Write a critical analysis of "When We Two Parted" by Byron.

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Byron's poem "When We Two Parted " relates the end of a relationship and the way the speaker has felt in its aftermath. It seems that the speaker and his lover's relationship was secretive and resulted in some sort of humiliation for his partner. The speaker also seems to...

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Byron's poem "When We Two Parted" relates the end of a relationship and the way the speaker has felt in its aftermath. It seems that the speaker and his lover's relationship was secretive and resulted in some sort of humiliation for his partner. The speaker also seems to feel somewhat resentful toward his former lover.

In the first stanza, the speaker begins,

When we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted

To sever for years,

Pale grew thy cheek and cold,

Colder thy kiss;

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this (lines 1–8).

The speaker describes the scene between him and the lover as they part, highlighting the “silence and tears.” However, the lover’s “cheek” becomes “Pale … and cold,” as does “[their] kiss.” The speaker reflects that the moment of their parting “foretold / Sorrow to this,” as though he should have known at the time how he would feel later, when he writes the poem.

The second stanza continues,

The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow—

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now.

Thy vows are all broken,

And light is thy fame;

I hear thy name spoken,

And share in its shame (9–16).

In these lines, the speaker continues to reflect on the scene of the break-up. He describes the scene, including “The dew of the morning” that made him feel “chill.” This detail, like the lover’s cold kiss in the first stanza, “felt like the warning / Of what I feel now.” The speaker asserts that the lover has broken her vows and implies that her reputation has suffered. When the speaker hears her name, though, he “share[s] in its shame,” having been in a relationship with her. There is really no detail in the poem about what caused this “shame,” but we can imagine that the speaker’s current pain is a result of both the severing of the relationship and of the aftermath of whatever has caused the lover’s reputation to be damaged.

In the third stanza, the speaker says,

They name thee before me,

A knell to mine ear;

A shudder comes o’er me—

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee,

Who knew thee too well—

Long, long shall I rue thee,

Too deeply to tell (17–24).

The speaker elaborates on the idea that ended the second stanza by talking about how he feels when he hears the lover’s name. He feels “A shudder” and wonders why he ever loved her. This “They” the speaker refers to in the stanza is unclear but may be other men who have had relationships with the lover. This would explain why “long shall [he] rue [her].”

Finally, the fourth stanza closes the poem as the speaker relays,

In secret we met—

In silence I grieve,

That thy heart could forget,

Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee

After long years,

How should I greet thee?—

With silence and tears (25–32).

The first couple of lines of this stanza contrast the secrecy of their relationship with the loneliness of the speaker’s current situation. The speaker then indicates that the lover “deceive[d]” him. He closes the poem by asking a question: how would he respond if he should see the former lover now? He answers his own question by saying that he would “greet” her “With silence and tears.” This reaction indicates anger, sadness, and regret. The speaker clearly has complex feelings toward the lover, even “After long years.”

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This poem concerns the cessation of a relationship between a man and a woman who loved one another, but, for reasons that are beyond their control, are forced to part and leave each other. The first stanza focuses on the impact of this parting on both of the characters involved. Both experience massive sorrow in their lives, that is reflected in the speaker's former partner by their cheek growing "pale" and only their kiss growing "colder."

However, in the third stanza, the former lover of the speaker either dies or suffers some kind of public shaming and embarassment. The news of this comes like a "knell to my ear" for the speaker. Even though it is not known that he knew his beloved, at the same time he is going to remember that relationship for a very long time. The final stanza reflects on what would happen if they were to meet again and how the speaker would respond. He answers the question by using a repeated refrain in this poem, saying he would meet his former love once more "in silence and tears."

The poem therefore concerns the tragic ending of a relationship because of forces that are beyond the control of the two participants which prevents them from being together. It also focuses on the love that the speaker still feels towards his love and the way in which he is forced to keep that love secret.

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