‘To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side’ by Thomas Carew is a twenty-six line poem that is contained within one block of text. Carew chose to give this piece a very structured rhyme scheme. The lines are formatted within sets of two, known as couplets. There are a total of thirteen rhyming couplets, all of which end with a perfect or pure rhyme.
In regards to the meter, it is also very consistent. Carew used iambic tetrameter to give the lines a certain rhythm. This means that each line contains four sets of two beats, or syllables. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. The meter, alongside a number of other poetic techniques, gives this poem a feeling of unity and flow.
For example, Carew chose to utilize enjambment throughout this piece. It is seen when one line ends before what would be one’s natural point to pause and breathe. An example of this technique going to good use is between lines nine and ten as the speaker describes the actions of new lovers.
The most important images of this piece is those of water. Different types of water, in different locations are used throughout ‘To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side: An Eddy’ to depict the relationship between a man and a woman, and the woman’s new lover/lovers. This kind of comparison is known as a metaphysical conceit. A technique for which the poet John Donne was best remembered.
Summary of To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side
‘To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side’ by Thomas Carew compares the relationship between two lovers to the actions of a stream, river, and eddy.
The poem begins with the speaker starting a long conceit, or complex metaphor comparing things usual seen as quite different from one another. In this case it is lovers and bodies of water. The eddy, a swirling part of the stream, separates “herself” from the rest of the water. With her new freedom she travels away from the larger system she was a part of. This symbolizes a woman’s walking out on her husband/lover.
She soon takes up with another man, a river. She brushes against his banks, willing him to allow her to make a deeper connection. At first he isn’t sure but after she threatens to leave, they join together. In the second part of the poem the narration changes to first person and the speaker addresses one particular listener. He wants their relationship to be like the river and the eddy’s. He will keep her safe from the “rude” stream.
You can read more about Thomas Carew here on Poetry Foundation.
Analysis of To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side
Mark how yond eddy steals away
From the rude stream into the bay;
There, lock’d up safe, she doth divorce
Her waters from the channel’s course,
And scorns the torrent that did bring
Her headlong from her native spring.
In the first lines of this piece the speaker begins by asking the reader to take note of “yond eddy.” He is speaking of one particular eddy in a stream. Eddys are created when water encounters an obstacle and a small whirlpool is appears. It separates from the pattern the rest of the stream is following. It “steals away / From the rude stream.” While interesting in its contemporary sense, Carew likely intended the word ”rude” to mean something closer to “unsophisticated.” There is a clear separation going on here, and when the overarching conceit is considered it is easy to understand the eddy as a woman who strays from her partner. She is moving from her place within the stream into the much larger “bay.”
Once the female eddy is in the bay, she is “lock’d up safe.” This is not an entirely clear reference, but has something to do with a new safety she feels now that she’s separated from her previous lover/husband, the stream. Perhaps, it is the overwhelming size of the bay in comparison that makes her feel secure.
The woman in this metaphor is not satisfied yet though. She “divorce[s]” or separates herself “from the channel’s course.” Now, she is making her own path, far from the currents of the stream. She is not controlled by it, nor is she influenced by the bay. The woman does not look back on where she came from. She “scorns” the past and how she got so far from “her native spring.”
Now doth she with her new love play,
Whilst he runs murmuring away.
Mark how she courts the banks, whilst they
As amorously their arms display,
T’ embrace, and clip her silver waves :
See how she strokes their sides, and craves
An entrance there, which they deny ;
Whereat she frowns, threat’ning to fly
In the next set of lines the speaker describes how the woman is with “her new love.” Together they “play.” While this goes on, the stream, the “he” from which she originally separated goes running and “murmuring away.” This shows a lack of strength, or at least a lack of interest in asserting his dominance and trying to take her back.
The speaker asks that the reader “Mark” or take note of, how “she courts the banks.” The female eddy flirts with everything she sees and brushes up against. This is a very amusing game to her. The river banks she comes into contact with want to embrace her, but they are unable. They reach out “amorously” for her, but only “clip her silver waves.”
In a continuation of this flirtation, the speaker describes how the eddy “strokes” the sides of the bank, seeking an “entrance there.” She is looking for fun, sex, love, and then finally a connection of some kind. This is seen through her desire to come closer to the banks and her irritation when she is denied “An entrance there.” She is upset by this brush off and threatens to return to her previous lover or husband.
Home to her stream, and ‘gins to swim
Backward, but from the channel’s brim
Smiling returns into the creek,
With thousand dimples on her cheek.
In the next four lines of ‘To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side: An Eddy’ the speaker finishes the phrase that began in line fourteen. The woman is trying to threaten the river bank into letting her grow closer. She “‘gins to swim / Backward,” making her way to where she began. She only makes it so far before she smiles and returns to the creek. Each of these personified descriptions, such as “smile,” “swim” and “frowns” have to do with the movement of the water and the shape it makes when it flows.
The same should be considered in line eighteen with the phrase, “with thousand dimples on her cheek.” When the woman returns to her lover she smiles happily, but also sheepishly. There are dimples on her cheek, which translate to bubbles in the water.
Be thou this eddy, and I’ll make
My breast thy shore, where thou shalt take
Secure repose, and never dream
Of the quite forsaken stream:
To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side takes a turn at line nineteen. This is seen on the page through the slight indention before the word “Be.” The speaker now moves from third person to first. He is addressing one particular person and comprising himself and his intended listener to the “eddy” and the “shore.” He wants her to be “this eddy” while he can make his “breast” her “shore.” He wants to give her the safety she craves, a place to feel “Secure.”
When the two are together, the woman does not have to worry about anything. This includes the “forsaken stream,” or her original lover/husband.
Let him to the wide ocean haste,
There lose his colour, name, and taste;
Thou shalt save all, and, safe from him,
Within these arms forever swim.
In the last four lines of ‘To My Mistress Sitting by a River’s Side: An Eddy’ the speaker concludes by telling the listener that it’s okay to let “him,” the stream, go to the “wide ocean” with “haste.” Once he makes it there, everything he is, his strength and distinct shape, will dissolve. He will lose his “colour, name, and taste.” This is due to the fact that his waters will just be added to the larger body that is the ocean.
Now that she is with the speaker she will be saved from everything. There is a place for her to swim “forever” in his arms.