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What is the summary of "When We Two Parted" by Lord Byron?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This is a great poem about a breakup.  If you ever want to investigate a lyrical way to discuss what happens in a broken relationship, this is the one with which you want to spend some time.  The first stanza opens with the breakup of two people that were once in love or infatuated with one another.  With Byron, it's difficult to be certain.  Yet, there was feeling there at one point in time and the first stanza incorporates this into the splitting up process.  I have always read line 3 as a type of ambivalence about the breakup, in that there was not full commitment to it, but also an understanding that the relationship was no longer tenable.  Lines 4-8 in the first stanza start some fairly powerful imagery that connects to emotional breakups.  The "sever for years" image brings to light that the breakup is not seen as temporary, and coupled with the cold kiss and the "sorrow" of the hour bring to light that this breakup is rather permanent.  The second stanza evokes a sense of mental imagery and sensory imagery about what I see as the morning of the breakup.  It starts off with the morning weather.  Nature being a dominant element of the Romantic writings, the morning "dew" is recounted as almost corresponding to the emotional weather of the breakup.  Brought out in this light is "the chill" of both morning and broken hearts.  This notion of fracturing is brought out later in the stanza with the vows and promises made in the heat of love and intensity of passion that are now broken and fragmented.  The last two lines of the stanza is one of the first moments we see some level of anger or resentment in the speaker when speaking of the "shame" in hearing the other's name.  This is one of the first times we see something depicted as mostly sadness offered in another light.  I would say that it is at this moment that we start seeing the true cost of a breakup in that there is not merely one emotional vantage point involved, but many.  Resentment and anger might be the child of sadness in this instance.  The third stanza accentuates this with the speaker wondering "Why wert thou so dear?"  I think this is probably one of the harshest tones struck in the poem, almost as if to wonder why was one considered so important at one point in time and why the other had value.  Here again, it is the last two lines that bring to light there is anger along with sadness in the voice of the speaker as there is feeling of "rue" about the day both met.  In exploring this aspect of the breakup, Byron presents a paradoxical relationship about love and breakups.  On one hand, we live in the moment of pain and anguish and in reveling in it, we actually wish to remove it.  We use our memory to reconstruct the past only in the hopes of eradicating it.   Byron plays with the subjective here, which he hopes brings out an objective state of being.  It actually brings forth a paradox of reliving the past only to eliminate it.  The closing stanza opens with a great couplet:  "In secret we met/ In silence I grieve."  The hushed cover of illicit love is only met with personal despondence that can be understood by no other.  The last lines brings to light how the speaker projects a prospective meeting in the future.  The answer is clear:  "With silence and tears."  Such a sentiment brings to the forefront the sadness ("tears) and anger ("silence") associated with breakups along with the conception of one's memory already discussed.

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