Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Undeniably, the poem is about a meeting between two people. Loyalty appears to be an issue, and the mood is not cheerful. It is difficult to know the source of the sorrowful emotions the poet mentions at the start and returns to in the final stanza. The lines say that the music is sad—the violins are “mournful”—and without commentary, the poet lets the reader associate the sadness with the speaker’s mood, as though she recalls those details that reflected her own feelings. The poem is intriguing because it appears to develop a romantic meeting without providing enough confirmation for the reader to be certain. The speaker’s attention to subtleties and her sensory awareness contrasts with the poem’s understated quality. Rich with detail, the poem lacks emotional commitment to any single statement or point of view other than that of the poet, whose attitude is noncommittal. For all the reader knows, the poem may be about a profound disappointment. The man’s avowal speaks of friendship, not love. His gesture is not that of a lover. Rather, it reminds the speaker of a spectator watching others. The man’s apparent emotional distance from her—he is a “true friend,” not a lover—may be a response to her own detachment. The poem seems to contradict itself, appearing to describe a romantic moment while creating ambivalence, doubt.

The poem’s meaning, then, may be inferred not from what the poet says but from what she does with a handful...

(The entire section is 467 words.)