Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
In this poem, as in most of his love poetry, Jonson reacts against the idealization of love, an idealization manifest in the imitation of Petrarchan conventions throughout Renaissance literature. This poem highlights the realistic by juxtaposing it with the ideal, an ideal that is maintained by the poet’s persona even as it is contradicted by his own words.
The qualification process takes several forms. First there is the juxtaposition of long and short lines. In the first stanza especially, the long lines tend to be metaphorical and ideal, while the short lines, which usually start with a qualifying term such as “and,” are more direct and concrete. The poem oscillates, then, between the ideal, or imagined, and the real.
This dialectic tension is manifested in the greater scale of the poem by the contrast between the first and second octet. The first octet depicts a scene set in the present. The poet is with his lover, and he begs a pledge that is both physical and spiritual. It is an ideal, if unconsummated, moment of love. The second octet, however, is set in the past. The poet is physically separated from his love, and his love token is rejected by her. The events that preceded the opening octet then were less than hopeful, but the poet persists in his idealization despite the rejection. The poem itself becomes an emblem of this fruitless drive toward the ideal; with its perfect iambs, it encapsulates and elevates what may be a failed...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
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