W Walter de la Mare

Good-bye by Walter de la Mare

Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘Good-bye’ illustrates the impact of the “last of last words” with the help of vivid, pessimistic imagery. It’s all about one’s emotional distress caused by a heart-wrenching “Goodbye.”

Good-bye by Walter de la Mare Visual Representation

The speaker of Walder de la Mare’s poem ‘Good-bye’ creates an atmosphere of obscurity and uncertainty to express the aftermath of a person’s last words being spoken. This piece touches upon the “nothingness” or the void that is left after one goodbye is uttered by a loved one on the last encounter. It leaves the listener with nothing but utter desperation and helplessness. Their universe seems to be falling apart, and there is literally no straw to grope at.

Good-bye by Walter de la Mare


Summary

This hauntingly and lyrically touching piece of Walter de la Mare is about the “last of last words,” “Goodbye,” and how it affects a listener.

De la Mare paints the impression of the parting words a person will ever speak, “Goodbye.” His persona compares the void these words create by comparing it to the “last dismantled flower” in a weed-grown fence or noise so faint that it is barely audible.

The speaker then describes the emptiness that remains after these words are spoken, like darkness hovering over the haunted eyes or candles burning out into nothingness. The feeling of obscurity is evident throughout the poem.

In the end, de la Mare describes how the person’s absence wreaks havoc in his mind by the line, “Toss on in vain the whispering trees of Eden.” Overall, he creates an intricate image of the emotional toll the last words of a person take and the silence and emptiness that follows after their abrupt departure.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

The last of last words spoken is, Good-bye –

(…)

The last blind rat to spurn the mildewed rye.

Walter de la Mare begins the poem ‘Good-bye’ by using repetition to emphasize how this is the “last of last” or the ending of a relationship. This creates an atmosphere of dismay as the poet’s next thought settles upon how the last words are spoken are like. They are like the last plucked flower from a weed-grown hedge. Here, the poet compares death to a weed-grown fence, as if to say that the last words, “Goodbye,” are the last good things left of a person’s memory.

This moment of a person’s dying words is compared to “a feeble bell far ringing.” It paints an image of how the most vulnerable moment of a person’s life is whispered rather than rung aloud. In the last line, de la Mare uses the analogy of how people use mildewed rye to lure rats. However, here the poet suggests that the last blind rat has rejected the bait and compares it to the last words of a person. Both have a sense of disappointment attached to them.

Stanza Two

A hardening darkness glasses the haunted eye,

(…)

Faints in the outer silence the hunting-cry.

In the second quatrain, the speaker narrates the aftermath of saying the last words. De la Mare paints a dark and melancholic picture by describing how a “hardening” darkness hovers the haunted eyes of a person, which has likely seen death. He says, just like that, even the watcher’s (or the listener of the last words) candle blows out into nothingness, creating utter darkness.

In the following line, the poet dwells on the “scentless,” “wasting incense,” posing a contrast of how the wreathes’ incense lingers around a still, lifeless body. Furthermore, he describes how all the terror and screams of the people surrounding the person fade into the distance until there is left pin-drop silence, nothing else.

Stanza Three

Love of its muted music breathes no sigh,

(…)

Last of all last words spoken is, Good-bye.

In the last verse, de la Mare describes how “Love” and “Thought” are silenced too during the moment of parting. He says that something as beautiful as “Love” cannot even “sigh” anymore, and “Thought” spins aimlessly in her “ivory tower,” a metaphorical reference to the mind. It is because no longer can thoughts be communicated by the person who waved goodbye or by the listener because of the emotional distress.

In the end, de la Mare says that the trees of Eden in Heaven get tossed around in vain because someone dear to the speaker has just left. The speaker circles back to the first line of the poem, in the end, saying that all such things keep happening in his mind because the last of all last words spoken by the person was “Good-bye.” In short verses, the poet manages to create a sad yet lyrical journey that touches upon the pain and mental breakdown of a speaker while letting someone go.

Structure & Form

‘Good-bye’ is a touching poem that expresses the speaker’s sad feelings after listening to the parting words of his loved one. There are a total of 12 lines in the poem. It has three stanzas with four lines each. A stanza consisting of four lines is called a quatrain. De la Mare uses closed rhymes to keep the flow of the poem intact in each quatrain. The overall rhyme scheme of each verse is ABCA. It means the first and fourth lines rhyme together. For instance, in the first verse, the terms “Good-bye” and “rye” rhyme. Regarding the meter, there is no specific metrical pattern. The overall poem contains a combination of iambic and anapestic feet.

Literary Devices

Walter de la Mare uses a number of literary devices to elevate the poem’s artistry. The poetic devices used in the piece include:

  • Anaphora: In the first verse, the poet begins every line with the phrase “The last” – “The last thin rumour of a feeble bell far ringing,/ The last blind rat to spurn the mildewed rye.” It is meant for the sake of emphasis.
  • Metaphor: The speaker uses a number of metaphors to describe the impact of the last words of a person. For example, in the line, “The last dismantled flower in the weed-grown hedge,” de la Mare compares the parting words of a person to be a flower weathering in the weed-grown hedge, which portrays the end of the journey of life.
  • Personification: It occurs in the lines, “Love of its muted music breathes no sigh,/ Thought in her ivory tower gropes in her spinning.” Here, de la Mare gives human characteristics to “Love” and “Thought.”
  • Assonance: There is a prominence of the long “a” sound in the line, “A hardening darkness glasses the haunted eye.”
  • Alliteration: The repetition of similar sounds in neighboring words can be found in “last of last,” “feeble bell far,” “muted music,” etc.
  • Consonance: There is a recurrence of the “t” sound in the line, “Faints in the outer silence the hunting-cry.” It occurs in some other instances as well.


Historical Context

Walter de la Mare was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist. He wrote memorable works across genres, from children’s books to psychological thrillers. Among his best-remembered works are the poems The Listeners,’ ‘Silver,’ and The Rainbow,’ and the short stories, “Seaton’s Aunt” and “All Hallows.” His short story collection, Collected Stories for Children, was the recipient of the 1947 Carnegie Medal for British children’s books. Often compared with Thomas Hardy and William Blake, Walter de la Mare’s greatest concern was the creation of a dreamlike but transcendent reality. He was a skillful manipulator of poetic structure that is evident in his deeply emotional poem ‘Good-bye.’

FAQs

What is the poem ‘Good-bye’ about?

Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘Good-bye’ is a sentimental piece about the last words of a person and the obscurity that follows after that. The speaker of the poem narrates the misty feelings as it unfolds in front of his eyes. He helps readers see the emotional distress caused by the “last of last words” through vivid imagery and metaphors.

How does Walter de la Mare describe grief and horror of parting in his poem ‘Good-bye’?

Walter de la Mare uses vivid imagery to describe grief and loneliness in this poem. He says parting with one’s loved one is like darkness layering upon a haunted eye and a candle blowing out into nothingness. It seems like the incense lingering aimlessly around a grave and the emptiness of all the noises fading out in the distance.

What is the tone of ‘Good-bye’?

The tone of the poem is sorrowful, pessimistic, and regretful. By using this tone, the speaker describes the impact of the parting words on his mind. He finds fit expressions to paint the picture of heartbreak’s long-lasting gloomy phase.

What kind of poem is ‘Good-bye’?

This piece is written using the lyric form. In this poem, the poet dictates the events as they unfold after a loved one utters “Goodbye.” The poem is written from the third-person point of view, and the overall rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCA.

What is the theme of ‘Good-bye’?

This piece is written using the lyric form. In this poem, the poet dictates the events as they unfold after a loved one utters “Goodbye.” The poem is written from the third-person point of view, and the overall rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCA.


Similar Poems

The following list contains a number of poems that similarly tap on the themes present in Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘Good-bye.’ You can also explore more Walter de la Mare poems.

You can also explore these truly touching poems to read at the moment of final parting.

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Good-bye by Walter de la Mare Visual Representation
About
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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