Please give a critical interpretation of "When We Two Parted" by Byron.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This brilliant poem speaks of the pain and continued love of the speaker for a woman in spite of the years that have passed since their separation. What heightens the pain that the speaker feels is the way that his former lover has now been publicly disgraced and he is unable to confess his love and has to keep it secret and buried within him.

A key line or refrain in this poem that is repeated throughout is "In silence and tears," which is how the lovers are said to have parted, and this is the final line of the poem, as the speaker reflects how now he will never be able to acknowledge openly the object of his affections. The initial split, in the first stanza, is described as an act of "severing" as the two are literally cut away from each other. This image makes us see the split as a very violent and painful event, which is supported by the impact of the split on the speaker's lover, whose cheek grew "pale" and her kiss only "colder" than this.

The second stanza takes us to the present and reflects on the way in which the "fame" of the speaker's beloved is now "light," and even though nobody knows of their connection, the speaker shares in the "shame" of his beloved. The third stanza develops the strength of the feelings that the speaker has for his beloved. Even though they have been separate for so long, he still hears her name like a funeral "knell" and he recognises that he will continue to grieve her for many years into the future.

Finally, the speaker concludes by recognising that his feelings towards his beloved are going to have to be kept buried within him and unexpressed for many years into the future, as "silence and tears" will be his only way of coping with them.


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