‘To a Lady that Desired I Would Love Her’ by Thomas Carew is a six stanza poem that is separated into sets of five lines, or quintains. Each of these quintains follows a structured rhyme scheme. They conform to the pattern of ABABB, alternating end sounds as the poet saw fit.
The clear structure of these lines is beneficial to the overall theme of this piece as well as the references to poetry in the last three stanzas. The speaker is threatening his listener with a negative depiction in his work and a reader can be certain (due to the carefully composed structure) that he will be able to accomplish this.
Although it does not appear so at first, the meter is also structured in a very clear manner. The lines in the stanzas vary greatly but correspond to the lines in every other stanza. Starting from the first line and going down, the syllables match the following pattern: 10,4, 8, 6, 10.
The title is an interesting part of this piece. It suggests that in the end, the listener chose love over the further “tortur[-ing of] captive hearts.”
Summary of To a Lady that Desired I Would Love Her
The poem begins with the speaker asking if his listener is willing to love him. He worries over the possibility that she will laugh at him rather than love him back. His “wooing” could go to waste. He continues on to ask that she not condemn him to death but give him a “nobler fate” at her side.
By the end of the text, he is attempting to convince her to love him by telling her that he will write negative things about her in his poetry. If she is kind though, he will tell the world of her beauty and grace.
You can read more poetry from Thomas Carew here.
Analysis of To a Lady that Desired I Would Love Her
Now you have freely given me leave to love,
What will you do?
Shall I your mirth, or passion move,
When I begin to woo;
Will you torment, or scorn, or love me too?
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker beings by asking his listener a question. He wonders if his devotion will make her laugh or will move her “passion.” His “woo-ing” will impact her, he just doesn’t know how yet. This is an interesting insight into the relationship at play here. He does not know her well enough to intuitively interpret how she is going to react. Perhaps they are not quite as close as some lines of the poem suggest.
The first stanza ends with another question in which he asks her if she plans to “scorn” him or “love [him] too.” He really has no idea what’s going to happen now that he is making his love available to her.
Each petty beauty can disdain, and I
Spite of your hate
Without your leave can see, and die;
Dispense a nobler fate!
’Tis easy to destroy, you may create.
In the second stanza of ‘To a Lady that Desired I Would Love Her’, the speaker asks his prospective lover to think about all the ways her actions could impact him. She could give him hate or act disdainfully towards him if she chose. He hopes that this will not be the case though. The speaker asks that she, “Dispense a nobler fate!” He states mellow dramatically that doesn’t want to “die” due to her actions. Rather, he hopes that she will “create” a love between them rather than “destroy.”
Then give me leave to love, and love me too
Not with design
To raise, as Love’s cursed rebels do,
When puling poets whine,
Fame to their beauty, from their blubbered eyne.
He continues on the same theme in the third stanza. He asks that he be given “leave to love” and she gives herself the same. It makes a difference in why and how she decides to love him though. She could “as Love’s cursed rebels do” love him with a “design.”
The speaker fears that his listener might have ulterior motives if she confesses love. She could be hoping that his “Fame” as a writer would benefit her as well. He does not want to turn out like those other poets who “whine” and cry from their “blubbered eyne,” or eyes.
Grief is a puddle, and reflects not clear
Your beauty’s rays;
Joys are pure streams, your eyes appear
Sullen in sadder lays;
In cheerful numbers they shine bright with praise,
In the second half of ‘To a Lady that Desired I Would Love Her’, the speaker continues to discuss grief and its relation to beauty and happiness. He sees “Grief” as a “puddle” that contains no clear reflections. Everything is distorted there, even the listener’s rays of beauty.
In the next lines, he tells her that if she treats him poorly her beauty will not come across in his future poetry. Instead, she will force him to write “sadder lays,” or short lyric poems, in which her “eyes” will “appear / Sullen.” The last line of this stanza leads the reader into the fifth. Here the speaker tries to reason with the listener and convince her not to hurt him.
Which shall not mention to express you fair,
Wounds, flames, and darts,
Storms in your brow, nets in your hair,
Suborning all your parts,
Or to betray, or torture captive hearts.
In order to get her to his side, the speaker attempts a sort of blackmail. If she does not treat him fairly then his depiction of her will not do her beauty justice. He hopes that she will be taken in by the thought of the more “cheerful numbers” he could write. These would show her eyes “shin[ing] bright with praise.”
His happy poetry will not tell of all her faults. These include the way she is able to “Wound” and the “Storms” that exist in her brow. She is frequently angry and liable to “torture captive hearts” like his own. If she treats him fairly, no one needs to read about these aspects of her personality.
I’ll make your eyes like morning suns appear,
As mild, and fair;
Your brow as crystal smooth, and clear,
And your disheveled hair
Shall flow like a calm region of the air.
The “cheerful number” he wants to write will depict her much more pleasantly. In this lyric, her eyes will appear “like morning suns.” The listener will come across as “mild, and fair.” In regards to her physical appearance, everyone will know that she has a “smooth” brow and hair that flows “like a calm region of the air.”