to speak to one another in terms they understood.
Because Bridges leaves the poem so open for interpretation, it’s possible for a wide variety of readers to appreciate the lines and imagine themselves in the same scenario.
The tone is emotional. The poet uses a form with a great deal of repetition, and powerful content, to express how their speaker was changed by a love affair.
The purpose is to explore the painful way love can change someone’s life. Bridges also wanted to utilize the triolet form (as signaled by the title of the poem).
The speaker is someone who has been in an intense love affair, one that doesn’t appear to be entirely finished. It’s unclear if the speaker is meant to be Bridges himself or if he was inspired by a situation he experienced around him.
The themes in this poem are love and loss. The speaker alludes to a devastating relationship that ended in an “irretrievable disaster.” Although it’s entirely unclear what happened, the speaker’s contention with love is made very clear.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Bridges poems.
- ‘Low Barometer’ – describes a world in which ghosts are brought from the afterlife into the present during a storm.
- ‘London Snow’ – describes an early morning snowfall in London and the reactions of those who walk within it.
- ‘Clear and Gentle Stream’ – describes a speaker’s experience when he returns to a special place by a stream from his boyhood.