What is the main theme of "When I Was Fair and Young" by Queen Elizabeth I?

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

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The main theme of this poem, which is said to have been written by Queen Elizabeth I of England, is that of beauty and the pride that often accompanies it. The speaker of this poem looks back on her life and remembers when she was "fair and young" and "graced" with beauty. As a result, she was the subject of much attention and many men sought to win her. However, she met their interest with pride and scorn, meeting their entreaties with the same dismissive refrain which ends each stanza:

Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

The word "Importune" emphasises the pride of the speaker, as it means to bother or pester. It shows the way the speaker viewed her suitors as nothing more than annoyances, dismissing them as being like flies or buzzing insects. She paid no mind to the "weeping hearts" and "sighing eyes" she caused, and it was only when Cupid took away her beauty that she realised her mistake and regretted her words:

And said, you dainty dame, since that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more
Go, go, go, seek some otherwhere,
Importune me no more.

After this, the speaker realises her mistake, but of course it is too late. The message of the poem clearly states that beauty should not lead to pride, as it is only temporary and will fade inevitably.

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