To a Friend by Amy Lowell

To a Friend by Amy Lowell is a touching poem which reflects on the selfishness of the innermost desire that human beings harbour to have real and long-lasting friendship. The poem has a pleasant rhyme scheme; (which is discussed in more detail below) and consists of fourteen lines. In these fourteen lines, Lowell thoroughly expresses the concern we have over keeping our friendships eternal, no matter the expense. To a friend emphasises how we as human beings want relationships to be eternal, but only in the way that we benefit most. If the friendship does not match up to our dreams and desires then we consider it to have failed. Lowell paints a picture of doubt and worry using a voice without any particular gender. The simple fact that the voice in the poem carries no gender further clarifies that she is trying to depict the selfish feelings of all of humankind in general, not just for men or just for women, towards friendship.

 

To a Friend Analysis

Lowell begins her poem with a rather cynical statement.

I ask but one thing of you, only one,
That always you will be my dream of you

This statement is so beautifully straightforward that it captures the essence of the poem directly at the beginning, which is unique in poetry.The line in and of itself can be seen as satirical due to its contradictory nature. The voice is stating, to it’s friend presumably, that it simply only wishes for one thing from the friend, and what is that one thing? It is to remain their dream. This could hold multiple meanings. The voice wanting their friend to always be their dream could mean that the voice is wishing that their friend always behaves exactly as they want them to. This is akin to basically requesting the friend to be their everything at all times. This statement is heavy because it shows the greedy nature of human beings. Lowell is exposing the point that a lot of friendships are manipulative and often we may pretend that we have no demands but we expect everything from our friends. The other meaning that this commencing statement could hold is that the voice is asking that the friend always be their dream, meaning the friend does not ever change. When you state that someone is your dream, as the voice is doing, then that means you are in love with the way they are. Asking them to always be your dream is liken to asking them to never change. If this meaning is taken the same moral is still derived, humans are greedy for self benefit in friendships, requesting something unfair or even impossible for their friends to accomplish. Most of the time without realizing it.

That never shall I wake to find untrue
All this I have believed and rested on,

The next two verses are just as demanding and ascertain the fact that Lowell is indeed exposing the selfish side of friendships. The voice is stating that it fears that all the hopes and dreams it has placed on its friend will one day be lost. If one sincerely cares more about the well-being of their friend then themselves they would worry more about their responsibilities toward their friend as compared to the responsibilities their friend has towards them. The voice is clearly , almost excessively, discussing what it wants from its friendship without any mention of what the friend receives in return.

Out into the night. Alas, how few
There are who strike in us a chord we knew
Existed, but so seldom heard its tone
We tremble at the half-forgotten sound.

The next few verses leave the satirical tone and give of a sincere and deep message. Using imagery Lowell describes how hard it is to find friends who we get along with at an intimately emotional level. She uses a metaphor to liken the feeling of true friendship with a musical sound, whose sound we rarely hear. She further goes on to elaborate that we tremble in fear when we realize how rare the sound is. We all hold fear of losing these rare and beautiful friendships. The line ‘we tremble at the half forgotten sound’ can show the sincere love that humankind harbors for its friendships, but it can also highlight the greed and even cowardice we foster. Once again this line brings to the forefront Lowell’s main message of her poem, which is that there is a selfish side to every friendship, no matter how beautiful the friendship may be.

The world is full of rude awakenings
And heaven-born castles shattered to the ground,

The next two lines change the tone once again. Lowell shifts from a very sincere thought to one of self-reflection which once again emphasises the selfish nature of humankind. For the first time in the poem Lowell talks about the friendships actually breaking. The friend being unable to uphold the demands and wants of the voice and this therefore causes the dream of the voice to come crashing to the ground. The voice states that the world is full of rude awakenings which cause their castle to shatter. Rude awakenings could refer to the realisation that no one would be able to uphold such a high demand of near perfection.

Yet still our human longing vainly clings
To a belief in beauty through all wrongs.
O stay your hand, and leave my heart its songs!

The last three lines tie the entire poem together and Lowell stresses that despite realising that our demands can not be met, and that our want for perfection in our friendship is unattainable, we still vainly cling to the want of having a friend that will never change against our will. The extra plea expressed in the last line ‘o stay your hand!’ shows that the voice is pleading for the friend to stay the same despite the fact that the friend wants to change their ways. This last line is very significant as the voice is asking the friend to sacrifice freedom simply for the sake of the voices happiness.

Amy Lowell expresses a realistic view on friendship in her poem To a friend. In her poem she uses imagery and a satirical tone to emphasise how so many people have unrealistic dreams and demands for their friendships. Lowell exposes the selfish nature of human beings in her poem and reminds us that having high demands in a friendship will not only cause harm to the friend, but to us as well.

 

Form and Themes

The poem follows an uncommon rhyme pattern of: a-b-b-c-c-d-d-e-f-g-f-h-i-i.

The use of light assonance is present with clings-wrongs-songs. The poem consists of fourteen lines total and is written in a satirical tone. The tone shifts from satirical to remorseful throughout the poem but ends once again on a satirical note. The satirical tone adopted by Lowell compliments the themes of the poem, which are; greed in relationships, selfishness and friendship. Using an alternation of satirical and remorse in the tone helped elaborate on the light way in which relationships are manipulated when in reality this manipulation causes so much grief and sorrow.

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