This poem takes as its theme a former relationship that the speaker is now unable to talk about and acknowledge because of some public shame that his former lover has experienced. The first stanza begins by focusing on the parting of these two lovers so long ago. This act of "severing" clearly has a great impact on them both as they experience massive "sorrow" and also change as a result of having to leave each other. The speaker's beloved changes as she becomes cold and pale:
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss...
After describing their parting as youths, the second stanza moves on to the present and to the shame that the speaker's beloved has experienced. However, in spite of the years that they have been apart, it is clear that there is still a very tangible emotional link between the speaker and his beloved as the following quote makes clear:
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame:
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.
The speaker "shares" in his lover's shame even though he is now no longer connected with her in any way, showing the link that still exists between them. This is supported by the third stanza, where the speaker says that hearing his beloved's name is like a "knell" or a funeral bell to his ear. Even though they now have nothing to do with each other, the remembrance of this relationship will haunt the speaker for many years to come.
The final stanza focuses on the impossible position of the speaker. He is unable to speak or acknowledge his love for his former lover, and the repetition of the word "silence" in this stanza reinforces this. Now that she has fallen into shame, he cannot talk about his love. The speaker is left to imagine how he would greet his lover if they were to meet again, and comes up with the answer "In silence and tears."