Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem weaves among suggestions of romantic love, separation, and bittersweet remembrance while doing something else, perhaps something very dangerous in times of war and social upheaval. It dares to allude to czarist Russia, to the woman’s role in modern Russia (in 1914), and to religion in ways perhaps unflattering to temporal authority, critical of prejudice against women poets, and supportive of a power above man and his rulers. It develops three relationships at once: between the poet and her male acquaintance, between the poet and the setting itself, and between the poet as a Russian citizen and the political power structure. Much more than a graceful lyric recollecting a parting by two people, the poem constitutes a polemic, and its essential nature is ironic suggestion.

“We Met for the Last Time” may be read as a parable in which the city, St. Petersburg, is threatened by some kind of flood. Perhaps nature is angered by the way humans are behaving themselves. Part of the problem seems to be prevailing prejudice against women poets, expressed by the man. Rigid authority hovers in the background in the form of a czar’s palace and a fortress. The beginning of the third stanza hints that the Russian people, symbolized by the two friends, do not even own the air they breathe. The air is “like” a gift from God, not actually a gift. Perhaps the powers that be allow them to breathe it. In such social and political conditions as these, the...

(The entire section is 491 words.)